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Curious Terry

From the day we are born we are flooded with sensations. Assuming that all goes well with the birth, we are place in our mother’s loving arms. We immediately start to bond with her. Over the course of days and weeks we are bombarded with wondrous things. Smiling faces, stroking fingers and the words of loved ones fill our wakeful moments. This is universal, whether you are born in a suburban hospital in middle America or in a wooden and tin hut in one of the poorest slums in the world.

Today I deal in universals. As we begin to grow the wonders of the world keep on coming. For the American kid it comes in the form of toys and playgrounds, sports and music, television and games. For the poor kid the wonders come in the form of natural phenomenon, puddles, grass, dirt and mud, discarded objects and trash, and hopefully a soccer ball or jump rope in the best of times. These two kids live in different universes but they share the one joy of all children, curiosity.

As children we are all bombarded with new things. We sit up on our own for the first time and become cognizant of out surroundings. We notice ordinary things and take pleasure in them. We hear the sounds that people make around us and learn to recognize what they mean. We learn to form words and take wonder in the sounds that we can make. We discover new tastes and smells. We develop our dexterity by first grasping fingers, then objects and finally we can manipulate those objects. We learn to roll over, then crawl and finally take those first tentative steps. This is universal.

As we grow older, we start to recognize the beauty in things. At first it might be our mother’s face. We gradually learn to discern light and color. We hear music for the first time, or the sound of a truck backing up, beep, beep, beep. We jump in a puddle for the first time, luxuriate in the water squishing between our toes. Or we run outdoors for the first time and feel the brisk wind in our hair and whistling in our ears. For the first time we see that little girl or a boy who seems meant for us alone, we love their smile, their eyes or their hair, and we know that they are the most beautiful person in the world. We share that first kiss and we know that this is what life is all about. This is universal.

We grow. Our bodies change and we begin to know longing. Life’s challenges and stresses become tantamount. We begin to plan for our future. We dream of professions, of owning things, of moving off to the big city. We want the next big thing, whether it’s a gaming system or a real soccer ball, a new dress or pair of shoes. We long for things that are realistic and we long for things that are impossible. We continue to experience the joy of new sensations, but that joy is tempered by What Might Be. This is universal.

We become enmeshed in school. We try to decide what we want to be when we grow up. Images flood into our awareness. Movie stars, doctors, lawyers. Gentleman farmers, store owners, taxi drivers. Our dreams narrow into our realistic possibilities. Some of us take the path of least resistance. Others embark on a path to greater things. There is suffering in each path. The easy path to the future might lead to a life of hard work, of necessity rather than luxury. The hard path with start with the hard work and the hard work will continue until late into life. The luxury that is experienced will come at the cost of time and effort. Some will accomplish great things through luck and timing. But most will achieve it day by day, year by year. There are plusses and minuses along the way. This is universal.

We emerge from the exuberant time of youth into the burgeoning time of adulthood. Most of us will still dream. Dreams of a better car, a house in the suburbs, a second degree. Dreams of owning a car, having a job, emigrating to another place for a better life. We save for things, we forego experience of today for the possibility of tomorrow. We settle into a day-by-day grind. We value our off-time above all else. We watch the clock until it’s quitting time. We stop after work to self-medicate. We play with our kids, our pets or the toys that we accumulate. We plan for vacations to “get away from it all.” Because we are adults we forget what was most important to our child-selves, joy, wonder and curiosity.

So I challenge you to search for that feeling again in your life. Break your routine. Find your bliss. Park in the farthest spot in the parking lot at the grocery, or better yet, walk there. Be mindful of your steps and the cool fresh air. Go into the produce section and breathe in the smells of the fruits and vegetables. Do the same in the bakery. Go down to your local waterway and stand, listening to the rushing water and the wind in the trees. Be mindful of the air as it tingles the nerve endings of your exposed skin. Follow the tingles all the way to your heart.

If you are fortunate enough to have a child, look at the world through her eyes. Experience things as she does for the first time. Jump in a mud puddle. Put aside your worries about getting dirty, being presentable. Laugh, just laugh. Turn off the television for a day and read a book. Unplug from the technical world so that you can plug-in to the real world. Find your bliss.

Just find you bliss. You will thank yourself.

The Butterfly Effect

Life is filled with Butterfly Effects. We’ve all heard about it. Most times it is reflected in science and the science fiction of time travel. In science it is depicted with the cliché of a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a change in atmosphere that might cause, prevent or change the path of a tornado or tropical storm in a specific location. In science fiction it is usually used when the character travels to a different point in time, she must be careful not to do anything that will change history. Heaven forbid that she is plopped down at a point in her own pre-history and do something to change the particulars of her conception. Maybe she would cease to ever be. I can see you smiling at that one. But if you give it some thought you would see the logic.

Life is cause and effect. Think about this very moment in time. What would you be doing if you weren’t reading this? Maybe you might be drinking coffee, eating some grapefruit, or typing on your computer? Or maybe doing all three like I am doing just now. And then you might throw in a television in the background, playing the Today show and a story about a paralyzed former pro basketball player who is trying to learn to walk again. Not to mention the clothing that I have in the laundry. That is my kind of multi-tasking. But sometimes it digresses into a big batch of white noise and I can’t think of anything at all. It only makes sense if you are aware of what you’re doing in this moment.

How did you wake up this morning? Was it a kiss from your loved one? Was it because you had to go to the bathroom? Did you wake to an alarm clock? Was it a bell, buzzer, song or talk radio? Did you lie in bed until the very last minute or did you leap out of bed to face the new day? I like to split the difference. I wake before the alarm, sometimes hit the On button, lay in bed listening to NPR for a half-hour or so, then leap up to face the day. I like to get a snap shot of news, traffic and whether to start the day.

What did you eat this morning? Did you skip breakfast to get a little ahead on that diet that you’ve been trying out? Are you going to eat a bigger meal later to make up for it? Maybe you had some grapefruit and coffee like me, or a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, or toast or a bagel. Did you use butter or margarine? Jelly or jam? Mustard or mayonnaise? Did you drive through your favorite fast food joint for an Eggiemuffin? Or maybe you stopped off at the sit-down for a grand slam barnyard bustin’ steak and eggs waffle cake. And that’s just your breakfast choices.

Let’s take a look at these options. If you skipped breakfast how does this affect your meal choices the rest of the day? If you went to the drive-thru did you dribble anything on your shirt or scald your tongue on the new premium coffee? If you ate in the car, did it give you indigestion? How did this effect your day? Let’s say you went to your favorite sit-down restaurant. How much coffee did you drink? Was the plate clean and the mug unstained? How was the service? Did you server smile at you? Did you smile back? Was he having a good day? Did you make it a little better or a little worse? How much did you tip? Was the amount you tipped related to the service, or is that just who you are? Did you help him make his rent, or will he have to try a little harder for the rest of his shift. You are the butterfly that flitted through his day.

Regardless of where you ate, what did you put in your body? How much thought did you give to your order? Did you research the nutritional value? Bacon or sausage, whole grain or bleached, cheese or no cheese, plain or lettuce, tomato, and assorted condiments? Each one of these choices has affects the nutrition of the food that you eat and the affect that it has on your body. Does it matter what you eat? Do you have what we used to call a cast-iron stomach? Is your metabolism such that you can eat whatever and not gain a pound? Most of us are not like that. I have been battling a bulge since I was a kid. I will always have love handles. But does that mean that I shouldn’t be cognizant of what I eat?

Absolutely not. Every move we make and every choice we take has consequences. There is contingency in every single thing that we do. If we choose to eat that Baconator, somewhere down the food chain a pig paid the price. If we choose to go with the three-egg omelet instead of the two-egg, that extra bit of cholesterol could lead to a heart attack five years from now. If we get the milkshake instead of the glass of iced tea, there will be a subtle change in your body chemistry that could have long-lasting affects. I’m not saying that you need to become a tree-hugging, animal-loving vegetarian. Just be mindful of your choices and how they affect the world around you. It’s a ripple effect.

Even if we are not the variable in our action, there is still contingency. If your alarm doesn’t go off, you can oversleep and feel like you’re behind all day. If you’re behind, you feel as if you have to make compromises in your routine to get to work on time. If you go through the drive-thru, you might order the food that catches your eye through the pretty picture. If you take the first bite and it doesn’t meet your expectations, you’ll still eat it because you don’t have the time to take it back and complain.

If you do make it to the sit-down, there is still contingency in every move. If you get there twenty seconds earlier, you might get to sit in Megan’s section instead of Daniel’s. If Daniel is having a bad day, he can affect the quality of your food or the temperature of your coffee. If you complain or send it back, his day gets even worse. And then you decide not to tip. His day, maybe even his month goes into the crapper. Maybe he goes home and beats his girlfriend. Maybe she slips and hits her head on the corner of the coffee table. Maybe she dies. Maybe he gets charged, goes to jail, gets twenty-five to life. All of this happened because you got to the restaurant twenty seconds too late. This is an extreme example, but it accurately depicts the contingency that is interwoven into our life.

Life is contingency. All around us little unseen butterflies are flitting around, waiting to start or prevent the next tornado in our lives. By being mindful and cognizant of the choices that we make in life can open a window into the wonders of life. The past will never to be repeated. The future is contingent, completely beyond your control. Those butterflies are there to make it so. Be here now. Now is all you’ve got.

Evolution Instead Of Revolution

I have been contemplating the deep rift that divides our country. It seems as if the United States of America is ideologically divided down the middle. But is it really? Just because we have a conservative base on the right that shouts really loud and a liberal base on the left that shouts really loud. The problem that we have is that the shouters on both sides drown out the majority in the middle. Does that mean that the majority in the middle doesn’t really matter?

I was a Marine. I may have been one of the worst Marines that ever served, but I did my four-year tour in the Marine Corps. I learned about the history of the Marine Corps and my country. I learned how to kill people. Rightly, they determined that I probably shouldn’t have a weapon in my hand. In fact, the only thing that I was ever armed with was a hand-held anemometer, a wind gauge. I was a weatherman. But my brush with the military made me think about peace.

“Cultivate peace first in the garden of your heart by removing the weeds of selfishness and jealousy, greed and anger, pride and ego. Then all will benefit from your peace and harmony.” Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha

That Buddha guy went through some pretty tough transformations on his way to becoming heroic. He started out as a hedonist who was coddled by his parents, protected from the outside world. He was in his twenties before he ever knew sickness, suffering and death. It so affected him that he left his beautiful wife and newborn child in order to get to the bottom of the human condition. He went from having all of his desires sated to living on one grain of rice per day. He was starving to death in search of enlightenment. A young girl with bowl of rice came by and saved his life. The funny part was that his fellow monks shunned him for being so weak. They would rather he died than caved into his human frailty. He took repaired his body and his mind came along for the ride. The rest is 2500 years of history. Which brings us to today.

The enlightenment that the Buddha found was that everything comes from within. We have a well inside of us that runs as deep as an ocean. Magic happens when you tap into that spring. To know yourself, to love yourself, is the key to happiness. It is also the key to peace. Before we can have a societal change away from the wars and the imperial hubris that guides our ideology, we must first know ourselves, love ourselves, and foster peace in our hearts.

You hear it a lot. America is a melting pot. It’s a cliché, but in this one instance it is true. We are Christians and atheists, Catholics and Muslims, Mormons and Wiccans, Jewish and Buddhist, agnostics and Taoists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists. If I left anyone out, I’m sorry, but you get the point. Just because we all bow to a different God, or no god at all, just because we read from a different holy scripture, or no scripture at all, that doesn’t mean we don’t all have things in common. We are the stewards of this planet. We are all a part of the same family tree. Whether you believe it goes back to Adam and Eve or Australopithecus afarensis, we can agree on that. So, if we are all a part of the same family, what makes it okay to kill each other?

Nothing. Not land or diamonds or color of skin, not religion or politics or oil or resources. Nothing makes it okay to kill your cousins.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.

“The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.” Black Elk of the Ogala Sioux (1863-1950)

So it starts with one person. You have the opportunity to grow peace in your heart. And the hearts of your children. You can choose to sharpen your spear with love or with hate. I choose to sharpen mine with love. One person nurtures peace in her heart and shares it with another. And then there are four peaceful hearts and then eight and so on. If everyone evolves the peace in his or her heart there would be no need for war. But it has to start somewhere. Why not here?

I can hear the naysayers shouting already. There are bad people in the world. We need to protect ourselves from them. We need our guns and our planes and our bombs to protect ourselves and our country. But have we really examined what makes the terrorist strap a bomb to himself and kill a bunch of people? What causes a Hitler or a Stalin or a Genghis Khan? I don’t have the answer. But I don’t think it really matters.

The only one you can control is yourself. And this very moment. You can try to push someone in the right direction, order them into whatever form you want them to be. But in the end they will have to buy in to your ideology. And they won’t. That kind of discontent is what starts wars. It is what causes people to shoot up the McDonald’s or their work or their Congresswoman. Better to leave them to their problems and spend your energy worrying about your own.

“Anger is the real destroyer of our good human qualities; an enemy with a weapon cannot destroy these qualities, but anger can. Anger is our real enemy.” The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama was forced from his homeland in Tibet by a Chinese invasion in 1959. Despite fifty years in exile, he still supports non-violent protest. The images of bald monks and nuns in robes facing the Chinese war machine are burned indelibly in my mind. Yet the Dalai Lama refuses to say he hates the Chinese and says that they could even be friends someday. He keeps peace in his heart 24/7/365. This is a lesson for us all.

There are going to be crappy people in the world. You don’t have to be one of them. You can choose to be peaceful. You can choose to vote for candidates and issues that value peace above all else. You can choose to support companies who believe in peace. Or boycott companies who don’t. You can choose the way your food is grown. You can choose to educate those who will listen. You can choose to protest. But keep peace close to your heart.

So greet each day and each person that you meet with a smile. Start your own personal peace movement. Foster the evolution in your heart. If we all agree to do this, if we refuse to sponsor the war machine, if we reject the empire, it will begin to falter. It may not happen today, or tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean that we should waiver. We should emulate the Dalai Lama, keep peace in our hearts 24/7/365. Start a peace evolution instead of another war. Only then can we make the planet a more peaceful place.

Pecha Kucha Columbus

Have you heard about Pecha Kucha Night? If you haven’t then you’ve been missing a lot. Pecha Kucha is a night like no other. Taking place in 230 cities across the world, Pecha Kucha Night was devised in Tokyo in February 2003 as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public. Drawing its name from the Japanese term for the sound of “chit chat,” it rests on a presentation format that is based on a simple idea: 20 images x 20 seconds. It’s a format that makes presentations concise, and keeps things moving at a rapid pace.

Twenty seconds? Are you kidding me. How can you get a message across in twenty seconds?

Think speed dating . Or better yet, an elevator pitch. You catch the CEO of your dream job in an elevator and you have twenty seconds to make an impression. That is the spirit of Pecha Kucha Night. Except at Pecha Kucha you get twenty chances to get your pitch across.

Last night was the 16th Pecha Kucha Night in my fair city of Columbus, Ohio. A crowd of about 500 was on hand to see eleven of these little “chit chats.” It was awesome. The first presenter was Jeff Sims, the videographer from the host site, Columbus Museum of Art. He specializes in documenting the various installations and guest artists who exhibit at the museum.

Next up were two “friends of friends” Rachel and Heidi from OpenheartArt. They could best be described as creative educators and performers who use music, theatre, and body puppets to teach and inspire kids to live the artful life.

Julia Applegate and Liv Gjestvang gave a funny talk about their two-year quest to get pregnant.

School planner Christian Long gave an inspired presentation about new ideas in school design. The crux is that there is no one cookie-cutter way to teach and learn, classrooms and curriculum should be designed to adapt on the fly to get the most of every minute of face time.

Amy Turn Sharp’s presentation was about keeping the creative flame burning through life’s twists and turns.

Tim Lai talked about the new wave of green architecture. His firm designs one-of-a-kind living and working spaces that balance concept, function and beauty. His work is quite a contrast to the one-size-fits-all standard that has been the trend in building for the last thirty years.

The Columbus Idea Foundry was presented by Alex Bandar. The Foundry offers classes and resources to help everyman conceive and execute a creative project from design to fabrication. They have offered classes in blade-smithing, building a contact microphone, making a mechanical iris, and an upcoming one on sand-casting aluminum. They also put on the Ohio Tool Racing Championships. Wow!

Next up was Marianna Kerppola from the International Design Collaborative and Nationwide. She talked about using social and local networking to foster sustainable micro-enterprises.

The Ely Brothers Photography (Caleb and Levi) gave an inspired talk about starting a business on the cheap. They touched on building websites, business cards, proper cell phone usage, social networking, and bartering on a budget. “I’ll trade some photographs for a new office chair, hint, hint…” was one of the best lines of the night.

Tristan Seufert of the local music dynamo Shin Tower Music talked about the Columbus Music Scene and the possibilities for the future. Tristan spoke to the fact that we all love our city and it is our responsibility to get the word out to the world about our local bands. He suggested that our current brand of collaborating and genre-bending is cutting edge in a world where new music is just a click away. He also pointed to the VIA festival in Pittsburgh as a blueprint for our coming out party.

Last up was the developer of CORNIFY.COM, Christoph Ono. If you don’t know about CORNIFY, you probably will in the near future. It is an innovative website that puts fun on any page you happen to visit. People like unicorns and rainbows. Who knew?

Musical groups WAY YES and the OSU NEW MUSIC COLLECTIVE provided the preshow and intermission entertainment.

Pecha Kucha Nights happen daily all around the world. If you see a PKN pop up on your radar screen stop by and take it in. I guarantee you’ll be amazed and inspired. I know I was.

More Alchemy

b’AWARE ~ Consciousness is a magical elixer of realization and enlightenment. Catch a snowflake on your tongue. Make someone smile. Be aLIVE today. ~ Brother T

I’m not a philosopher. I have never been successful at any one thing in life. Mediocre at much. Excellent at nothing. It is only after I learned that life is not about indulging oneself in any whim or want, that I learned that the world does not revolve around the man known as Brother T.

A decade ago I was a hot mess. Stress had me stacked up like a Jenga game with too many pieces missing. I was business first and everything else second. I never smiled. I never greeted anyone who crossed my path. I wanted what I needed and I wanted it now.

One day I walked into the office of the company that I was working for, went straight to the woman who was in charge of that department and demanded some stupid insignificant thing. It never occurred to me that anything could be more important than the thing that I wanted. Of course I got it. I’m sure that I heard an “asshole” whispered under her breath. I didn’t care. I got what I needed.

Upon exiting the room, I was immediately accosted by my girlfriend. She dressed me down for not being civil, asking how my co-worker was doing, not enquiring as to how her ailing father was holding up. In other words, being a rude asshole. Now the girlfriend, who I’m happy to report found herself a non-asshole for a husband, was from a foreign land. She was an alien not only to the USA, but also to the rat race that was ruling my life. The lesson that I learned from her was that there is nothing more important than being civil and friendly. The funny afterwards of the story is that I greeted the co-worker the next day, asked after the ailing father. She complained to our collective boss that I was “nice to her but faking it.”

“Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though t’were his own.” ~
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ve become a firm believer in the ability of the individual to bring a sense of joy and happiness to virtually everyone that they come into contact with on a daily basis. I knock on doors and talk to people for a living. Twenty to thirty people per day open their door for me. Most of them do not want to see me. They do not think that they need home improvements. They resist my intrusion into their free time. That’s okay. My main mission is to make them smile and laugh. Once I make that happen, we are on the same team. It is US against THEM. So I say and do whatever I can, no matter how outrageous (but always legal and in good taste) to make that happen. I can honestly say that I get as much if not more joy from the smiles and laughs than these strangers do.

“There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.” ~
Kahlil Gibran

Saturday I woke up feeling less than human. I decided to take a long walk up High Street to my current library of choice. Even though the temperature was hovering at fifteen degrees, there was a steady stream of pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists out on the main drag. I made it a point to address every one of them. The beauty of our neighborhood is the diversity. There are probably one hundred different nationalities living within two miles of my home. It helps that I live on the fringe of the largest and most diverse university in the United States, The Ohio State University. I pimped for smiles and by golly I got em. It was a spectacular two hour tour. I felt like the King of High Street by the time I was done.

“You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both” ~
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The Sage of Concord” got this one only half right. If you have joy and you share it, you will have power. The world is a rat race. It keeps spinning faster and faster. People have to hold on for dear life in order to survive. It is stressful and numbing. Yet few walk among us through life like a fish swims through water. Effortlessly. Joyfully. Happily. As I journey into the second half of my life, I find that if I hold on too tight then life gets hard. But if I can walk at just the right pace, give smiles to all who cross my path, and take time to smell the… pick your euphemism, and life becomes ever so much easier. If that’s not power, I don’t know what is.

Joy to Power,
Brother T

flamenco sketches

my fingers play over
scarred bartop
like miles
pressing down on the keys
his horn
moaning and throbbing
painfully
stabbing phrases
through the air
like so many voices
in a gospel choir

bill evans
tinkles the ivory
restrained
and masterful
filling the space
like raindrops
on a warm spring night
while the great man
takes a blow

miles starts in again
sweet sweet horn
taking my breath away
i play with the sweat
on the rocks glass
take a sip
of smoky scotch
inhale a lungful
of kingstown’s finest

i run my fingers
across your bare shoulder
its texture as smooth
as the bartop is rough
hoping i can play you
like miles played that horn
cool and effortless
relentless
through the night

It’s 1959
we aren’t born yet
but miles knew
we’d be listening
played this song for us

best we make the most of it
he’d like that
sketch the dance flamenco
all through the night