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One of the great things about attending classes at CIIS in San Francisco is the rotating art exhibits that line the hallway on the third floor, from the elevators to the entrance to Namaste Hall (where we have all of our workshops and lectures). This past weekend, I was a little startled to see that the wall had “sprouted” faces. For a split second, I actually thought that the wall had been replaced with some pliable material and that there were people lined up on the other side of this wall doing something like “Blue Man Group”. Then I realized it was sculpture. After finally soaking that in, I arrived inside Namaste Hall to find a poignant and thought-provoking study in meditation and the state of “no mind”:

The artist responsible for these remarkable, beautiful, memorable installations – the first called “Breathe” and the second called “Sentient” – is Renee Prisble Una. She’s from Chicago, my hometown!

I’m going to find out more about her, because she’s right up my alley. Wow.


When I was in medical school, “drug of choice” was a term used to refer to the most widely accepted medicine (pill, injection, whatever) for a particular condition. There were usually alternatives if patients were allergic or the drug of choice was not available. As a medical student, you were golden if you could immediately name the drug of choice for a given situation when quizzed by one of the doctors.

I now realize that for most of my life I’ve been high on my drug of choice – the drug of approval. It’s been an easy drug to become dependent on without even knowing it. There are plenty of systems in our society that are set up to get us hooked on the smiles and impressed looks on Other People’s faces when we do something that they approve of. It starts as soon as we are born. Our parents and other caretakers are our first encounter with what it takes to get approval. Then, when we’re handed off to the next big system of socialization – school – we quickly learn exactly what we need to do to earn approval. It comes in various forms – attention from the teacher, gold stars, stickers on our hands, nice comments written at the top of our homework, maybe a “Student of the Year” prize at the end-of-the-year assembly, or a row of “A”s on our report card. We adapt our behavior to this system. Some, like me, find that getting all the approval from the system is much easier than expressing what’s real. Starting in first grade, the reality was that I felt like an outsider in almost every way. Not just the fact that I was the only ethnic minority in my entire elementary school class for many years. Or the fact that I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t say in English the names of the things I had eaten for dinner most nights, when I was asked the next day at school. Or the fact that sometimes my mom would pick me up from school and say things to me in Chinese in front of my friends, which further highlighted the gaps between what I experienced at home and what was being presented to me in the great system of American socialization – public school. I just felt both an incredible longing to fit in, as well as a deep knowledge that I never would. Read the rest of this entry »

Civil rights activist Howard Thurman said: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Do you know what it feels like for you to come alive?

Or are you taking someone else’s word for it?

Start now…go into the silence of your own heart, and start listening for what makes you come alive.

I caught myself with a major case of the “should”s today. Last night I was notified that I was accepted to speak at Ignite Bay Area on March 2, 2010, in San Francisco. (Yes, it’s open to the public and you can get tickets here.)

I was so excited! I felt it was the universe telling me, “This is YOUR time!” Of course I always love a stage and an audience, so that got my juices flowing too.

Then I got up this morning and the “should”s started flowing.

“I should make a plan for the month of February to market this.”

“I should blast this across my network so everyone I know will come.”

“I should write a blog post on my main website to convince more people to come to my Music Improvisation class.”

What a way to kill the creative flow. Falling back on old thinking, I kept my butt planted on my chair in front of my computer, trying to prove to myself that I was “working”, typing away at a draft of some lame blog article based on a “Top Ten Reasons…” format that just wasn’t working. It took me all day to finally ask, “Why am I forcing things with ‘should’ thinking? What happened to my clarity today?”

I realized that today’s case of the “should”s was wrapped up in a sense of some constant need to produce something that makes me look good. It’s what I’ve been taught to do. We are all taught this lesson starting from an early age. We are taught systematically to please everyone from parents and teachers to older siblings and the popular crowd at school. And those of us who were handsomely rewarded for our accomplishments – whether it be gold stars, good grades, leadership roles, or high-paying jobs – tend to stick to those well-worn strategies. It feels so safe and familiar to fall back on the same praise that brought you from the cradle to this point, wherever that may be. And as we grow older, it gets scarier to think of letting go of everything we thought we once knew to be true. Read the rest of this entry »

“When you think you have become a highly evolved soul……just go spend 3 days with your family of origin…….and see what you think, then.” – Ram Dass

I spent this Christmas in the frosty winter wonderland of Minnesota. I was reminded why it is an abstract concept to teach California kids about a song like “White Christmas”, while I made snow angels, built snow forts and snowmen, went skiing and ice skating, and wore snow pants, all without leaving the neighborhood where my brother lives.

I was also reminded of the unique power of music to bring people together. Read the rest of this entry »

“To be creative means becoming more familiar with being a little lost. If we are always full of what we want to do, there is no room for the new.” – Michele Cassou, painter, author, founder of The Painting Experience

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, in “Self-Reliance” (Essays, First Series)

Nawang Khechog*

Music is silence,
music is mountain,
music is freedom,
music is universal,
music is heart,
music is bridge,
music is temple,
music is teacher,
music is path,
path to compassion, love, forgiveness, wisdom,
joy, happiness, divinity,
and inner-peace.

*Nawang Khechog is an internationally recognized Tibetan multi-instrumental musician and recording artist.

I’m trying to redevelop content for my new website. Since I’m in so much transition mentally right now, it’s been reflected in my process for the new direction of my business. I want to shift the website so that it reflects more where I am going than where I have been. Starting with my bio, under “About Me”, it is so interesting to see that ever since I started this path five years ago, my accomplishments are no longer easily listed in a list format, as had been the case for the prior twentysomething years. That’s interesting that things don’t read like a checklist anymore, because I haven’t been living my life that way. I’ve tried, don’t get me wrong. But it just hasn’t been that way. My life has guided me in a different direction. First I have to embrace that. Read the rest of this entry »

We just had two days with Pat Moffitt Cook, PhD, founder of the Open Ear Center on Bainbridge Island, Washington. She was very linear in her presentation style, although her content was completely holistic and expansive. She has an incredibly intuitive presence and way of dealing with people on a real emotional level, confronting their blockages with ease and gentleness while not avoiding the tough spots. In other words, she is a deep listener. She says we all have listening capabilities not only through our ears, but through our skin and our bones. These latter modalities of listening are how we pick up the emotional content and meaning of what we hear. They govern how we learn, and how we interact with others.

It’s a fascinating field of study, first pioneered in the 1950s by the French otolaryngologist Alfred Tomatis. The Tomatis Method says that “the voice cannot produce a sound that the ear has not heard.” Sounds a lot like the basis for the original writings of Shinichi Suzuki, founder of the approach to music training. Read the rest of this entry »

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