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You know, I’ve thought about this question before, and I’m not sure I have a clear answer. I will have an idea for a song – or some emotion or event that I want to explore with music. Usually a musical phrase will come to me – lyrics and melody included. But it’s just one little fragment or piece of the song. I’ll take that idea and develop it. From there, the music comes more easily than the words…
What/who is your muse? What inspires you? What do you do to put yourself into a creative frame of mind?
I am not a disciplinarian. I do not do what I am supposed to do and write every day. I am cursed with the notion of productivity in life- and I often have a “to do” list a mile long that I use to pull me away from my writing. So I task-master and fool myself into get everything in my life organized… once I’m satisfied and I have exhausted my procrastination- I’ll sit, quietly, with a pen and blank piece of paper and my guitar, and I’ll start. And then I give myself the gift of time.
For you, what happens emotionally/spiritually when you perform? Are you calm, nervous, on auto pilot?
I try to reconnect myself to the moment I wrote the song. What/who was I thinking of? What are the images that come to mind when I say these words? In performance I am usually visualizing the people, places, or moments that inspired the song. Therefore, performing is a very emotional experience for me. I am never on auto-pilot… but sometimes, yes, I am nervous. Mostly about whether or not I am connecting with my audience. Less, now that I am maturing, about how I sound.
Music involves both the process of receiving, opening, taking in and of giving, projecting. There is a dynamic exchange in music making. Which is more of an important part of your creativity? Taking in new ideas, material, inspiration or projecting your own music?
Huh. I think I would answer this differently depending on the day. Today, more important is the taking in. Tomorrow, perhaps, sharing. I believe in the flow- and I can’t have one without the other.
Talk to us about creativity. Where does it come from? What is it? How is it expressed? Are all people creative?
I don’t know. Honestly. But I have my ideas…
We give art back to the world, because we enjoy so much what we take from it. Those who create have a certain sensitivity to that. Creativity comes from the energy of trying to answer life’s questions. Therefore, all people are creative. Whether it is expressed in the creation of a song or painting- or in how a parent pieces together a busy family schedule, there is creativity in every person’s daily life. Some are just moved to figure out how to transfer that creative energy into a medium to share with others.
We read on your web page that you are also an actor How does being an actor inform your music? How are acting and performing one of your original songs similar or different?
Being an actor has given me the tools to practice empathy. I am challenged in my work on stage to see things from many perspectives. Knowing that there are infinite ways to see the world- validates mine!
When I perform another artist’s material, I am forced to try to understand their intention. Then, I bring to that my life experience. When I am performing my songs I can skip the step of trying to understand the intention… but there is a little more at sake for me in this circumstance because I am sensitive to whether or not I am being understood.
It appears that you have done a fair amount of collaborative work in your career. Acting by its nature is a collaboration, yes?. How easy is it for you to work with other creative people and to interpret and integrate their ideas into your work?
I love to collaborate… when I have good collaborators! I find it better to work, interpret, and integrate others’ ideas into my work- and I prefer it. For me, creating is communicating. What better way to test your communication than by having others to bounce ideas off of, or to tell you your being too esoteric, or to fuel the fire, or fill in holes…
How important is fame to you? Why?
I’d like to say it isn’t important at all… but I think I’d like to be ‘famous’ enough that people want to help me make a living with my music!
Which is more important to you in your creative work, affecting a small number of people on a deep level or a large number of people on a more superficial level?
Is this a trick question? Because for me the answer is pointedly obvious: If I make one person other than myself think, or connect to, or feel something they’ve never felt before, I am happy.
What would life be like for you if you anonymously (or accidentally) created the most beautiful song ever heard by man or woman, never got credit for it at all, but lived your life knowing that it had enriched the lives of millions?
That would be fine by me…
If there was a single message, a single sentence that you could tell your audience, as a piece of your personal wisdom, what would it be?
Set a goal – then do something, no matter how big or small, to move you toward that goal every single day.
Music by Merideth Kaye Clark
Trip to the Moon
Find out more about Merideth at her web site: www.meridethkayeclark.com
The following interview was conducted recently with Lifestyle Coach Bert Jackson (http://www.bertjackson.com/). Bert is an advocate of sustainable living, a whole foods expert and a macrobiotic chef. His background includes owning and operating his own vegetarian restaurant, The Sweet Life Cafe in the Virgin Islands. Unlike some life practitioners we have known, Bert has a uniquely accessible and tolerant approach to living a more healthy lifestyle. Here are some excerpts from our interview:
Tell us about the concept of primary and secondary foods. It is an intriguing idea that we feed ourselves in ways other than through our mouths, like say, by way of how we choose to interact with others on an emotional or spiritual level.
The concept of Primary Food is not new, it is intuitive that a life that is fulfilling and close to our true nature will more truly nourish our soul. Joshua Rosenthal, founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC, coined the term “Primary Food”. I think it is a critical part to maintaining a sustainable lifestyle. So maybe when we eat “secondary food” (the stuff we put in our mouth) we are trying to satisfy a need for Primary Food.
What is your own personal experience with living via holistic food versus living via more prepared processed food?
I have lived both sides of the fence, and have hopped back and forth a few times. I grew up chubby, eating a nutritionally-ignorant diet. Not many vegetables, lots of beef, chicken and pork, potatoes of various kinds, frozen pizza, mac and cheese. When I was in my early twenties I discovered macrobiotics and spent much of my twenties living and promoting that way of life. When I was 32 I moved, changed careers and lost a bit of that youthful idealism as I dealt with the “realities” of making a living. While never being totally in the grip of the “Standard American Diet” (SAD) I was certainly having illicit affairs with it, as well as eating unconsciously.
I’ve made attempts over the years to rekindle my passion for a more holistic approach to food. What has really helped me recently is the work done by people such as Michael Pollan who have been exposing the connection of global sustainability to food. This clicked with me and gave me some new toeholds with which to reignite my interest. I have replaced the idealism of youth with a more experiential, comprehensive philosophy of connectedness.
And I found I needed to teach. So I am spending more time writing, consulting and demonstrating the concepts of sustainable holistic food practices.
You made a comment recently about, “eating for nutrition versus eating for entertainment”, tell us more.
Food is a huge part of our social structure. It is also strong source of comfort. Many times we’ll eat unconsciously. For example, attending a party and hors d’oeuvres are passed about. Right in mid-sentence of a conversation, we’ll take a morsel from the tray and pop it in our mouth. If asked a few minutes later what we ate, we may not even remember. Part of the social, entertainment process.
Dessert is all about entertainment, and dessert can either be consumed unconsciously in a social situation, or savored bite by bite, enrapturing us with each mouthful.
So, eating for entertainment is not necessarily a bad thing. The key is to be aware of when you are eating for nutrition or eating for entertainment. And if the latter, that it be conscious. Be aware of what it is and how it fits into your overall vision of your relationship with food.
Sustainability: How does a sense of local sustainability link with the global sustainability movement?
This is huge. The industrial food producers use large amounts of fossil fuels (to not only transport food and run farm equipment, but to create commercial fertilizers and pesticides). Michael Pollan recently said that it takes 28 ounces of crude oil to make one Big Mac hamburger sandwich. In addition, the nitrogen in these synthetic fertilizers are not all absorbed in the soil, so they run off into the water table, making water not safe for drinking.
A large Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operation (CAFO) can contain 100,000 cattle, and produce as much waste as Chicago. Human waste must be treated under the Clean Water Act. Animal waste is exempt so it sits in vast lagoons and runs untreated into water tables (and on to other farms growing vegetables, increasing risk of eColi).
There are labor considerations, transportation considerations, bio-diversity considerations. We really can vote with our forks on a number of non-food issues.
How realistic is it for a family of 4 in Massachusetts to make the commitment to eat only locally grown foods? Is it even possible?
I have what I call “The Sliding Scale of Goodness”. When making food choices there is usually another step one can take towards more organic, more local, more sustainable. I don’t think it is practical for a typical family to be at the extreme (good) end of that scale. This would involve growing your own produce, raising your own animals and fishing your own seafood. Not practical for most.
Everyone needs to find their own balance with this. Education is important, the more you learn about options available, as well as the consequences of where food is sourced, the more you can plan according to your own personal food policies.
During growing season farmers markets are a great source of local food (as well as learning about food, farmers love to chat!). Beyond that, local produce markets will likely have more local or regional produce that a large chain supermarket (even Whole Foods now uses a national distribution system, so much of their produce, while it may be organic, is centrally distributed).
When buying staples, for example, I would buy brown rice from California over something similar grown in Japan, or something exotic grown in China. That said, there is nothing wrong with having the occasional exotic food item.
What would a weekly shopping list for 2 people look like if they were to eat macrobiotically, versus to eat traditionally, purchasing from a local shopping chain?
To be clear, I have a very broad view of macrobiotics, which is more a philosophy of balance, simplicity and quality, rather than a set list of “do and don’t” foods. That said, a shopping list would include some whole grains, like brown rice, barley, etc.; protein sources such as beans, tofu, tempeh and occasional fish or free-range chicken; a variety of vegetables, root (carrots, onions), ground (squashes) and air (greens, broccoli). There would be cold-pressed organic oils, like olive, sesame and canola. Some tamari and sea salt, spices. Depending on how broad your particular diet, there may be some free range eggs and chicken, fish, baked goods (with whole grains and few other ingredients), and even some grass-fed beef on occassion.
There are 2 issues, eating locally grown food and eating whole foods. Define whole foods, and define “locally grown”. How local is local? Are organic hot house tomatoes from Western Mass. “Local”? Which is more important would you say, sacrificing organic for local or local for organic?
Organic is very important to me, as it means I am not getting potentially hazardous chemicals in my food. It should be noted that some local farmers follow organic practices, but have not been certified organic (it can take years). One advantage to buying locally and knowing your farmer is that you can ask how the food is grown and what their process is like.
Local is relative, and I’ll refer back to my Sliding Scale of Goodness above. Growing organically yourself is best, buying from a local organic farmer is next, then produce grown regionally, then within the country, then organically outside the country. As a rule, I would not buy something out of season that was flown from Argentina, say, even if it were organic. I’d simply forgo that.
What is “whole food”? I think the term, along with “natural” and “organic” has been diluted and overused. But to me, whole food (I have been using “real food” lately) is food that is very close to how it came from nature. It is minimally processed, if at all (I have my own personal distinction between “prepared” and “processed”, the former is what we typically do in a home kitchen, the latter requires a mill or a factory). Whole grains have not had the nutritious bran removed, for example. Meals are prepared with things that came from a farm, vegetables, grains, fruits, meats, rather than a factory, like mashed potato mix.
Tell us about refined sugar versus alternatives.
Refined sugar is a very intense food and something that we can rarely get in nature. Honey is about the closest thing. And you can imagine the effort required and price paid by a primitive man to extract honey from its natural place in the wild.
There are different kinds of sugars that occur in nature: simple sugars are absorbed into our systems quickly, while complex sugars take longer to absorb, and give us a more sustained energy level. White and brown sugar, honey and maple syrup are all simple sugars, and for the most part should be used very little if at all. Barley malt and brown rice syrup are sources of complex sugars, and can be used as sweeteners in recipes.
There have been many studies about coffee (quick example: http://men.webmd.com/features/coffee-new-health-food) including an article recently in the Wall Street Journal: (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703278604574624032849271284.html). What is your take on coffee?
Ah, coffee is the great drug of our time. And like many drugs, there are positive and negative aspects to it. It stimulates the brain (and digestive system for many), there are lists of supposed long-term benefits. But there are strong negative aspects to it as well, such as increased blood pressure, osteoporosis, pregnancy issues, insomnia and so on. Also, many people add sugar and cream to their coffee, both of which have their own sets of serious consequences. If you are coffee drinker, try going without for a couple of weeks. The first few days may be, uh, challenging, for you and those around you (and should we really be consuming something on a regular basis that we get physical withdrawal symptoms from when we stop??). Observe how you feel. Sleep better? Less feelings of stress? Better gut function? Nature always gives us feedback, and coffee (and its absence) is no exception.
Tell us about your work wherein you approach your clients lifestyle and overall wellness before tackling diet specific issues. Which comes first in your experience, the chicken or the egg? Meaning, in order to bring myself into balance, my food affects my lifestyle and my lifestyle affects my food. How do you work with your clients on this loop?
I start with the “Three Pillars of Success”, education, self-awareness and strategy. For me this is the loop. We need to have a process (strategy) by which we continue to educate ourselves about the dynamics of food, where it comes from and how it impacts our health. We need to be aware of our relationship with food, including behavior in various situations and ingrained habits we have developed. And we need strategies to succeed with new policies we establish for ourselves around food.
In getting started it is important to look at what is motivating an individual to start asking questions in the first place. It may be for health, spiritual, moral or other reasons. There are many paths up the mountain, and once the journey is begun aspects of the other paths become more apparent. So in coaching an individual on their journey, we focus on their own particular path.
[full disclosure: Bert Jackson is the technical adviser and webmaster for Healing Wheel]
It’s an old theme for me but one I find myself revisiting often: finding beauty in the dryness of decay. Especially with flowers, it has become important to me to keep looking, even after the easy radiance of blossoms passes.
Perhaps it’s been said enough, maybe I’m the only one who needs the reminder. But I do. As often as I aim my camera at a natural world glorified, sanctified by decay and dissolution, I still need the reminder.
All things rise up and subside. We could not appreciate the one without the other. Even the sublime presence of lilacs would become cloying were they present all the time. We need the contrast, the transition, the decay.
Yes, it’s about contrast, even if that contrast ultimately includes decay and death. And yet, sitting at the edge of my sixty-fifth year, these aging bouquets, with subtle, translucent petals and the delicate memory of blooms, these graceful bouquets have much to teach me. I can see beyond their stiffness to a quiet humility and a degree of ease. Perhaps there is some wisdom for me here.
By now you’ve probably already heard that the Chinese character for crisis is a combination of characters meaning danger and opportunity. You may even have heard it so often you’re sick of it.
The first time I encountered this idea, it brought a new perspective like a fresh breeze, and I used it as a way of reframing feeling fearful in business or personal situations. But I’ve found that it hasn’t held up well over time, and in the world of work as it exists today, it’s not something I would think of offering as comfort to the clients I serve as a career counselor and business consultant. I’m not sure if this is because the economic “crisis” we’re knee deep in feels too big for so cut-and-dried a response, or because the phrase has simply been dulled by overuse.
In either case, because of the short shelf-life this “crisis = danger + opportunity” meme has had for me, I’ve tended to tune out any time I’ve heard someone say, “The Chinese symbol for … is ….” This changed last summer, however, when I participated in a seminar, led by organizational development thought-leader Margaret Wheatley, entitled, “Renewable Leadership: How to Respond Well to Crisis after Crisis,” at the Cape Cod Institute (www.cape.org).
We spent the week looking at slides of flooded streets, destroyed homes, and piles of debris, learning about the inadequacy of government and NGO responses, and hearing from the leaders of Biloxi and Houston, whose crises came with the hurricane force winds of Katrina and Rita.
Their stories made me receptive to a new Chinese character, the one for perseverance. The word touches me because it reflects what I am hearing from the people who come to me for help and because it is an appropriate response to ongoing economic uncertainity.
Like the storm victims who are still rebuilding the Gulf Coast, people who are struggling to keep a business alive or have lost their job need to be able hang in for the long haul. This kind of endurance requires feeling the pain of loss that comes with the understanding that some of what has been carried off isn’t coming back.
The Chinese character for perseverance is a knife suspended over a heart, Oddly enough, our word “perseverance” also contains the word, “sever.” Only by accepting the “sever” part of perseverance and the feelings that come with loss (the “heart” part) can we get on with the business of recreating ourselves instead of futilely trying to recover what is gone forever.
Last week I was hospitalized and underwent two coronary angioplasties. On day one I received a balloon angioplasty and two stents in a coronary artery that had three blockages; one 99 percent, one 90 percent and one 75 percent. On day two the same procedure was applied to a second artery that had a 75 percent blockage. Lesser blockages remain, but these were not deemed bad enough to do anything about.
Modern medicine is indeed miraculous when wisely used… as a tool to address the physical representations of the greater unseen reality. Before the angioplasties I could feel myself headed inexorably toward a heart attack; now I am almost pain free and feeling stronger every day.
The truth is my heart was being slowly deprived of nourishment (blood and oxygen) for years. As I meditated on this fact after the procedures, it became clear that this condition was a physical manifestation of the fact that I had not been feeding my heart well enough in my daily life. I was too often unresponsive to its calls. My fears were obscuring its voice, so its voice became a scream, and this scream eventually forced me to act, possibly saving my physical life.
Two days after I got out of the hospital, an event occurred which illustrates the point I am trying to make. As I was sitting at a table in a coffee shop near my house, an African American man who appeared to be around 55 years old sat down a few tables away from me. Our eyes met and we nodded. He was carrying two styrofoam containers. Being too familiar with the type of food found in these containers, I assumed that it was fried or fatty.
Suddenly I got the impression to joke with this man I didn’t know about my recent cardiac “adventures”, and to mention the dangers of eating fatty foods. In response, my mind went into “protection” mode (“you’re crazy, you’re going to offend this man, you’ll make an ass of yourself, you don’t even know the guy”, etc, etc). Something inside me, however, pushed me to override my mind’s habitual “safeguards” and I blurted out, “Gotta watch those fatty foods…I just had three stents put in my arteries”.
The man turned his head and stared. For a second I thought the habitual “protector” was right. Then he began asking me a series of questions…about my age, my physical condition, the nature of the procedures I had done,” etc.
Suddenly he began to tell me his story. He was a truck driver and he had suffered a heart attack at age 48. His truck was parked at a stoplight and a nurse who pulled up next to him observed him going into cardiac arrest. He was rushed to a trauma center and fortunately his heart did not suffer any significant damage.
Then this man whom moments earlier I was hesitant to address looked at me and said, “I think you’re an angel”. I laughed out loud. He said “my father was a pastor and he taught me that everything happens for a reason. I think maybe God sent you to have this conversation with me”.
We laughed together about this theological possibility. I asked him how he was doing since his heart attack. He said that, with the pressures of work, his diet had deteriorated badly. (He gestured to two large slices of pizza in the styrofoam containers on the table in front of him). I asked him if still gets chest pains and, somewhat sheepishly, he replied, “occasionally”. When we parted he kept thanking me over and over and saying “God bless you”. I felt like I had just made a life long friend. Then I realized the residual soreness I had felt since the procedures had evaporated during our 20 minute conversation.
These days I take many more such “risks” and they have been working out just fine.
So I am going to take another one, and suggest that you take the time each day to listen to your heart… and to refrain from short circuiting it when it calls.
If you think this sounds like an advertising jingle I wont be offended. Something still beating inside me wants you to get this message.
The calm is what strikes me after sitting here for a minute. The only disruption is the constant noise from a cricket hiding somewhere to my right and the occasional squawking from a gull on the beach below this grassy knoll. The water is calm except for the gentle current of the Agawam River as it meets the Bay. The beach is free of waves as the tide slowly recedes. Several gulls are combing the sands for a snack, only to cry with disappointment at their fruitless search. The sky is clear with elongated light gray clouds that lay low above the trees across the cove. A big black crow caws in the tree next to me and dog barks in answer from the confines of his house. A gentle breeze stirs the small American flag secured to a boat moored in front of me.
I notice small channels of shallow water in the sand, left there by the shrinking tide. So much activity, yet total peace pervades. Familiar sounds lend ambience; sounds I often miss or dismiss in my busyness. A young boy on the beach contribute to the scene; first banging a rock on a concrete drain pipe peaking out from the sand, then in boredom; throwing the rock into the water. A few brave gulls now stand in the water – so still – like hesitant waders, treading slowly into the cold.
My lunch time is over now but I’ll bring the peace of this time back to work with me for a good measure of serenity to the rest of my day.
And in the end when the man looked up at the moon,
tears of joy rolling down his cheeks, taking his last few breaths –
he remembered what, for a short time, he had forgotten –
life and love and freedom can never be taken away
because they are not possessions,
they are the essence of who we are and we are eternal.
Unimpeded by previous concerns, the heart of gold that resides in
each of you now steps forward into the world like never before.
Give wing to your love and to what you love.
Relax into the currents of change
that carry you to the shores of your deeper dreams and desires.
You have prepared the soil well, planted many good seeds.
The ones that have taken root, some below conscious awareness,
now break through the earth and are visible in the world
for your joy and the joy of many others.
Do not take yourself or life too seriously.
This is a time when grace, elegance and joy is giving birth to itself
through each of you – expressed uniquely and deliciously.
Go forth, take wing – no longer tethered by doubt or fear or worry.
The last dustings of these energies will naturally fall away in the flight.
There is a truly beautiful thing that happens when we stop forging ahead or holding back – when we come into the present moment without all our stories that push or prevent. Love. This is the essence of who we are and can always be found when everything else drops away. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve known each other, how much we agree or how many miles are between us. It’s here to be deeply felt and fully shared.
This unconditional love is here for us too, every time we are willing to look in the mirror without the distorting fog created by our stories about past offenses, present judgments or future imagined concerns or consequences.
As many of you know I have been on this planet for 60 years and for at least 35 of those years I’ve been assisting wonderful people (and myself) in creating the lives we most want.
In the beginning I thought we all wanted different things. Now I realize we all simply want to feel good…to feel love. We may define it differently. We may use different words to describe the feeling. We may think different things cause us to feel that way.
I don’t believe our greatest pain is when someone acts in a manner that we experience as unloving. I believe it is when we create reasons to withhold our own love. In those times we’re squeezing off the flow of our life force. We’re disallowing ourselves to feel the very essence of whom we are and unintentionally forgetting how immensely powerful and exquisitely beautiful we are.
Maya Angelou said, “The greatest gift we can give another person is to light up when they enter the room.” I wonder what could happen in 2010 if, above all else, we give the gift that doesn’t need a box or wrapping paper? What if we freely give our hearts? What if we take in fully and love those we are with, no matter who they are, what they’ve done to us or not done for us, no matter where they are in theirs lives? What if we allow our love to flow full strength and do not make it dependent on their responsiveness or any conditions? I wonder how it would affect us, as well as them? I wonder what 2010 would be like if we gave this same gift of love-in-all-condition to ourselves? Just maybe our presence would be a light in the world that is brought to the moments of darkness.
With every thought, word and deed we leave something behind. We get to choose whether we leave a legacy of impossibility or possibility, judgment or acceptance, of struggle or grace, tears or laughter, of worry or trust, fear or love. What is in your heart to leave as a legacy during this year? What is in your heart to leave as a legacy right now?
Together, let’s make 2010 a 10 year.