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Author: Netta

POEM POWER

POEM POWER

Ever since people started talking to one another, they’ve explored the power of words.  The power of LOGOS (the Word) has been the fundamental foundation for building a religion, a culture, a movement, a life.

Words can move you.  Words can move other people.  That’s probably why everybody talks so much.

A MOST EFFECTIVE PUNISHMENT

Remember the Biblical Tower of Babel?  According to the story, the people on earth got together and decided to build this great tower that would reach into Heaven itself.  They figured they could be like little gods if they did that.

They were planning to invade and trespass into God-country.  The Big Guy got mad that they even dared to make that attempt.

tower-of-babel
“Tower of Babel” by ellenm1 via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
So, how did the Dude punish them?  He made it so they began to speak in all kinds of different languages.  All of a sudden, there was a major obstacle to collaboration and cooperation.  You can’t work together if you don’t understand what the other person is saying.  The project was abandoned.

Of course, that also meant that folks had a harder time just living together peacefully, but that’s another story….

DISTILLING THE WORDS

Poems are an especially powerful form of word-use.  Poets distill their thoughts down to their essence, throwing away all the parts that interfere with their dance with the words.

Poems are like the essential oils of the Word World.  It takes an incredible number of rose petals to make an essential oil.  Imagine.  It takes 10,000 POUNDS of petals to make one pound of rose oil.  Each little 5mL bottle contains the essence of 105 pounds of petals.

a-rose
“a rose” by Hans Splinter via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Whew!

Have you ever tried opening one of those teeny bottles of essential rose oil?  Wow!  One sniff and your nose transports you into the best enclosed rose garden there ever was.

POEMS AS A BUSINESS TOOL

In this 2013 TEDxMarin video, “The Power of Poetry”, leadership coach and teacher Dale Biron, who combines poetry with martial arts, leadership, and life-strategy, in his speaking, coaching and workshop sessions for business conferences, organizational retreats and university classes, talks about how great poems are like powerful “apps” for the mind.

Biron says poems can be “good stories with the boring parts removed.”  He believes in the power of poems to get you to a life worth living.

POEMS IN MAXIMUM PRISON

Touring spoken word poet Phil Kaye has won many awards in his career so far.  He’s currently a co-director of Project V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression).  The Project, it says here, is “a national movement that celebrates youth self-expression through Spoken Word Poetry.”  They aspire to encourage young people to use Spoken Word Poetry as a tool “to explore and better understand their culture, their society, and ultimately themselves.”

When Kaye was still a student at Brown University, he participated in and eventually  became the coordinator for the college’s S.P.A.C.E. (Space in Prisons for the Arts and Creative Expression) prison initiative program.  The University students, unpaid volunteers all, offer a variety of weekly art workshops at the Rhode Island Adult Correction Institutions (ACI).  Phil did workshops about spoken poetry.

(S.P.A.C.E. also facilitates workshops in the Providence Center, a residential recovery service provider located on the campus of the ACI.)

Kaye developed a keen appreciation for the power of poems during the time he taught weekly poetry workshops in maximum-security prisons.  In this TEDxFoggy Bottom video, “Poetry in Maximum Security Prison,” he talks about that time in his life and how it has influenced his life-direction.

Kaye’s journey has led him to venues all over the world from the Lincoln Center in New York City to the Malthouse Theater in Melbourne Australia.  His work has been viewed online over five million times and has been featured in media outlets ranging from National Public Radio to Al Jazeera America and Upworthy.com.

In 2011, Kaye published a well-received book of his poetry, A LIGHT BULB SYMPHONY.

One of Kaye’s favorite life high-points was being asked to perform alongside His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama during the beloved teacher’s 80th birthday celebration at the 2015 Global Compassion Summit conference in Anaheim.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In my own life, poems have been my way to get back to clarity about a life-situation or about my own self.  Writing down and recording all the moving parts is like taking a step back from them so I can get a better handle on the whole mish-mash of chaos and confusion.

Sometimes, a hole opens up in the clouds and a light shines through.  Sometimes not.

clouds
“clouds” by Daniel Boyd via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
I keep working on it.  Sometimes I get a whole bunch of poems.  Sometimes nothing.

It’s all process….

Here’s a poem:


UNPLAYFUL WORDS

Nothing comes together.

This poem is not going well.

The words keep turning pale.

They fade, they float away.

They stumble around looking confused.

 

Hmmm.

 

I let loose my Sergeant Major

Who growls at these clueless bo-bo recruits.

They keep stacking themselves this way, that way.

They keep falling over, all in a heap.

A horrible mess.

 

These words have forgotten how to weave, it seems.

They’ve lost the knack of bending and turning themselves

Into a shapeliness that lightly dances.

All they’re doing now is tripping all over themselves,

Faltering and flailing wildly.

 

Maybe they’ve contracted some runical laxness…

A touch of lyrical amnesia, perhaps,

Or maybe some versical repression.

They are limp, they are flawed.

They are a bunch of lazy bums!

 

Maybe I’ve stumbled upon a stash of leftover bits —

Just coagulated lumps of airhead thoughts,

Neither highly expressive nor particularly rhymical.

A deadly dud-ness.

 

(Sigh!)

Ah well…maybe they just need to rest.

See ya later, guys.

I’m gone….

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “garden poem” by Julie Gibbons via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.

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BE A MARTIAL ARTIST OF THE MIND

BE A MARTIAL ARTIST OF THE MIND

It seems to me that no matter how you walk, you are always going to be stumbling over other people’s concerns, other people’s desires, and other people’s understandings.

There is no getting around it:  The World is full of other people and every one of those guys have their own world-views and their own agendas.  They get in your way and you could spend a lot of time struggling with them…or not.

crowd
“Crowd” by James Cridland via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
One lifelong project for me has been putting together a bunch of strategies for dealing with other people.  These strategies were taken from my years of studying the thoughts in a mountain or two of business books and how-to manuals and scientific studies about the human mind as well as in the I Ching and more esoteric studies, and the musings from martial artist practitioners and from crazy wisdom masters.

My professional practice as a residential property manager has been a testing ground for these things and I’ve had many opportunities to try my hand at getting to pono, what Hawaiians call “balanced and righteous actions and behavior.”

I’ve worked hard at learning how to move through the travails of my (basically contentious) trade gracefully and learning how to be a proper go-between so that everyone involved can get where they want to go.

It’s been a fun exploration – often ARGH-making, and sometimes sublime.

for-rent-sign
“For Rent Sign by Mark Moz via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

ASKING, “HOW CAN I GET TO MINE?”

I’ve noticed that, very often, touted hacks for getting your own way tend to be war-like (where you bash other people out of your way, using the force of your persona to bull your way through) or manipulative (where you basically trick someone into doing what you want).

Either way of walking may get you the crown and let you be king (or queen) of the mountain, but then there’s the problem of being there all by yourself because nobody wants to hang with such a bully or trickster.

Some of my friends have gone that route.  They don’t seem very happy with it.

So, it seemed to me that it might be a better thing to become a martial artist of the mind instead – to understand and practice forms that are made up of many smaller moves that evoke certain responses from the other person which you can use to get to where you want to go.

It’s not about using force and strength.  It’s not about making tricky moves.  It’s about using your own mind’s balance, leverage, and focus to affect another person’s way of moving.

How do you get to that?

THE SEVEN HACKS

Over the years I’ve tried and discarded many so-called sure-fire techniques and tactics and distilled the ones that seemed to work every time into seven all-purpose hacks.  These strategies (with appropriate martial artist-type names) are as follows:

 

springtime-in-malibu
“Springtime in Malibu” by Pacheco via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
STILLNESS OF THE MOUNTAIN.  In this one, you become silent and you quietly observe.  You let the other person talk and you listen.

What do you see?  Does the other person’s point of view have validity?  Or is the other person wanting to do the waltz when you were thinking you were going to be doing the tango together?

Just taking the time to be still can bring a lot of things into view that perhaps your concentrated focus on your desired outcome has obscured.

You may be ignoring some big pothole because you have not looked down.  A boulder may be on its way to squishing you because you’re standing there and you haven’t looked up.

Other people may be seeing the things you’re ignoring.   Pay attention.


the-mirror-houses-of-laerdal
“The Mirror Houses of Laerdal” by Caruba via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
REFLECTION OF THE LAKE.  You can reflect back the other person’s concerns or resistance to your idea using his or her own language.  Tell them back what you think you are hearing and check that what you are hearing is what they are actually saying.

Ask them to clarify their point of view in a very non-aggressive way.  Listen.  Pay attention.


willow-silhouette
“Willow Silhouette” by mattharvey1 via Flickr [CC By-NC-ND 2.0]
SUPPLENESS OF THE WILLOW.  You can agree with another person’s demand in principle.  Say, “I suppose we could do that.  How would we handle this or that negative consequence, do you think?”

Perhaps the other person has not thought through the consequences of some move they are proposing.  Perhaps they are short-sighted.

Or, maybe, they’ve done their homework and might be able to point out workarounds that you can’t see.  Pay attention.


stone-lion-silk-ribbon
“Stone Lion, Silk Ribbon” by Can Pac Swire via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
THE STONE WRAPPED IN SILK.  You can calmly state solid fact (the stone) in as supportive a manner as possible:  “Are you aware that this is true?  What do we do about that?”  Listen.  Pay attention.


st-nectan-glen-waterfalls
“St. Nectan’s Glen Waterfall, Cornwall, UK” by ukgardenphotos via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
MOVING LIKE THE RIVER.  You can acknowledge a proposal you don’t want to accept and then invite the other person to think of another way to solve a problem you can see with it.

“Hmmm.  That’s an interesting idea, but I do not think it is the way I want to go.  Can you think of another way that we might be able to do this, that would meet your needs at least partway and help me meet mine?”


sky-with-clouds
“Sky With Clouds” by elycefeliz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
DISPERSING THE CLOUDS.  When you see that the other person is caught up in beliefs, assumptions and fears and has boxed himself (or herself) into a corner, you can acknowledge all of the perhaps-legitimate concerns and then ask what he or she might do if the perceived obstacles did NOT exist.

Use their concerns as a springboard for further movement.


fire
“Fire” by Brenna Cade via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
ACCEPTING THE FIRE.  Name the major sticking point for the other person, the one main thing that he or she cannot accept about your proposal.

If that thing is an absolutely important, non-negotiable issue with them and you are not able to deal with it in a way that would be equitable for your own self, then you will have to accept that you and this other person cannot dance together.

Say, “thank you.”  Walk away.


FINAL THOUGHTS

I have found that it’s important to remember that a lot of struggle results from your emotional investment in any one dance.  The thing is this, there are many ways of dancing and many, many other dances.

If you can step back from the emotions involved in working towards a desired outcome  and remember that it’s all just dancing, then it can make the whole thing a lot smoother.

Here’s a poem:


STUCK IN THE BOG

When you focus on the outside,

Bringing all your strength to bear

On some damnable situation or other,

You are stuck in a quagmire.

 

The more you struggle,

The more effort you expend,

The deeper you sink.

 

If you can be still,

Let your feet rise up,

And lie down on top of the sticky,

Maybe you can float to where

You can pull yourself out.

 

Think light.

Let go.

Float and reserve your strength

For when you can do something

To help yourself.

by Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  “Be As Mount Fuji…” by Timothy Takemoto via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Thank you for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d leave a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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OWN IT

OWN IT

Among the treasure trove of ideas in Seth Godin’s book, POKE THE BOX, is this one:  No one has influence, control, or confidence in their work (or any other area of their life) until they understand how to initiate change and predict how a thing will respond.

The “box” Godin is talking about in his title is any complex bit of your life that you want to understand better with the goal of making your interaction with it more effective.

The “box” might be that brand-new computer program, just sitting there waiting for you to poke at the buttons on your machine and make the new do-dad do things, make it dance.

The “box” might be a market you want to tackle and make sit up and take notice of you.  Maybe that “market” is just one special somebody whose attention you crave.  It might be a customer or it might be your boss or maybe a somebody you’d like to be significant in your life.

Whatever the “box” is, the thing is a puzzle that can be solved in only one way – by poking.

POKING IS A WAY OF BUILDING A PRACTICE

My brother Michael was an intrepid bug explorer in his youth.  He was forever hunkered down, watching lines of ants or other critters, chasing down caterpillars and watching them turn into butterflies, studying spiders in their webs, and grabbing up crickets and grasshoppers.

caterpillar-on-finger
“Caterpillar On Finger” by Tom Phillips via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
He spent hours watching what the little guys did, poking at them with fingers and sticks, seeing how they moved and what made them do things differently.

When you do THIS, what happens?  When you do THAT, what happens?  Hey, it ALWAYS does this when I do that!  Wow!  Now, why did it do that? 

Michael sure did learn a lot about bugs.  They were his “box.”  After a while he got really good at knowing what assorted bugs did and how and why.  He turned an initial wonderment into a passion and that passion became a sort of practice for him.

ANOTHER KIND OF OWNERSHIP

In a similar way, if you poke at your own puzzles, your “box” reveals itself.  As you get better at questioning and poking, you not only get smarter but you also gain what Godin calls “ownership.”

You step into the box and make it your own.

boy-in-a-box
“Boy In a Box” by David Dodge via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Godin’s kind of ownership does not have to be equity or even control.  Ownership comes from understanding and from having the power to make things happen.   “Ownership” is another name for mastery and influence.

THE WONDER OF IT ALL

It all begins with that sense of wonder, and it begins by asking questions and looking for some answers:

  •  How does this work?
  • Why does it do that?
  • How can I make it do something else?
  • Can I do this with it?  What about that?
  • What are its limits?
  • Can I expand those limits?
  • What happens when I do?

As you unravel your puzzles and wander around in your mysteries you’ll find your own answers.  As you test your conclusions in the real world, seeing whether the things you’ve thunk actually work outside the confines of your own head, you will develop own your way of walking.

peace-of-mind
“Peace of mind…” by Lalit Shahane via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

GUIDED BY THE ANSWERS

Consistently asking your questions and faithfully following where the answers lead you eventually gets you to a place where nobody else can answer the questions you still have.  By then you’ll have built yourself a practice and a method and means for exploring this world you’ve discovered.

The answers you start finding and following are going to be different than the run-of-the-mill, regular ones.  You’ve already gone past those everybody-knows-that answers.

breakthrough-green-road-sign
“Breakthrough Green Road Sign” by Wonder woman0731″ via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
If you do it right and don’t fall down some pothole or other and the creek don’t rise, maybe you’ll spark up more questions that other people can use to construct their own paths.

THE QUESTION-BOX HEADS OUT

It all starts with being aware.  It all starts with noticing.  It all starts with a determination to go where the answers to your questions lead you.

Godin says, “Winners turn initiative into a passion and a practice.”  With his book, he shows you a way of doing just that.

The following YouTube video, “Make Your Life Spectacular,” was published by Goalcast and is a tribute to one of my favorite funny guys, the late Robin Williams.  What a heartful man!

Here’s a poem, constructed for one who followed his questions:


HYMN FOR A LINED FACE

Of all the wonders World displays

Not one can match your face.

What is the meaning of this line,

Or that one that I trace?

 

This deep one here, from eye to chin,

What sorrow etched it there?

The others feathering everywhere

Show pains and joys quite clear.

 

I would not want some lover with

A face smooth as an egg,

That shows a quiet life unlived,

No cup drunk to the dregs.

 

You are a wonderment to me,

A glory and a joy,

Behind the marks of a life lived large,

I see a luminous boy.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “mystery box” by spinster cardigan via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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SHUSH — Another Inner Peace Symptom

SHUSH — Another Inner Peace Symptom

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  a disinclination to endlessly discuss your plans and dreams.  [Every time you talk about a dream, a little bit of the energy powering that dream leaks out.  It’s kind of like letting the air out of a filled balloon to make farting noises.  After a while all the gas is gone and the balloon won’t rise.]

‘Kay.  There you are with this HUGE idea…the Biggest of the Big.  It is definitely, absolutely, without a doubt, going to be a killer!

You just have to share, right?  After all, ideas don’t live in a vacuum.  They need to be watered and fertilized, cultivated and encouraged to grow until hey-ho they bloom!  All of that.

Who better to help you lift that bale and tote that bucket than your nearest and dearest friend or two or ten or, hey…why not hundreds or thousands?

big-day-out
“Big Day Out” by Eva Rinaldi via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

CHAMPION OF THE DREAM

So you pump yourself up and you spread the word.  You are gonna do this and you’re gonna do that and you’re gonna and gonna and gonna….buzzity, buzzity, buzz, buzz, buzz.   It’s all very exciting, that.

You get so into talking about that Dream that you really feel like your words are manifesting the thing out of the ethers.  You are the self-appointed Champion of the Dream.  Yup!  You’re keeping it alive.

champ
“champ” by kurge via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
That gush of words and words and words building the excitement up and up is bringing the Dream that much closer, right?  Ummm…not really.  “The Dream” actually becomes what one group of guys and gals in lab coats call an “identity symbol” in your brain.  Its function is to make your self-image seem real.

Since both actions and talk can create these symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it may “neglect the pursuit of further symbols” (like actually taking action), according to NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer who has been studying this since his now out-of-print 1982 book, SYMBOLIC SELF-COMPLETION.

In a study published in Psychological Science magazine in 2009, the professor and his research team announced that they had figured out that if you tell your goal and the people you tell cheer and celebrate or applaud you as if you actually did something, then your brain will think that you already did it.

The acknowledgement becomes part of your “social reality,” and may actually provide your brain with enough satisfaction that you don’t feel you have to do anything else.(Why would your brain want to bother with doing it for real?  It’s convinced that the thing is done already!  You’ve already won the prize.)

The researchers did find one interesting side effect of this phenomenon.   They say you actually are more likely to go forward with your goal or dream if the people around you ignore you when you tell them what you want to do.

Just because you’re a contrary human being (like the rest of us), when you are ignored, it becomes a part of your determination to “show” all those unappreciative, short-sighted ding-a-lings that you really are capable of doing what you say you want to do.

LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS…TORPEDOS NOT NEEDED

Check out this podcast published by the TEDTalks organization on YouTube featuring dream-building master Derek Sivers, author of ANYTHING YOU WANT:  40 Lessons For a New Kind of Entrepreneur.

In this short talk, he admonishes, “Keep your goals to yourself.”

There may also be a number of practical and psychological arguments for keeping mum.

  • If you tell someone your goal, the resulting attention can then increase the pressure on you in a negative way. The pressure to perform is likely to raise your anxiety levels to new heights.

This may not be helpful when the goal requires that you remain calm and composed.  (You may not want an audience or a cheerleading section when you’re taking a driving test for the first time, for example.)

  • Sometimes, when you tell people your goals, they may tend to use the knowledge as a lens for judging your future actions. They see your actions and compare them to what you said were your goals.

This can work out well if you’ve agreed to accept their holding you “accountable” for your goals – if you ask them to support you and help keep you on track.  The thing is, it does depend on how skillful they are at doing that, and whether you are actually good at accepting guidance without balking.

But, if you are prone to resent being “pressured” into doing anything (even if you ask for this help) or if the other person is less than tactful in their approach, any “helpful” commentary might actually feel like an attack or “nagging” to you.  This might cause you to move in a different direction than the one that gets you to your goal.  Not good.

  • Sometimes your idea is just too fragile and new to bear the touch of other people’s minds. Sometimes your dream has to be protected from rough handling and premature dissection. It’s a newborn, after all.  You’re not supposed to play football with it.

A lot of very good ideas have died horrible deaths because other people couldn’t keep their mouths off it.    Often it’s better to wait until your vision has evolved and grown a bit before allowing other people to put in their two cents.  A bit of voluntary, self-induced deafness might also be in order at the beginning.

The Real is:  it’s all a dance and you will react to other people’s reactions.  Sometimes it feels like you’re the little ball zooming around in the pinball machine.

pinball-bumpers
“Pinball Bumpers” by Tom Rolfe via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

FINAL THOUGHTS

The next time you’re tempted to share your latest Big Dream, STOP.

shhhh
“Shhh” by Sonny Abesamis via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Go think about how you can make your Big Dream become real.  Then go try a little something that moves the process forward.  Little step by little step by little step.

Ask questions.  Resolve the problems you encounter along the way and pick other people’s brains about solutions to try.  Think and do, do and think.  Ask for help with the how of it all from people who actually know something about it.

When you have made some substantial progress at learning the basics of a new skill or have made a good start at some life-change, or, better yet, when you have a sort-of-working prototype, that’s when you’ll have something.

Share that…but only in a way that doesn’t cause others to do a victory dance for you.  (You don’t want that brain of yours to get too complacent.)  Then go back to making your dream happen.

Yeah, it’s not so fun, but it does work better.

Here’s a poem:


YEAH, YEAH, YEAH

I’ve heard these promises before, you know.

Oh, yeah…for real…that’s right.

 

Any day now,

Some day soon,

The sun’s gonna shine, shine, shine.

 

And I have waited for that dawning,

Waited for that glow that grows,

Waited…waited…waited.

 

I’ll get right on it.

Yes, I’m gonna do it.

It’s a-comin’, yes it is.

 

But all my waiting with bated breath

Just got me blue in the face,

Anticipation turning to sour disappointment.

Gonna happen,

Yes, indeedy,

Soon now; really, really soon.

 

Braddah-man, lady-sistah,

Your mouth moving but not your hands.

Your feet not walking, you only got plans.

 

No can, li’ dis!

 

The cold wind’s blowing up past my ass,

And I already know the end of this story.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Drifting Away” by Chris Chabot via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Thanks for the visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts….

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WALK LIKE A HAWAIIAN

WALK LIKE A HAWAIIAN

In 1986, the American band, The Bangles, released “Walk Like an Egyptian.”  All over the world, people started doing the walk and walking like an Egyptian.  It was fun!

Last year an Australian couple, Zoe Russell and Brad Moore, went to Egypt.  Russell, who is a travel blogger, posted a cute, lip-synced version of the song that was intended for the enjoyment of their family and friends.  Check it out:

The video went viral in Egypt. The Egyptian tourism industry got behind it and the cute little video got more than 450,000 views on Facebook.  In April, 2017, ABC News Australia did a story on it.

THE WAY YOU WALK

This bit of fun got me to thinking about all of the different ways people have of walking in the world.

Part of the way that each of us walks, I think, is a matter of culture.  The culture into which you are born and raised often has a lot to do with the qualities you bring to the way you walk in the world and interact with other people.  Many of your highest aspirations come from it.

WALKING HAWAIIAN

I was born and raised in Hawaii and that surely affects my default mode of walking.  It’s a good way, I think.

The thing you have to know, first of all, is that Hawaiians have a deep, ingrained respect for the power of the word, and many of our words are descriptions of the character traits of the people in our lives.

kanaka-makua
“Kanaka Makua” — petroglyph rubbing by Netta Kanoho (rock carved by Fred Kanoho)

Let me introduce you to the concept of kanaka makua.

According to the author of Nana I Ke Kumu:  Look to the Source, the highest aspiration of a Hawaiian is to be a kanaka makua, a person who is emotionally and mentally mature.

Aunty Mary Kawena Puku’i, the Hawaiian elder who was the resource for much of the knowledge that is recorded in scholarly books on Hawaiian thought and language, said, “A kanaka makua thinks.  He doesn’t jump into things.  He takes responsibility…  controls temper…is not scatter-brained …realizes that anger can cause hihia (an ever-widening, increasingly damaging network of ill-feeling)…sensible…kind…thoughtful….”

But, most of all, the author says, a kanaka makua is hospitable with a hospitality that “connotes a warm and generous giving and sharing, whether of food or companionship or concern and comfort, always in a person-to-person way.  (He has outgrown the infantile grasping to get all one can and keep all one has….).”

THE GOOD DOCTOR FINDS THE WORDS

In any language, there are words and phrases, stories and proverbs that describe human character traits and qualities (admirable and not).

One person who collected such words was the Reverend Dr. Charles McEwen Hyde, a Congregational minister  who began teaching Native Hawaiian pastors from 1877.  Hyde developed a list of Hawaiian words and proverbs while conducting group discussions with his Hawaiian students at his North Pacific Missionary Institute.

charles-mcewen-hyde
Charles McEwen Hyde by Not Given {{Public Domain}} via Wikimedia Commons.

He wrote a number of articles in Thomas G. Thrum’s Hawaiian Almanac and Annual as well as the Hawaiian Gazette Monthly in the late 1800’s.  In them he included all the words he could discover.

Looking over his lists gives you a pretty accurate idea about what was considered admirable in a person during that time.  The nuances attached to the words can be interesting.

BALANCE

Probably a kanaka makua would be considered to be ku, proper and fit.  It is likely that he would be one who is kapukapu, entitled to reverence and respect, being dignified and separate from what is common.

The kanaka makua has a na’au pono (balanced mind) and is just, right-minded and upright.

wave-rider
“Wave Rider” by Jason Jacobs via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
He is also nakulu’ai, upright and praiseworthy.  (A chief or common person respected for virtuous conduct was called kolokolohai, a term of respect for someone who is thoughtful, humble and kind.)

Perhaps this person would be considered ka’oka’o — whole and undivided because he removes himself from wrongdoing.

GENTLENESS, HARMONY, HUMILITY

Gentleness, harmony and humility were considered the most important character traits.  A person who is ‘elemino is “gentle, without noise or confusion, and easy in manners.” (The word implies “straightness” and “uprightness” as well.)

One who is gentle-mannered and soft-spoken is nahenahe, like a quiet breeze.  As one proverb says, “He ‘olina leo ka ke aloha,” (a joyousness is in the voice of love).  Love, it says, speaks in a gentle and joyous voice, not in harshness or gruffness.

Unity and harmony is often emphasized.  Someone who is kohukohu, “harmonious in opinion” is also considered to be noble, honorable and dignified.  One proverb admonishes, “I ho’okahi kahi ke aloha.”  (Be united in the bond of affection.)

shaka-aloha
“Shaka Aloha” by Ethan Chiang via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
One who lives quietly and is humble is ha’aha’a.  Such a person might say, “He paepae wawae ko’u ‘ili no kona kapua’i” (my skin is like the soles of his feet) as an expression of humbleness that acknowledges the superiority of some other person.

The word hilu also describes someone who is still, quiet, reserved and dignified.  Unlike ha’aha’a, it also implies elegance, power and magnificence.

CALMNESS, GRACE

Calmness and grace were prized.  One proverb says of one who remains calm in the face of difficulty, “He po’i na ka uli, kai ko’o, ‘a’ohe hina puko’a,” (though the sea be deep and rough, the coral rock remains standing).

true-beauty
“True Beauty” by CRASH:candy via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

GENEROSITY, KINDNESS, BENEVOLENCE

Generosity, kindness, and benevolence was emphasized.  One who is manawale’a gives willingly, cheerfully and liberally, even giving generously to those who are undeserving.

Kahiau means to give away lavishly, from the heart, expecting nothing in return.

Kihikau means to give lavishly until everything is gone.  (This is listed as a positive human quality.)

One proverb quips, “he ‘opu halau,” which is said of a person who is kind, gracious and hospitable.  The literal meaning of this phrase is “a house-like stomach,” but it means that the person has a heart as big as a house.

Hospitality, especially to strangers, is an outward sign of generosity.  One proverb says, “He ola i ka leo kahea” (there is life in a hospitable call).

welcome-luau
“Welcome Luau” (BYU-Hawaii) by Nathan Lehano via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
People who are generous to a fault are considered to be “disposed in feeling and action to do good”, lokomaika’i, and are likely to be benevolent and obliging.  Grace and good will are theirs.

As one proverb says, “‘Ino ka palu ‘a’ohe e mikokoi ‘ia e ka i’a.” It helps to know that palu is bait made of dried, mashed octopus liver when you’re told that this proverb says, “When the bait is not good, fish will not gather to eat it.”  In other words, goodness and graciousness always attracts attention.

One who is kindly and forgiving is considered to have na’au ali’i (the sensibilities of a chief).  One who is warm-hearted is called pumehana.

SKILLFUL MEANS

Skillful action, excellence in work, industriousness, and neatness or tidiness are also part of the kanaka makua ideal.

Being diligent in business and active is to be nakue.   (The word carries a connotation of being cheerful, hopeful, perhaps even thrilled.)

Men who are skillful, ingenious or dexterous with natural skill, wisdom or ingenuity are called maiau.  Women who have these qualities are called loia.

Someone who is miki, energetic, active, ready to act and diligent, is greatly appreciated.  One who is miki’ala is alert, punctual and ready for business.  Someone who is mimiki works with a will, is quick and spry and very industrious.

teaching-little-brother-to-play
“Teaching Little Brother To Play” by Sarah Han via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
A person who is more than prompt and present before it is time to start work is paku’ei.

One who is prepared, energetic and active is pulawalawa.

INTELLIGENCE, THOUGHTFULNESS

Intelligence is prized.  An intelligent person is called akamai, smart, or na’auao, which literally means “daylight mind” and implies enlightenment.

Being skillful and thoughtful in reflection, eloquent and moving in speech is being mikolelehua.

One who is thoughtful might also be called lana ka mana’o, hopeful and without worry, or kuano’o, comprehending and meditative.

thoughtful
“Thoughtful” by edward musiak via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
To understand, to see clearly and plainly, and to be insightful is to be maopopo.

COURAGE

Courage is prized in a warrior culture.  A person who is koapaka is valiant, brave and a success as a combatant.

Having a firm stance, being kuha’o (or standing like iron) is important, as is being maka’u ‘ole, fearless. The word kuo’o expands the idea of fearlessness to include being vigilant, ready, and prompt in action.  (Solemnity and dignity seem to be attached to kuo’o.)

Someone who is lalama, on the other hand, is fearless, daring and adventurous like a mountain climber.

courage
“Courage” by Christian Michel via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
To be wiwo’ole is also to be bold and fearless.  One way to achieve clarity and be devoid of fear in the middle of danger, it is said, is mohala, to open or calm the mind.

A person who is kamau has great endurance and perseverance especially in uncertain time.  This description implies constancy and loyalty as well.

Kupa’a ka mana’o means “faithful in thought, settled in mind.”  Kupa’a is steadfastness, faithfulness, loyalty and determination.  It literally means “to stand fast.”

IT’S THE LAW….

One of the most famous words in the Hawaiian language is “aloha.” It has echoed through all the world, been turned into a slogan, a mission statement, an assortment of brands, and so on and so forth.  It’s become, alas, something of a cliché.

aloha
“Aloha” by Peter Liu via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I find it interesting that the state of Hawaii has a law on the books that requires public officials to “contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration” to an essentially native spiritual concept.

They call it the “Law of the Hawaiian Spirit.”

This is what the law says:

  •   5-7.5 “Aloha Spirit”. (a) “Aloha Spirit” is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, “Aloha“, the following unuhi laulā loa may be used:
    Akahai“, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
    Lōkahi“, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
    ʻOluʻolu” meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
    Haʻahaʻa“, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
    Ahonui“, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
    These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii’s people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaiʻi. ”Aloha” is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation. ”Aloha” means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return. “Aloha” is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence. ”Aloha” means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.
    (b) In exercising their power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of their responsibilities, obligations and service to the people, the legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, executive officers of each department, the chief justice, associate justices, and judges of the appellate, circuit, and district courts may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the “Aloha Spirit”. [L 1986, c 202, § 1]

Hawaii may be the only State in the Union that mandates that its public officials show love for the people they serve.  Hmmm….

Here’s a poem:


HAWAIIANS TEACH BY LIVING

 

“Kuli, kuli…too much noise,”

Tutu would always say

To the loud and curious grandchild

Who ran around all day,

Looking for the answers,

Wanting to know NOW,

Always looking for shortcuts,

Grumbling about ‘as how.

 

Too much questions,

Too much talking,

Too much namunamu.

Close your mouth, move your hands.

One day you will understand.

 

One day…

 

Lessons you learn in silence,

Watching hands move

With graceful skill.

 

Lessons you find in silence,

Hearing old voices,

Talking long and slow.

 

Lessons you see in silence,

By doing it over

Again and again.

 

Lessons you feel in silence,

Wondering, pondering,

While the old ones play.

 

Hawaiians teach by living.

It’s the only way they know.

If you want to learn, be still.

When you stop making noise,

They will show.

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo Credit:  “Aloha – Company On a Long Drive” by Matt via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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HOW TO MESS AROUND

HOW TO MESS AROUND

Hands-on (often inept) fooling around with stuff has been called “tinkering.”  The top definition for the word “tinkering” in the online collaborative Urban Dictionary is this:  “to mess around with something and you don’t really have a clue what you are doing.”  (The regular dictionary definitions are pretty boring.)

It’s to honor the Urban Dictionary spirit of tinkering that Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, the co-directors of the San Francisco Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio put together the book, THE ART OF TINKERING.

In the introduction to this amazing collection of wonders by 150+ Makers who combine art, science and technology to put together incredibly diverse works, Wilkinson and Petrach tell us that tinkering is “more of a perspective than a vocation…. It’s thinking with your hands and learning through doing.”

The book grew out of the work being done by a group of artists, scientists, developers, educators and facilitators who play with many different sorts of tools, materials and technologies at the museum’s “Tinkering Studio” and at the PIE Institute.

JUST MESSING AROUND

This gathering of fun-loving Makers bent on giving us all a taste of the joy of tinkering was the result of a project called the PIE (Play-Invent-Explore) Network.  This federally funded project began as a collaboration between the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group, the Exploratorium, and several other museums,

They started by experimenting with science and art activities that developed into innovative educational activities suitable for wonderment, playfulness and learning about the world around us.

Work by the Tinkering Studio guys often become either exhibits at the museum or hands-on activities that allow museum visitors to jump in and play in the museum’s Tinkering Studio space which is open to the public.

The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium has become an inspiration for tinkerers and other wanna-be Makers since it began in 2009.

This 2012 YouTube video published by core77inc  gives a taste of what the sessions held in the Studio feels like:

TINKERING TENETS

The book has a slew of advice about how you, too, can play at tinkering.

Here are my favorites:

  • Create rather than consume.
  • Express ideas via construction. Use your hands to build the constructs living in your mind.
  • Embrace your tools. Learn how to use them the “right” way, then figure out other ways to use them that work for what you are trying to do.  It’s been said that a master knows how to misuse tools at least three different ways to get other results.
  • Prototype rapidly. When you have an idea, don’t let it just sit in your brain.  Get it out into the world as soon as possible.  Sketch a design.  Build a working model with stuff you have lying around.  Once it’s out of your head you can work out your next steps and move on to Phase 2.
  • Make it strange. Use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways.  Take a common object and put it to another new use.
  • Get stuck. It’s a good thing.  Failure tells you what you don’t know.  Frustration is for making sense of that failure in the moment.  Taking action to work through the problem and playing with it ultimately lead to new understandings.

BEST BIT

The best advice of all is this one:  You need to balance autonomy with collaboration.

Autonomy – going solo – helps you get to your own kind of mastery.  You learn how to work with tools and materials.  You develop your own skill and knowledge.  You grow your confidence.

running-a-drill
“Running a Drill” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Tinkering with other people can be a blast.  Collaboration helps you clarify your ideas for solving a problem because you have to be able to explain them to your partners in a way they can understand.   (Otherwise they won’t be able to help you get where you want to go.)

setting-up
“Setting Up” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
You and your partners will have different and various skills and ideas that can be brought to bear on the problem.  Cross-pollination is likely to occur and that could lead to other wonders.

set-to-go
“Set To Go” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Best of all, everybody can be a part of something larger than themselves, and that, as any wise guy will tell you is a very good thing.

eat-our-rust
“Eat Our Rust” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
All of the pictures of the hand-made sailing rail-cars project above were taken by Gever Tulley, the founder of Tinkering School, an internationally known summer program.   He also started SF Brightworks, an innovative K-12 school in San Francisco emphasizing experience-based, hands-on experiential learning.

Tulley is the also the author of the book FIFTY DANGEROUS THINGS (YOU SHOULD LET YOUR CHILDREN DO), among others.  As he has noted, “I have made it my mission to reintroduce the world to children:  the real world as revealed through unscripted, hands-on, meaningful learning experiences.”

Here’s a poem.


MAKING ROOM FOR THE CREATIVE

The Creative has no limits, it is said.

It moves along, coursing through our days

Like rivers and streams,

Tumbling over the rocky places,

Making babbling brooks and dancing rills,

Trickling through the hard

As runnels and creeks,

Diving under massed walls,

Soaking on down to run deep

And springing back up as

Freshets, sweet and clear….

Tributaries all, running through the World

On their way to the Sea of Dreams

Where all potentialities roll around playing.

 

It keeps on moving, the Creative,

Carrying away bits of our landscape

And depositing them somewhere other,

Building up and tearing down

The structure of our lives.

It’s just there, the Creative,

That essence, shiny-bright,

A beautiful, chaotic force.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Tinker Town Tuesday” by Erin via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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CHANGING THE GAME

CHANGING THE GAME

I was looking through an old poetry journal of mine, looking for something to use in a post.  I found a folded sheet with a poem by a dear friend who died recently, Pat Masumoto.  The poem was dated September 10, 2015.

I remembered that Pat asked me to read this poem for her at a Maui Live Poets gathering she wasn’t able to attend because of conflicts in her hectic schedule.

Memories came flooding back and I was missing my dear friend.   Poems have that ability to speak for you when you’re gone, it seems.

Aloha no, my ‘aikane…aloha no….

Here’s the poem:


CHANGING THE GAME

(to be read with a perfectly straight face)

 

Self control.  It works.

 

When I feel hurt by rude insensitivity

I talk a lot and sometimes shout.

If I’m not heard, I walk away,

            even when I want to choke someone

            until he turns a putrid green.

 

When I feel alarmed by injustice

I stand up against it,

And if I can’t get anywhere, I read about heroes…

            instead of spitting at people’s faces.

            and I don’t like using guns either.

 

When I find myself in fear,

I might compose a poem…or two.

I won’t cross my arms and crouch and I absolutely

            will not growl and bite anyone coming near.

 

As I become stronger and tougher,

I’ll do a silly giggle and laugh like crazy.

If you want to know what else, I’m aching to

            get down on all fours and

            howl at the moon, but I won’t.

 

When I’m gladdened by kindness,

By patience and generosity, I smile and grin.

I don’t get naked and

             run amuck in the streets,

            arms raised and hands open, screaming with joy.

 

(visibly take a breath)

 

After exercising self-control for my whole life, I’m now bored with it.

I want to change the game.


Header picture credit:  “Maui Sunset” by Bernard Spragg, NZ via Flickr.  [CC0 1.0 – Public Domain]

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THE TWIN POETS

THE TWIN POETS

The Twin Poets are identical twin brothers, Nnamdi Chukwuocha (born Elbert Mills)  and Albert Mills, with a unique style of poetry that evolved out of their habit of finishing each other’s sentences and the rap and hip-hop of their youth. They are internationally known for their live performances of socially conscious work, including “Dreams Are Illegal In the Ghetto” and “Homework for Breakfast.

Their book, OUR WORK, OUR WORDS…:  Taking the Guns From Our Sons’ Hands are filled with poems that tell the stories of the people they’ve encountered in their work as social workers and teachers for more than 17 years in the poorest sections of Wilmington, Delaware.  These poems are definitely “Life-Built Poems” — of the most heartbreaking kind.

The brothers appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” series in the mid-2000s and, as a result have since performed on stages across America, Europe and Africa.  Through it all they continued to work with the people in their communities.

Besides being poets, the twins spent more than 17 years working at the Kingswood Community Center in Wilmington, Delaware and continued to expand and develop their idea that art could counter the dream-killing effects of poverty and hardship.  Mills is a family therapist  and community-based social worker and Chukwuocha is a social worker who has served on the Wilmington City Council for a number of years.

In 2014, Newsweek called Wilmington, “Murder Town USA” and said it ranked third on the FBI’s annual list of “most violent cities” among cities of comparable size.  It also ranked fifth when compared to all cities with populations greater than 50,000.

Most of the city is safe, Wilmington residents who were offended by the Newsweek article protested.

A 2015 Delaware Today article, “Wilmington Crime: A City That Bleeds,” pointed out that the numbers in the statistics used by the Newsweek report of murder and mayhem are disproportionately centered in areas like the Hilltop neighborhood mentioned as well as other, similar neighborhoods and are the result of a number of chronic problems – not enough jobs, not enough support of education and training, housing issues, and several generations of social ills that have no easy solutions.  It continues to be an ongoing problem.

Over the years the brothers have received a number of awards recognizing them for their community service, including the Village Award (2006) from the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families and a Local Heroes  Award from Bank of America (2006).

The Twin Poets were the State of Delaware Mentors of the Year in 2001, and, in December, 2015, they were named the 17th Poet Laureate (a shared title) of the state of Delaware by former Governor Jack Markell.

Another article in Delaware Today, “Wilmington’s Twin Poets Provide Healing Through Art,” chronicles the extraordinary efforts they’ve made and continue to make to help save the children in the poorest of the communities they service from the hopelessness and helplessness that the disenfranchised experience in their world.

The brothers founded Art for Life–Delaware, a community-based, social worker-led mentoring program that uses art to change the lives of delinquent youth and their families.

They also developed G.O.A.L.S. (Getting Organized Always Leads To Success), a tutoring and mentoring program that teaches children about the importance of self-expression and writing.

This Hearts and Mind Film published in 2013 features the Twin Poets poem, “Why I Write”:

Why I Write” is also the name of a website about the brothers and their work that was initially designed by the interactive design students at the University of Delaware.

As Chukwuocha says in the Delaware Today article about their life, the brothers have refused many invitations to become rap and hip-hop sensations over the years.  They wanted to “make a difference,” he said.  They continue trying.

Header picture credit: “Peace Keeper Marching” by TC Davis via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]  The description says, “The Wilmington Peace Keepers are volunteers who visit neighborhoods where there has been a recent shooting, to comfort and pray with families and friends and empower the neighborhood for change.”

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BOUNCING BACK

BOUNCING BACK

Resilience researchers ask why some people handle adversity better than others and go on to lead normal lives despite negative life experiences while others get de-railed by them.

After years of study, they pretty much figured out that the old guys had the right of it:  You need to stay positive.  You need to have a good crew at your back.

ONE SCIENTIFIC STUDY

This YouTube video from Big Think, “Resilience Lessons from Our Veterans” features psychiatrist Dennis Charney, the Dean of the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine discusses his book, RESILIENCE:  The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, which he wrote with Steven Southwick, who is the Professor of Psychiatry, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Resilience at Yale Medical School.

According to the good doctors, the right kind of optimism as well as a strong support network are key factors in developing resilience.

ANOTHER TAKE ON IT

International bestselling author Paul McGee wrote HOW TO SUCCEED WITH PEOPLE:  Remarkably Easy Ways to Engage, Influence and Motivate Almost Anyone.  He did a series of remarkably satisfying podcasts published by Capstone Publishing in 2013 with riffs taken from his book.  Here’s the one about being resilient….

PULLING IT TOGETHER

Emily Esfahani Smith, in her book, THE POWER OF MEANING:  Crafting a Life That Matters, pulls together a whole body of information about resilience and gives some insight into the characteristics of resilient people and how they keep on bouncing back.

She tells us that resilient people have the following assets in their set of character traits:

  • Purpose and a worthy goal
  • A moral compass that’s tied to altruism or selflessly serving others
  • Social support
  • Spirituality (which could be defined as a “source of strength and power that is greater than yourself”).
  • A natural inclination to continue on through adversity.

According to most resilience researchers some people naturally resist adversity better than others.  Maybe it’s their genetic makeup.  Maybe their early life experiences predisposed them to this way of doing things.

But, Smith says, resilience is not a fixed trait.  Everyone can learn to adapt to stress more effectively by developing a set of psychological tools to help them cope with stressful events.

She points out three successful mindsets and strategies that center on finding meaning in the everyday that work:

OPPORTUNITY MINDSET.  If you can see a stressful situation as a challenge and not as a threat, you are more likely to just keep on keeping on.

“IT’S NORMAL” MINDSET.  If you can see the difficulties and obstacles in front of you as a natural part of how the world works, then you free yourself from stressing about how it’s all because YOU are not-this or YOU are not-that and YOU don’t belong  and YOU are not-supposed-to…and the rest of that garbage.

This mindset can set your mind free from the uncertainties about “belonging” and the doubts that rise up when you’re doing something that is not what the people you want to impress would do.   It allows you to just keep going.

“KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON THE JOB” MINDSET.  If you focus on how doing what you’re doing can help you and others live out self-transcendent values (rather than focusing on how to promote your own self and your own agenda), it’s easier to keep on moving forward.

Smith believes that keeping the life values that are important to you firmly in mind helps to protect you from the damage that stressing over some outcome or other can do.

cahill-craziness
“Cahill Craziness” by Helen Taylor via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

MY OWN THOUGHT

All of the foregoing stuff gets me to thinking about what the old guys called “gumption.”

Merriam-Webster says “gumption” showed up in the early 1700’s as a word.  Its earliest uses referred to “intelligence” and “energy”.  By the 1860’s Americans were using the word to imply “ambition” and “tenacity.”  It has since evolved into a synonym for “courage” and “get-up-and-go.”

Bouncing back requires all of that.  It’s good to know that they can be developed, they can evolve and they can grow.

 

sunrise-over-maui
Sunrise Over Maui by Rose Braverman Molokai Hawaii via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that the thing you absolutely cannot lose is your gumption.  [Nothing is sadder than somebody whose gumption got up and went.  Hang on to that gumption!]

Here’s one more YouTube video, “Resilience:  Hard Times Motivation” published by Eric Thomas and the Marshall Training Systems guys:

Whew!

And here’s a poem:


MEBBE NEX’ TIME

There you are,

A bit shaky still as you stagger up the beach

Out of the foam.

Life took you and tossed you

Over the falls…again,

But you made it through that maelstrom

More or less intact.

 

There you are, still standing,

Dripping wet and breathing hard.

The pounding’s rubbed you ragged,

But you’re in one piece and you’re moving.

Wobbly as you are,

You’ll be reaching for your board again,

Looking for the next wave,

“Spahking-out” the next ride.

 

Eh!

Good one, brah!

Mebbe nex’ time you goin’ get ’em!

You go!

by Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  “Engulfed” by Nathan Rupert via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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PUT IN PLACE

PUT IN PLACE

It’s the first thing they teach you in chef school:  a system called mise-en-place, or literally, “put in place.”   It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.

The mise evolved out of the rigid “brigade system” of culinary hierarchy codified in the 19th century by Chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier.  This system emphasizes focus and self-discipline and a high level of organization and order.

Escoffier would probably have agreed with Ben Franklin who once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

In the high-stress world of the professional chefs, planning and preparation are paramount.  How else could they prepare so many meals of exceptional quality, one after the other in a three-hour period, night after night after night?

Preparation is the essence of mise-en-place.

BASIC MISE

At its most basic, mise-en-place means to set out all of your ingredients before you start to cook. Measure out what you will need, chop the vegetables that will need to be chopped, and have everything ready on the counter or in small bowls on a tray.

In the following YouTube video, “How to Mise-en-Place, published by Cooking Light, Chef Keith Schroeder, author of MAD DELICIOUS: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing!, demonstrates how home cooks can start to “mise” their recipes.

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

If you talk to professional chefs, that part of the mise-en-place is just the tip of a very large iceberg.  Some of them get downright Zen or Jedi about it.  Everything has to be in place, including your stance and your mindset.

Writer Dan Charnas, of hip-hop journalism  fame, wrote a book last year, WORK CLEAN:  The Life-Changing Power of Mise-en-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind.  It grew out of his interviews of dozens of culinary professionals and executives and focused on his understanding of mise-en-place as a personal code of ethics that emphasized excellence.

As Charnas says in an article he wrote for National Public Radio, “….most colleges and grad schools don’t teach basic organization.  Culinary schools and professional kitchens do.”

This YouTube video, “The Ingredients of Work Clean,” published by Rodale Press shortly before the book came out, contains a brief explanation of what it is: a simple system that helps you focus your actions and accomplish your aims

  • Planning is prime. Be ruthlessly honest about time and timing.  It’s the only way you can set it up right.
  • Arrange spaces so you can perfect moves. Place things so you can make your moves with just the flick of your fingers.  Know how you move and place your dishes of prepared ingredients and your tools right where you will be able to reach them when it’s time to use them.
  • Clean as you go. Keep your tools and your station as organized as when you first started.  This knife goes in this space.  The chopped chives go right there. Everything that is no longer needed does not belong at your station.  You’ll need it later so if you’ve got a breathing space, wash up the thing you’ve used and put it aside for when you’ll next need it.
  • Know what to start first. Start the longest process first.  It will be done by the time you get to the shortest process and by the time you’re done, you’ll be at the end.
  • Do not wait to finish. It isn’t finished until it’s delivered.  As soon as it’s ready, let it go.
  • Slow down to speed up. Don’t panic when things get hectic.  Calm your body, calm your mind.  Hurry opens the door to mistakes.  Get it right, and fast will happen.
  • Open your eyes and ears. Balance your internal and external awareness.  Remain focused and open.   Be receptive.  React as needed to the world around you but stay focused on what you are doing.
  • Call and call back. Streamline and confirm essential communications.  Follow up, update your team and turn information into intel you all can use to work together well.
  • Inspect and correct. Excellence requires vigilance.  Check your work.
  • Aim for total utilization. Avoid wasting time, space, motion, resources or persons.  Figure out how to tap into the flow of using them all and making them move in the direction you want them to go.  Look to create a synergy that you can step into.

The real is that mise-en-place is about being able to “work clean.”  It’s not about “creating order,” as in, “Gee, wow, I’ve organized my desk and doesn’t it look clean and cool?”

What mise-en-place says is, “I’m committed to move through all of these many steps I need to do and get them done right.  When I’ve finished with all the steps of this project  I am on now, I’ll wrap it up and deliver it.  Then I’ll resume my stance at my station, put myself in a position where everything is in place for me to work on the next project, and I’ll deliver that one.”

With mise-en-place you can repeat as needed for as long as necessary and it all gets done right every time.  You think about the process of making something from start to finish, and then you set up a system so you can get it done.

The system you create and maintain will allow you to stay focused on the most important thing at each moment.  What you need to do to accomplish something gets done faster and more proficiently because everything you need to do it is right there in front of you.

It’s cooking, planned and executed like a military campaign, and the moves are eminently transferable to other life-things as well.

A companion YouTube video, also published by Rodale Press, The Daily Meeze is a short introduction to the 30-minute daily planning session that Charnas recommends as a way to take mise-en-place out of the kitchen and apply it to regular life.

You may be able to figure out your own way to make your “meeze” your own.  Think about it.

Here’s a poem:


I SHOW UP

I suppose one thing there is

That can be said about me:

I show up.

It isn’t much, that.

Not earth-shaking….

I raise no mountains.

 

It’s not like I’m riding

On the waves at Jaws,

Throwing myself down

The face of some

Massive wall of water,

The epitome of Cool.

 

I show up.

What needs to be done

Gets done because of that.

The gears get oiled,

The wheels keep turning

And nothing comes

To a screeching halt.

 

I show up.

By Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Dongjiadu Mise-en-place” by Gary Stevens via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.

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