Dee's Blog
www.takecourage.org
Sat 11/24/2012
Heads CAN Change
Topic: Making Decisions

Neuroplasticity is a big word that describes the ability of the brain to change, actually increasing the volume of sections that are activated and exercised over the course of a lifetime of learning.  Fifty years ago this was only the stuff of science fiction!

What exciting applications are being made as we understand just why practice really does make progress.  Not just with musicians, chess players, and scientists. 

Practice makes progress when it comes to making sound decisions, too!  As long as we don't rush the process.

I hope you caught what I just said because I believe it's the most important and most difficult thing that any musician must learn.  Speed kills--not just with driving.

Speed, which can be equated with impulsivity when it comes to learning any new skill, is counter-productive.  Here's why:  Human beings VERY quickly learn to memorize mistakes.  Speed often keeps us from even SEEING mistakes!  So we make the mistake over and over, rushing through our "practice" (better known as life when it comes to making very important decisions). 

Sometimes it's impossible for me to get a student to slow down, even when I'm standing right there.  I have to get very cranky if I succeed with most students.  That's because they want to just "play the piano" rather than practice something first.  Eighty percent of students--yes 80%--have to learn the hard way that when they have played a section of music as few as five times, making the same error, they have already memorized the mistake!!  It will then take five times as long to un-learn and re-program the brain so that the result will be what the music calls for!  What's more:  the student will get so used to the sound of the error that the teacher will be hard pressed to convince the student that there IS an error!!!!!

Same goes for learning to make good, moral decisions.  Both music and good decisions can be made almost without thinking; but not before one has done so persistently over a long period of time.

Practice DOES make progress, even if it never makes perfection in any individual or institution.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 8:34 PM CST
Fri 11/23/2012
Making Progress
Topic: Making Decisions

"Practice does NOT make perfect," I often tell my piano students.  Before adding:  "It DOES make progress, though--always."

There are NO perfect pianists.  There are just pianists who learn well to cover their mistakes.  The pro's even do so by incorporating their mistakes into something more beautiful!

Of course, that's music.  And one of the beauties of music is that it's not a matter of life nor death. 

Ironically, the same thinking process that leads to progress in musicians goes into making progress when it comes to making solid, wise, moral decisions. 

To be continued......


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 7:40 AM CST
Tue 11/20/2012
Patience
Topic: spirituality

Good gardeners do not usually have to wait years to see if a seed is going to sprout. The little packets come with instructions and reasonable expectations as to when there should be some evidence.  Total crop failure, year after year, means something is seriously amiss.

Not so for those who plant seeds of thoughts or ideas, planting with the hope that at some future season there may be evidence that we have ever communicated.  Seeing results of our efforts may take generations, as any good teacher or minister will tell you.

"Sometimes planting seeds and watering them tries my patience. I want a forest right now," Renae Cobb recently said to me. Renae is a mother and a therapist.  At times, she writes of her observations, joys, and frustrations in her blog www.theramblingpoet.blogspot.com

Having evidence of things not seen is a part of Renae's unwritten job descriptions!  Oh, how I relate to her feelings!

If we choose our words carefully, there seems to be a stronger chance that the seeds will some day bring forth what we envision. Yet, truth is, we never will know with some of those "seeds." We may never see evidence; for the seeds may be carried far, far away, perhaps even passed on to another person while blowing right over the head of the person for whom we intended. This can happen even with generations. Our peers may not be able to relate to what we are saying, yet a little child sitting nearby may be taking notes.

"The wind bloweth where it listeth." (John 3:8) For me, this means that there are many factors beyond my control, determining when and where the "seeds" that I plant may decide to grow while others lie fallow, perhaps forever. Keep planting and watering, knowing that the only fertilizer you need is hope. For only in persistently doing so can we experience positive, creative change in this world.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 2:28 PM CST
Updated: Tue 11/20/2012 2:56 PM CST
Mon 11/19/2012
Hidden in Plain Site
Topic: Making Changes

For months, I've been planning to get back to this blog.  Yes, life's complications got in the way so many days.  Often these were "good complications:"  Places to go, wonderful friends coming over, our family events that so fill our lives with joy.  There were also new readers to add to the delightful friends I've met along the way through my writing.

Yet, in the back of my mind, it was my readers, new and old, who have kept me inspired to get back to the blog.  

What I really needed to do, I thought, was to get an RSS feed set up on the site.  This would allow readers to better keep up with new entries through their Favorites.  I pursued ways to do this, starting with calling the "non-tech" support for my host.  I was told that an RSS feed wasn't available, but would have to be set up by someone who knew how to do it.

So I searched for that person, high and low!   People wouldn't even return my calls when I called local computer experts.  I ran an ad at the local University, wanting to hire somebody to help.  Not a single person seemed to know what I wanted.

Finally, through a kind co-worker of a family member, I discovered that an RSS feed is already set up!  Over on the sidebar of this page!!!  Yes, look to the right.  See it?  It's been there all along!

You, as a reader, can click it and subscribe in 2 seconds on most computers because you probably already have an RSS feed, even if you don't know it. You will still have to go to Favorites on your command bar to check your RSS feed quickly to see if there are  new entries.  It's a great way to keep up with blogs like this--something I never knew with my limited state of computer literacy.

What a reminder that often the answer is so close to us that we may fail to see it! 


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 11:14 AM CST
Updated: Mon 11/19/2012 1:30 PM CST
Fri 05/25/2012
Wait for the Rain
Topic: spirituality

While we often associate rain with sorrow, I find it just as useful to think of rain as refreshment.

For two weeks, here in Kansas, we've had a dry spell. Being the lazy gardener that I am, my preference is to wait for rain before I start digging. Not only is it easier, I get a lot more done in record speed!

Rain can also be associated with the Spirit.

Age has shown me that many of the things I've longed and prayed for will never be. Yet many more have come to pass while I was waiting for the rain.

What's important, as a gardener AND as a mover and shaker, is to work with the unpredictable rain. To be ready and not to fill my life with "busy work" that may make it difficult or impossible for me to act when the Spirit moves me to do something that will change the landscape of my own life or the landscape of others, whose lives I'm privileged to touch.  Even as they change and inspire me.

 Survivors often ask "when are things going to change?" They sometimes are referring to the downward spiral that seems to have come into their lives.  Other times, they refer to systems with hard hearts.

I don't have the specific answers they are looking for.  Yet I know that many good things happen for those who have the patience to wait for the rain.

 Hang in there.   Storms may seem endless, but they eventually bring rain.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 10:19 AM CDT
Thu 05/24/2012
The Broken Urn
Topic: spirituality

Nancy Biele, MSW, spoke to a group of survivors of clergy sexual abuse (mostly Catholic) at a Linkup conference back in 1994.  I was in the audience.

 Nancy talked about the beauty of being broken, though she never came close to minimizing the pain and suffering.  I have often gone back to her illustration.  In great detail, she described a gorgeous urn that was shattered into a thousand pieces.  It's heart-broken owner decided that she could not part with it, so began putting it back together piece by piece.  Finally, she sat back and looked at the finished piece, with all of the cracks.  It had taken on a new shape and still had jagged edges.   It really didn't resemble the old treasured urn at all.  Yet, she admired the work of art that she had put together, piece by piece, herself.  Suddenly, it dawned on her that she now loved the new piece far more than she ever loved the old.

 How I can relate to the artist, though my "urn" was far from re-assembled in 1994!

What I've come to realize is that I need to sometimes take a hammer to parts that need to be re-examined and put back together again.  Yet the sense of wholeness and balance remains, for I am comfortable knowing that I will always "know in part" and operate in a state of incompleteness.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 8:31 AM CDT
Wed 04/25/2012
Complicated Grief
Topic: coping

A few minutes ago, I lightly tapped a large, attractive flower pot against our concrete patio.  How shocking to hear the sound of cracking!  So clear, yet so faint, that I was almost certain before I looked.

That pot has been a part of my life for over twenty years!  It housed a gorgeous jade in a spot that the plant seemed to love until I made another big mistake and moved it outdoors, then neglected to bring it in before the first freeze a few years back!!! 

Breaking the pot wouldn't have hurt quite so bad on any other day.  Already, my heart was heavy because today is the day for the graveside memorial service for our good friend Karl. 

The pot can be replaced, but not our friend.  Maybe I'll find a pot that I treasure far more.  Never can anyone step in and take Karl's place, though.  He was about as close as I can imagine a brother ever being!

There is one thing that these losses have in common, though it's a very poor comparison:  both remind me that the longer we have a person or a belief or even something like an old pot that we treasure, the more difficult it is to imagine life ever being as good for us.  Old things pass away, of course.  The "coming new" in life takes a long time, if ever it happens. 


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 3:08 PM CDT
Tue 04/24/2012
The Titanic
Topic: coping

A couple of days ago, I had a call from a friend whose faith in humanity, along with her own spirituality, was seriously challenged several years ago, when we chose to stand up against her abusive pastor.

She had just been to see the Titanic in 3-D.  What struck her the most was how she felt she relates on a very deep level to the PTSD that she's read about since, in regard to survivors of this horrible tragedy.  Related on a gut level, she feels, in a way that many people would not.

To her, the betrayal of friends and church leaders, was the Titanic that caused her to experience PTSD for the first time in her life.  While she seldom has symptoms any longer and while she has moved on to develop new strands of an enriched spirituality in spite of all of that, the triggers can still put her back into the emotional waves of the "cold waters" when she was thrown off the course she had taken for granted previously.

To this experience, many of us can relate.  Life takes a new course--in spite of the Titanic(s) in our lives, as we continue to listen to the Inner Voice that helps us write new chapters.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 7:21 AM CDT
Updated: Fri 10/05/2012 1:42 PM CDT
Sun 03/25/2012
Reminder Comes Unexpectedly
Topic: Making Changes

How things change over time!  Sometimes they get worse, of course.  Yet, often with social issues, the "getting worse" is just a backlash. 

 It's two steps forward, one backward--on the average, anyway.  Yet one step can take a hundred years or more.

 Last night, we had the privilege of attending a concert performed by singers and dancers from the award-winning Soweto Gospel Singers.  It took place in an auditorium that was state-of-the-art--including it's handicapped accessibility.  We went with another couple.  The lady is also in a power wheel chair, so we made a demonstration of sorts, just getting the two vans parked, and "parting the crowds" who wisely gave respect to two fast-moving, heavy-duty chairs making their way to reserved seats that their chairs now automatically command, thanks to the ADA act.

The program took us back to our first visit to S. Africa.  In my mind, I sat watching the housekeeper for the guest house as she ironed sheets, to protect us all from the tsetse fly that loves to attach itself to fresh laundry.  It was from this dear lady that I learned the awful truth about Soweto's residents as she rushed to get through her work so she could be back home there before the sun went down.  Failure to do so would bring out the Johannesburg police to arrest her for trespassing on ANY property in this whites-only city!

Briefly, I spoke to one of the lead singers after the concert.  Chances are she never herself experienced apartheid, which probably ended before her birth.  Yet, in our conversation, I let her know of how upsetting it was for me to even know one person who was a victim of this awful set of laws.  By contrast, here I was meeting a young lady who sings joyfully of freedom and spirituality.  And I was sharing at seeing that joy from the other side of the torn remnant of change. 

Take courage!


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 2:34 PM CDT
Tue 03/06/2012
Dancing in the Rain
Topic: coping

A long-time friend, who encountered immense collusion in her church several years ago, just gave Ron and I a gift that we'll treasure for the rest of our lives.  It's a plaque that reads:  "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain." 

At one time, I was convinced that collusion in the institutional church would just pass when people got over the shock that it existed and learned how to stop participating in the collusion. 

 My goals in this work were twofold:

1) Educate

2) Offer support to anyone who had suffered to consequences of collusion, whether a survivor or a professional.

I figured if enough of us chose to join the goal of educating, the collusion would stop.  Then, the storm would be over, and I could get back to "dancing."

Long after I realized this was unrealistic, I was still hearing from people who refused to let go of that very thinking.  It was often hard for us to be on the same wavelength because.....well......I guess I'd been dancing too long in spite of the rain.  Though I never realized that until I got this wonderful gift, along with a note from the giver, saying:  "Thank you for teaching me to dance in the rain."  

While I don't take credit for being such an educator, it's nice to know that the message somehow was conveyed and came back in greater clarity to my own back door!" 


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 1:37 PM CST
Updated: Fri 10/05/2012 1:52 PM CDT

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