Asking “Why”

The question of why we do the things we do gets to the heart of what motivates us and what drives us.  For example, I go to work each day, and I work very hard.  “Why?” Because I want to make money. This does not really say anything. Why do I want to make money? In order to do X, Y, and Z.  Ok, why do I want to do X, Y, and Z? Now we are getting somewhere. Perhaps it’s because you feel it’s what you’re called to do, what you ought to do by duty, or what you deep down desire in order to feel fulfilled. Sometimes asking the deepest level “why” question also illuminates negative things like fears or insecurities. When we get down to the deepest “why”, it can motivate us or show us what it is we’re really after. Why exercise? Why work hard? Why study a certain subject? Why am I doing the things that I’m doing? The question of “why” is the most important question that I know for self-realization, prayer, and intention. It gives us reasons for doing things and lays bare the heart.

A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning.” -Pat Riley

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be.” -Mahatma Gandhi



One Ounce of Energy

This evening I had one ounce of energy. With this single ounce, I sat at the piano and started to practice the pieces for the weekend’s recording session. At the end of 10 minutes, that old ounce was depleted….but, somehow, I had gained one new ounce of strength from playing. So I continued to play with that one ounce of strength. The cycle of depleting the old ounce and gaining a new ounce continued until I was finished practicing all of my pieces.

It would be nice if I could say that this was an extraordinary occurrence in my life; but it wasn’t. This seems to happen to me all the time. All the time, I am at a crossroads with one ounce of energy, wondering if it’s worth the effort to do something or to just not bother. If I’m doing the right thing–the thing that I love and the thing that needs doing, the thing that gives energy back to me–then although my one ounce of energy is spent long before the task is done, it is replaced with a new ounce, and I am able to finish the task. It is one of life’s curious miracles. I feel that I have accomplished most of the things in my life on but one ounce of energy.

Mr. Handel

As I approached the Cadillac Hotel in San Francisco, a low-income subsidized living facility in the inner city Tenderloin district, I reflected upon how the composer’s life was not unlike the lives of many of the people I would be performing on the piano for. Many of my audience members were artists and musicians themselves from Haight-Ashbury and surrounding areas, many of them down on their luck, much like some of the greatest composers we have come to venerate.

Forget the Wikipedian platitudes that sanitize and gentrify the life story of George Friderick Handel…who was he, really? Sources say he was a highly  gifted composer, but, for much of life, not recognized as such. As music fads came and went, and as political climates changed, Mr. Handel found himself in and out of a job, living a kind of feast-and-famine existence. He felt that, amidst the constant struggle for employment, God had called him to the music profession. Naysayers and enemies would would assert that he should have given up music entirely. His obsessive relationship with food and binge eating combined with a forceful, strong personality gave room for people to call him a hog.

As society turned against him, he progressed into a state of ill health and poverty, growing wearier and wearier. One day he received word of a musical society in Dublin, Ireland, who employed suffering musicians to compose new works for charity concerts. It was Handel’s “big break”, the opportunity of his lifetime to do something that had been brewing on his heart for a lifetime: the proclamation of “The Messiah.”

In three weeks’ time, he penned the entire oratio of “The Messiah“, an extraordinary if not miraculous feat in three weeks. One servant writes (1741), “He was praying, or he was weeping, or he was staring into eternity.” Another servant testified that Handel burst out of his study with tears in his eyes and the script in his hand, declaring, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of angels.” Handel’s testimony is that he wrote the oratorio by revelation, and that his life’s great calling was fulfilled in the culmination of “The Messiah.”

In 1943 it was received at the Royal Opera House with a standing ovation led by the King, and we who continue to be the benefactors of his music rejoice in the decision of Mr. Handel, despite adversity, to remain true to his inspiration.


Trinidad and Tobago are islands off the Venezuelan coast consisting of a mix of native, African, and East Indian populations. During the time of British colonization during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, immigrants from India arrived to the port of Trinidad to work the land as indentured servants and to run businesses. The culture among the Trinidad Indian population closely resembles that of the culture of India, as it has been preserved for nearly 1,500 years.

My family is from Trinidad, and an estranged aunt of mine found me through the wonders of social networking on the internet and connected me with the rest of the family in Trinidad. My husband Mark and I went to visit there in December of 2010. I would like to tell you a little bit about their way of life.

The countryside of my family’s home is a 90-minute drive from the airport through a winding, treacherous series of unmarked dirt or cracked semi-paved roads along hillsides and shanty towns. How anyone can navigate these roads remains a mystery to me. All of the relatives live in the same multi-family dwelling of two bungalows, two stories each. In Trinidad, wages can be as low as $2 an hour–yet things cost just as much as they do in America. Families pool their resources together and live simply. Not a bad way to live anyhow!

My Uncle Ricky had built the foundation and poured the concrete for the home; Uncle Harry meticulously did all of the painting for exterior and interior walls; Uncle Wilkie carved and crafted all of the moldings and cabinetry with skillful carpentry. My Aunties sewed curtains and bedding, they tend to the garden and grow trees, bushes, plants for eating. They tend to the chickens and goats; they prepare the food. My grandma, now in her 90’s, still works in the garden and minds the young chickens. Everyone contributes with their own talents and gifts.

By American standards, we would say that they are poor; but they do not think they are poor. There is always plenty to eat; they have clothing to wear; and, most of all, they are happy. Their lives are a peaceful ritual of prayer, quality family time, “liming”–just enjoying each other’s company and visiting friends, doing jobs within the local community, be it painting or building or selling garden vegetables in the market in town, and contributing to the lives of the family members so that no need goes unmet.

In the hubbub of Western life with our great cities, our nonstop bustle of work and burning electricity 24/7, consumerism, and a high-stress lifestyle, it is important to reflect upon what makes us truly rich, and what makes us truly happy in life.

The Orca

Recently my husband Mark and I visited the grand, breathtaking state of Alaska. From Anchorage, we took the Alaska Railroad due south to the Seward Peninsula, and went on a large boat with rangers and guides out into the Gulf of Alaska. It was a clear and airy summer’s day with a brisk cool wind and light waves. We passed majestic glaciers and abundant wildlife such as herds of seals sunning themselves on cliffs, funny-faced puffins, playful porpoises, and pods of orcas. The orca is also known as the “killer whale”, and it tends to travel in a group or “pod.”

Since a child, I watched the orcas at Sea World, jumping through hoops for morsels of food, bobbing up and down, and performing balancing tricks to the laughter and delighted gasps of paying audiences. I never once wondered about what orcas do when they’re not at Sea World…

As our boat speedily cruised through the choppy waves of the Gulf of Alaska, a pod of orcas swam in the distance, in a giant diameter around our boat, leaping higher and higher and higher, as if to say, “Look at us!” They leaped in unison, and the span of each leap was longer than the pools and aquariums I had previously witnessed to be the orca’s habitat in captivity. Without a master, they jumped into the skies and within minutes they covered a distance as far as the eye could behold.

Their complete freedom and abandon in the seemingly boundless Arctic waters left a powerful impression upon my mind as I saw the orca at home, in its full glory, in a show that could be personified as triumphant, joyful, and unbridled. When our reins are set free, to what heights can the human spirit soar and to what lengths and depths can the soul traverse? When glass walls are removed and our only limitation is the horizon, our hearts pulsate to the beat of our dreams within, as vast and as indomitable as the callings of God Himself.