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Appreciating beauty fosters creativity

Shot with my iPhone on my way to the gym

Early this morning I was on the way to the gym, when I was suddenly turned the corner and stopped dead in my tracks.

There had been a light fog, and the sun had just broken through, casting beams of light that streamed down onto the neighborhood.

I quickly pulled over to enjoy the moment, and snapped this photo with my iPhone.

As I soaked in the scenery, I was reminded just how much beauty surrounds us, if we’ll only stop and notice.

But this post is about more than just sharing the joy of my morning. There’s real life-engineering value to simple observations like this.

Appreciating beauty is highly therapeutic for the mind and spirit. It has a calming effect which helps lift our vision, allowing us to regain perspective. It helps reduce the bad stress, and keeps us focused on the good stress (the stress that pushes us), which helps foster a strong immune system, deep and restful sleep, and an overall healthier, more capable body.

Additionally, during periods of enjoyment and joy, the neurotransmitter dopamine shoots into your prefrontal cortex. When this happens, you enjoy tremendous thought breadth (as opposed to thought depth, which you get when you focus).

Thought breadth is the crux of creativity. It allows you to see problems from different perspectives, and it’s easier to find alternate solutions to things you’ve been hyper focused on.

So while it seems simple, and it is in practice, the benefits of being more aware of the beauty that surround you have a real, powerful impact on your ability to achieve your goals, and accomplish great things.

How long has it been since you’ve watched the sun set? The whole thing. Or the sun rise? Or stopped to look at the reflection of the sky in a puddle, or water drops on a flower? There is beauty all around, try stopping for a moment now and then to enjoy it.

Rusty

Have you ever met one of those people who just always give?  They give and give as though that’s all they care about.

My wife is like this.  Regardless of how tired she is, or how much she’s already given, or how busy she is, OR how late it is, she is always giving.  Giving to our children, giving to me, giving to her friends, giving to the church, and even giving to people that she doesn’t even know.

There are lots of stories of these kinds of people, like this, and this, and this, and countless others.  These people seem to have a particular mindset – I call it Abundance Mentality.  It’s as though they feel like there’s this undiminishable reserve that there’s always enough to give.  Always.

I contrast that to the far more frequently encountered Scarcity Mentality.  Here we feel like we’ve got no more to give, or that we didn’t have enough to start with, or that we’re too busy/tired and we’ll give tomorrow.

The key thing to realize is this. This is not a difference in the availability of resources. It’s a difference of perspective. It’s another illustration of how we can control life, simply by choosing to perceive it differently… of how perception truly does shape reality.

So, do you know someone with Abundance Mentality?  if so, please share, so that we may all be inspired by their stories, that perhaps we can all give a little bit more.

Rusty

A Psalm of Life
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!–
for the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

 Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul. 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

 Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

 In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife! 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, –act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again. 

Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still persuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

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In association with “It is what you make of it” and “The Builders“, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, here’s another beautiful poem supporting the same point.

Life Sculpture
George Washington Doane

Chisel in hand stood a sculptor boy
With his marble block before him,
And his eyes lit up with a smile of joy,
As an angel-dream passed o’er him.

He carved the dream on that shapeless stone,
With many a sharp incision;
With heaven’s own light the sculpture shone,–
He’d caught that angel-vision.

Children of life are we, as we stand
With our lives uncarved before us,
Waiting the hour when, at God’s command,
Our life-dream shall pass o’er us. 

If we carve it then on the yielding stone,
With many a sharp incision,
Its heavenly beauty shall be our own,–
Our lives, that angel-vision.

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In relationship with this post (What are you building?), the following poem is both enlightening and inspiring.

The Builders
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All are architects of fate,
Working in these walls of time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;
each thing in its place is best;
and what seems but idle show
strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
our todays and yesterdays
are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
think not, because no man sees,
such things will remain unseen.

In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.

Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house where gods may dwell
Beautiful, entire, and clean.

Else our live are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Brokensatairways, where the feet
Stumble, as they seek to climb.

Build today, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall tomorrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.

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One critical element of military logistics is the notion of supply lines.  Simply put, supply lines are the means whereby food, weapons, ammunition, information, and reinforcements (all those elements necessary to maintain health and readiness) are provided to a force.

Any military unit must have well established and well protected supply lines in order to wage any kind of sustained battle.

But the notion of a supply line is not unique to the military.  Every day, each of us wages our own personal battles.  Battles against depression, health, fatigue, or adversity, we battle for many things.  Some battle for balance, while others battle for direction.  Some battle for attention, while others battle for anonymity. 

But whatever battles we may fight, they all tax us emotionally.  Over time, these battles wear us down and diminish our emotional reserves.  As such, in order to successfully wage any sustained battle, we too must be sure we have well established emotional supply lines.

Sometimes these are places we go regularly for spiritual refreshment, like spending time in nature, in church, in the temple, or in other holy (or personally significant) places.  Some might have family a network of friends who encourage and support you.  Some find that a few personal moments for quiet reflection during the day are sufficient to invigorate them for the battles they face.

The point is to make sure you have those supply lines, and that you protect them.

Perhaps more importantly, you should ask yourself “who’s emotional supply line am I?”

The adversary, in his cunning, attempts to cut off our emotional supply lines, leaving us in despair, feeling alone and isolated where we’re our most vulnerable

As a parent, a spouse, a teacher, a son/daughter, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, an associate, or sometimes even just a bystander, we all are equipped with the ability to supply emotional nourishment and support to those around us.

After all, you never know when you just may be someone’s last remaining emotional supply line.  You never know when your words or actions might just be the tipping point for someone’s day – for better or worse.  You never know if the role you have in someone’s life (however seemingly insignificant it may SEEM to you), just might be pivotal to them.

Let us all be just a little more sensitive, a little more aware, a little more alert, and a little more sympathetic to the unknown battles fought by those around us.

Rusty

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Rear View Mirror - Don’t dwell on the past

Back when I was learning to drive, I had this really obnoxious drivers-ed instructor who would reach his hand out the open window and smack the roof of the car, sending you into severe shock and making you slam on the breaks.  Then he’d lecture you about paying attention to your surroundings, and looking in your rear-view mirror.  I know, it didn’t make sense to me either, but I “got” his next point.  “It’s a balance, you have to user your mirror frequently to reference your surroundings, but you should only glance at it… not stare at it.”

Satan would have us do the opposite.

There’s a reason why the rear view mirror is only a very small portion of the size of your overall front-window.  It’s because you’re meant to only have your past be there for an occasional reference, only for periodic glimpses back.  Your rear view mirror does little to help you navigate the road before you.

But in life, Satan’s design is to have your “rear view mirror” fill your entire forward-facing field of view.  In his design, all you see was what you’ve done and where you’ve been.  It’s brilliant really, all the time you spend staring at your past, is time you’re not spent preparing for your future, and driving forward to get there.  For all the time you spend staring behind you, life is passing you by.   Every second your eyes are off the road ahead, is another chance he has to steer you astray.

Past is past.  It’s behind you, let it stay.  The sacrifice of the Savior has made that possible.  It’s what allows you to let your past stay behind you, leaving your attention and your energies free to focus on the road ahead.  It’s a spiritual eraser that frees your mind from the memories of your mistakes.

Satan’s plan is to let old things crop up in your mind, causing you to worry, fret, doubt, and lose focus.  Once he has you in this mode, his job is far easier.  So don’t let him do it. 

Half of winning a battle is your ability to predict, anticipate, and recognize the strategies and tactics of your opponent.  So when you find your past is becoming your present.  Reach up and reset your mirror, and look at the road ahead.  You’ll know it when you see it – it’s the road with the Savior at the end, not the desert behind you.   Live with hope, and drive with confidence.

 [digg=http://www.digg.com/health/Beware_the_rear_view_mirror_don_t_dwell_on_your_past]

Rusty

Way back in high school, I drove this old (to put it mildly) Chevy pickup truck.  It was a couple shades of brown, and my friends and family called it “the log”.  It had true character though, and I drove it with love in my heart.  “Chicks dig it” I’d say, even though I’m pretty sure they didn’t.

One of its more obnoxious traits was the precarious nature of its AM-only radio.  You could spend 30 minutes toying with the tuner to get an almost acceptable level of acoustic clarity out of its one working speaker.

But just when I’d found a nearly tolerable “oldies” station (which was about all there was), my friends and I would pile into it on one of our rushed lunch excursions, and inevitably someone’s knee would jar the knob.  I’d be back to square one… hunched over, turning it this way and that, ever so slightly till I could begin to discern words from the static.

I was thinking the other day (I must have been bored), about what a good analogy this is.

You have to work so hard to bring yourself to some level of spiritual attunement, to where you can quickly discern the promptings of the spirit when they come.  But inevitably, over the course of a day, the work you’ve done to “dial in” to the spirit begins to erode, and entropy sets in, clouding the clarity of the message.

You get static.  You start to hear more noise than anything else.  The signal is still there, being broadcast with the same strength as before, but your dial is off.

It’s at that moment that you’re the most vulnerable, because you’ve become “spiritually deaf”, otherwise unable to perceive what warnings would normally protect you.

Still, it can’t be helped.  While we can strive to stand in holy places, life tends to take us where it will.  What matters most, is the speed with which we get back “in tune”. 

We cannot succumb to perpetual procrastination of spiritual preparedness. 

I believe the diligence and vigilance we assert to stay dialed in will reap its rewards upon us many fold as we endeavor to live the life of a latter day saint.

 Rusty

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Entropy.  It’s a concept that describes the natural deterioration of order.  It’s a process of degeneration that begins almost instantly, in almost everything.

Buy something new and almost instantly it begins to show signs of being used (at least if you live in my house, with 6 kids).  Learn a whole bunch of things and pretty soon you’ve forgotten most of what you learned.

Sit down and try some algebra… that’s entropy.  Go look at your kid’s bedrooms… that’s entropy.  Stop exercising for a few weeks and then go weigh yourself… that’s entropy.  Watch the news for an hour… that’s entropy.

It’s a simple concept really.  Any system tends to lose order, or energy, and will continue to do so until there is none left.  That is unless there is a constant, steady, reliable, and deliberate stream of energy being put back into the system to maintain its order.

It’s a universal principle in every aspect of your life.  The moment you stop inputting into the system, deterioration begins.

That’s the reason why repetition of some of the smallest, most simple things can end up being the most important.  Small things like meaningful daily prayer, diligent daily scripture study, weekly church attendance, are crucial to staving staving off spiritual entropy.

Reading, thinking, and learning on a regular (if not daily) basis is crucial to overcoming intellectual, cognitive entropy.

The latest research in neuroplasticity shows us that when it comes to neuronal health, it’s a basic “use it or lose it” principle.  Regardless how strong the connection used to be, if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it.  All behaviors, memories, talents, and abilities have a physical imprint in your brain by way of a pathway of interconnecting neurons.  And when you stop exercising those connections, entropy sets in and the connections become weaker and weaker until your brain finds no more need to maintain them and they become completely severed.

In truth, it’s the cumulative effect of frequent repetition of small exercises is most effective in staving off the entropy that would otherwise engulf us.   Hence, through small and simple things are great things brought to pass.

Entropy is when you ease back, it’s when you decide “it doesn’t matter” or “I can let it slip for a day”, it’s when you stop inputting into the system. Spiritually, it leaves you without the armor of God, and Satan, who doesn’t rest, is left with all the opportunity he needs.

Spiritual entropy is one of the strongest tools Satan has in his employ.  All he has to do… is nothing.  Just wait… which is why, again, it’s through the diligent, deliberate, and constant repetition of the simplest things that in the end may make the biggest difference.

The same holds true for all other aspects of our lives, every worthy endeavor.  Once you stop inputting, you start slipping.

So don’t stop, no matter what.

Rusty