Learning To ‘Be’ From The Cradle Up: On The Desire To Constantly Entertain My Baby

One of the elements that I have come to understand as essential to one’s personal growth—mental, spiritual, and emotional—is the ability to sit quietly and just be.  Of course nowadays, there is always something (or rather, a bunch of things!) that is clamouring for our attention, and so we are often left without a second to ourselves.

As I was watching my friends play with my daughter, it hit me that perhaps there is another reason why we are not able to just sit and be.  From the cradle, there seems to always be a need for those around a baby to constantly be in their face.  OK, that sounds bad, but you know what I mean—we are always talking to babies, singing to them, waving toys in their faces, always encouraging movement, and never just letting them be.

I was particularly struck by how there seems to be a conviction that a baby left alone is a baby that is neglected.  My daughter has had the capacity to play by herself from very early on.  And so, my husband and I have made a conscious effort to let her be when she is happily entertaining herself.  And yet, although she is fed, clean, and safe, those around us seem to be quite uncomfortable that we are leaving our baby to her own devices, convinced that good parenting means constantly entertaining her.

But it is becoming increasingly clear that we should leave our daughter to herself when she is perfectly content to do so.  Because the adults around her already have such a tough time creating a space in which they can be by themselves; isn’t it giving our daughter a leg up that, when she does find a space to just be, she knows how to fill it up with joy and wonder?

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Carbs, Garbs, and Barbs: Cooking and Community Building

There is no such thing as a dichotomy. We are noble, spiritual beings, and everything in our lives is meant to help us reach our full capacity. This is why we should challenge ourselves to understand how the various pieces of our life fit together as part of one seamless whole, rather than separate parts that live side by side.

Women are unfortunately judged for the body that we don’t have. You know the one I’m talking about: the firm, flexible, thin and toned body that graces every magazine cover. Objectively, we know what the process behind creating those images is, and we know that looking like that either takes some excellent genes or a lifestyle that many of us cannot afford, either because of a lack of time, or a lack of finances. We also know how enhanced these looks are, through makeup, lighting, the use of special lenses, and, of course, digital manipulation.  But subjectively, many of us kind of want to look like that.

Needless to say, the relationship we have with that perfect, impossible to attain body is a complex one, affecting our relationship with exercise and dieting. These two normal parts of a healthy lifestyle which should be a source of pleasure become instead a bit of a burden. If we eat too many carbs, we won’t fit into the garbs of the size we want to fit in, only to be subjected to many a barb, imagined or real.

This is a very sad state of affairs, mainly because exercise and dieting can be a wonderfully satisfying part of a healthy lifestyle. On a side note, it must be specified that by diet, I mean paying attention to what one eats so as to have good blood pressure, good cholesterol, etc, and not restricting the amount of food one eats for the sake of losing weight. Similarly, by exercising I mean partaking in an enjoyable physical activity that makes one feel energised and happy, not over-exhausting oneself only for the sake of, again, losing weight.

There are so many reasons why exercise and dieting should be a part of a healthy lifestyle, and not just because of its obvious benefits. Many of these benefits are personal, such as developing discipline. But some of them can also benefit the community. For example, when one makes the effort to cook at home with those one lives with, it helps increase the strength of the bonds between the family (or the flatmates). One can invite people over for supper, which can be participatory (pot-luck); one can even invite people over to cook. These all create great opportunities to discuss issues revolving around food, from its benefits to one’s health to the injustices permeating the current food industry.  It also creates great opportunities to develop strong and meaningful friendships.

At the time I first drafted this post, I has been filling my house with people. In the three weeks prior, I had had some 40 people over at different times.  I noticed that even with those with whom I am already good friends, something changes for the better after I willingly open my home to them. And since one of my main passions is community-building, one can easily understand why I have been collecting recipes for so long.

Another thing I did, which long time readers of my blog will not be surprised by, is watching TED talks about the topic. One in particular tickled my fancy: Jamie Oliver’s passion for the cause of better nutrition is infectious. But just as I was about to rededicate my life to it, I remembered a sobering fact: there are thousands of causes worth fighting for. So I put down the phone – I was about to call my boss and quit (OK, maybe that’s a mild exaggeration right there) – and instead, I decided to see what I could do in my day to day life to make food, a vital part of my life, contribute to my efforts to build a community.

I know how to cook. I’m no Jamie Oliver, but I can whip up simple and tasty dishes easily and quickly. I also am involved in community building at the grassroots. I cooked for all of the abovementioned forty people, many of whom do not know how to do so themselves. And a couple of times, I cooked alongside someone who had never made anything more complex than Kraft dinner.

I soon realised that I had the answer before me all along. I had been subconsciously coherent, in that my cooking was already helping the community building process I was involved in. At the simplest level, the fact that I was cooking for all these people made them feel welcome in my home. And at a level that is slightly more complex, I had been helping friends who do not know how to cook to learn this important skill. I’m sure that what I have been doing is nowhere near what I could do, but it’s definitely a great beginning. The first steps had been taken subconsciously, and now, consciously aware of the potential that cooking has in community building, I can take more steps to integrate the two. For example, I can cook with different people, both novices and experts, increasing bonds of friendship and skills at the same time.

But perhaps even when I am not cooking, I can help make eating a community-building experience. I can contribute to making each occasion involving food a festive, elevated and joyful one, from the planning phase to cleaning up after; instilling everything that has to do with food with the same joy that can be found in other aspects of community building. It’s also a fair thing I can do, since the same person bearing the burden of feeding is not really just. And also talk – reflect – consult with others about this process in the hopes of generating learning and creating a positive mindset about food.

And, seeing the importance that dieting has on both personal and community development, I refuse to let that impossible female body ruin the potential food has to better myself and the community in which I live.

Move over, Barbie, make way for an Easy Bake Oven.

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Honouring Our Parents By Parenting Our Children

It feels like whatever I do, I can never repay my parents for everything they have done for me.  And since I got married, I feel like whatever my husband and I do, we can never repay our parents for everything they have done for us as individuals and as a couple.

And—not to sound too depressing—I don’t think we ever can repay our parents, to be honest.  The only thing we can do is try.

A bunch of my friends and I have been trying for years to repay my parents with both little and big things.  Gifts, considerations, exceptions, decisions, all made with our parents in mind, with the hope that the little joys we can offer them can pile up into something worthwhile.  The process has brought us all a lot of joy, and we can tell that our parents are appreciative of it as well.  A great beginning!

As we started having our own children, things suddenly got a little easier.  It came to us through a big ah-ha moment at a coffee shop one weekend: that the best way we can hope to come close to repaying our parents is by honouring them.  And the best way we can honour them is by paying it forward—by giving to our own children what our parents gave us.

And funnily enough, it makes even the toughest times with our little ones so much easier.

When we rock our baby to sleep, we remember what our parents did for us; we think of our parents and thank them for giving us the strength to keep rocking our baby to sleep.

When we hold our baby through a crying spell, we remember our parents’ patience and thank them for being an example of patience we can uphold before our baby.

When our plans get thrown out of the window because our baby’s schedule suddenly and unexpectedly changes, we remember our much of our parents’ plans we ourselves ruined, thank them for being so understanding of our developmental needs and remember to be just as understanding with our baby.

When dietary restrictions make our diets ever so bland, we remember how our parents would deny themselves treats so that we wouldn’t be unfairly tempted, and we find sweet taste in our food.

It’s very humbling, guys, how having a baby helps us become a better person as well as helps us honour our parents.

Gosh, do we owe our little ones a lot.

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What’s Love Got To Do With It? The Importance Love In Community-Building

Learning is essential for both personal development and the building of a community.  But it’s easier said than done.  When, for example, one has spent a lot of time and poured a lot of energy into one’s education, it can be quite a blow to hear that one might be wrong.  Similarly, when one identifies oneself with a certain knowledge base, it can be quite difficult when it becomes clear that this knowledge base might be, even just in part, false.

It seems that this difficulty is in large part related to our ego, which can create a formidable barrier between us and something new, even if this something new is clearly better.  The ego is what makes us defensive in the face of something new.  The ego is what can make us lash out in anger at something new.  The ego is what can aggravate us when our ideas, previously avant-garde, now seem obsolete.

Love is one of the best lubricants to facilitate learning despite the ego.  There is the love that others have for us, making of our mistakes nothing more than a passing event that does not define our inner worth.  This same love makes others never feel superior to us because they know more than we do.  This same love makes other happy when we succeed, and proud of us when we surpass them.  There is the love that we have for others, which makes us react to them in a similar fashion.

Then there is the love we should all have for learning.  When we love learning, our identity is not wrapped anymore in what we know; it becomes wrapped in learning.  Someone presenting a new and better idea to us becomes a source of joy as we are able to adjust our knowledge for the better.  Interestingly enough, this love for learning makes us love those that are learning with us, and those that contribute to our learning.

This is why an environment imbued with love is so important to learning, and therefore, to both our personal development and to the building of our communities.

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Excellence And Detachment In Parenting: Reaching That Tough Sweet Spot

There are many reasons why people have kids.  Some of these reasons are downright amazing, some of them are just absolutely terrible, and most of them lie somewhere in between these two extremes.  Some of my friends have done it because it’s just the next logical step in their lives.  Some of them did it because it has been a dream of theirs “since, like, forever”.  One person I know did it because they wanted to keep the attention of their family on them when their sibling got married.

From what I understand of the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith, we are told to have a kid for many reasons—such as perpetuating the human race and bringing forth another soul to make mention of God—but that ultimately, we do it for the sake of God.  Therefore, just like with everything else we do for the sake of God, we have to strive to be the best parents we can be.

At the same time, we are told that nothing happens if it isn’t the Will of God—in other words, however much we might try, our child may fall short of the efforts poured into his/her education.  Therefore, just like with everything else in this world, we have to remain detached from the results of our efforts.

Detachment is a difficult thing to achieve in itself, what with the existence of the ego and the insistent self.  Detachment with regards to our role as parents is even more difficult in a society where the worth of a parent as a person is tied to the actions of the child.  If your child is not behaving, then you are immediately labelled as a bad parent.

How, then, can parents hope to achieve detachment while at the same time striving to give their best?

Pray Every Day

This seem to be the most basic way to balance our striving to be the best parents we can be and detachment from the results.  Praying reminds us God’s Might and our relative nothingness.  It reminds us time and again that we are raising children for His sake.  It keeps us focused on the ultimate purpose of our own lives, which is to know God and appropriately worship him.  And prayer is a great form of meditation that helps us control our emotions, because I’ve been told that our children will test us and push our boundaries like nothing else (sorry, Mom and Dad.)

Choose and Use Mantras

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: mantras work wonders.  They can be used in our quest to fulfill new year goals, to manage our ego, and even to become a better person in general.  And there are easy ways of surrounding yourself with your chosen mantras, so as to make sure you don’t forget them.  The trick seems to be to choose one’s mantra wisely: it has to be memorable, relatively short, and meaningful to you.  One of my friends chose lyrics of songs by her favorite singer-songwriter; another chose only lines from Rumi’s poems.  Another one of my friends uses well-known marketing catch-phrases.  None of these techniques work for me, but they are superbly efficient for each of them.

If you are looking for a specific mantra to start with, one that many of my friends use is the following quote: “Verily, I do this for God, the Lord of the heavens and earth, the Lord of all that is seen and unseen, the Lord of creation.”  Some talented individual has written a catchy melody to sing this quote to, but I have yet to find a recording of it online.  If you know where it can be found, please feel free to post the link in the comments below.

Why does this quote work?  Because it’s straight to the point and uses simple words that embrace the entire meaning in a very short sentence.  Choosing something of the same type and repeating it again and again while taking deep breaths does wonders.  After a while, you will get to the point that just thinking of your mantra will slow your breath and calm you down.

Join a Support Group

When it comes to combining excellent parenting with detachment, the ideal support group would not include parents who know what that means—because no one really does.  Rather, the ideal support group would be itself treading a path of reflection as its members seek to understand what it means to parent with excellence and detachment.  I suggest that, if ever you are in a group with someone who claims to know it all, you take the suggestions and recommendations with a large grain of salt.

Take Care of Your Marriage

If your spouse is meant to be your eternal partner on the path to fulfilling your life’s purpose, then it is only logical that the stronger your bond with him/her, the better you will both be able to strive for excellence while learning to be detached.  Furthermore, having a strong marriage means that you have a perfectly safe space within which you can consult with the one other person in the world who knows your situation as well as you do.  So take the time to nurture and strengthen your marriage so that you will always have that safe and honest space where you can reflect on your experience and on your learning.

Continue Serving

Oftentimes, service as a parent is seen as separate from service to the community.  However, the two are intimately linked in many ways.  For example, if raising a child is a form of service, serving within the community will inform our parenting—and of course, parenting will inform our service within the community.

We always have to be detached from the fruits of our service.  We tend to be less emotionally involved in others forms of service than parenting.  So learning to be detached in less emotionally complex situation within the community will be of great help in learning to be detached when it comes to parenting.

Any other ideas on how to achieve a balance between excellence and detachment in parenting?  I would love to hear from you!  Comment below or email me at saharsblog (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Music Round-Up: K.P. Wolfe’s ‘Exodus’, Michael Van & The Movers’ ‘A Little More Country’, Thorin Loeks’ ‘Thirsty Hearts’, April Martin’s ‘In the Blink of a Life’, and Dylan Tauber’s ‘Dolphin Trance 2’

K.P. Wolfe’s ‘Exodus’ EP

The main attention-grabbing element in K.P. Wolfe’s debut seven-track EP, Exodus, is her voice.  Her vocal range is wide and embodies a lot of attitude, firmly setting the tone throughout the entire set of attention-grabbing and catchy tracks.  While they do at times sound familiar, Wolfe’s special attention to writing thoughtful lyrics sets her apart—in a good way.

The pop rock title track is aggressive and passionate, with guttural vocals and a relentless beat.  The repetitive call to move on and the seeming push forward by the guitars and drums give it an anthemic quality.  Combined with Wolfe’s theater experience, a live performance of this song could be potentially unforgettable.

The slower “Icarus” delves deeper into the pop genre.  Here we see another side of Wolfe: her attitude towards life, for one, is not just one of angry sass; she is also hopeful, sunny, and almost sweet.  For another, her vocal range spreads out even more.  The throbbing “Louder” brings together elements from the first and second numbers on her EP: an aggressive front with a sweet, hopeful layer underneath.  The plucked electric guitar in the pop rock “Puppeteer” comes across as auditory metaphor for the being strung along, in one of two numbers that could pass off as an early Lady Gaga offering.  The second one, “Take Back The Ring”, is a lot slower and more intense, with the emotional range Wolfe’s vocals can touch upon on full display: hope, pain, despair, and even touches of joy.  Youthful angst is combined with a mature look towards the future, with tracks hopefully soon available for streaming on SoundCloud.  More information can be found on the artist’s Facebook page.

Michael Van & The Movers’ ‘A Little More Country’

It’s well worth starting this part of the round-up with Michael Van’s rather tongue-in-cheek statement that cowboy boots hurt his feet.  Oh, and that he’s from the San Francisco Bay Area, a place that isn’t usually associated with country music.  How even more ironic is it, then, that, in so many ways, his album is so country that it can’t be in any way misfiled.  All 13 tracks on the December 2016 release, titled A Little More Country, are soothing and smooth, be they a slower ballad or a quick-paced festive number.  There is a richness in composition, lyricism, and delivery and yet, there is a certain straightforwardness that could be taken for a reflection of the simple things in life that Van wanted to explore in this work.  It might seem at first contradictory, to be searching for the richness in the simple things in life, or, for that matter, to create simple songs that embodies this richness.  But after a little thought (and a lot of slowing down), it becomes somewhat self-evident that each moment in one’s life is filled more than we could ever imagine.

Van explores the richness in the simple things in life, which can come across initially as a contradiction but only after a little thought, one realises how true it is. Fans of traditional country music will love this album.  It’s all about the good, old-fashioned, and well-know country “formula” that is well used and well performed.  From smooth numbers such as the title track to the fun, toe-tapping ones such as “Skeddadle Mountain Lullaby”, Michael Van and the Movers guide listeners expertly through a kaleidoscope of emotions and feelings.  Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud.  More information is available on the band’s Facebook page.

Thorin Loeks’ ‘Thirsty Hearts’

Canadian indie folk artist Thorin Loeks released in May 2016 his debut album, Thirsty Hearts, which brings together eight tracks inspired by years of struggles and growing pains.  Pensive, meditative, and ultimately uplifting, Loeks delves into various aspects of the human experience with the purpose of developing a greater understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world

The title—and opening—track sets the tone for the rest of the set.  Wistful and hopeful, it combines the delicate plucking of an acoustic guitar with a uptempo beat, accompanied by warm vocals that seem to embody that wise, loving friend everyone wishes they had (and some are lucky enough to actually have).  “For Love” is a slow and soulful, piano-driven ballad in which Loeks shares some of the higher notes in his register.  It is a heartfelt call for people to reach across the divide to create unity, a message that is quite à propos now more than ever.  Loeks also shares how such a thing could happen in “Bare Bones”, a brisk and to the point call for authenticity which can be achieved by stripping yourself to the bare bone to feel what’s real.

Listeners searching for thoughtful, insightful, and inspiring tracks should take a listen at Loeks’, available for streaming on SoundCloud.  More information is available on the artist’s website.

April Martin’s ‘In the Blink of a Life’

Listeners thirsty for even more thoughtful, insightful, and inspiring tracks can give New York City’s April Martin’s In the Blink of a Life a try.  Released in December 2016, the folk-inspired album was put together by a woman holding a Ph.D. in clinical psychology who is maintaining a successful practice.  After the success of her first album, 2010’s Pennies in a Jar, Martin decided to continue her exploration of the human condition, sharing her thoughts and insights through honesty, humor, and gentleness.

Most of the tracks are built on softly played instruments and vocal harmonies.  Martin begins in a way by setting the tone, melodically, lyrically, vocally, and, most importantly, conceptually in the opening number.  “One Breath” sounds like the most cheerful and happy meditation session ever.  “Heart Break Doesn’t Come” is a refreshing love song based on the reality of love, in all its glorious imperfection, rather than the maudlin and romanticized one that is usually the focus of so many songs.  The harmonies are particularly attention-grabbing in “My Rock and My Rain” another number with a refreshing take on love.

The focus of the emotional “Looking Back” is on the life of a friend, with Martin’s vocals and the guitar work wrapping around each other beautifully.  The ballad “Everyday I Love You More” is another retrospective but this one on the singers’ own relationship which, although she couldn’t have known at the time, went from its humble beginnings to a beautiful, strong, and still growing relationship.

Knowing that Martin is a psychologist gives the album another unique layer of meaning—as if her perspectives on life, shared here in a non-threatening manner, as a type of therapy on their own.  Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud.  More information is available on the artist’s website and Facebook page.

Dylan Tauber’s ‘Dolphin Trance 2’

Israel’s Dylan Tauber is back with the release, in September 2016, of Dolphin Trance 2, the DJ’s tenth album to date.  On the one hand, it does come off a lot like its predecessor, 2015’s Dolphin Trance.  On the other hand, there is a lot that clearly was left unexplored in the first volume of Tauber’s dolphin series, to the point that one cannot help but wonder if there is potentially a third volume that could come out in 2017.

While overall the album can be filed under electronica, there are a lot of dance, ambient, chill, and trance influences throughout.  The pace is perfect, grabbing listeners just before their attention wanes by an expertly applied uptick or downturn.  Guest vocalist Enlia adds further smoothness and depth to the listening experience provided, with Tauber’s confident guidance.  There are so many uses to this album—the soundtrack to a summer party, an auditory backsplash to a fun get-together, or the backdrop of a quiet, introspective afternoon at home.

Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud.  More information is available on the artist’s website and Facebook page.

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iRead Book Tours: A Happy Third Anniversary! { Includes Giveaway! }

I never imagined, when I first started blogging back in 2008, that I would meet so many amazing people.  Fellow bloggers provided me with inspiration through their own blogs as well as tips, help, and just plain support.  Readers started trickling in during the first months Sahar’s Blog was born, and as their confidence in the quality of my writing grew, so did their efforts to spread the word.  Thanks to them, the number of visits increased steadily over time.

I then started building professional relationships and yet again, a whole new array of wonderful people was opened to me.  I met one of these individuals through iRead Book Tours, which is celebrating three amazing years providing amazing service to authors.  I have come to appreciate how the company gives special attention to every book that tours with them; they are clearly passionate about books while not forgetting the authors behind them.  That is why they go beyond plain marketing, helping instead authors get the best exposure using traditional review tours.

Laura is not the only wonderful person to work with; iRead has brought together a great group of book bloggers and authors as part of her staff.  And in contrast to so many other book tour services, iRead focuses on a few quality books, reaching out in a well-thought out strategic manner rather than bombarding bloggers with generic email after email.

This is why, if you are an author looking for a way to market your blog, I would strongly recommend iRead Book Tours.  The company is currently celebrating its third anniversary, so why not try your luck bu entering this giveaway to win a Basic Virtual Book Tour Package?  And if you are not an author, you can also win $50 in cash, which is always a good thing.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Music Round-Up: Danophone’s ‘Rerun’, Dino Jag’s ‘Breakthrough’, Joan Torres’ All Is Fused’s ‘Of The Musical’, Gert Taberner’s ‘Fallen’, and Coral Creek’s Self-Titled Album

Danophone’s ‘Rerun’

When a science journalist takes on a musical project, one doesn’t quite know what to expect.  Will said science journalist apply the same approach to his music as he does his work, or will he go in a completely new direction?  Danish Carsten Nielsen seems to have chosen the latter approach, exploring through his music a world complementary to that of his day job.  “Rerun” is all about the darker side of the emotional ride that is life; however, Nielsen never dips into depths from which one cannot return.  Rather, each of the numbers retains enough joy and hope to be considered as part of a soundtrack for the “hopeful-realist”, someone skillfully straddling the line between reality and utopia.  This is the kind of music to indulge in on a bad day–music that will embrace our dark cloud only to dispel it, one note at a time.  Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud.  More information is available on the artist’s website and Facebook page.

Dino Jag’s ‘Breakthrough’

With vocals that embrace something of both Adam Levine and Chris Martin, Australian Dino Jag ‘s six-track EP “Breakthrough” is brimming with energy, even on the slower and darker tracks.  Energizing pop rock fun from beginning to end, “Breakthrough”‘s only disappointment is in its length; the five tracks seem like a tease that whet one’s appetite for more.  The pop-laden “Two Young Hearts” is filled with optimism and very radio-friendly, potentially the most so after the rockier “You Make Me Feel So Good”.  Jag has fun experimenting within the pop rock genre with “Nothing But You”, while his vocals are particularly showcased in the title track.  Australia’s summer energy is something we just might need up here during another harsh northern winter.  Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud.  More information is available on the artist’s website and Facebook page.

Joan Torres’ All Is Fused’s ‘Of The Musical’

Eight tracks of almost experimental jazz goodness make up Joan Torres’ All Is Fused’s “Of The Musical”, Joan Torres’ latest release.  While the building blocks of good old jazz numbers abound, and solidly so, there are a lot of tweaks and turns that keep listeners engaged and on their toes.  Each of the numbers in the set is to be listened to as a number in a musical, and are separated in two acts.  Ups and downs are included, such as the rich and upbeat “Invaded”, the bass heavy “Demiurge”, and the deft keyboards leading “Explore”.  These contrast with the melancholic imagery of “Ultramarine”, and the eight-minute long languidly dark “Stream of Melancholy”.  Just like with some stories, the beginning of the album can sound at times a little halting and confusing, only for it to come all together in a satisfying ending that makes a whole lot of sense—even if you don’t agree with it.  Tracks are available for streaming on Bandcamp.  More information is available on Joan Torres’ website and Facebook page.

Gert Taberner’s ‘Fallen’

Having grown up in Germany before moving, after finishing school, to Vancouver, British Colombia, Gert Taberner is yet another hope-driven artist whose bright view of the world and its future is embedded at the core of most of his songs, even the darker ones.  The now New York-based artist melds folk, rock, and pop in his EP titled “Fallen”.  The combination of his soothing vocals, soothing melodies, and poetic lyrics makes for a potent elixir that evokes many an emotion.  The title track is gentle, builds up to a satisfying climax before ending with a lingering aftertaste.  Tarberner’s vocals, although enjoyable throughout, are best appreciated in “Places” which is also where his fun side is the most evident in its funk-flavoured fun.  Tracks are available for streaming on Bandcamp.  More information is available on the artist’s Facebook page.

Coral Creek’s Self-Titled Album

A different kind of fun inspired Coral Creek’s 10-track long self-titled album.  Feet will and heads will bob, without the listener even being aware of it.  That’s just how infectious this band is, creatively mashing its main Americana base with bluegrass, Cajun, country, folk, and rock, all of this come seamlessly together.  Rather than diluting its main genre, however, it adds a meaningful depth to it: Americans are, after all, a diverse group of people that have come together in one great nation.  A broad breath of inspiration was also blown into this releases’ lyrics, that tell quite the selection of stories that seem all relatable in some way or form.  The warmth and emotion behind every story is carried extremely well by Chris Thompson (guitar, vocals), Bill McKay (keyboard, vocals), Luke Bulla (fiddle, vocals), and Nathan Peoples (saxophone, vocals), not to take away though from Rob Garland (bass) and Jack Watson’s (drums) great work.  It is easy to feel despair when watching the news, but things will look far better just a few, energetic notes into this album.  Tracks are available for streaming on Bandcamp.  More information is available on the band’s website and Facebook page.

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Leggo’ Of Your Ego: The Difference between Perfectionism and Excellence

Throughout most of my life (or at least, as far as I can remember), I have been surrounded by people who are never content with what they have achieved; they always want to do a little more, and do it a little better.

I have noticed two broad sub-categories amongst such people: those who take this opportunity to become better as a joyful path they embark on with much gusto, and those who are so hard on themselves that they become bitter, angry, or try to achieve their goals at any cost.

It seems like these two broad sub-categories mark the two ends of a continuum of behaviour in individuals who try to be the best they can: those who make it about themselves, and those who make it about the journey.

In other words, those who do it to satisfy their ego, and those who do it for the sake of becoming a better person.

Those who work on becoming better for the sake of their ego seem to be perfectionists.  They can accept nothing but perfection.  And because perfection is unachievable, they are never happy, and seem to be at increased risk of negative mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health outcomes.

Those who work on becoming better for the sake of becoming a better person seem to be lovers of excellence.  They accept nothing but a whole-hearted effort.  And because it is possible to give oneself 100%, they are deeply happy despite a state of constant effort.  And although they are extremely busy and always in touch with what their approach is lacking, they seem to be at increased rick of positive mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health outcomes.

When one desires excellence for its own sake, one is inspired to try and try again.  When one desires perfection as a way to prove oneself, the path becomes a burden.

Being a perfectionist is having both high standards and an ego, which leads to a lot of frustration. But being excellent means having high standards and being humble, which leads to you constantly trying without guilt tripping.

It might seem like I am belaboring the point, but I feel it is crucial to know which of these two types of individuals we are, and to seek advice and guidance from those whose approach is similar to ours, as each approach begets a specific set of advice.  I have a friend who draws much joy from the process of becoming a better person.  She doesn’t mind “falling” because of a big mistake; rather, she feels grateful for the opportunity to get up, dust herself off, and try again.  She is friends with someone who advises her constantly to “take it easy,” a piece of advice she has told me really irritates her and causes as lot of tension in their relationship.  But once we thought about the reasons why her friend gives her this advice and the reasons why it isn’t compatible with her view of life, she was able to focus on the love with which the advice is given.  Needless to say, the friendship is doing a lot better.

On a larger scale, the concept of being happy with a constant state of striving for excellence has major implications with the way we learn, be it in formal or informal settings.  While excellence implies striving to become constantly better at something, perfectionism implies constantly trying to be beyond reproach.  It’s easy to see, then, how the latter can cause distressing environments of learning.  When it comes to personal development and community building, then, striving for excellence is, to me, the obvious path that must be taken in order to advance in harmony.

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Parenting and Marital Happiness: Not Mutually Exclusive

I am a bit of a nerd, just in case you haven’t noticed yet.  I love reading studies and reflecting on the implications of the results found.  However, I also can be quite harsh when it comes to studies that demonstrate a combination of laxity in their data analysis and over-confidence in their interpretation.

I recently got very annoyed (to put it mildly) at the author of an article I came across on the effects of parenting on marriage.  Just writing about this article is making my blood boil!  Posted on the Fortune website, it shares the result of research into marriage satisfaction when a couple has children, and other related data.

It’s not the results that bother me—well, they do, but only in that it is something that needs to be addressed.  What bothers me is that articles like this one use data collected on a limited sample population to perform an analysis that ignores so much of the context within which the data was gathered that the conclusions can only be disheartening and disempowering.  So the results are being presented not as a hypothesis’ applicable for a certain population, but rather as a universal truth.  Similarly, the results are presented as the only outcome possible rather than one of many possible outcomes.

Of course this is wrong on many levels.

The Reality of Becoming Parents

Having children brings about, of course, a huge change in a couple’s life, but rather than analysing why it is so, the overall conversation around this topic—and the conclusion this article ends with—draws a line of causality between having children and unhappy marriages.  What we are failing to do is to look at the context within which having children brings about unhappy marriages.  When we place this relationship within a vacuum, we ignore a wealth of other causes and, therefore, a significant number of solutions that are within our reach to make sure that the decision of having children strengthens our marriages.

Failing to do so limits our view of reality and, most importantly, robs us of the ability to figure out how to achieve a different outcome.

Some of the Things That Are Being Ignored: Marital Strength Pre-Parenting

First off, it would be interesting to analyse how strong the marriage of “miserable” parents was in the first place—there is, after all, a known, steady breakdown of the sacredness and importance of marriage.  The number of couples getting married with the thought that, should things become tough, there is a way out (a.k.a. divorce) is increasing.

The influences of society that encourage a self-centered, ego-driven view of the world also sap marriages of the selflessness both parties need to evince to make a marriage strong and happy.  Furthermore, the drive for material wealth saps the couples of energy to focus on more important things; instead of having dinner together as a family, for example, parents will be doing overtime or answering work emails at the dinner table.

What would happen to the data if we were to focus only on couples who act on a belief that marriage is sacred, on couples that do not believe in divorce as an option, who strive to be selfless, and who are not focused on the increase of material wealth?

Some of the Things That Are Being Ignored: The Breakdown of the Extended Family Unit and of Community Life

Second, it would be interesting to study the relationship between how “miserable” parents have become over the years and the breakdown of the extended family unit, as well as the breakdown of community life in general.  Both of these traditional forms of support are known to provide the best protection against many negative life events and experiences, including an unhealthy marriage and weak parenting.  Are parents who have a strong and positive relationship with their extended family as unhappy in their marriage as those who do not have such a relationship?  What of parents who are members of a vibrant community versus those who do not have strong connections within theirs?

Some of the Things That Are Being Ignored: The Decline of Our Spiritual Health

Third, it would be interesting to correlate the steady decline in a strong spiritual life with the increase in how “miserable” parents have become.  Many studies have shown that an individual’s overall happiness is intimately tied with his or her level of spiritual dedication and discipline.  It isn’t too far of a stretch to wonder if “miserable” parents are less engaged in their spiritual lives than those who are happy.

Parenting and Marital Happiness: How This Article Should Have Read

The saddest thing about this article is that it provides a wealth of information on how parents can have a happy marriage—if only the data was analysed through a more optimistic lens.  It also would be so much more of an empowering read if the article focused on how the data it presents can be used to change the fact that so many couples state being less happily married after having children.  Because fact remains that there are many parents out there who do become happier once they have children.  Why not focus on helping all parents get to that point, rather than making the miserable parents the norm?

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