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Philip Gonzales on Making Change Easier
Since some of our listening audience may not yet know who you are, would you please tell us a bit about yourself.
I come from a background in the creative arts, music, literature and science. I spent 23 years creating music for films, theater productions and concert performances—all kinds of music, from rock to full orchestra. I grew up in some pretty sophisticated recording studios in Chicago, and as computer technology found its way into the music business, I took it on. But the changes in technology meant big changes in what it means to be a professional; the culture, the economics, and the patterns of daily life. I welcomed the changes. Around the turn of the new century, I took the technical and organizational skills that I had gained from producing music into my new pioneering work as an Internet Systems Architect, working with the people who invented those cool weather pictures that we see every day on TV.
Almost 11 years ago, my son was born with very complicated medical needs. His development was delayed by nature, but even more severely by some very careless medical mistakes. Over the years, I have dedicated myself to managing the constant and dramatic changes that affect his life. At the same time, it has been necessary for me to be his outspoken advocate in the medical-industrial complex that we call “health care.” My experiences with the consequences of disease are remarkable, but my experiences with the harmful effects of a misguided medical system are deeply disturbing. I try not to distract my being with bitterness. I took myself through an intensive study of my son's condition, and learned to carry on meaningful conversations with doctors. I watch very carefully and take note of every move. But I've pledged that my boy will live his shortened life in a powerful, rich, and spiritual way. The combination of passion, sensibility, and skill can be a stout lifeboat in times of perilous change.
You are a great success. Because of what you've accomplished and where you are in life, what would you tell others to Inspire them today, regardless of where they are in their life?
In my writings about miracles, I have arrived at an understanding that all miracles and transformations require extreme attention. You have to attend your miracle for it to become real. “Pay attention” is the first lesson in Zen Buddhism. How do we pay attention? Sharpen your senses. Be an active observer of the world around you. As you move your assumptions aside, you will be able to see each aspect of your life from many different angles. Look again. Think twice. Reflect on your current life by writing in a journal. Notice the smallest things around you with appreciation. Exercise your mind and your body. Your brain is the command center for your muscles, but your body is constantly teaching your brain.
Within your central nervous system you have a specific set of nerves that hunger for signals from your world. The “Proprioceptive System” is set up to tell your brain that you are moving, telling it what position your body is in. The Proprioceptive System keeps track of your muscle movements and body sensations that tell you if you're standing up, lying down, running, crawling, or bumping up against something hard or soft. It allows you to reach down to your knee to scratch an itch without looking. By tracking your location in the world, your Proprioceptive System gives you a sense of being in the world. Consider your “sense of being” as an inner, more spiritual sense, but your physical and mental survival is rooted in your “sense of being in the world,” that is, your proprioceptive sense. If you're passionate and persistent about moving your body and sharpening your senses, then you can benefit in many ways, for many years.
We all know that inspiration can change lives. Can you share a personal story of someone who inspired you and made a difference in your life or a defining moment or experience that inspired you or changed your life?
My Dad, who passed away in 2007, was a bomber pilot in WWII. On his 25th mission over Germany, his aircraft was shot down from 25,000 feet, carrying a full load of bombs and fuel. He did not escape the cockpit, but he survived the impact. His crew perished. There was no fire or explosion. Captain Federico Gonzales regained consciousness to find that a German soldier had dragged his broken body out of the wreckage and was threatening to execute him with a pistol. My Dad began to laugh. Through the pain and terror, he knew that his situation was outrageous. He was alive, against all odds. He thought “This is just like in the movies!” A German officer stopped the soldier from killing my father. My Dad survived the prisoner-of-war camp, became a professor in a medical school, and raised seven sons. About 45 years after the war ended, my Dad was able to meet and embrace the guy who shot him down. He became friends with those who had once been his mortal enemies. My father taught me that the circle of life has no beginning, no end, and no absolutes. If we remain open to renewal, there is no limit to the healing of the spirit.
You make it look easy, but you've experienced challenges in your life. Can you share with our listeners how that has strengthened you to reach success? In other words, how do you overcome adversity?
The most obvious difference between the animate and the inanimate world is that living beings have the ability to respond. Remember. There's a very big difference between responding and reacting. Chemicals react to each other and the environment. Pool balls react to each other on the table. But people respond to each other, their circumstances, and their environments. The quality of your responses depends largely on your health and the clarity of your being. So you must manage your responses to others and the world. Get to know the difference between managing your responses and controlling your responses.
We are told that life is precious. We hear it all time. It's a beautiful message, but it's like a field of beautiful flowers. We may not be able to pay close attention to any one flower in particular. Over these years of working with my son, I have experienced a new sense of just how precious life is. I can feel it now; it's not just a slogan. To live in the full light of precious life requires active attention paid to each and every flower in the field. It takes a long-term commitment to actions that will transform us. And so it takes a willingness to let go of the people we imagine ourselves to be. We need to let go every day to find one way to express and appreciate the brilliance of our temporary lives. We can write a note to someone we love, realizing that we'll not always be together. We can go a little out of our ways to view a sunset or watch a flock of birds. Stop what we're doing and close our eyes to meditate on the miracle of our beating hearts. Every day we should try to interrupt the activities that can dull our senses—especially TV and judgmental thoughts—and seek activities that bring us awareness. We can start small and manage our responses to ordinary situations—aggravation, disappointment, greed—and we'll arrive at an internal process that could serve us very well in critical situations.
Everyone has ideas on how to improve their lives, whether it be a new job, moving to a new city, or finding love, but change can be a bit scary sometimes. Can you please share an experience with us where you "stepped off the ledge" with only faith, and took a big risk, based only on your belief that you would succeed?
I like to tell people that there is no shallow end in my pool. If they are to be involved in my life, then they have to jump right in where I am. Stepping off the edge is a matter of taking one step—maybe one very long step. But the steps we take are never the consequence of just one decision, so there's much to learn. For example, when my son was born with very complicated medical needs, I was ready to take that one, long step for him. But it took me a number of years to realize all of the factors that helped me step into the role of his primary caregiver and fierce advocate. As our lives together became extraordinarily more complex and uncertain, my vision of his potential grew. Over the years, I've had to leave some pretty serious worldly ambitions behind, even sacrificing income for his ability to live. At every turn, I was faced with choosing the losses that I could accept in order to create gain in other parts of our lives. So the issue became my definition of success. Our questions needed to change as we moved along our path. Since my son and I first stepped off of that edge together, the wishes I had for him have become wishes that we both needed to fulfill. Did he breathe each breath as if it were his own? Did he learn to pray? Did he make jokes so our laughter could be synchronized? Did he create undying resonance with his spirit? Did he awaken others? Our answer was yes! So, we became successful!!
How can others do what you did?
Condition yourself to live as fully as possible. Start with the most basic functions of living -- your breathing, all of your senses, your muscle movements, your sense of balance, your dreams and logical thoughts -- and perform them with an ever-deepening attention. Those are the miracles that will bring you to life. The more fully you pay attention, the more fully you will be living your life. You won't have to take on the whole world. You'll feel the process germinating inside of you.
Imagine this. You start your day and, as soon as you are fully awake, you note the time. After one minute, ask yourself “What did I do for the past minute?” “How did it affect my life?” After one more minute, you ask those same questions again. Each minute after that, you ask the same questions. Obviously you would not want to do this all day. It would be overwhelming. But now you realize that every minute that you are awake, your actions, your thoughts, and the quality of your attention determines how your life goes. The quality of your attention IS your life. Practice high quality attention.
What process, steps or exercises do you recommend that our listeners could do right now and each morning, to improve the quality of their lives?
Morning is a vital part of our days. Exercise gives us the most benefit in the morning. What we eat in the morning affects our whole day. Our morning sleep is rich with the dreams that can make a difference through the full reach of our lives. In our mornings, we create the patterns or rituals that help us take steps toward the self-realization that we crave. Especially in times of great change, we all have a need to be competent “drivers” of our lives. We need to look out ahead for the next move, the next turn, and the next possible danger. We keep track of the instrument panel but don't obsess over the speedometer or fuel level. We arrive at our destinations.
Here's a simple exercise that you can do right now, and then repeat each morning as you get your day started. You can imagine this "driving." You are traveling by yourself. Picture the details of road and surroundings. What is the weather? Are there trees? Open fields? Look out ahead as far as you can, filling in more and more details of your surroundings and the road conditions. Set a timer to ring after about eight minutes. Open your eyes and continue your morning at a normal pace. Do not come out of your imagery slowly. It's important to interrupt your meditation with the timer. That helps you maintain the imagery throughout your day.
What's the greatest joy in your life?
Watching each person's life unfold in a unique way is the greatest joy in my life. When I work with children who have disabilities, I often call them “My Picasso's.” I would never want to try to correct a Picasso painting, to straighten the nose, or move the eyes to opposite sides of the face, or smooth off the cubist corners. Each Human is a work of dynamic art, ever changing and always ready to reveal surprising inspirations. And a disability is only that: an inability to perform certain basic functions in life, like walking or talking or seeing or hearing, but keep your eyes open and you'll see surprising inspirations. For example, children with cognitive disabilities or autism see the world in an entirely different way than most people do. Those kinds of disabilities often can strip away a person's mask, showing a depth of a soul that in most people remains hidden as they conform to the expectations of our society. I drink in those lessons of the soul with great pleasure. The range of human experience, cognition, and action lives within me each day, and I feel that much more human for it.
If you had to wrap up the wisdom of your life to leave as your legacy—call it YOUR BRILLIANCE—what important things that you've learned would you want to pass on to others?
My "brilliance" springs from the most basic elements of being alive. Senses. Thoughts. Imagination. Emotions. I once tried to draw a face. I thought "if I can see and move my hands, then I should be able to make my hands move in those patterns to create an accurate drawing of a face." I sat for hours, determined to make my senses and my body comply. At first, the drawings were just like those from a child's hand; very clumsy, but sweet. The more I focused on my senses and movements—the more I tried different positions and ways of seeing—the better the drawings got. The final drawing was shockingly good. A face peered out at me from my own page. I was done. Should I ever have the impulse to draw again, I know that I can do it.
Life is a temporary condition of the spirit. Over a lifetime, a healthy spirit will become increasingly flexible, thriving on the pervasive change that is life itself. My "brilliance" emerges from my endeavor to attend that miracle: the miracle of the place where spirit meets earthly life. I say that “We live at the intersection of Light and Gravity.” It is not enough just to be aware of our nature, but we must dwell every moment within our nature; our temporary, but vivid nature. I want to pass on what I have learned, and to describe how I live. I do not believe that adversity is a necessary ingredient of personal, positive self-transformation. But the distillation that I have created from my adversity might nurture the souls of other people around me.
If you had just one more thing that you could accomplish in your lifetime, what would it be?
I'll have to think further about this question. Because of the way our actions reverberate through life, it's hard for me to come up with “one thing.” I would, however, like to think that my work could influence the way we deliver health care in our country. I don't mean just the issue of who pays the bills, but the actual practice of medicine. American medicine has withdrawn from the place at the family table that it once occupied. American medicine was once truly Family Medicine. It developed within the home environment, fully interacting with the family ecology. In the 19th Century, Family Medicine was thriving. Medical healing was immersed in the realities of kinship. Family physicians found nourishment at the family table. From their home visits, family doctors brought the richest kind of clinical data to propel their feeling of responsibility to the patient's family. And that responsibility nurtured the ethics of medicine. Family physicians inspired their own families, down through succeeding generations, to carry on in service to the community. The American family ecology proved to be the rock-rich soil that could sustain tenacious progress in American medicine. I have been working with a panel of physicians, contributing my experiences and viewpoints to their efforts to address the loss of certain standards in medical practice. You may be surprised to know that one of the lost standards is the physical exam. The physical exam is an indispensable healing tool in addition to—not instead of—other leading technologies. We can answer this question in many ways, but my work as a “translator” in medicine excites me greatly.