Musings of an Irish-American

Sometimes I think about stuff, and then I write it here…

Tag Archives: learn


“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” – John 14:1-3

This reading has followed me over the course of my life in the last seven or so years (or at least that is as long as I have been aware of it as it has surfaced). The first such instance was when my church music director in high school shared a David Haas album with me which included a musical setting of text from John’s gospel. I listened to that song almost non-stop during some of the more difficult stretches of my time in high school, doing my best to let the words sink into the depths of my being in those moments.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me. I will go forth to prepare a place for you, then I’ll come back to take you with me, that where I am, you may also be.”

I wasn’t as aware at the time that the Gospel reading is a (can’t think of a better term here) popular choice for funerals; my first interaction with it on the level of grief and sorrow was at the funeral service for former DePauw professor, Dr. Stanley Irwin. I was sitting in Gobin United Methodist Church in Greencastle when I heard the reading proclaimed and it was the first time I resisted the message.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

‘How can my heart not be troubled right now? This man, this educator, this joy, was taken from us before we were ready…how am I supposed to have faith now?’

A thought something like that crossed my mind as hearing these words that, for so long, had been a comfort were now bringing tears to my eyes in grieving for losing Dr. Irwin.

Turns out it came up again, when my uncle Jim Mahoney passed away.

Now, this week, I cantored more funerals than I ever have before (four in three days), and, since losing Maria D’Albert, that reading kept coming up. Just hearing the opening line brought my grieving to the surface, tears welling up, doing my best to be recovered by the time I’d have to sing again.

That word, “troubled”, just kept sticking out to me. A quick definition check of troubled gives us this: adjective, beset by problems or conflict, showing distress or anxiety.

When we lose someone, our faith is tested, and I mean that in so much more than a religious way; to steal a phrase from my mentor Michael Bernoff, I don’t care what you believe in, God, light, sound, horses, pigs, whatever it is that’s important to you, I mean your personal belief, your own purview of the world around you, is fundamentally shifted after losing a loved one, belief in God or not. If it’s not, then you’re most likely a sociopath and I have no idea why you’re reading my blog right now.

Do not let your hearts be troubled; you do not have to feel conflicted or anxious in your loss. You most likely will feel conflicted or anxious (or both or many other things), yet the operative word in that command statement is “let”. You let your heart be troubled or conflicted or sad or angry or any multitude of emotions; how you respond to letting yourself feel that way is the incredible influence we have in our lives.

Even as I write this, I feel the tears welling up, I feel the lack of understanding of why we’ve lost who we’ve lost, I feel grief and sorrow and joy of love. Yet I also know that these feelings are not who I am, though they make me realize that I am capable of great emotional depths and capable of giving and receiving a tremendous amount of love in my life.

I’ll leave you with this quote that I’ve been reflecting on about loss; do not let your hearts be troubled, my friends.

“Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening but sweet and precious.” – St. Rose of Viterbo



fertile ground

This has been a thirty day period of incredible growth, progress and momentum. I am so very proud of myself for committing to creating a 30 Day Deal for the month of December. This post marks the completion of the commitment I made to make at least four contributions between December 1 and December 30.

I have difficulty remembering a time when I’ve felt this focused and had this much momentum carrying me forward. It is truly powerful that, at the beginning of this month, I told myself there were a certain few objectives I wanted to accomplish over that period of time and I stayed focused on making them real to me. Beyond the mere accomplishment of those objectives, I also worked on my awareness of how I accomplished them, what that process entailed.

As I’ve learned from Michael Bernoff, one of the most vital processes one can commit themselves to is to become obsessed with the process of how to become the person who gets the goals you want. Rather than jumping from goal to goal to goal or from idea to idea to idea or from strategy to strategy to strategy, if you dedicate yourself to figuring out how you become that person, it becomes a part of who you are. Once you’ve integrated that process into your being, you move beyond needing motivation or strategies and you live your life as that person with what you’ve become as a part of you.

I also completed another goal I set for myself by finishing reading the book Using Your Brain for a Change by Richard Bandler, who is a mentor of Michael’s; in the afterword, he talks about how Neuro Linguistic Programming (which Bandler co-created) is more than a set of tools. He posits that it truly is a mindset that one develops about how they learn and view the world. I really latched on to this idea; how we perceive the world is really one of the few things we have any control over in our experience. What most resonated with me from the afterword, however, is seen below:

“You see, whenever you think that you understand totally, that is the time to go inside and say, ‘The joke is on me.’ Because it is in those moments of certainty that you can be sure that the futile learnings have set in, and the fertile ground has not been explored.” – Richard Bandler, Using Your Brain for a Change

I had not truly realized before reading that book, and letting its knowledge sink in, that certainty is a sure path to becoming stuck in your life. When certainty arises, you lose your curiosity and stop asking questions; when someone presents something to you that challenges that certainty, you close off your perspective and lose an opportunity to expand. We all have fertile ground in us that is unexplored, whether because of certainty or because we have not allowed ourselves to acknowledge it or discover it. I invite you to examine how certain you are in how you view the world and to challenge that certainty, to allow yourself to be curious, to have wonder, to ask many questions, to let the joke be on you. It is then that you will truly begin to expand out into the person that you are possible of being.

Here’s to 2016: the year of exploring fertile ground. Happy New Year!



Continuing my intention set in 30 Day Deal, I’m back here (for the second time in five days; FIVE DAYS!!!). I’m back partially because I made a deal with myself, yet also because, through that deal with myself, I have had experiences that I feel worth reviewing and sharing with you here.

On Friday night, five dear friends of mine from my college days came to Chicago to see me play George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play at Oil Lamp Theater, as well as to visit with each other. It’s funny that, as you’re growing up, no one really tells you, “Hey, you’re going to form connections with these people and grow to love them, but there’s going to be a time when you have deliberately make time to see them because you won’t be able to just walk down the hall to be with them.” Thanks to the collective efforts of all six of us together, we were able to make the time and space to get together and share laughs and tears and memories and, most importantly (to me), hugs.

I knew, approaching the night of the performance that I knew they were going to attend, that I was going to most likely have a level of emotional vulnerability that was quite a bit higher than what I usually work to achieve in playing the man who forgets that he is not a failure because he has friends. I knew it, and it happened; I was almost a wreck twenty minutes in when (SPOILER ALERT) George’s father dies (I normally wouldn’t think this warrants a spoiler alert, but I keep meeting people who have never seen the movie, which is confounding to me). I so deeply felt that loss because the people I knew were in the audience had gone through that same sense of loss as I did when our friend Chris Alonzi passed away two years ago this past December 10. I learned that that level of vulnerability was within me because of those people and our experiences together and, ultimately, because of the love we share for each other. I could not have learned that without that experience.

I also learned today that, when you set an intention and pursue it authentically with your whole self, you can truly achieve a sense of accomplishment that boosts your confidence and gives you an incredible amount of momentum to move forward. In my 30 Day Deal, I set the intention to learn one to two new monologues. I did it because I knew there was an audition coming up for a theater company here in Chicago that I have auditioned for multiple times and that I would very much like to collaborate with in the future. I knew I needed a new monologue to present to them, so, when the 30 Day Deal came around, I said to myself, “I’m going to put this on here and I’m going to do this, so I can give myself an opportunity to win in that audition room whether or not the people casting like it or not.” So, in less than two weeks, I learned a new monologue from a play called Arcadia by Tom Stoppard on the suggestion of a former theater professor of mine who has shown great confidence in my abilities in the past. I walked into that room, made some very pleasant small talk (even managed to get a joke in before I started to make all of us feel comfortable) and presented my pieces. When I finished, the artistic director, who I am always happy to audition for because he’s incredibly intuitive and gives excellent notes, noted that he thought the play I took my second monologue from (The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh) was nice (in comparison to some of the very tragic outcomes presented in McDonagh’s other works) and then gave me an excellent note about the Arcadia monologue. Before I left, he said that he thought my choices in monologues were nice, and that the note he gave me about the Arcadia monologue would create an even better contrast from the choices I was already presenting in the Inishmaan piece. I walked out of that room knowing that I gave them my all AND that I had accomplished an intention that I challenged myself with two weeks ago.

That knowing brings with it a fantastic sense of confidence because, when you tell yourself that you’re going to do something and play full out in getting after it, you make it real for yourself, and that’s what we’re here to do. Learning is part of that process, yet I think people miss that learning is a process. You learn some things easily, you learn some things well, and you have difficulty learning other things, that’s life. However, if you can take how you learn from the things you learn easily and well and apply that process to those things that you have difficulty learning, that is when true achievement occurs.

These experiences and this journey have opened my mind to knowing that learning how to learn is the greatest process we can engage in. We’re all different, driven by different ideas, beliefs, outcomes and emotions, so it’s imperative that we direct our attention and our energy towards learning how to best live our lives and how we function. When I function at my best, then I can serve you to function at yours; it’s as simple as that.

Simple, not easy, though certainly well worth it all.