Light Every Candle That You Can

16 03 2017

Lately, too many days have followed this pattern:

I wake from a dead sleep, struggle to untangle myself from the sheet and blanket on my bed and stumble to the bathroom to get ready for the day. As I drive to work, I am angry at every other driver for,,,existing, apparently. I jump into work like a kid jumping into the deep end of the pool before actually learning to swim – after a long, breathless time, I paddle and flail my way up for air. The day is gone.

I drive away from work listening to my brain argue with itself about stopping at the gym. The days I stop are the good ones. Many nights I lie to myself that I will trade the workout for a productive night at home, checking many items off the needed-to-do-last-week list (and I always believe that lie, despite all evidence to the contrary).

At home, I check the news while my dinner cooks. I give up any thought of productivity, as the day’s latest atrocities suck my energy into the waiting ocean of anger and despair. I take my dinner upstairs and eat while watching The Voice or This Is Us or, God help me, The Match Game. Whatever. I play a jigsaw puzzle game on my Kindle until I fall asleep. Sometime later, midnight or one, I wake up. Stiff from sleeping upright, I get ready for bed.

But I don’t sleep when I get there. I try reading a book. The good ones are the ones I can concentrate on long enough to fall into the story. Some nights, that just won’t happen. I lie awake and try to breathe through the ambient anxiety. Or I open social media on my phone and, before you know it, two hours have passed. I finally fall asleep again, not only worried, but truly heartsick. I dream chaotic or stressful or lovely dreams. In the morning they are all jumbled together, and I try to tease them apart, parse them like an obtuse sentence. When my alarm sounds, I tell myself not to get up, “Just lie here (warm and comfortable and thoughtless)…just a little while longer”. And I do.

Until I have to get up and the whole thing repeats itself.

This past week, on Sunday evening, I had tickets to see Carrie Newcomer perform. I had to fight the inertia of Sunday night, plus a winter weather advisory, just to get myself in the car. Once at the venue, my friend Molly joined me. We chatted until the lights went down and Carrie and her accompanist came onstage.

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

I felt like Carrie’s first words described where I have been living – bewildered, in the darkness.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still

And I was. Weeping in the dark auditorium, I felt, for the first time in a while, not quite so alone in my despair. The whole world (not just me) weeps. And then:

Though shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.
I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
I am only one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer ” Love”

There have been songs written about this experience of sitting in a theater or a bar, listening to a stranger whose song articulates what has been living, unarticulated, in the listener’s heart. Carrie’s words spoke directly out of my heart – and I am certain that she chose this opener for me. Because a gifted artist knows her audience, and those of us gathered that night were all in need of a blessing. We are all part of the weeping world, but, yes – still believing in what words like courage and love stand for; believing in the promise of the “beautiful not-yet”*

Later, after the concert, Molly and I walked to our cars, arm-in-arm, through swiftly falling snow. The crystal flakes landing on my upturned face felt like a benediction, their melting a baptism. Washed clean of my wretchedness, I was ready to follow Carrie’s exhortation, and hold the promise in my heart:

 

Light every candle that you can
For we need some light to see
In the face of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of god will gather in
Every sparrow that falls
And makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

 

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Note: Carrie Newcomer’s opening song, lyrics quoted above, was “I Heard An Owl”. You can listen to it here: https://youtu.be/MyD632qIww0 . Carrie’s songs are amazing, a balm to my weary soul.

* “The beautiful not-yet” is the title to another of Carrie’s songs.





Playing by Ear

21 05 2015

I’ve always admired musically talented people, especially those who seem able to hear any music and play it back without practice or written music to follow. It is as if their ear, hearing the notes, immediately translates them into a language that they know how to speak and, voila, the music flows back out of them almost magically. When I am around musicians who can play by ear, who improvise, who easily pick up a new instrument and bring forth a tuneful sound, I am often mesmerized. I feel awed by what they are able to do.

How do they first discover that they can do this?

Not being in possession of this gift myself, I don’t really know. But I imagine that, for some, the discovery comes in childhood, before they’ve been taught by life experience to doubt the possibility. But for others, there might be a moment when they decide to give it a shot. Perhaps they’ve felt the potential for a while, maybe even taken some music lessons, but haven’t had enough self-confidence to just break out and go for it. And then they do, and the whole language of music fully opens to them.

Of course, to be really good, to improve, they must practice. But what I’m interested in exploring here isn’t how a good musician hones his or her craft. Rather, I’m interested in that intersection of potential and reality, and of what it takes to cross that threshold.

We all have these thresholds in our lives. These places where we can either continue to live with our unrealized potentials or we can attempt to bring them forth into reality. How do we begin?

I discovered an Alan Alda quote that really speaks to crossing this threshold: “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” The wilderness of our intuition. For most of us, intuition remains a wilderness precisely because we choose not to explore it. In the age of Google maps and street views, we are very unused to making any move without mapping it out first. And that is in the physical world, where we operate most of the time with relative ease. Imagine, then, how much more difficult it is for most of us to move into the wilderness of intuition, where we aren’t comfortable being, where everything is unfamiliar at first.

Sure, there are those who seem to follow their intuition with ease. But just as I am not musically gifted, I am also not one of those who easily stepped into the wilderness, following the call of my intuition. Nor has it always been an easy path. Here are a few things I’ve learned on this expedition out of my own City of Comfort and into the wilderness of intuition.

Fear walks beside you.  Panache Desai, in his book Discovering Your Soul Signature, says “Life and life situations will call us out on our fear, every single time.” For me, fear comes in many forms – concern that I am not putting my attention where it needs to be; fear that something bad (illness, an accident, etc.) will happen and derail me; fears about lack (of money, of love, of time). The key, according to Desai, is to learn to allow. He reminds us that emotions are simply energy in motion. He says, “I have to learn, again and again, to catch myself…allow the fear to run through me like a river out to sea.” When I am able to breathe through my fear, then let it go, my sense of abundance and gratitude reasserts itself and I am able to keep moving forward.

Trust is essential. There are two types of trust that I have found important in the wilderness of intuition: trust in my own gut AND trust in a higher power. First, my gut. I ignored it for so many years of my life that I had to take what amounted to a remedial course in learning to heed it. I set small tests for it before making big decisions based on it. Each time – whether I listened to it or not – the lesson has been the same: my gut knows the way. And there are few feelings worse than hearing your gut say, “I told you so, but you didn’t listen.”

As for trust in a higher power, when I set my foot to this new path in the wilderness, I intellectually believed that God (the Universe, the Source of All Being) would provide. Believing that in my head is a radically different thing from living with it in my heart. It turns out that I suck at trust. Despite mounting evidence that trust is warranted, I regularly experience a crisis of faith – usually when I forget to allow fear to move through me and, instead, stop to live within it’s energy.

The wilderness is a teacher. When I was a teenager, I saw the animated film, “The Point”. In the story, the hero Oblio is the only kid in The Land of Point born without a point (his head is rounded). It is against the law to have no point, so Oblio is banished to The Pointless Forest. Where he learns, of course, that everything has a point. In many ways, leaving my City of Comfort to enter the Wilderness of My Intuition has reminded me of Oblio’s journey. Some of my lessons have been strange ones, gleaned from interacting with unusual people and experiences. Some have been emotionally difficult, while others have been truly joyful experiences. Following your intuition may lead you into odd places, but what you learn (about yourself, about your world, about your callings in life) is essential.

 

Which brings us back to the idea of practice. Just as musicians, however innately gifted, must practice to develop their skills, learning to follow your intuition requires practice. You will want to regularly return to your city of comfort, which is ok. It is your touchpoint, your safe spot where you are surrounded by support. However, to grow and develop as a person, you will need to also make regular forays into the wilderness. Seeing, then seizing, the moments when the threshold between potential and reality can be crossed is how we learn to get really good at playing our lives by ear. And that, my friends, is an incredibly gifted way to live.

 

 





Getting My “Gangnam” On

7 02 2013

You’ll have to take my word for it, mostly because I wasn’t willing to pay for the $60 upgrade in order to upload my own video (even in HD) to this blog. But it really does exist: video of me, kicking it “Gangnam Style”. And here’s how it happened:

After a long and mentally exhausting day at the office, I got in my car and thought about all of the things I should spend my evening accomplishing. But I was tired and somewhat demoralized, so I decided I needed a “buffer” experience – something between the office and my house that would allow me to shift mental and emotional gears before going home to “be productive”. As has often happened over the years, my car seemed to steer itself in the direction of the Dennis family. When I arrived, Wendy answered the door in her pajamas (it was approximately 6:00 p.m.), having just arrived herself after an 8-hour day in a graduate school classroom.

We made romaine, cucumber and feta salads with a spicy side of wasabi peas, and talked about our days. Wendy had lots to share about treating patients with anxiety and depression – and how all those “shoulds” we put on ourselves can take things from bad to worse. Then, after discussing a particularly gruesome crush injury she treated at her clinical site, Wendy moved on to a topic even more painful (from her perspective): her youngest daughter’s first Show Choir performance.

Wendy is a practical, concrete, achievement-oriented person. Plays, musicals, show choir performances…not really her thing. She told me she was sitting in the audience wishing it was over – approximately 10 seconds into the first song, mind you – when her eye was drawn to one girl in particular. This middle-schooler was so animated and so clearly in the moment, no inhibitions holding her back, that her demeanor and palpable happiness changed Wendy’s entire perspective on the show. Suddenly, Wendy’s consciousness of the moment shifted from harried distraction and lack of enthusiasm to one of communion, of shared joy.

Wendy’s Show Choir “A-Ha” got me thinking about what kinds of experiences we can intentionally create in order to bring about a shift in perspective when we need one. Obviously, Wendy’s shift came as the result of a serendipitous moment rather than a specific plan, but we can’t count on serendipity occurring each time our internal tank is on low. If we did, we’d surely find ourselves stranded somewhere emotionally far from where we wish we were. Here are a few suggestions for quick energy reboots or perspective shifters:

Crank up the Music:

Music is powerful as a mood enhancer. If you don’t believe so, just try to watch a feature film, or complete a difficult workout, without a soundtrack. We’ve all used music to get jazzed up, to relax, to set a mood. Unfortunately, we often only think of doing this for specific or special occasions. But it works for the every day situations, too!

Move It, Move It:

Working in an office setting means I do a lot of sitting. At my desk, in meetings, at lunch in the cafeteria. When I leave work, sometimes it feels like all I want to do is go home and crash – meaning sit some more, just in a new location. Movement of any kind, from rigorous exercise to yoga to a stroll through the neighborhood, can really rev things up. In particular, I’ve found that moving my body outdoors actually gets my sluggish brain going, too.

Find the Horizon:

There are days when I start to feel closed in, as if my life has shrunk to a small box that includes work, stress, and all the “should” messages I give myself. That’s a pretty cramped feeling. I’ve found that a simple drive west, out of the city far enough that fields give way to an actual horizon line, opens up the box and I can breathe deeply again. Obviously, this works best during daylight hours – but the evenings in February are lengthening, and a quick escape after work is becoming more possible.

Reach Out:

Find people who allow you to break free from the energy-sappers of your day. These people can be your chosen family (like the Dennis’ are for me) or they can be a book club, people you encounter while volunteering, occasionally I’ve even found myself re-enegized by a talk with the guy behind the Hy-Vee meat counter. The point is, reach out to other people and think about, talk about, laugh about something new.

Which brings me back to the whole video of me dancing “Gangnam Style”. As I was leaving the Dennis’ home, we were talking about what I would post on my blog this week. And, as silly conversations have a way of doing, our discussion veered wildly until we were all laughing at the idea that I would simply post a video of myself doing the pony dance from the Psy video. I knew that neither Wendy nor her daughters (Katie and Dani were part of this conversation) believed I would do such a thing: which made me want desperately to do it. So, when I arrived home, I found an instructional video which took me through the dance, step by step (I only learned the gallop and lasso-ing movements). I practiced for about five minutes, then hit record on my computer. The position of the camera was such that it only captured my dance from the waist up. Still, I collapsed with laughter when I watched the recorded results, especially my facial expressions as I galloped and lassoed!

Was this what I had planned for my “productive” evening? Not at all. But it was the kind of productivity I needed – it produced relaxation, laughter, and shared joy. A perfect reboot for me!

And, while you’ve likely all seen this video, here’s a little something to ease your disappointment at not seeing my version of “Gangnam”: