Playing by Ear

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.



The Pause

Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself. -Lucille Ball

 On Tuesday morning, I rolled out of bed with only one eye open. I tripped on several items strewn on the floor of my bedroom because I just hadn’t gotten motivated to pick them up over the weekend. I dressed for my TRX class at the gym and stumbled out to my car. As I backed out of the driveway, I noticed something unusual: my windshield, which faced east, was filled with the bright orange and pink tones that precede full sunrise, tinting the morning sky. In my rear window, dark night reigned – complete with a huge, brilliant white full moon. Straightening out my wheels and heading up the street, morning rode on my right hand, night on my left. I felt as if I were driving the dividing line between the two.

In some belief systems, this time of day, the “in-between”  or “liminal” time is when sacred or magical things can happen. It is when the “veil between the worlds” is thinnest, and folklore abounds with stories of humans who accidentally wandered into fairyland at dawn (or dusk, also an in-between time). In psychological terms, “liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning ‘a threshold’) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysically subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the ‘threshold’ of or between two different existential planes” (thanks, Wikipedia).

This is how I have felt, these first weeks of 2012: as if I am on the threshold of something. I don’t know what it is, but all this forward momentum of the past few years has slowed way down. And, as often happens when on the threshold of something new, I am in a state of pause. Something will happen, of this I am sure. Perhaps it will be an internal change, perhaps a new external path will open up. But for just now, I need to breathe in The Pause.

The Pause can’t last forever, though. Stasis isn’t, ultimately, my goal. Which is why I chose the word “Move” as my one-word for 2012 after viewing this video last week. As I have been thinking about this word, I have realized that many advisors tell us not to move without a plan, to make your moves count. We plan our lives, we set goals, we live into the future. For me, that type of life-planning is paralyzing. If I am in that mode, I can’t choose which foot to put forward first, in fear of making the wrong choice. In that mode, I would look at morning on my right, and night on my left, and feel I had to choose one or the other. And that would be an impossible choice, so I would stay rooted to the spot I was already on.

Instead, I am looking at “Move” as an imperative to make joyful choices – to try new things, go new places, take new steps in my life. Not as part of a formal life plan, because that hasn’t worked for me. Instead, my informal plan is to Move. Just move. The next step may be a mis-step, but if the imperative is to move, then I can take another step. I want to welcome change within my life and in my heart – whether I move to the right or the left, I move into beauty. What a choice that is! Choose this or choose that – either way, BEAUTIFUL!

So, for a moment, I am pausing on the threshold. But liminal times don’t last forever – dawn always banishes night, night always overcomes day. That’s how it is supposed to work in the world, and in our lives as well. Pause, breathe, move!