Music’s Lessons

Today I taught two music lessons.

At first glance, that’s not a particularly unique statement…there are many music teachers in varying sizes, shapes, capabilities and experience. However, when one takes into account that I’ve never really enjoyed teaching music, that statement carries a wee bit more significance. I learned how to teach…took all the classes and met all the requirements to graduate…only to discover in the last two semesters that whenever I met with a student or entered a classroom, my stomach was in knots. I couldn’t wait for the lesson time to end. So, after three years of obligated torture, I quit teaching…much to my stomach’s relief.

Once I established my new career, I kept my musical past to myself. I didn’t want to get pulled into doing something I’d left just because it was familiar. I wanted to establish myself in new ways and finally be satisfied and successful in my new and much-loved career. I did fairly well until one day, someone asked me point-blank if I played an instrument. Not one who lies easily, I answered truthfully…which was followed by the inevitable question: Do you teach? I reluctantly agreed to teach a few select students. Still, I kept running into the same issues…ultimately firing two students due to a mismatch of expectations.  Horrified, I discovered that once again, I dreaded lesson time.

Then one day, a co-worker asked me if I would teach her child. I took a deep breath and told her that I needed to consider the request for a bit. That bit turned into several weeks. I really didn’t want to teach her child. Aside from my aversion to teaching, this child was challenging…some might say he’s unteachable due to his attitude. Additionally, because his parents are so very athletic…to the exclusion of all else…the fact that they’d even considered music lessons at all surprised me. The combination of all these factors had me itching in all the most unpleasant ways. 

I finally agreed to give it a trial run of six weeks.

Those were some of the most hair-wrenching, stomach-clenching six weeks of my life. Everything I asked this child to do was met with a force field of intense resistance. At times I wondered if there even existed a path through this wall of “no.” After each lesson I collapsed on my sofa, exhausted. There had to be a better way.

Finally, at the end of one particularly torturous lesson, the student informed me that, rather than weekly lessons, he would contact me when he was ready for the next lesson. Affronted by such a statement, I first panicked as I had come to depend on that income. Then I was furious that such an undisciplined stubborn pipsqueak of a kid had taken control away from me. I almost ended our music relationship right there. 

I’m so glad I didn’t. 

Today, almost two years later, I can honestly say that I am immeasurably grateful for the lessons this student has brought to me. This difficult person has definitely been one of my greatest teachers. Letting go was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Not only did I let go of my perceptions of how lessons should be, I also released years and years of pedagogy…both experienced as a student and taught in the classroom. My entire approach and attitude toward teaching has changed. I let my student guide the teaching and for the first time in my life, lessons are a discovery of fun.

The result for him has been incredible. He took ownership and responsibility for his progress with gusto. He pushes himself harder than I could (which is usually quite a bit), but more importantly, he enjoys it…something I really questioned at the beginning. He is truly transformed…from someone paralyzed to try anything new for fear of making a mistake and looking stupid, to one who voluntarily selects the hardest song in the book because it looks fun. He now willingly chooses to work on that one piece, 20 minutes each day for three weeks…just to master it. He’s also composing and asks incredible theory questions. He’s nine. 

I sat there today, looking at him in amazement…a big grin of satisfaction on his face. He knew he’d done something great, and he didn’t need me to tell him that. So, we just celebrated together and talked about all the things he’s learning about himself as he works through his musical challenges. When his time was up, he stood up and proudly and confidently told his dad he had a great lesson. His little brother, worshiping his big brother, now excitedly prepares for his own lesson.

Thank you, kiddo, for teaching me how to discover joy in letting go…for showing me how to be the “Guide on the Side”…for continually inspiring me to be a better teacher for you…for experiencing the passion and adventure of learning and teaching.

I am grateful for you.

Image: Music Manuscript, 16th century. Paint on vellum, 23 13/16 x 15 15/16 in. (60.5 x 40.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Howard L. Larsen in memory of his sister, Agnes Larsen Griffiths, 57.22.


Mineral Food

This week Autumn arrived where I live. The sky aged to shades of gray, a cold wind blew, cleansing nature of all the things it was ready to release…leaves, bark, branches, nests, skins, seeds… Then it rained. And rained, and rained, and rained. 

Whenever weather turns inclement, I crave soup. This week in the Farmer’s Market, I delighted in seeing turnips. My excitement in seeing these earth foods surprised the farmer and she commented that most people aren’t such big fans of turnips. I replied, “It’s all in how you cook it, and with what you cook it.”

I also purchased some onions but couldn’t find parsnips anywhere in the market. It took a few days to find them, but by the time the rain began, all the ingredients were in my kitchen and I set to work.

I began by turning on my Chris Botti station on Pandora, and making myself a cup of tea. This ritual calms my mind and opens my senses so that I can experience all the textures and flavors that the food has to offer me. My cooking always tastes better when I take the time to slow down and work with it in gratitude…connecting with everyone who has had a part in providing support for the growth of this food as well as bringing it to my kitchen.

As I bring the finished product to my lips, the pungent mineral odor of earth fills my mouth and nose. Tangy, slightly bitter, slightly sweet and creamy, the smooth, fluffy texture enhances the flavor as it continues to unfold on the tongue. I ladle a bowl-full, garnish the top with fresh cilantro, pour a glass of Summerland Pinot Gris 2008 and sit by the window. As kitty curls up in my lap, I watch the rain, Chris Botti still serenading me and I am bliss.

Swirly Nibs

One very unexpected, yet joyous, side effect of blogging is meeting other bloggers. I know. If someone were to have said that to me, I would have rolled my eyes and muttered, “Duh!” However, in defending myself from myself, I realized the interesting inner war I experienced around blogging. All sorts of internal messages and insecurities arose like Dementors whenever I even considered starting a blog, the two biggest ones being: “There are so many bloggers, why does the world need another one” and “What could I possibly have to say that would matter to another person.” I was so focused on me as the originator of “stuff” that I never even considered the possibility that I might also meet some pretty amazing people and learn from their “stuff.” It is this unexpected side effect that continues to add a significant amount of joy and gratitude to my life. 

This week, I stumbled upon a most incredible and beautiful soul and her blog. This woman knows how to manifest a life of joy, purpose, beauty and creativity. She’s living her dream and loving every moment of it. Her joy and passion shines through her work and as a result, she’s becoming quite successful. She’s a fabulous example of the idea that if you follow your passion and do what you love, everything else follows. Her name is Betsy Dunlap and she presently has two blogs: B.Dunlap, and BD for WeddingBee. The latter one, the source of this post’s photo, hasn’t been updated since 2009, but contains some stunning photographs of her work specifically done for weddings. The former one is her active site and shows her more recent work across a wide range of media and purposes. 

Apart from the inspiration she brings to me to live a life more deeply infused with beauty, passion and creativity, I love that she’s obsessed with typography and letters through the ancient art of calligraphy…and using letters in creative ways…varying the shapes and sizes and directions to create art and flow and evoke emotion simply by the formation of a letter. It’s as though, when I look at her letters, I learn a bit more about her and the way she sees the world, and my eyes are changed for the better. 

Thank you Betsy.

Let’s Meet & Be Merry!

On Thursday of this week, toward the end of my work day, a high-school senior approached me. 

Starbucks is having a buy-one-get-one deal!” he exclaims. “Would you like one?”

“Yes!” I eagerly respond. “What’s the occasion?”

“Let’s do some research!” he replies. 

A part of my heart melts at the word “research,” for it’s definitely a magical word. Research always opens a million doors of questions and leads me on incredible adventures into unknown realms from which I never return unscathed or unchanged. Already, at such a young age, The Research Bug has bitten this one, and I beam with pride.

“Oh!” I exclaim, “They’re promoting their holiday flavors! Which one do you like?”

We eventually settle on the Gingerbread Latte and he leaves.

Thirty minutes later, he returns with a carrier filled with four drinks…he’d bought two orders.

“How much do I owe you?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he replies, “It’s my treat. Plus, I bought another order to share. The next two people to walk through that door are the lucky winners.” He laughs in anticipation.

I look at the teenager, at a loss for words. How do I tell him to hold on to such a pure heart…that such kindness is hard to find in a world that focuses on domination, control, greed and war? How do I tell him that such generosity might be construed by cynics as naiveté or manipulation or foolishness but to pay them no mind? How do I tell him that his kindness, after a particularly challenging day working with an extremely difficult and demeaning man, heals the day plus much more?

Just then, two of his guy friends come running past him, both of them saying excitedly, “I gave mine to so-and-so…and an old lady who looked cold…and that cool homeless guy and…”

I keep my thoughts to myself and instead, reach out, squeeze his arm, beaming from every pore in my body, my heart expanding to 10 times its normal size.

Thank you” I say. And I hear in my head, All is well with the world.

Luna’s Allure

I love this painting, don’t you? The first time I experienced it, the air turned sparkly and everything within and around me buzzed with electrical anticipation that something magical was about to happen. Then, the longer I stood there, standing on the crystal water, the more certain I became that Something indeed was about to happen…and spent the rest of my day with a song in my head and a skip in my step as I looked for this event to come to me.

Even now, after hundreds of viewings, I really can’t explain the effect of this work upon me. Is it the layers of clouds…peeling away and revealing ever more beauty and adventure with those two pinpricks of starry light? Is it the glassy mirror of the water inviting me to follow the path of light on yet another adventure? Is it the incredible selection and blend of colors: blues and purples and yellows and pinks and greens, so beautifully applied? Perhaps it is the water and the perfect reflection of the moon? Or is it the moon Herself? Is Luna truly the Mistress of Enchantment? The Key to the mysteries of night? Surely after so many years of existence we have tired of the endless stream of verses and songs and dedication to the Queen of the Night. And yet…I am captivated. Somehow, I know that if I could channel my inner Mary Poppins-ness and step into this painting, I would shimmer too; inspired to dance with the light and the Elemental with me.

As if this weren’t amazing enough, the manifester of this magic is Steve Richardson, surfer and professional fisherman. Almost ten years ago, he again tapped into his passion for painting which lead to him teaching painting to those diagnosed with Autism. His students’ work is equally impressive, demonstrating in him a sensitive, insightful and compassionate nature. Now that I think about it, those same qualities are what strike me most about this painting, leading me to wonder if the magic doesn’t lie within the subject…but rather in the creator. 

Precious Treasures

As mentioned in an earlier post, I grew up in a British Commonwealth country. I became accustomed to tea and biscuits, addicted to Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial, Double Devon Cream, Lemon Curd and Marmite, and stopped eating chocolate when I moved back to the U.S. because it didn’t taste like Cadbury’s or any of the European chocolate on which I’d trained my taste buds. At first, there was gnashing of teeth as there were no stores near me that carried any British or European specialty food products, but over time, thankfully, these stores have become more abundant. The favored one in my present wandering area is Ye Olde King’s Head Shoppe in Santa Monica.

A British friend introduced me to the shop, and I’ll never forget my first step through the door. It’s a shame John Cleese et al. weren’t my companions, for it was the classic sky-opening-cherubs-descending-choral-ahhhs-enlightenment moment. I instantly lowered my voice to hushed tones, as though walking through a High Gothic cathedral, and slowly, silently approached the shelves containing McVities, Weetabix, Scottish Shortbread, Gooseberry Jam, Mint Imperials and Marmite, reverently stroking each item with appropriate solemnity. The Cadbury aisle nearly sent me into a Jehovah-ecstasy moment. 

So, it’s quite understandable that after receiving my “Verboten Weizen!” commandment, my distress level heightened as I had just purchased these items of joy…and now I couldn’t use them. I am happy to inform you that fabulous British chef Phil Vickery’s cookbook is saving the day, and I’m blissfully nom-ing through home-made breads slathered with yummy goodness.


The Path Before Me

One morning, this last week, I arrived to work and looked up into the sky. This is not an unusual occurrence…I love to look at the sky and often find treasures there. I also find that whenever I look into the sky I take in an involuntary deep breath, close my eyes and smile. In that breath-filled moment, I experience joy and peace.

So, to begin my day this way is actually a habit of mine. However, today I found a treasure in the sky…and happened to have my camera available. By the time I could get the picture, only the remains were left of what I saw: A plane, flying across the sky, leaving a large contrail behind it. The sun was in such a position so that this contrail cast a shadow in front of the plane; it looked as though the plane was flying a path already determined for it. 

Of course a plane has a path determined for it…but not by the sun or other natural sources. And it made me wonder…what pre-determined path am I following in living my life due to cultural programming by society, my family, personal stories, or religion…and, is this who I truly am? What if I stepped off of that shadow path and chose a new one…one truer to my soul’s essence? What then?

Understanding Art

Art collectors

I watched Herb & Dorothy this weekend. I began the film fully expecting and excited to learn how to collect art on a small budget. What I learned instead, was a deeper understanding on how to appreciate and communicate with art.

I am not well-educated when it comes to art. I have taken a few classes (which I loved), frequent art museums on occasion (which I enjoy), appreciate art that elicits a strong reaction in me (either for or against), but the finer aspects of art escape me. This is not due to a lack of interest; rather I prefer to just let the art speak to me rather than be buried in another’s, sometimes forced and insincere, opinions.

How surprising, then, to discover that neither Herb nor Dorothy were particularly educated in regards to art either…at least at first. And while they both eventually took classes, it is their process of collection that inspires me. They admit that they don’t often understand the art that they purchase. Upon seeing some of the pieces (to be frank, most of the pieces) that they purchased, that statement isn’t at all surprising to me. However, they spent the time getting to know the artists. Every day after work they’d visit an artist’s studio and talk about his/her art and how he/she was creating it. They were particularly interested in all of the bits leading up to and away from the piece(s) they eventually purchased. As time passed, they became quite good friends with the artists and would even set up regular phone dates to chat with them…even if the artists moved away from New York City, where they live.

This astonished me. Here are two people who began with absolutely no background in art or credentials to judge art, and yet they spent all their time trying to understand it; relate to it; communicate with it. I found this to be phenomenal and realized that there is very little in my life to which I devote such attention and dedication and I wondered what my life would be like if I were to spend even a fraction of that energy on something of interest…such as communicating.

Addendum: I wrote this several months ago, but for some reason I never posted it. I’m so excited that I’m starting to tap into this passion in my life and have actually put effort into the things I care about…including communication. Once again, intentions matter!

Kitty Gem

Throughout the High Holy Days (see previous post), I experienced many beautiful spiritual moments linked together like a chain. There were many times when I wasn’t entirely certain where I was, the congregational bliss and joy was so strong.

In the foyer of the Institute, there was an area designated for cozy seating and conversation. The furniture in this area was all covered in this velvet-like emerald-green fabric…quite inviting. It appears that the Institute cat thought so too. I have no idea what her name is, but she was always available for snuggles between services.

Thank you kitty for your intuitive Reiki calming, centering and loving grounding. 

Spiritual Integration

This year, I celebrated the High Holy Days at Pacifica Graduate Institute. One of my soul’s many facets is my Jewishness. But, due to many things, this has not been a part of me that I have celebrated much recently. To be honest, I struggle with a rigid belief system of any kind, and much prefer the exploratory and experiential Spiritual perspective…which has been my primary focus of late. How could all these seemingly disparate pieces fit together? I had no idea; I simply set the intention to remain open to receive whatever blessings Divinity had to share with me. 

Aside from the beautifully warm and inviting congregation and their unique and lovely traditions (one of which is not to require tickets to the High Holy Days; another is to bless and honor non-Jewish family members who support Jewish family members), the thing that struck me the most is that this congregation is deeply Spiritually connected…particularly the rabbi. As the rabbi brought in ancient mystical (Kabbalah) practices, the similarities to my own Spiritual practice struck me. The guided meditations were familiar to me and the angels, beings and Divinity (both feminine and masculine) we connected with were ones with which I was already familiar. 

At one point, I looked up and admired Pacifica’s meeting room which we had rented, and I chuckled. Here we were, worshipping at a school that teaches psychology from the perspective of Freud and Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and many others interested in consciousness and mythology, and I’m celebrating one of the more ancient mythologies amongst all their photographs. I’m also practicing some of their meditation techniques in order to access a deeper consciousness…all while in the midst of ancient Jewish services. I don’t know that I fully understand the meaning of all of those things coming together in that moment, but I do know that it was significant…and meaningful…and comforting. 

As I left services, my mind was quite suspended and I was experiencing higher realms, so powerful and beautiful the services had been. I stepped out of the building and looked up. The fog was beginning to lift and clear, and for one swirly moment, I was in ten different places and times at once. Again, it was profound without being able to explain why. But I do know my soul danced with joy, and I was at peace.

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