Tenderness

195678.mints

This last Sunday, I performed for a church service. 

This isn’t the first time I have done so, and I’m certain it won’t be my last…I’ve been performing since I was two years old. However, this time, I wasn’t prepared. 

Lately, I’ve been writing my own music…or arranging my own music. Either way, it’s not just a simple task when someone asks me to play…which is fine, because I really enjoy writing music. I usually go into a few days of meditation until inspiration strikes and then I begin writing. Depending on the piece, one arrangement can take anywhere from four hours to a week to write. I had a month…plenty of time. And, I was excited because this particular Sunday’s pieces were to celebrate Love. I quickly found the pieces I wanted to perform and set to arranging them.

Then I was blessed with several other opportunities to play during Christmas week, and suddenly I was swamped with writing music, traveling to rehearsals, rehearsing, and then performing. The pieces for Love Sunday had taken a back burner, and I quickly realized that I now only had a week to finish them and rehearse them with my accompanist. After a few rehearsals, it was clear they weren’t going to go well, but it was too late to pick other pieces. By the time Sunday morning arrived, I was exhausted…and ill tempered due to my lack of preparedness. 

As I sat in the church amongst the other musicians performing for the carols and hymns, I felt anxiety rise within me. I turned to the musician to my right…a dear friend from music school, and an amazing musician.

“Do you want to do the solo numbers?” I asked.

“What?” he asked, surprised.

“Please?!” I pleaded.

“Why?” he asked.

“I’m just not prepared. I haven’t practiced enough, and the pieces are filled with flubbed passages.”

He thought for a moment, then offered, “How about I do a drone and dance a jig to distract them?”

“That would be great!” I replied, and couldn’t help but giggle.

Just then, one of the musicians passed a bag of spearmint candy. I absent-mindedly passed it on to my friend on my right. He took it, looked closely at me, and asked me if I wanted one. I politely declined. It was time for the prayer.

I closed my eyes, grateful for an excuse to meditate. I began yoga breathing: four counts in, hold one, four counts out, hold one, four counts in, hold one, four counts out, hold one… As I started to calm down, and began to think more clearly, I remembered some energetic protocols and did some energy work on myself. It took a bit of time, and I expressed gratitude for such a long prayer. By the time the prayer ended, I had come to a place of acceptance of my flawed performance that lay in front of me.

When I opened my eyes, I looked at my music stand in front of me. Tucked into the right edge of the music ledge was a little green spearmint candy. I looked over at my friend, his trumpet already up, ready to play, his eyes avoiding mine. 

“Thanks,” I whispered.

“I didn’t do it,” he feigned, then grinned shyly. 

Then I realized that in my pursuit of perfection I’d forgotten that it didn’t matter if I performed flawlessly…all that mattered is that I played with heart and tenderness.

Thank you friend for your tenderness.

Thank you for reminding me.

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Tests

Extracting wheatgrass juice with a manual juic...

Extracting wheatgrass juice with a manual juicing machine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the lunch break for the Non-violent Communication seminar, I was gifted with an opportunity to test my skills. I’m sure some part of me is very grateful for this test. I’m still trying to access that part of myself…the majority of me is just not quite convinced that it was necessary.

Before I experienced life through a wheat-free lens, lunches at conventions, seminars, airplanes, weddings, funerals, and such were often frustrating due to my vegetarianism (it sounds like an incurable disease, doesn’t it?). So many food providers are at a complete loss as to how to prepare a vegetarian meal that I came to dread those times in an otherwise lovely and stimulating experience. Now, it’s positively horrific.

On the one hand, I’m very grateful that lunch was available on-site. I’m also very grateful that there were salads available. I’m not quite so grateful that none of the salads were vegetarian.

I’m so not kidding.

But, I am grateful that there was a vegetarian option. I’m not quite so grateful that it was a sandwich…made with wheat-based bread…and without a salad. Seriously. I was very proud of myself for saying politely that, while the sandwich looked delicious, I couldn’t eat it, but thanks for providing it anyhow.

I know! At times, this transformation thing really comes through in magnificent ways.

 So, I drive away to the nearest health-food store to get a gluten-free sandwich and a freshly juiced drink. Alas. It is a beautiful Saturday, and everyone has the same brilliant idea to go to the beach, so the freeway is crowded…and slow. At this point, my irritation  escalates. I start my pity party around not being able to eat wheat and sulk that no one even considers people like me and now the freeway is clogged with stupid people keeping me from my sandwich that will most likely be dry and tasteless.

I know. The transformation thing didn’t last long.

By the time I get to the health-food store, I’m grumpy and quite annoyed. I breathe deeply, looking for that gratitude spot that such a store exists, and that the possibility for a gluten-free lunch also exists. Humph! I think. Possibilities, my a$$! This should be mainstream! If it’s bad for me, it’s bad for everyone else (Isn’t there a saying somewhere that misery loves company? I think I invented it.).

I wait until I’m calmer before walking into the store. I approach the deli counter and ask if they have gluten-free bread. They nod…quite bored with the question. I fairly dance with joy and proclaim them my new best friends. I place my sandwich and juice order and wait. And wait. And wait. Ten minutes later (I timed it), my sandwich is ready. I pay for it and the juiced drink, trusting that it will show up at any moment, as the juicer is whining away…as it has been for the past 10 minutes without much to show for it. I wait five more minutes and ask about my drink. They then realize that the drink order has been lost. I realize I’m out of time and have to leave.

“Don’t worry about it,” I say, “I can’t wait. I have to leave.”

I didn’t raise my voice or express irritation. Once again, transformation popped back in momentarily.

As I walk to my car, however, the injustice of the situation riles me all up. The line at the register was so long, that I didn’t even have time to get a refund on my drink. All because I couldn’t eat wheat!!!! Stupid wheat.

On the drive back to the seminar, I try to use the self-empathy tools to calm my spirit and body down. The sulking returns and I find myself vowing to never go back to that store again.

However, I hear a voice tell me, “If you go back after the seminar is over, you’ll get your drink without paying extra.”

I’m not sure I heard correctly, so I ask, “Really?!”

“Go back after the seminar ends today. It’s important that you do this.”

“We’ll see,” I reply.

After the seminar finishes for the day, I debate whether I should go back to the store. If I do, I could get lunch for the next day’s seminar-lunch and be super prepared. I hear again that it’s very important that I go back, so I reluctantly agree to return.

As I drive, the same voice asks me if I can now feel empathy for those behind the counter. I begrudgingly admit that it’s slightly possible that there had been a lunch rush…that someone may be having a bad day…that maybe someone wasn’t feeling well…that they may have run out of ingredients and had to go to the stock room to refill, slowing down the process…that a shift had changed and communication may have failed.

I am instructed to stay in this space of empathy as I walk back into the store. I am also instructed not to bring up the drink…to just order my lunch for tomorrow and watch what happens.

I do as I’m told. As I approach the counter, the drink guy from lunch is the only one behind the counter. He asks me what I would like. As I ask for a salad, he says, “I’m really sorry about what happened with your drink earlier today.”

I look up in complete surprise.

“It was you, wasn’t it?”

I know the shock is all over my face. “Yes!” I reply “It was!”

“I’m so sorry,” he repeats.

“Thank you,” I reply, “but please don’t worry about it. I imagine you had a lunch rush and things got a bit confused. I had an appointment and couldn’t wait, that’s all.”

Relief floods his face, and I realize that this person looks ill…like he needs to be in bed eating chicken soup. In that moment, I remember what it’s like to have to work when sick because I can’t afford to lose the income due to the job not having sick time. My compassion increases for the young guy.

“That’s exactly what happened,” he explains, “and our stock was low and I had to restock before making any drinks, and your order got placed in the wrong place.” 

“How frustrating!” I reply.

He smiles, “It was!”

He hands me my last container and asks if I need anything more. I ask if I could get my drink from lunch. He lights up, and I realize he may be happy to do something to rectify the situation. “Yes! What size did you order?”

I stop, stunned, realizing I hadn’t selected a size at lunch. “I don’t know,” I reply. “Let me look at my receipt.”

“Wait,” he says. “You already paid for the drink?!”

“Yes.” I reply with a smile.

“That’s even worse!” he exclaims. “I’ll make sure you get your drink this time.”

“Thank you so much!” I reply.

Several hours later, I’m still pondering the necessity for this situation, and all I’m getting is that it was a test…an opportunity to actually use my tools to resolve conflict in a new way…using new skills, new thoughts, new behaviors, new words. It was uncomfortable, and I didn’t enjoy it, but a new groove in my brain is beginning to form…providing me with options and a freedom to choose where once I had none.

So…maybe I have found that gratitude part of me…and it’s bigger than I originally thought.

Communicating Kindly

Mindfulness

I struggle to communicate well. To be honest, I struggle in communicating at all…the well bit is merely something to which I aspire.

I haven’t always struggled to communicate; not because I did it any better at any other point in my life, but because I didn’t know that I wasn’t particularly good at it. I honestly thought that what I communicated was as clear as the nose on my face (which is rather pronounced and impossible to miss). What I didn’t realize, is that it is possible for someone to see the nose differently than I saw it and that if I attempted to see the world through that person’s perceptions, mine would inevitably change as would my reality. And that was a truly remarkable moment for me.

I remember when I came across this book. It was completely by accident. I was reading the New York Times’ Review of Books, looking up a recent publication on Amazon in order to read reviews, when this one popped up in the result list. The title startled me because in that moment, I recognized why I experienced those many moments of frustrated and unsuccessful attempts to communicate with people I love. My body responded to the clarity by slumping in the seat, sighing deeply, and feeling a few tears slip down my cheeks.

I have been blessed with the gifts of articulation (a.k.a. a sharp tongue), strong convictions (a.k.a. highly opinionated), and heightened passions (a.k.a. a short temper). In the heat of a difference of opinions (a.k.a. an argument), all of these gifts come together alarmingly well for devastating results. My focus becomes more and more narrow as the importance of being heard escalates such that it quickly becomes impossible for me to even acknowledge that another person is in the room. My resulting words in these moments always cut with scalpel-like precision where it hurts the worst, and, much to my horror, I rarely feel regret. So, when I saw this book cover, it startled me into recognizing that it is possible to disagree kindly with someone I love. I know this isn’t a new mental concept to me, for my mother never ceases to remind me of kinder ways of stating my clear and precise attempts at communicating. However, this brutally honest, yet openly vulnerable appeal of a message was the catalyst that finally opened the light of day to my emotional understanding.

The necessity of such compassion in communication hit very close to home today when a dear sweetheart of a friend came out to all his extended family and friends in a beautifully constructed open letter to us. His vulnerability revealed to me how emotionally fragile we are in this water planet, and how vitally important it is to nurture relationships like tender sprouting plants rather than seeking to conquer one another in any fashion…a deeply ingrained pattern in me that requires a complete change in all that I do.

So, while I’m practicing communicating  kindly with you, should I slip into familiar and comfortable patterns, please hold up this sign…for I want to…and I do.

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