I've never really been good at celebrating my birthday. There are a few birthdays in my life that I remember - one was my 6th birthday when I had a party at my house with my favorite girls from second grade, complete with musical chairs, Bozo buckets, a violin serenade by my brother, and hand-selected party favors for each guest. Another was my sophomore year in college, when my roommate totally surprised me by inviting over half a dozen or so of my best friends, who arrived with cake, balloons, and songs to sing. Yet another was in my twenties, when my brother procured tickets to see Itzhak Perlman and the Minnesota Orchestra, and my parents came into town to join us.
But when it has come to my really knowing how to celebrate myself, and knowing what I really have wanted to do on my birthday, I've mostly come up blank.
Now I know that it's because I have been more focused on what it LOOKS like to celebrate than how it FEELS to celebrate.
What Celebrating Looks Like
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In our image-obsessed culture, we can easily be led to believe that what we SHOW about our lives - how we make things appear - is actually more important than how we FEEL about our selves as we live our lives.
Even the lyrics to popular songs teach young girls what it means to "party in the USA" - "Welcome to the land of fame, excess, whoa am I gonna fit in?".
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Because feelings are often difficult to express in words, or not accurately captured by images, or perhaps don't match up with the social pressure to perform and please, I have (perhaps like you) defaulted to suppressing the feelings, not bothering to connect with them, and making choices based on what will make me LOOK like I'm doing fine.
I did this without being conscious of it. It happened slowly, in small steps, over time, like any changes do.
How To Learn What Celebrating Feels Like
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When I have been in relationships, I have felt particularly pressured to celebrate in a way that LOOKS a certain way, to demonstrate a certain level of happiness or to do something that would reflect where I "should be" at a particular time in my life.
It's a lot easier to produce a celebration that LOOKS a certain way, because you can go to any store and find cards, decorations, party invitations, gift wrap, and other accessories that create a celebratory LOOK. You can get dressed a certain way, go to a certain place, and think that it's going to make you FEEL like you've celebrated.
But I've found that in order to celebrate your soul, to acknowledge what you really want, you've got to stop.
You need to slow down, rest, and create space in your life. You need to breathe deeply.
You need to relax your whole body, even the places and muscles you never knew you had.
You need to get to a place of inner silence, where you can become an observer of your thoughts rather than attached to them as who you are.
You need to know what peace FEELS like first.
And if you've had the courage to trust enough to do all that, you will automatically experience the spontaneous positive feelings that I just call "joy".
These feelings have nothing to do with how things LOOK. They are not dependent on conditions or circumstances. They are what is already there, at your core, without your having to do anything.
It turns out that a true celebration is when you can finally connect with that place in your core that does not need you to do anything at all.
So what did I do this past weekend for my birthday?
I slept until I felt like waking up. (I already do this most days, so I rarely feel sleep-deprived anymore, and I even more rarely feel guilty for "sleeping in".)
I savored a breakfast made for me by Rocket Man (that's the pseudonym on this blog for my partner who is such a compassionate witness as I learn to love myself). And by that I mean I noticed the fluffiness of the pancakes, I amused myself with the juiciness of the blueberries, and I allowed myself to eat two strips of bacon without a single voice of self-criticism in my head.
I then spoke out loud a thought that had popped into my head earlier that morning. "How about going to Napa?" No plans, no reservations, no idea where we were going, no agenda for what had to happen. We just decided to go.
While I looked up directions and addresses of restaurants, Rocket Man was looking up places to play music later in the evening. I didn't know it at the time. I thought he was just surfing on Facebook again.
Little did I know I would experience two things I never thought were simultaneously possible: doing exactly what I wanted, and not having to figure it all out on my own!
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After eating a delicious meal at Cindy Pawlcyn's Mustards Grill, we headed up the Valley to Calistoga to scope out a potential retreat site for my new offerings in 2011. (Stay tuned for more excitement on that front!)
We then came back to Pacifica, where at the Chit Chat Cafe, a monthly open mic was happening. The Chit Chat Cafe sits directly on the Pacific Ocean, at the back corner of a small shopping center. It's a small local hangout, with a selection of coffee drinks, baked goods, a couple of wines, and a few computers sitting at the back wall.
As of the last two weeks, I had been following a calling to sign myself up at my weekly open mic to share a bit of sound healing magic. It had occurred to me when I first started coming to open mic that a participatory music experience would be perfect. But I wanted to fit in and find my place first. To become comfortable as a violinist in this brand new setting, before giving people reasons to look at me funny.
Each of the now three times I've done this at open mic, I have been pleasantly surprised, not by the crowd's response or feedback, but by how it makes me FEEL to offer it. My fears of being "looked at funny" have been replaced with a deeper connection to who I really am, and what I can really offer in this world, if I only would step up and try.
So perhaps it's fitting that on my birthday, I stepped up to the mic at Chit Chat Cafe, and shared a few sentences about how, after many years of being trained as a performer and someone who's supposed to know more than other people, I've come to be interested in the healing power of sound and music to connect me to people .
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And then it was just "Ah".
The openness of harmonious sound. The togetherness of wordless interaction. The infinite possibilities of vibrational connection.
No need for further explanation beyond the sound. The energy in the room was palpable, because we had taken that moment to come together and focus our energies on just one sound....the one we were creating in that moment.
When it came time for me to play with Rocket Man, we already felt part of something larger than ourselves. The space was prepared for us - first with a day of celebration, and then with the intention to be who we are, sharing what we love, in this room full of people.
Our sound was unamplified and therefore intimate. Both of our songs transcended labels, categories, and time. No one cared who wrote them, where they came from, or when they were first performed. For one evening, all that mattered was the moment we shared with the people in that room.
The kinds of interactions we had with people after that performance were unlike any other we've experienced so far as a band. The last time I remember such a heartfelt connnection with an audience was when I was a teenager on a concert tour in Moscow, too young to put words on the wordlessness of musical communication, and too distracted by the hard work of "doing it right" to realize that I was touching my life's work already.
This birthday was a celebration of my growing ability to trust how I FEEL and my constant practice of letting go of how things LOOK.
Will you ever know what it FEELS like for you to celebrate yourself? It is my greatest wish for you in your lifetime.