Be Careful What You Wish For...

Last year I made a vision board for who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity. I had devoted 2010 to my Core of Peace, and I was setting a new intention for 2011. I didn't know exactly HOW my creativity would be expressed. But by making the vision board I connected with images and words that captured how I knew it would FEEL to be in that place of expression.

I let go of the HOW, because I didn't - and couldn't - know at the time what the exact steps would be.

I breathed deeply into the feelings of my own creativity, and allowed images to attract me without needing an explanation or a meaning or a concept. They were just images that I loved, for no "reason" at all.

Here is the vision board I made:

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I have it as the wallpaper image on my laptop, so every time I open my computer, the images enter my consciousness. Most days, I don't sit and deliberately stare at every image on my screen, but I know they are there.

I haven't thought about that vision board in many months. I have gone about the business of living, of staying in my Core of Peace, of letting some things go, and picking up other things, of planting seeds and watching them grow, all the while noticing that I cannot force growth to happen any faster than it already is.

Last night I looked at it again.

It was with a sense of amazement that I noticed how many of the images had actually come into my reality during 2011. In other words, my visions had come true!

While I was holding the intention to express more of my creativity in 2011, I lived by the mantra, "First Feel Free." The actions that resulted from that feeling included walking away from a commercial lease, and six months after that, downsizing my belongings by about eighty percent and moving out of my two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, and into my boyfriend's two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, with a kitty and a big backyard.

We started a vegetable garden.

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We climbed to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, after months of training with progressively longer hikes every weekend.

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I fell in love with the outdoors, and discovered a new interest (er, obsession) in backpacking.

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I also fell in love with spoken word, and began accompanying poets with live violin improvisation during their readings.

I accompanied a dear friend on violin while she sang her heart out in a burlesque show, observing the self-empowerment potential for women to love (and even flaunt) their own bodies exactly as they are.

Our band, Chinese Melodrama, stumbled into a new niche combining our love of supporting local businesses and the taste of wine, by providing music at local winery and wine bar events.

I got so busy living that my writing and videoblogging could no longer keep pace with the rate at which I was accumulating experiences. I let go of my need to report on every single learning and observation I had about the world, and began to just fully soak in the experience.

Meanwhile, another dream came true, with the opening of a brand new yoga and healing arts studio just a few blocks away from my new home. It was also another example of letting go of my grief over "not having a yoga studio anymore" and allowing the magic of life to arrive at my doorstep. I now find myself on the roster of musicians for the Sunday evening yoga and healing sound classes (starting in September, I'll be playing the second Sunday of every month), and working with the studio to coordinate events with my community of healing artists, musicians, and poets.

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Looking back at my vision board, I can count the images that have arrived in my reality since that day last year. I have found myself in the woods, on the top of mountains, at the rocky shores of the ocean, standing in awe of a sunset, opening my arms to the expansiveness of the sky, praising the stillness of the forest, celebrating my own beauty, and playfulness, and togetherness with a companion.

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All of this, once just a vision, is now my reality. All of this is who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity, letting go of the HOW and opening to the expansive mysteries of the earth and life.

The old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."

I say, "Be bold about what you wish for."

And brace yourself. Because you just may get it.





Original versus Cover Songs: So what's all the fuss about?

[singlepic id=253 w=320 h=240 float=center] One of the interesting versions of partisan politics I've noticed since joining the local open mic scene is between two apparently opposing camps in the music scene - those who play "original" songs versus those who play "covers". "Covers" is a term, uttered either under one's breath with a hint of shame (by the people playing them) or with a distinct tone of disdain and perhaps a spray of saliva on the "c" sound just for emphasis (by those staunch supporters of playing only originals), used to designate music composed by someone other than the performers themselves.

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This distinction is a foreign one for me since I grew up in the classical music world, where the Great Composers Of All Time were revered and respected as part of my musical education. Some of these Great Composers were Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, to name a few. I focused all of my attention on training and developing the technique required to execute the intentions conveyed in increasingly complex written notation, leading up to the Great Concertos. These were the truly epic compositions that required a tour de force of virtuosic technique and range of emotional expression imagined to be conveyed by the Great Composer.

There was no talk of writing music.

No conversations about "creating" our own compositions. I had never come into contact with any live person who wrote music. I met plenty of other violinists, who were soloists on the international circuit, or who were in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or who taught at Northwestern University, or who were members of a Named Quartet, or who were conductors. That was my world.

We ALL played "cover songs".

I was surrounded by people whose world-class careers were made on their ability to interpret, perform, and bring alive the compositions of men whose creations have lived on for centuries. I learned to respect the art of specialization. I learned that there was enormous depth and expansiveness to the art of bringing life to written music through an instrument. By watching the very few artists who I considered truly great, having developed a seamless relationship with their instrument (Yo-Yo Ma and Anne-Sophie Mutter to name my favorites), I learned that a particular performer's rendition of the same song could make the difference between sitting through yet another classical music concert, and being totally transported to another realm.

So naturally, when I first began to hear about this imaginary "line in the sand" between "Those Who Do" and "Those Who Don't" play original songs, I was puzzled. When I first heard the question, "Do you play any originals?" I mistakenly thought that it was just curiosity. I was also confused because all of the parts I play on my violin right now are improvised, in other words, composed in the moment by me. With very few exceptions (two pieces right now, to be exact), I don't consult a chart or instructions beforehand, preferring to train my own listening presence and self-trust.

From my short time of being exposed to original singer/songwriters, I feel great awe and respect for people who can actually write great songs, with melodies, harmonies, rhythms, textures, lyrics, and emotion, AND perform them with conviction and connection with an audience.

But gradually I've learned that there is a dividing line in this particular corner of the music world, between the “Have”s and “Have Not”s. Certain open mics don't even allow acts who play cover songs. And the question, "Do you play originals?" is more a screening question for respect among the Lone Artist masses who make the rounds of open mics.

Does "original" necessarily mean more creative?

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My band, which plays acoustic renditions of songs originally written and performed for other instruments (electric or otherwise), is often relegated to the "covers" camp immediately, since we don't lead with the fact that we "write" our own songs. However, what we are doing is creativity in just as valid a form as any other. We build upon great music, we capture the essence of what we feel from that original music, and we make it our own. We create a great experience for our audiences through our particular instrumentation, layered with some improvisation and a healthy dose of passionate feeling (hence the name, "Melodrama"). Right now, we're building on the great writing and musical backbone of songs that came before us. And we're open to seeing where the creative process will take our music next.

At the end of the day, I believe that the "original" versus "covers" distinction is less important than the listener's experience. Did our audience enjoy the time spent with us? Will they tell their friends about us? Would they come to another show? Did we as musicians enjoy ourselves while we played? Did we find outward expression for an authentic feeling within us? These are the most important questions. (Just for the record, we are beginning to explore the creation of some "original" songs.)

On Sunday afternoon I went to see my friend perform in a play.

As I sat down in the small experimental theater, settling in to receive whatever the performance would bring me, it occurred to me that I would never ask an actor or actress whether they write their own material. The fact of the matter is, I don't care. A good performance of a good play written centuries ago is no better or worse than a good performance of a good "original" work from the present-day. The same goes for mediocre performances or mediocre writing. The combination of great material AND great performances is what makes a great audience experience.

So as a newcomer to this particular corner of the wide, wide musical world, I'm very content to focus on giving great performances of great material, whether or not it's written by someone I know or someone who's in the room. If I can connect convincingly with an underlying emotion in sound and reproduce that in my instrumental rendition of a piece of music, then I consider myself a musician. That's my original sound you're hearing.

And that's all I need to be right now.

Calling All Voices: Four Questions To Change Your Life and Change The World

1. What delights you and brings you alive?2. What breaks your heart? 3. What does healing look like? 4. What one life-affirming action will you do beautifully and consistently, with love?

These four questions, conceived by my Real Speaking teacher Gail Larsen, capture the process of life coaching and personal transformation. They go to the heart of our own truth, and call us to look with clear eyes at what is etched in our souls.

For most of us, there is at least one of these questions we've been avoiding for most of our lives. It could be any one of them. Perhaps we have not allowed ourselves to want what we want, to feel the joy of being fully alive. Or maybe we have masked ourselves with a facade of "perkiness" and images of "happiness" which belie the deep caverns of unexpressed pain in our hearts. Even if we have done the work of facing our deepest truths, we can get lost there if we never look beyond these current realities into a vision of what our lives could be. And finally, all the dreaming and scheming in the world is no substitute for taking actions which are aligned with the truths we have uncovered and pointed in the direction of our brightest visions.

All of these four questions, taken together, outline a process of uncovering what is true for you, and becoming the most compassionate, loving witness of yourself that you will ever find. Until you fall deeply in love with all aspects of who you are, you will remain a stranger to the love that is already waiting patiently and silently to envelope you when you finally open to it.

It takes courage to ask these four questions, and answering them for yourself may seem difficult. In the words of the poet Rilke, "We must be unafraid of what is difficult. For all living things in nature must unfold in their particular way and become themselves at any cost and despite all opposition."

Like the salmon journeying home against the racing currents, or the butterfly emerging from its cocoon, or the roots of a grapevine tunneling through layers of dry earth to tap the deepest source of nourishment, we each have a necessary process in which we build our muscles and find our flow. Trusting this process we will discover the beauty we call life.

Get Inspired!

"When I talk about “the music within us,” I’m talking about when we connect with that place inside us where our vibration, our energy is aligned with our passion. It’s like music to our ears.  There’s a different sound to how we present ourselves in our lives when we are connected with the music within us, and that’s my metaphor for the essence in our nature coming out.  I’m just inspired whenever I see that, and it speaks to me." - excerpt from my interview for the Get Inspired Project

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Toni Reece, creator of the Get Inspired Project. Toni is conducting 365 days of interviews with people who are inspired and inspire others.

The transcript and recording of our 15-minute interview are now live on Toni's site:

This excerpt I found especially inspiring even for me to read again now:

Toni: How did you come to realize that this essence, this music inside of you, the creativity, the spark, would play a part in your own courage to move you forward?  How did that realization happen for you?

Lisa: Well, I guess the story that I would tell is that I went to medical school, frankly, because I was expected to.  In my family, education was a really high value, it was a priority, and the assumption was after college you go to some sort of graduate school; it doesn’t just end in college.  Just so people know … that’s the base assumption that I was operating on.  I went to medical school.  My brother is a doctor, I’d seen it done, it seemed very doable, but it was not my passion.  It was definitely a path to secure a career route that would do good for society, and these are all good things, but it wasn’t something that I loved.

You know, the first realization was that I didn’t have to go to a residency and do what everyone else around me was doing, and that was sort of my first step of courage when I looked around and said “You know, who says that I have to?”  When I realized that, it enabled me to look beyond the options that were presented to me in that system, and that’s what sort of led me to my next job, which was in finance, as a venture capital finance person working in medical devices.  And that sort of opened me up to the whole business world.

When I was there – and I was really there for idealistic reasons, thinking that I could help to discover the next great medical technology that might change the game or a particular field in medicine — I was having a conversation with a colleague who was also a MD, who had been in venture finance for 15 years, so he was older than me.  I remember talking, and he asked me, “What’s your number, Lisa?”  I said “What do you mean?”  He said “You know, everybody in this business has a number. We're in this to get to a particular number – so what is it?  Twenty million, 50 million, 100 million?”  And he was talking dollars.

I was just stunned, because I didn’t really go into it for that reason.  I was not going after a number.  He said “Because when you get to your number, then you’re done.  That’s what we’re all here to do.”  I just really couldn’t believe it, and I said “Well, you know, what if you don’t get to your number?  How do you reconcile living your life for this thing that might not happen?”

The conversation evolved to the point where we were talking about what we would do if we had the number.  I heard myself say out loud, completely unexpectedly “If I had my 20 million, I would open a violin school.”  It totally surprised me to hear me say this, because I had sort of put away that dream that I had when I was four years old to be like my violin teacher who taught me from age four to 17.  We went on concert tours, and I played at Carnegie Hall when I was eight years old, and the Kennedy Center, and Moscow when I was 14 — just a lot of world-class experiences at a very young age — and yet I was sort of told not to pursue music as a profession because it was not as reliable a way to make a living.

And so to hear myself say that I would do this, it really woke me up to something that I had been putting off, saying that, you know, I have to just make all this money or whatever it was, do this career, and then do the things that I really dreamed about doing.  And that moment really indicated to me that there was something else that I could be doing with my life that was from a more passionate place.  So actually, within a few months, I resigned from my job and moved to California and opened the violin school.  It was pretty quick after that conversation.

Toni: It sounds to me the way you’re describing yourself and your story is that it really was … your breakout moment was when you realized you had freedom of choice.  And when you had freedom of choice, that created your freedom.

Lisa: Yeah.  Yeah, I think that’s a great observation, and I think it’s been an unfolding, because it’s been sort of small realizations.  It’s like, what’s the next door that I’m going to open?  It didn’t just all open up at once.  This sort of progression that you hear in my story, you know, even continues.

I mean, my violin school was based on the classical training that I got when I was growing up.  It was basically the model of teaching that I had received.  And what surprised me in the school – I had it for five-and-a-half-years — it was successful.  I brought my kids on concert tour every year.  It was a very intense program, just like the one that I came up through, and I realized that it was not giving back to me in the way that I expected, because here I was living my dream, right?

It was supposed to be a dream, and to experience what was essentially burnout from that after five years was really stunning to me, and going through that physical exhaustion that I experienced, which was a result of basically taking full responsibility for everyone and everything that happened in the school, my life brought me two things:  The field of life coaching, which I discovered … it just sort of appeared in my life, there is no other way to explain that, and a program in music healing.  Both modalities I have actually been training in myself for the last year, and that’s really opened me to this other whole realm of freedom that I never knew up until this point.

I started doing improvised music for the first time in my life.  I’m now recording a CD of all improvised music.  I had never played anything prior to last year that was not written down or that I had not heard before.  And so, to even realize that I could create music is this latest opening for me, and it just … it’s brought me another level of joy that I never imagined before.

To read the entire transcript or hear the complete recording, visit The Get Inspired! Project.