The Native American tradition speaks of each person's Original Medicine - that set of gifts that only you can offer the world with your particular life. I've always felt there was such a finality to the phrase "Original Medicine" - like I had to define the one thing I was here to do, or it would be lost forever.
This feeling would ignite the achiever in me, who would scramble to come up with a name, a brand, a package, a business, something very "put-together" that would create an image of how well I knew my Life's Purpose.
I've been doing some version of that for most of my life. But recently I've begun to discover a process I find much more alive, much more healing, much more in alignment with my own sense of unconditional wholeness. I call it "Live Your Medicine." It is the practice of asking, "What time is it now, for me?". It involves listening for what holds the most fear for me in this moment. And then summoning the courage to take action toward that in one small way. Again and again, revisiting and refreshing with each present moment.
It is reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt's words:
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
How often do we actually avoid - quite skillfully - the things that spark fear inside us? How often do we explain away these avoidances with elaborate theories, often quite impressive in their defense of our own status quo?
"Live Your Medicine" captures my emerging discovery that the true healing experiences for me happen whenever I do something that is utterly frightening to my mind's unquestioned beliefs. "Live Your Medicine" is an invitation to search inside yourself to find your edge, and to live in a way that develops your courage, rather than reinforcing old patterns, no matter how comfortable they seem.
For example, each morning for most of my life, I would begin with a "To Do" list - my responsibilities and things to get done. There was no reason for me to get out of bed beyond that list. It served as my purpose. There was no rhythm other than the methodical ticking off of items, showing up for scheduled activities, and getting through things.
Everything in my life changed when I made one seemingly small shift: I began my days differently. Instead of hopping out of bed and beginning to run after my "responsibilities" dutifully, I stepped off my bed and sat in silence, looking out a window at the sequoia tree stretching tall in front of it. I started with five minutes. I did yoga, not when the yoga studio scheduled a class, but when I needed it - sometimes first thing in the morning - and for the length of time my body required it - sometimes only twenty minutes.
Since then, I have maintained a practice of beginning my days with rituals that ground me in my connection to breath, body, and the earth. I am currently blessed with the situation of living just fifty steps from the beach. Most mornings I make the walk out to the bluff, and down to the sand where the birds pace along the water's edge. I wake up gradually, following the pace of the sun's creeping over the fog-covered hills to reveal the glistening surface of the ocean.
I notice, though, that even this ritual can drift into feeling of an "assignment" I give myself. I can fall back into a pattern of giving myself a job - even if that "job" is to start my day more kindly. My practice can harden into a set of rules that I must follow, or else be judged as something less than acceptable to myself. Not very kind!
My mind can turn any practice into a "To Do". It's just a repetitive pattern - a habit that was practiced for many years, and reinforced without questioning.
So my medicine is to "do the thing I think I cannot do". To be attentive to what that thing is, in this moment. And then do it.
I recently learned some simple restorative yoga poses from a friend. No need for the fancy bolsters, blocks, straps, and blankets that I've used in yoga studios. I can use pillows, blankets, and whatever else I have available. The experience is like floating - like my entire body is being supported, almost suspended, without any effort from my muscles. It's like being in water, without having to move at all.
And it's a totally ridiculous way to start the day! Which is why it's my medicine. Living MY medicine, at this particular point in my life, means having the audacity to begin my day by going into a state of complete surrender and relaxation. As if there is nothing to do, nothing to conquer, nowhere to be.
This is what living my medicine looks like for me, right now:
While my body floats in the feeling of being totally supported, my mind rests. It cannot feel fear in this moment of rest. And each moment I spend here, I train in courage. I look fear in the face - the fear that whispers a "To Do" list in my ear - and I do nothing anyway.
What's YOUR medicine right now? What time is it now for YOU?
Photo credits: Top - Randy Bales. Bottom - Lydia Puhak.
In The Wisdom of No Escape, there's a chapter where Pema Chodron talks about three useful qualities for life and for meditation: precision, gentleness, and letting go.
I've been consciously living with the nine principles of Breema lately, and I've noticed how precision, gentleness, and letting go are a useful way to greet any practice, old or new.
For example, one of the Breema principles is "No Judgment."
When you begin to study and practice "No Judgment", the first thing you notice is how much judgment is in your mind already.
"No Judgment" brings your attention first to the judgment that's there. Which means, you begin to identify judgment as judgment. That's precision. You may notice as a new student of something, you like to be very precise. So every time you see your mind judging, you say to yourself, "Damn it, I'm judging again! Why am I so judgmental? I need to stop judging so much." And you feel the assault on yourself beginning to happen.
This is the moment when gentleness can enter in. You have an opportunity to practice gentleness, or to continue the assault. Gentleness gives you the opportunity to take a different attitude toward yourself, even as you see, with precision, what is going on. Gentleness encourages you to just see, without extra attacks or criticism or labeling. In other words, no need to judge your judgment. Be gentle with yourself as you begin to see clearly. Just see what is, with no extra.
Letting go is the final practice, and it is the result of practicing both precision and gentleness. Letting go is not something to achieve or do, but is a natural unfolding of both precision and gentleness practiced together. When you play with these qualities of precision and gentleness, dance with them back and forth, and then gradually see that they are both happening all at once, there is a feeling of letting go. Neither precision nor gentleness has to "win". There is no final state to achieve. There is no superior way to be.
Letting go is a sensation of relief. That it's not all such a big deal. That we definitely need to practice, but part of the practice is also to let it all go. Letting go is not a "Forget about trying, I'll just give up" kind of feeling, but rather a smiling recognition that no one needs to win or lose, not even the more or less enlightened parts of your own mind. It's a kind of relaxation into the present, a return to what is, and a feeling that our attached thoughts are not who we are. A knowing that our true essence is something much lighter, and also more timeless than any thought or practice.
I am a recovering perfectionist.
I’ve been practicing various antidotes to perfectionism quite consciously for about three years now. That makes me – the real me, the innocently imperfect me – about three years old. I’m walking, I’m talking, I’m eating with my plastic miniature utensils, insisting that I’m a big girl now. But the real big girl in the house – the house of my mind, my body, and my soul – is Miss Perfectionist. She is the one who grew up inside my house, the house of me. She became the big one without my knowing it. She got all the praise, all the money, all the polite smiling conversations at cocktail parties, all the “wow”s and “ooh”s and “aah”s, all the framed diplomas and plaques on the wall. She was surrounded by people she kept at an arm’s length distance, so they wouldn’t touch anything close to her.
She thought she liked it that way. She thought she preferred it that way, because her attention could be focused on making her hair perfect, her face perfect, her nails perfect, her shoes perfect, her outfits perfect, anything that would attract the attention of perfection praisers, which seemed to be everywhere.
Miss Perfectionist was so busy doing the things she defined as perfection – which always involved something other than the way things were – that she ignored the real me, who by the way, happened to own the house the whole time.
As I write this, I’m fresh from peeling away another layer of awareness of how Miss Perfectionist still lurks, like a creepy roommate, in the house of me. I’m also more aware of the real me, that three-year-old who has just gotten her legs, who has registered the definite feeling of walking, moving one foot in front of another, exploring this amazing thing called existence.
And I’m not willing to ignore that three-year-old, at this magical time of her life. I’m not willing to yell at her, throw her out on the porch in her nightgown, telling her she is wrong and worthless as she is. I’m not willing to have her mentored by Miss Perfectionist.
You see, Miss Perfectionist is not very supportive in moments that require vulnerability, moments that require the raw courage to step into unknown, unfelt territory. Miss Perfectionist, in fact, hates those kinds of moments. Miss Perfectionist much prefers the mind’s activity of projecting into the future, comparing the present moment to the imagined future, and listing how it doesn’t measure up: "It’s not good enough, it’s not important enough, it’s not professional enough". The list is usually much longer than three items. The list of “not”s can take over an entire conversation, an entire house, an entire life.
I see today that Miss Perfectionist is simply afraid. She is frozen with fear that someone might actually see the whole house she lives in. That there are little tiny children in there, still crawling around, learning to walk, falling down all the time in the process. That would be so humiliating to Miss Perfectionist! And she doesn’t believe she can survive that humiliation.
I see her – I see me. I see the real me beginning to live life, in the tender state of being three, being open to all possibilities and ripe with the potential of one whole life, surrendered to the present moment.
I see me, and I choose to be gentle with me. I choose to take the small steps of a three-year-old, knowing with total confidence that these steps are the only ones I – the real me - can take right now. And it’s enough.
Miss Perfectionist can have her own room in this house, but she does not own it. We are living here together, and there is space for both of us to exist in harmony. For now.
My friend Lydia Puhak, coach and creator of The Sensitive Idealist, recently interviewed me as part of her series on Self-Care. You can listen to our sweet conversation here.
Funny how sometimes the most important lessons we learn are the quiet, gradual processes that unfold out of necessity.
That would be the case with me and my learning about self-care.
Back in late 2010, I burst on to the scene with my "5 Principles of Self-Care for Caring Professionals". I wrote a blog post, hosted a series of calls, then turned the material into an online course.
And then I left it at that.
I got "busy" with the work of living these principles in my own life. I came face-to-face with my own version of workaholism, and started on the path of recovery. I unplugged from the computer and went outside. A lot.
I got back in touch with a slower way of doing things - growing a garden, cooking meals instead of heating up trays of food, forming more real relationships in the real world.
The biggest (and smallest) change I've remained committed to during this entire almost-three-year period is how I start my day.
Before 2010, I was a slave to my Blackberry, not because I was working such an "important" job that I needed to be available at all times, but out of habit. A habit that developed initially out of a need to feel important, and that continued because I never considered other options.
I began each day by waking up to the alarm on my Blackberry, and immediately checking my email.
I experienced a slight deflation in my chest if there were no new messages. I quickly found out that I could fix that by subscribing to more newsletters.
I felt a rush of adrenaline when there was evidence of "things to do" - meaning, when I got email messages that required me to respond.
My whole life was a series of transactions. My motivation for getting out of bed in the morning was my list of "to do"s.
I was very skilled at this game, so I never ran out of things to do. My mind always found a way to create more.
What was missing in this way of life was a felt sense of enough.
When your feeling of importance comes from what other people ask you to do, or how busy you are on a given day, there is no endpoint to the doing. More is always better, because more to do equals more feelings of worthiness.
Until the "to do" list goes away.
Or when your ability to do goes away.
So, as you might imagine from a benevolent Universe, I was given the gift of not being able to do any more.
My body reached its limit.
I was not hospitalized or injured, but I was in pain. Immobilizing physical pain that definitely did not match my vision of "living my dream".
I met many teachers from that moment on. Teachers who encouraged me to speak the truth of my heart in front of strangers. Teachers who showed me a whole repertoire of sounds that I had never made before. Teachers who had broken the prison bars of their own minds, and freed themselves from deep-rooted childhood beliefs. Teachers who pointed me to the wisdom of my own inner authority above anyone else's teaching. Teachers who taught me how to sit and stand and sleep in ways that preserve the natural anatomy of the spine. Teachers who embody grace and loving kindness in the practice of their art. And the teachers in every moment of everyday life.
But the linchpin - the common thread, the consistent practice - throughout all of this learning has been paying attention to how I start my day.
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I no longer read my email in the morning. I no longer consult a list of things to do.
I wake up and I give thanks. Either silently or out loud, I open my eyes and give thanks for this day.
I then dedicate at least one full hour to my breath and body. Either on the beach or in my home studio, I visit the place within me from which all is created. I breathe and move consciously. I feel my breath move through my body. I treat my body with kindness and gentleness. I use this space and time to listen carefully.
And I sit. I sit with whatever arises on a given day. Sometimes I notice my mind is very active, wanting to insert thoughts throughout my practice. Sometimes I notice that I can descend into the waves of feeling, watching my breath make its subtle patterns throughout my body. Other times I am simply grateful for the practice, and nothing more "significant" occurs.
When I feel rushed or somehow skip this practice, I notice. I feel heavier, more burdened, plagued by a sense that I am not doing enough, or that there is not enough of something happening in my life. My mind gets snagged in a knot of insufficiencies, buried in thoughts that I need to fix or do or say or be more.
This practice is quiet and generally unnoticed by anyone but me. It is not something I teach to others, not something I have packaged into a product.
And it is my core. It is my way of touching the place from which all of life arises. Call it self-care, call it meditation, call it yoga, call it space.
Call it nothing at all, but know that when you find your core, you will want it as your constant companion, your reminder of what's true and real, your own place that no one can see or hear or feel but you.
The air is thick with the scent of lavender, heavy with the warmth of bodies at rest. A single strand of white lights twists, dances, curls along the floor where it meets the rising wall, hinting at the outer boundary of the otherwise darkened room.
I rise from a state of complete rest, quiet inside my body, after a Restorative Yoga class with John. I am curious about what sounds I will invite into the already perfect silence and stillness enveloping me. I set up my sacred space, an altar to my joy, my circle of support, my ability to love and to transform, to play and to create.
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I settle in to the energy of these objects on my altar, which bring me peace and freedom even as I step closer to the edge of vulnerability in the open space.
The sound of the shruti box calms me, grounds me with a gentle yet firm foundation. It is both undulating and constant, a launching pad into the infinite as well as a soft place to land and be nurtured.
I invite sounds from all who are in the room. Immediately we are one – a chorus. Singers who don’t need to know the song, who simply listen and offer what comes naturally from within. A sigh, an exhale, a melodious note – it doesn’t matter. We are in this space together, experiencing this magic together. We enter the practice as one.
Yiwen begins to invite bodies into motion, the sounds of conscious breath now filling the room. I move with these energies, selecting sounds from the instruments available to me – my voice, a chime, a violin, a kalimba, a drum.
We dance together – sound and movement, breath and vibration – as one.
Finally, we arrive at a point of stillness. Silence. There is nothing more complete than this particular silence. We feel it from the base of our spines to the tips of our fingers. We experience it in this way as a result of our journey together, our collective ride over the waves of breath, movement, and sound.
As the class comes to a close, there is a pause. It is as if we want to preserve or bask in this feeling for just a little longer. We open our eyes, now brighter, smiling from within. We know, without saying a word, that we are welcome here.
You can join me and Yiwen Chang for Yoga & Healing Sounds class on the 2nd Sunday of each month, 5:30pm to 7:00pm at Prajna Yoga & Healing Arts Center in Belmont, CA. This Sunday, February 12, I will be collaborating with the unique sounds of Jovani, whose paintings are currently on display at Prajna.
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So, for those of you who still haven't read the whole book, and may even find yourself getting sick and tired of all the "Tiger Mom" and "Tiger Cub" stuff being thrown around the web, here's something that might ease your suffering. Amy Chua wrote a column in USA TODAY entitled, "Here's how to reshape U.S. education."
First of all, it's short and very readable in a few minutes, honoring our short American attention spans, a la USA Today.
Second of all, Amy "follows the rules" and wears her academic hat here, citing historical geopolitical examples, statistics, and all those other techniques that make our rational brains feel taken care of. She sounds smart, succinct, and very put-together. To draw a wardrobe analogy, she would be wearing a navy blue suit and high heels in this article, while in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother we saw her with no makeup, maybe some running shoes, and her "fat jeans". In other words, she wasn't so pretty and polished.
Here, she only briefly hints at her own vulnerability, her own flawed human condition, by stating that she "learned her lesson the hard way" when her younger daughter (NB: the daughter who does not yet have a blog, and has not yet gotten into Harvard...she's only a freshman in high school) rebelled. She also hints at the vulnerabilities of her attackers - you know, the parenting bloggers and other self-righteous jumpers-on-the-bandwagon who feel the need to polarize every story into a right-versus-wrong debate - by saying this about parenting in particular, and why it's such a hot-button issue:
"We all desperately want to get it right and never know for sure whether we are. Perhaps it's because the stakes are so high, and it's terrifying to admit a mistake."
Ultimately, in the final paragraphs, she boils down her point of view into a very tidy philosophical statement of "East Meets West", imagining an ideal borrowing from the "best of both worlds" - the structure and discipline required in early childhood to establish a foundation of learning, and a gradual opening in the later teenage years to allow ample exploration of individuality and creative self-expression:
The great virtue of America's system is that our kids learn to be leaders, to question authority, to think creatively. But there's one critical skill where our kids lag behind: learning how to learn.
East meets West
If in their early years we teach our children a strong work ethic, perseverance and the value of delayed gratification, they will be much better positioned to be self-motivated and self-reliant when they become young adults. This is a way to combine East and West: more structure when our children are little (and will still listen to us), followed by increasing self-direction in their teenage years.
When I read these words, they sound familiar. I agree with them.
They were the ingredients I intended to bring into fruition when I started a violin school for toddlers in Silicon Valley back in 2004. With starry eyes and the willingness to put everything on the line (including a partner-level job in venture capital) for the creation of this dream, I set out to provide the ultimate combination of Eastern and Western philosophies. This was to be "more than violin lessons". It was to be "lifelong learning", using the vehicle of violin to teach discipline, teamwork, leadership, collaboration, listening, sensitivity, confidence, and mastery. Everything I could think of could be taught through the journey of learning to play violin and performing around the world.
I actually used the term "learning how to learn" in my parent seminars and recruiting presentations.
And I did attempt to teach people - parents mostly - how to practice. I designed "practice charts", created videos, held evening seminars complete with PowerPoint presentations, hosted summer camps with guest teachers, invited high school seniors as "examples of success" other than myself, traveled with entire families (our peak was 76 travelers and two full-size motorcoaches) from California to Chicago each year to perform at Orchestra Hall.
By trying to put Amy Chua's eloquent words into real-life practice with real-life people, I realized that no one person, no one system, can "make" anyone learn. People learn exactly what they learn, when they learn it. When they are ready to receive a particular lesson, they do. No sooner and no later.
Amy Chua's lessons came to her when her younger daughter was a pre-teenager, when everything fell apart in her tightly controlled, perfectly planned world.
My lessons came when I realized that I could not create THE perfect learning environment for every child, no matter how carefully I honed my interviewing, recruiting and selection process (designed to screen for parents who knew how to learn), or how much energy I poured into the individual dynamics of each child-parent-family system.
I could not teach anyone "how to practice" if they were unwilling or unable to go through the messy learning process on their own, make mistakes and admit to them, ask for help, try things and fail, and be willing to let go of attachment to outcomes. Including myself. In the end, the greatest lesson I learned was exactly how unwilling I was to be open to the outcome that my school would be imperfect, that it might not match up to the expectations and image I had created in my mind for what I would be able to achieve.
And so I gave up. I let it go. I quit. I had given all I could give, based on who I was at the time.
And now, more than a year after letting go, I am saying my first words about it in public, with some level of honesty and self-compassion.
Amy Chua talks about the "perfect" education system as combining lots of structure and discipline in the early years - when the children still listen to their parents - followed by opening and letting go in the teenage years. The challenge I found, when trying to put this into practice with real people, is that the "Eastern" parents couldn't trust the process enough to let go and watch their children learn from harmless mistakes, and the "Western" parents wanted to allow teenage-like behavior to blossom at age seven or eight.
I was at a loss for words, or programs, or activities, to address the diversity and complexity of issues that were playing out in front of me. Everyone seemed to need a different message, a different balance, and yet when the kids were put in front of the parents as a group, no one could stop themselves from comparing and despairing. The insecurities kicked in. The measurement of progress relative to other kids. The need for recognition in terms of trophies and plaques. In other words, all the things that kill learning and stop creativity in its tracks.
Since I had taken it upon myself to try to create one learning environment - one culture - that would meet the needs of every single student, parent, and family, I failed. I failed at an impossible task.
Worst of all, I was alone. I had created no community of support in terms of other practitioners who were "on the same page" as educators, facing the same challenges. I found a non-profit organization, called "Positive Coaching Alliance", that was doing parent and coach education in the arena of sports as personal development. I sponsored a workshop by their organization for the parents in my school, hoping to draw out the many comparisons between sports and music in their children's education.
But it was too late. I was stretched thin in terms of my energy, I was entangled very deeply in some toxic and manipulative relationships with a few very vocal parents in my school, and I had no one to confide in, except my own journals and blogs. I had no outlet for discussion of the harsh truths, the difficult emotions, the tenderness of the situations I was dealing with, the courage I was being asked to call upon - which I could not find.
The advice I got from my own teacher amounted to this: "Well, you just deal with it. That's the way it is. You've got no choice. This is what you've gotten yourself into. And your parents are ten times better than the ones I've dealt with my entire forty-year career, so be thankful."
It didn't feel helpful, and I couldn't find the feeling of "thankfulness", no matter how much I believed I "should" be thankful.
I didn't want to look forward to another x number of decades in this state of unrest, grappling for control, and feeling so responsible for the outcomes of so many lives (yes, I really did think I could make that big of an impact through violin). I knew firsthand - from my own childhood experience - the many toxic emotions that could be cultivated in a violin school, how comparisons, competitions, and insecurities could bring out the ugliness in even the most well-intentioned people. And I did not want to repeat that experiment.
I wanted to part of a solution, not part of a problem.
So I stopped.
My solution was to get to know myself better, to dive into my own vulnerabilities, to explore what was possible for myself when I allowed my own creativity to flow, and to really learn for myself what peace, joy, and freedom felt like. My solution also involved learning to see my own responsibility for creating the situation I found myself in, facing the painful truth that my thoughts and beliefs drove me to act in ways that caused my own suffering.
Reading Amy Chua's seemingly definitive answer for "how to" reform education in U.S., and seeing the many readers who, only now, are willing to acknowledge her wisdom, I'm reminded of our collective discomfort with the unknown, and our voracious appetite for certainty.
Now that I am at some distance from my career as a violin teacher, I feel less certain of what I would say to a parent about "how to" do that formidable job - the one where the stakes seem to be so high, where we seem to be so afraid of "doing it wrong". I feel less attached to sounding put-together and having pat answers to complex questions.
But I also feel more trusting of the process of life. I feel less afraid of other people's (and my own) reactions in the face of uncertainty. I feel more compassionate toward the pain and fear of looking our own vulnerabilities in the face.
Why? Not because I went to Harvard. Not because I made partner in a VC firm. Not because I "followed my dream", and built a business. Not because I now call myself a "life coach".
But because I'm committed to learning. To the complex, sometimes messy, sometimes difficult, sometimes ugly, and ultimately rewarding process of learning.
I'm now discovering, in small steps each day, what it's like to live life for the joy in each moment. I'm walking the talk. For me. I'm making my own mistakes, learning my own lessons, and loving myself more every day.
Today I'm reprinting a blog post I wrote over a year ago, on my Truth Love Beauty blog. It resonates with me right now, which is comforting. The truth has a way of standing the test of time. It also reminds me of a topic I have not talked about on this blog - the observations and lessons I learned from teaching violin to more than 30 toddlers in the Silicon Valley for five and a half years. These descriptions bring me back to a time that was filled with joys and challenges, and ultimately catalyzed a whole new way of being and learning for me.Here it is:
Does all the woo-woo, positive psychology, self-help talk make you feel a little queasy or, at best, skeptical? Does an email with the subject line, “You can do it!”, make you want to “Report spam” faster than you can hit “Delete”?
When I worked with parents and their children in a coaching/teaching environment, I learned that there are many ways we adults try to encourage our kids. We all have a default style of communication that is a product of the various influences in our lives – our own parents, our many teachers, our older siblings, our bosses, our mentors, or even a conglomeration of all the ways we DON’T want to be like any of those people. What I’ve learned about effective coaching I first saw by watching children who were actually allowed to learn. It’s simple: all a kid wants is to know what it feels like to try, and to know that they’ll be OK if they fail. If you give them those two things, they’ll try over and over again with great enthusiasm, and pretty soon (or maybe a lot later) they will succeed.
The second half of this – letting them know they are OK even if they fail while trying – is tricky. I saw so many adults sit beside their child and just watch, hands folded across their chest, while their child tried, making no attempt to help, and remaining motionless in response to anything the child did. Sure, they were “there”, but I would sometimes wonder if they were actually in the same room as we were. I’ve also seen the other end of the spectrum, where a parent would literally lunge forward and want to take over, rather than allow their child to try something that they might not “get” on the first attempt. They preferred not to witness a failure than to allow the child to try.
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I never figured out a way to coach parents to see their own tendencies in these situations. First of all, I was too busy trying to do my job coaching, witnessing, and encouraging the child. Second of all, I was frozen in astonishment at some of the parents’ behavior, not knowing how to address these things in the time allotted, or in front of the child.
These are, of course, excuses. The truth is I did not know how to hold the space for adults to really open up to what was going on. In some ways, it takes more skill and more patience to get an adult to open up than it does for a child. Despite a great deal of one-on-one time and attention for each student-parent dyad, I did not create a structure that allowed me to address holistically all the influences that are at play in a child’s learning. I had annual “review” meetings with parents, but these were perceived as “performance” reviews for the parents, where they would wait expectantly to receive some sign of approval or validation from me. Only rarely did anyone feel safe enough during these meetings to actually share their fears, their inadequacies, or their deepest questions about the purpose of their enrollment. It was mostly a veiled love fest, a hopeful yet sometimes tentative confirmation of everyone’s desire to continue with the relationship as it was. There were always a few cases where I wanted to discuss some of my real concerns about the appropriateness of continuing as the teacher for a particular child. Somehow, it never felt safe for me to voice my truth in these meetings. I would agonize over these for many days and sleepless nights leading up to the meetings, and would search for the right words, which rarely came to me at the right time. Why was it that I had never created that kind of relationship in which the truth could be told without blame or judgment? Why did I not have those skills?
By the time I started waking up to these truths, and learning how to hold this kind of space, I also saw that it was beyond the scope of my work to heal entire families, especially under the auspices of producing a children’s violin performing group. Some might say that I gave up. Maybe. But what I know now is that nothing changes until you accept things as they are. And, healing happens one person at a time, starting with myself.
My discovery of the healing capacity of the mind and the body came not from my medical school education ten years ago, but from a more recent search for my own inner peace and joy, which was catalyzed by my physical body sending me signals of debilitating pain. Something was not working in my lifestyle, and I could have chosen to ignore it and power through, or remain curious enough to explore it. I chose the latter. It opened me to a path of mental clarity and inquiry that I know will continue as long as there are thoughts running through my head. I did not take pills. I did not see a doctor or therapist. I slowed down. I rested. I created space in my life to ask the questions I was genuinely curious about. I tried new things. Simultaneously I recommitted to my yoga practice that had been abandoned during the same period of time that my body developed its pain. The combination of mind and body training, which focuses on gentle, consistent work on flexibility, balance, and strength, is what awakens me every day to the calm energy of joy I have within me. I love this kind of training because it is training for life. Not just “modern” life, or American life, or life as a woman, but being fully alive as a human being on this earth.
Now just because I’ve gone through this amazing shift doesn’t mean I’m going to wave a flag at my clients and say, “You can do it!” and expect everyone to leap into their own states of bliss. I saw the many ways that parents say this to their kids.
The same words – “You can do it!” – might come out of one parent’s mouth, with a crisp, angular tone of voice suggesting something like, “You BETTER be able to do it, or I’ll look like an idiot for spending all this money on lessons and believing you could do this!”
Or another parent’s “You can do it!” might be said without much conviction and with more pleading, meaning something like, “I know you don’t want to do this, but would you PLEASE do it for me?? Just this once?? I’ll buy you anything you want after this if you just do it for me….please???”
Yet another parent’s “You can do it!”, voiced with some disbelief and shock, might be taken to mean, “Don’t make me look bad, because I know I spent all week sitting there practicing with you every day, and you could do it at home! Now DO it!”
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The meaning behind the words changes when it is said from a place of genuine love and compassion, without attachment to outcomes. “You can do it” can also mean something like, “I am not you. But I’ve been exactly where you are, not knowing whether or not I can, not being able to see how I will ever get there, feeling the fear of pain, of humiliation, of not being enough. And having faced all of that and moved through it, I know you can do it. I’m saying it not as a command, not as a way to alleviate my own stress, not to make this all about you, so that I can transfer the blame if it doesn’t work out. I’m saying it so that you hear my belief in your spirit, in your ability to find it in yourself to do whatever it is you need to do, to take whatever time you need to, and to be wherever you are right now. I’ll be right here to witness you – to celebrate with you, and to catch you when you fall – as you learn to trust yourself.”
Said from a calm core of peace, love, and patience, there is no greater elixir when we are feeling afraid.
[Originally published on my Truth Love Beauty blog here.]
Copyright Lisa Chu, The Music Within Us, 2009-2019.