The Journey of Yoga and Healing Sounds - Class at Prajna Center in Belmont

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.

Essential Self Extravaganza

[singlepic id=391 w=320 h=240 float=center] As 2010 came to a close, I realized that over the past year, I have had the opportunity to become part of three brand new communities (without even changing my physical address). As I embarked on life coach training, certification in music and sound healing, and improvisation as a violinist in the local “open mic” scene, I was welcomed into three totally new worlds for me.

As I crisscrossed the Bay Area and the internet interacting with these distinct groups, it occurred to me that no single place brought together people with such wide-ranging interests. What fun it would be if someone could create a space and purpose for gathering that would allow the expression and sharing of all these creative souls! I realized that I could be that person!

I was inspired to create the Essential Self Extravaganza. The name refers to a central concept of Martha Beck's life coaching approach, which guides us to find and follow the voice of our essential self, versus the social self we so readily construct as an identity to show the world and "fit in" with the rules of our families, religions, cultures, professional group, or demographic.

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I had had enough of the typical "holiday party", where the focus is on the display of our social selves. The typical conversations starting with the question, "So, what do you do?" or "Where are you from?" were familiar to me, yet no longer of interest. Instead of complaining or lamenting about these kinds of parties, I decided (in the empowerment I am growing into) to host my own gathering - the kind of party I would want to attend myself.

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That set my imagination free, and, as is always the case when I open up to trust my own creativity, it flowed effortlessly. I immediately formed a picture in my mind of how the day would be presented, who I would invite, and what I would say in the invitation. I sent out personal invitations (no e-vite or Facebook event for this one). I hand-selected the people I wanted to include. I expressed myself from MY essential self.

And what unfolded on December 17, 2010, was perfect in the way that the universe is always divinely perfect and complete.

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The gift of video is the ability to capture some of the magic that happened and share bits of it with you here. When you have some time, grab a cup of tea and enjoy these amazing offerings from the generosity of the spirit. Soulful Songstress Aletha McGee offers an impromptu song during a break:

Artist and Vocalist Jovani McArdle creates a song for me, inspired by a hand-painted card I chose from her collection:

Poet Loc Tran performs his piece, "Enough":

Writer and Actress Sarah Lau performs a scene from her one-woman show, "Remedial Girl":

Cellist and Designer Chi Chen performs an original composition based on J.S. Bach's canonic cello suites:

Performance artist Deborah Eliezer creates the character Fifi, who offers a song and dance:

Randy Bales and I lead the room in a participatory version of The Beatles' "Across The Universe":

And the final free improvisation, involving everyone in the room...AMAZING! Take a listen:

It reminded me of the first principle of Open Space Technology: "Whoever comes are the right people." Once I sent out invitations, I released my need to know who was coming, or to interpret why certain people weren't. I released any guilt about not inviting certain people out of fear of offending them. I simply stood in my own love and desire to share what is deeply true for me with a group of other souls who I knew would have much to share in a free, open setting.

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The only "structure" I put around the day was the written invitation. Three blocks of time of two hours each were designated for the three types of activities I envisioned sharing: life coaching, music healing, and performances by local open mic artists.

The rest I left open to the perfect unfolding when the right people gather in the right time for them. This reminded me of the third principle of Open Space Technology: "Whatever happens is the only thing that could have."

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It required a trust, which I have been training and growing over the past year, that I did not have to tell people what to do, and that I did not have to know the answer all the time, and that there is absolute beauty in not needing to know.

I felt the profound magic of gathering in sound - the wordlessness of shared energy, the oneness of harmonious voices, the collective, improvisational creation of music in the present moment. I also saw the inspiration that happens when bridges are built, between people whose paths may not have intersected otherwise.

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I have always felt that one of my purposes in life was to be a bridge - a translator of sorts between the various different worlds I have inhabited. The event reinforced that image for me.

I was able to relax and enjoy something I created. (This was nearly a first for me)

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In observing myself prepare for the event and decorate the room, I learned about my own capacity to "overdo" and about the fine line between abundance and excess.

I practiced observing myself with gentleness, allowing myself to receive the information I was gathering without labeling it or criticizing myself in the process.

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Afterwards, I honored myself with rest.

I was surprised and delighted by so many moments that unfolded without my knowing or needing to know. I was simply a witness, wide-eyed, curious, receptive. I released my need to control what was happening, when it was happening, and whether people were having the kind of enjoyment I thought they needed to have.

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I wrote this post as a way to remember the perfect unfolding when we are allowed to be free and to share from what is essential within each of us. May you experience the trust and the unfolding of your own spirit in 2011!

To see more photos from the Essential Self Extravaganza: Visit the Facebook album

To see more videos from the Essential Self Extravaganza: Visit the YouTube playlist

Your Dreams Are Always Coming True

[singlepic id=348 w=320 h=240 float=center] There are a few things I remember always knowing about myself, ever since I was three years old. I remember being in the back seat of the car, when I was three, hearing my parents and brother talking about someone getting into "Harvard". Something about that word rang in my ears. I asked what "Harvard" was. I don't remember what they answered, but I do remember thinking, "Someday I'm going to go there."

I let it go for the next fourteen or so years. And then I ended up going there for college.

At some other point in time, I remember falling in love with the sound of the French language. I loved learning a foreign language which enabled me to speak elegantly, fluidly, gracefully. It contrasted so much with the angular lines and frantic tempo of the Chinese dialects I heard in my family. And, like music, it was a doorway to a secret world that expanded my ability to understand others and express myself in a different way. I remember thinking, "Someday I'll study at the Sorbonne." It seemed like a throwaway thought at the time, but I remembered it. And I ended up doing just that, as a scholarship winner for six weeks during the summer between high school and college.

Six years ago I defrosted another set of childhood dreams. For as long as I can remember I have pictured myself living in California. I was fascinated with what it symbolized, and with the images of it in my mind. The sunshine, the ocean, and the ideas of freedom and innovation appealed to me inexplicably.

I also wanted to "be like my violin teacher" since the first moment I saw her when I was three years old. At the time, the image of a solitary woman walking into a room, commanding the respect of hundreds without raising her voice or raising a hand, was something that captivated me. To boot, she wore three-inch stiletto heels every day and a perfectly coordinated suit ensemble, with pantyhose, makeup, and perfect hair. Seeing her at least twice a week and sometimes every day of the week for fourteen years, I can count on one hand the number of times I saw her wear pants instead of a skirt or dress. Somehow she represented an exciting set of possibilities, so different from the other women in my life.

These were the images I carried with me to California to start my own violin school in 2004.

My dreams came true.

I became that image of "perfection" that I held in my mind as a necessary part of the package. Even though in my heart I intended for my school not to have the political in-fighting, favoritism, and vicious competitiveness among parents that was a constant undercurrent in my teacher's school, knowing what I didn't want was only a first step. I was swept away by the strong tide of other people's definitions of what success should look like. I knew this, and I observed with frustration all the things that were missing from my school despite its outward appearance of success, but I didn't quite have the awareness to envision and declare what I *did* want.

When I finally began to wake up to what I did want to bring into my life, there was a growing clarity that I needed to walk away and create something new.

The gift of walking away was creating the space for me to recognize that my dreams are always coming true.

What you are believing in each moment - with or without knowing you believe it - becomes the reality you create, moment by moment.

I've begun to get a lot more conscious and aware and specific about what I'm believing. I recognize that once I am able to see and clearly state a belief, and then truly let go of it (as my life has shown me time and time again), I can rest in the peace of knowing that all of my dreams are already coming true.

My life has shown me that I am truly blessed in every moment, and no experience is ever wasted.

On my "bucket list" of dreams are the following items, mundane and otherwise:

  • work as a barista in a coffee shop (a dream since high school)
  • teach yoga or do yoga outdoors every day
  • live in a tropical place
  • work on a farm
  • produce a Broadway-style musical, write a movie screenplay, or write for a character-driven television drama
  • play music in a movie soundtrack
  • sleep in a tent on a beach (OK, that was inspired by my friend Mary B)
  • write books (yes, plural, and not the kind that are glorified least one of them will be a memoir, and another will be a tell-all fictionalized account of my adventures teaching violin to kids of Silicon Valley elite, a la "Nanny Diaries")
  • be a spiritual teacher
  • be a healing artist
  • be an inspirational speaker
  • dance and sing and be free

I smile, knowing that all of these dreams are already coming true right now. There is such peace in knowing that the only thing I need to do is allow.

What dreams of yours are already coming true?

Photo, used under a Creative Commons license, by Kai Yan, Joseph Wong

How does it FEEL to celebrate?

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.

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.

Starting a Band: 10 Lessons I've Learned from Launching Chinese Melodrama - Act One

[nggallery id=33] The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity for me surrounding my new band, Randy Bales' Chinese Melodrama. In case you haven't seen it, we have a new blog and a Twitter account, where you can keep up with our latest activities. We've played in the Bay Area at least two nights every week for the past two months, and spreading our joyful energy has yielded plenty of early interest in our fledgling local band.

I've been so amazed with what I've experienced that I put together 10 brief lessons from launching my first ever band. Let me say right away that it's been a total team effort with my friends and fellow musicians, Randy Bales (guitar/vocals) and Cathy Luo (percussion/bass/vocals).

1. Practice in public

  • In other words, be sure to play outside your comfort zone in public every once in awhile. Most of us can learn something from this statement: "Don't be so humble. You're not that good!" I can't tell you how many times Randy has encouraged us to play songs that I didn't feel were "ready". I can also tell you that at our first gig, I was deliriously frightened of what might happen! I had so many ideas about what a "performance" needed to be. Yet if I had waited until I thought we were ready, we might still have never performed in public to this day! My point? Be willing to start small. Just be sure to start!
  • Even if you consider it "practice", show up at your own personal best every time. This doesn’t mean you play perfectly. It means you set an intention for HOW you are showing up each time, and you let go of the results. And you do this every single time.
  • Notice that there will always be ways to improve upon your performance, but never be disappointed in yourself. If you’re tempted to “get down” on yourself or be harsh with your criticism, notice it and ask, “How will this help me show up at my best next time?”
  • Keep playing and be kind to yourself no matter what. Always know that you will have another opportunity to grow. It helps if you…
  • Create a regular consistent schedule of opportunities to play in a supportive environment. You will always get more comfortable by doing what seems uncomfortable at first.
  • All that said, also develop some “comfort food” – material that can always make you feel good, for those moments when you need to boost your own confidence.

2. Do the thing you think you cannot do.

  • This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is framed on the wall of my office. Practicing in public (item #1) was exactly the thing I thought or believed I could not do, until about a year ago. My peak discomfort point was reached – in a public, but safe, setting – and it forever changed what I believed was possible for me musically.
  • Give yourself the gift of being open to this kind of transformative experience. Instead of avoiding the thing you fear, embrace it as the very chance you’ve been wanting to break through to your next level in life.

3. Strike while the iron is hot.

  • If you have an intention or an idea, start NOW while your energy is behind the project, and take defined steps right away to make your idea feel real to you.
  • Learn to trust yourself. Go with your first instincts.
  • Take small, defined, and consistent actions over a period of time rather than waiting for everything to be “perfect” before you begin. Hint: There is no perfection, so get over yourself and act now.

4. Support other people’s efforts with generous encouragement and humility.

  • Judgment comes more quickly than understanding. Seek to understand first.
  • Capture and share not only your own work but others’ as well. Facebook is a great example of how this works. Don't you love being tagged in photos or videos? And reading others' comments or "Like"s? There is a real-world analog to this, and it's called being present, supportive and expressive. Try it!
  • Collaborate openly. Playing with other artists helps build bridges of trust and understanding, and helps you understand yourself better too.

5. Know your partners’ interests.

  • What I mean by this is understanding what’s in it for the other people involved. For example, if you’re a musician, take the point of view of the event promoter or the owner of the venue hosting your event. Why are they interested in booking you? What value will you bring to their establishment or event?  Taking time to understand this point of view will help you provide higher value and therefore become a more desirable partner in the future.

6. Know what you want AND what you don’t want.

  • Know your own style. You really can’t be everything to everyone.
  • Know what you do well, and keep doing it so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.
  • Know what brings you joy and love from a situation (what makes you say “Hell yes!”) AND what your limits are (when you’ll say “No”). Both are important.

7. Gather a great team, with individual strengths and effortless collaborative energy.

  • Don’t keep score. As a soloist I never thought much about this. I focused mainly on my own technique and playing everything right and hoped everyone would just hear and see me. Only now do I appreciate the feeling of true partnership, humility, and support in sound. I feel a person’s heart in their music, no matter what – closed or open, hardened or mushy, afraid or receptive, tentative or persuasive.
  • I embrace the fact that I can’t do everything, and that everyone adds a particular value to our overall sound. I love this about a great group of people playing music together – the group energy becomes one, and we create so much more than any of us could alone. I appreciate this every single time I play music now.

8. Sometimes real life actually unfolds BETTER than your best-laid plans.

  • Learn to trust this and you'll begin to enjoy living here on this earth a lot more, right now.
  • Say “Yes” to unexpected or scary opportunities.
  • Prepare to be surprised. Pleasantly.

9. Show up on time, and be present.

  • Multi-tasking and music don’t mix.
  • Much of the magic of music comes from the total focus and involvement that is required of everyone making it. We could all use a dose of this.

10. Do something you find genuinely FUN and it will be contagious!

  • You can’t substitute good energy for anything else. What starts with YOU becomes infectious energy for anyone in your presence. So, if you’re having fun, you’ll spread that energy. It also works the other way, so if you’re troubled by a situation, check in with yourself first and ask what energy you are bringing.
  • Even our "marketing" activities are fueled by fun and enjoyment. For example, we made custom Chinese Melodrama fortune cookies, which people enjoy eating as much as enjoy handing out! Find out what brings you alive, and start spreading your best energy in what you do.

Read more about my journey with Chinese Melodrama in these posts:

Learning to Play Again

Feel and Heal with Music

A little night improvisation

What a difference a few weeks makes! It seems like my musical world is expanding at breakneck speed, and relationships and opportunities are arriving effortlessly. All the while, I'm having so much fun, it almost seems criminal. Really! I have such a strongly ingrained belief that "work" is "hard" and "having a life" means "struggling" that doing what I'm doing right now has triggered a part of my brain that wants to cry out, "Danger!! This does not compute!!". Luckily, I now notice that this is an ancient part of my brain reserved for true fight-or-flight situations that I rarely encounter in this corner of the world I call home. Right now, in this moment, I'm sitting in a chair in front of a computer. I'm breathing. I'm surrounded by beauty. The sky is clear blue, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and the trees are silently growing outside my window. There's nothing dangerous about being at peace. Sorry, brain!

Here are some of my latest improvisation videos from this week's open mic nights. In each case, I had never heard the song before and just started from a place of listening.

"Rooster" by Alice in Chains, with Randy Bales, at Angelica's Bistro in Redwood City, CA:

"Knocking on Heaven's Door" by Bob Dylan (performed with two strangers who asked that I remain onstage to join them after seeing me perform with Randy!) at Blue Rock Shoot in Saratoga, CA: