Be Willing to Drop the F Bomb

IMG_3704 When I was a senior in high school applying to college, I remember one university had as its essay question, "What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?". I remember considering not applying to that school because I couldn't think of a failure to write about.

At the time, I was on the receiving end of a lot of attention and praise for never having failed (publicly at least). But now as an adult, I know the trap of living a life based on avoidance of failure. It's no success to have reached all the goals that have been set for you, to have checked all the boxes other people have laid out as important for you, and then to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Or to have your body screaming in pain or exhaustion.

Having been there and done that, I have rediscovered the vital importance of failure. Not "achieving" failure as an identity, but being willing to fail. I gave a workshop on Friday to a group of engineers, coaches, consultants, startup founders, and other change agents interested in how groups of people grow and learn. It was based entirely around sound, voice, and music improvisation - in other words, the most common fears of about ninety-nine percent of the population.

The name of the workshop was, "Play the Wrong Note: Daring Adventures in Learning, Failure, and Creativity". The title actually refers to a specific moment in my life when everything changed for me. Those four words - "Play the wrong note" - were the four most compassionate words ever spoken to me by a teacher. No one in a position of authority had ever said, "Lisa, I want to see you break the rules. And I'll help you." It turned out to be the most loving instructions I ever received, and the framework for an entire body of work.

It was about three months in to my sound healing training program. A weekend workshop dedicated to the art of improvisation. I thought I could just observe and let the others do this improvisation thing, which was clearly for "those people" but not me. So I hid behind the teacher with my violin tucked under my arm, hoping he would not see me or ask me to participate in this bluesy, jazzy jam that was happening all around me.

And, of course, at that very moment, he turned around and pointed right at me. "You! Solo!" he said.

I had no idea what to play. I wasn't into blues or jazz and had no reference point for what sounds to make. He could sense that I needed help so he said, "Play the wrong note."

My facial expression must have communicated the feeling I had, which was, "OK. But...which one?". There were an infinite number of wrong notes I could play. How would I know which one was right?

He smiled and took my finger in his hand, and moved it to a random place on the fingerboard of my violin. "Play that," he said gently.

I heard his instructions, but when I tried to play, my bow arm literally would not move. I was so hard-wired to play only the right notes - after daily practicing from age four - that my entire body would not allow me to play any wrong ones.

It was the perfect timing for me. I was ready. I had had a lifetime of good training, practice, and mastery. I was wired for success. But I had no wiring for freedom, fun, or failure. And in that moment, standing there, stranded, in the middle of a room with forty or so people making sounds, having a great time, and waiting for me to solo, I got it.

I could continue to avoid failure, or I could choose to grow into the unknown.

Later that day, in the same workshop, my violin case fell off its chair and onto the floor.

I took it as a sign and stopped avoiding the failures that were wanting to happen for me. I closed my violin school a little over a month later. I started practicing - first in the privacy of my own home, and using my voice, not my violin - making sounds that were all "wrong" to my trained ears. I started PLAYING again. Something I had not done in a long time, and maybe never on my violin.

The adventure that followed was a list of things I could never have planned for my life. I started playing only improvised music, in public, on a stage. I discovered hiking and backpacking. I went to the top of Half Dome and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I started working at REI - the retail job I was never allowed to have as a teenager because I could earn more money teaching violin or staying home to practice. I won a gig as a gear tester and reporter for Backpacker Magazine, including a free trip to the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City. I discovered Thai massage and Breema bodywork, which led to traveling to three countries I would never have dreamed of visiting before - Bali, Thailand and Laos. And through my practice of these forms of bodywork, I traded massages for studio days with a couple of artist friends. And I discovered that I could play with paint. Which led to a daily art-making habit. Which has (so far, in the year or so that I've been doing it) led to a juried show, a new blog, and a whole lotta new art supplies in my house.

I could not have written these down on a bucket list because I would never have let my imagination run that wild. Until I was willing to Play The Wrong Note.

And not just once, in a workshop. It was about making a decision to bring the learning from that moment back to my daily life. To find ways to practice that willingness every time the opportunity came up.

It started with music. Being willing to play the wrong note in my personal comfort zone. And then it expanded. Not with planning but as a natural consequence of becoming familiar with the willingness to be "wrong".

So this is my soapbox.

Risk taking is necessary. Being open and willing to fail is necessary. Not knowing is necessary. And these skills are not taught in school. They are not the skills that get you straight A's. They are not the skills that make you look "smart". They are not the skills that earn you the proud distinction of being a Good Daughter (or Wife or Mother). They are not the skills that you use to fill out a college or medical school application. They are often not the stuff of polite cocktail party conversation.

They are the skills of the maverick. The rebel. The free thinker. The one who creates.

So no matter how long ago it was that you experienced your last failure - whether it was just this morning or decades ago or not at all - it is never too late to dive right in. Start practicing the F word.

Take it from a straight A student. Me.

Curious about my "Play The Wrong Note" workshop? Read this blog post or listen to the Creative Conversation we had yesterday about it.

And if you're ready to start practicing Fun, Freedom, and Failure with writing as improvisation, check out my brand new coaching program here.

Wishing You The Fun and Freedom of Being Willing to Fail,


On the other side of beautiful

P1310482 Lisa Matty 1 CROPPED THIS was not a photo on my vision board. I was perfectly content to be performing, showing what I was able to do comfortably, easily, and predictably. I thought I was getting "good" at playing freely, improvising, and creating in the moment. The sound of Chinese Melodrama that matches the stacks of CDs we bring to every gig.

Then THIS had to happen.

By "THIS" I mean: We are at LunarBurn, a three-day outdoor festival and experiment in community living. In my mind, it's a chance to show up and spread the love. We play our first set at the PermaPub, an intimate venue with couches, a bar, and all the impromptu live music one could ask for. We aren’t even finished with a song (Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”) near the end of our set, and a guy appears onstage. He has furry white chaps over his jeans, and a grey hoody. He appears to be maybe under the influence of some substances. But what do I even know about these things? I just thought he was a jerk for interrupting our set.

Lisa saying really

Here’s my, “Get off the stage, jerk!” look:

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Yep, what you're seeing is a whole lotta judgment flowing freely from me in that moment. First he wanted to play my violin. I’d rehearsed this response before, so it was easy to say, “Sorry, I don’t let anyone touch my violin.”

He wasn’t looking like he was going to leave the stage, and this being an open, community-driven atmosphere, I said, “You can play yours, and I’ll play mine.”

Then he wanted me to help him tune the thing.

Lisa still figuring out

Seriously??? Suddenly I was flung back to my violin school, “Doctor Chu” days, tuning other people’s violins. Spooky.

My partner Randy was way too far away on the other end of the stage, separated from me by a drumset. I was alone to deal with this. But when it was clear that The Guy – Adam, I would later learn, was his name - was there to stay and play, Randy pulled out the right song – like he always does -- and that was all it took.

Adam started to play. All kinds of sounds were flying out of his instrument, no holds barred. Absolutely no judgment.

I’d never heard such sounds before, let alone play with them, try to create with them. But there I was, on a stage, with captive audience, and microphones on. I started to play too. The interplay of sound and listening began to work its magic. Then moments emerged from the chaos that felt like oneness.

Really? With THIS jerk? Yes.

Lisa and Adam

I was listening to all the sounds, noticing, admiring, perhaps sometimes even envying, the beauty that can arise from NOT CARING AT ALL, in other words, no judgment.

You must understand how deeply ingrained it is for me to take GREAT CARE of every sound from my violin. I’ll never forget sitting in a huge auditorium in Chicago watching one of the “big kids” – a high-schooler at the time – in my violin school, receiving a master class with Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova. I was about 10 years old.

“You don’t CARE!”, she said, in a thoroughly Russian, loving way. It was the kind of icy cold Russian love so commonly doled out in violin training. Meanwhile my classmate’s lips trembled, tears beginning to well up behind her eyes. Tears that represented a lifetime, from the age of three, trying so hard to prove that she cared. She was one of the stars, one of the protected ones in the group. No one had ever spoken to her like that. At least not in public. On a stage. In front of other people.

I vowed never to play like I didn’t care, if only to avoid the stinging feeling I felt that day.

So to stand on my stage with this guy – Adam – who had the audacity to walk in on us and just PLAY like he doesn’t CARE was a big moment. A moment either to shut down or to wake up and say yes to life. Shutting down occurred to me for a few moments. Remember this face?

Lisa judging

Yeah, I was ready to shut it down. But then I remembered that I could just relax into my own place that doesn’t care so much. The place that knows I can play anything with anyone and I will be OK. The place of trust and surrender.

Because when you don’t care, you really are trusting in something greater than personalities and performances. Somewhere along the way, in our journey of recording and performing and trying to “build” something with Chinese Melodrama, I got caught up (again) in making things beautiful and perfect and acceptable and nice. I got caught up in my idea of what “good” sounds like. What I had to measure up to (in my own mind) in order to be worthy of appreciation, applause, presence, whatever. My idea of what I needed to be in order to be liked and accepted.

What I experienced by not caring so much was another layer of freedom peeled away and revealed to me. The discovery of something workable – beautiful – within the basket of sounds I’d call “dirty”. The sounds I don’t choose automatically because of the depth of my conditioning to play only beautifully. The discovery that he will never sound like me, and I will never sound like him, so there is nothing to fear. We can meet in the oneness of our combined sounds and play. Dance. Listen. See what happens.

“Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I’ll  meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.” – Rumi

The next day, I returned to the stage with Randy. No Adam this time. Yet I still had the taste of the experience in my body, my ears, my whole being. I carried the permission of those “dirty” notes with me. They gave me wings to be less careful, more adventurous, more willing to be curious without worrying I would hurt or disappoint anyone. I had fun. I moved more. I felt my own joy. I invited it in. I was inspired by "no judgment".

I noticed that as I became more playful, my entire body began to participate. My feet were not firmly planted on the floor with my legs stable. My knees began to bend. My spine began to twist and turn. My feet were walking (sometimes stomping). My head was leaning. The feelings of the music flowed through my entire being, when my mind was no longer involved in saying, “Now what can I play that will be really beautiful?”.

Lisa B&W at PermaPub

When the music becomes a dance, when I am truly playing, then it’s not about what the notes are, but what is going on inside me as I am playing them. Even if I play every single note “beautifully”, correctly, in tune, like I was taught, it may not connect with a feeling. Because I may actually be trying very hard to create this state of “beautiful” and “correct”. Within me, I am not playful. I am controlling myself. When I am controlling myself, I radiate the energy of control.

When I lose control, anything can happen. Scary, yes. But on the other side of scary, there is beauty. Not “beautiful”, but beauty. The beauty of anything and everything. The beauty of what is.

P.S. Thank you so much to Adam, Matty, and everyone at LunarBurn who played and listened!

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

Creating New Rituals: Honor Your Whole Self

I had an Energy Release Ritual this morning. Spur of the moment, totally unplanned, but absolutely inspired. I've been reading a few mind-body healing books ever since attending Dr. Mitchell Gaynor's workshop at CIIS this weekend. Dr. Gaynor is an integrative oncologist based at Cornell Medical Center in New York City and is the embodiment of physician-healer, embracing all of his life experiences and learning from diverse traditions in order to create healing partnerships with his patients.

I don't see myself working with disease, but still find myself fascinated by healing stories. Disease is merely one form of communication, through the vehicle of our bodies, to help us become more aware of ourselves. Some people experience healing through a financial crisis, or a job loss, or the death of a loved one. Any time our expectations about life are challenged or even shattered, we are being handed the gift of an opportunity to heal and grow.

Somehow this morning I was inspired to let go of some of the energies that I am still carrying and am no longer in need of. I knew that I wanted to have a total body experience of this letting go - not just writing it, or saying it, but experiencing it with all of my senses.

I created an altar, which incorporated items representing the five elements - earth, fire, air, water, and ether.

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I also included a symbol of inner peace, which to me is beautifully exemplified in the image of the Buddha.

I turned on music. Two types of background music seemed appropriate for what I was about to do. The first: fiery, warrior music. I imagined drums beating and war cries. I scoured my CD collection and came up with the Brave Heart soundtrack. Perfect!

The second, for the calmer, more healing part of the ritual: healing harp sounds by Diana Stork, a Bay Area healing musician.

I then created small pieces of paper with words to express the different qualities and energies I would honor during the ritual. One group was everything I wanted to embrace about who I am, in this moment:

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The next group was everything I wanted to release. All the old energies I have learned from, I am grateful for, and I am ready to let go of:

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I held a vision of honoring each of these old energies, thanking it for bringing its lessons into my life, and then letting it go, into a flame.

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I started just listening to the music, and invoking the power of the four directions: North, South, East, and West. As I turned my body toward each direction in space, I spoke aloud an invocation, honoring the significance of each of the directions in connecting to nature and the earth.

As the drums beat on the track from Brave Heart, I felt my own strength and calm building within.

I then used my Tibetan Singing Bowl to connect with the Divine Energy within me, my completeness as I am in this moment. As I chanted "Om" and listened and connected with this energy, it was effortless to make a beautiful continuous sound with the bowl, my voice, and my breath. I felt whole.

Next I spoke out loud each of the qualities I choose to embrace in my life in this moment, as I become who I am becoming, as I heal and create my future from this moment. I breathed into the qualities that I know I already possess, that are always there to be expressed when I access them through the openness of a calm mind and relaxed body.

Finally I began to look at each item in the old energies pile. One by one, I spoke aloud, "I honor you, I thank you for your lessons, and I let you go," before putting each slip of paper into the flame.

I could feel the power of watching the words on paper transform, through fire, into air and ether. I could smell the smoke as I breathed in.

The warrior music still played, giving me strength and a constant rhythm with which to keep releasing. After each paper went into the glass jar, I sounded a chime, symbolizing the merging of that quality with the ether, and my own release.

I sat and watched the papers burn, breathing in the smoky air until I had to open a window.

And I emerged with a sense of commitment and clarity. I felt that I had honored myself at many levels, and that I had a sensory experience of letting go of the energies that I no longer to need to carry. They were never mine to begin with. I had just chosen to carry them as if they belonged to me.

I've begun to appreciate the value of rituals, not only in groups, as they were typically performed in indigenous traditional cultures, but for individuals. As I build strength and trust in myself, and choose to honor all of who I am in my life, rituals help me ground into my own commitments, even as I venture into the world.

What rituals will you create to honor yourself this holiday season, or in the coming new year?

You can listen to a recording of the entire ritual here>>

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.

Recognize and Rest

I've been teaching and deepening my learning each time I teach. This time it's the lessons of Tibetan Sound Healing, as transmitted by the lama Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. So simple are the sounds of the warrior seed syllables (just 5 single syllable sounds, chanted repeatedly), and yet so deep the lessons, when practiced. The concept that really stuck with me from Tuesday was resting in the recognition that "I am complete, as I am, in this moment." Without reason. Without condition. Without any explanation.

I breathed it in and felt the power of resting in that energy of peace, joy, and freedom. What power could I manifest if I just rested in that recognition?

Today I practiced again, right after a particularly poignant moment of recognition for me.

Take the time to say this to yourself: "I am complete, as I am, in this moment." Say the sound "Ah" and breathe into the feeling of space opened by the vibration in your body. Repeat and rest.

The Space of No Thinking

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The creative space is one of NO mind.

This morning, as I was driving to the grocery store, there were these thoughts running through my head:

"What if I could just relax into ACCEPTANCE of myself, exactly as I am right now?"

"What if I could treat myself as if right now, exactly as everything is, it IS all exactly as it should be?"

I was trying to examine my recent thought patterns which were centered around "concern" for a variety of things in my life: was I spending enough time doing the right things, was I doing enough yoga, was I eating enough fruit and vegetables, was I working hard enough on the right things for my business, was I spending too much time on "non-productive" activities....

The list went on and on, and nothing seemed to be "clicking" or "flowing" during the past few weeks until the rare moments when I just let go and did the ONE thing right in front of me.

This morning, I was thinking about the feeling and energy around doing JUST THIS, RIGHT NOW. What is it about that thought which creates flow? It's certainly not a state of heightened anxiety and pushing and grasping. It's not an energy of worrying.

It's exactly the opposite. It's LETTING GO of all the worrying and relaxing the mind completely.

The mind - mine at least - wants to quantify and list and remind me of everything that still ISN'T done, NEEDS to be done, SHOULD be done. The mind isn't designed to be still and quiet. Its job, for which I’ve trained it systematically throughout a lifetime of schooling and high performance, is to be a machine constantly generating new thoughts, forming associations, laying down memories, accessing old information, recalling it on demand.

The mind is a beautiful thing...some of the time.

But then there are times when it gets in the way.

So back to this morning. I was breathing into that feeling of imagining if I could regard myself, as I was right in that moment -- driving my car, with my bank account, my number of clients, my schedule, my health, EVERYTHING about me -- as exactly the way things should be, in fact the ONLY way they could be.

What would that feel like? Who could I be if I felt that way toward me in this moment?

And then the phone rang. It was my friend Louise (that’s not her real name, but she’s a real friend).

She called to talk because she was having difficulty with a family situation across the country. She was being pained by the thought, "I wish I could be there. I just don't know if I should be here right now."

It was causing her to look at everything in her surroundings as "not right". The noisy neighbors, the cars going by on the street, the dogs barking. Nothing felt right as she experienced the world through the lens of thinking, "I shouldn't be here right now."

As I listened to her agonize over this, it occurred to me and I gently reminded her, "Louise, the only place you can be right now is exactly where you are."

"Oh that feels so good to hear. It feels like peace," she said.

And as I took in the reality of those words myself, I saw that wishing you could be anywhere else, right now, is fighting reality. When you're fighting, you know how you feel. Just imagine it. You're at war. You're battling. You're kicking and screaming, wishing it would be over soon.

Who wants to be around a person who's fighting right now? Not me. And how much time do we spend in our thoughts, fighting who we are right now? That was where my mind had been taking me so often during the past few weeks, believing and dwelling in thoughts about what was missing, what wasn’t arriving, what hadn’t been done.

There is such wisdom in the peace and space of RIGHT NOW. Louise could decide in the next minute that she is going to go through the steps to move herself from being here to being with her family: purchase a plane ticket, pack her bags, get herself to the airport, and so on.

But RIGHT NOW she is here. Until she settles into that feeling and accepts what she can do from the perfect place of RIGHT HERE, she is trapped in her own world of fighting with reality. Disconnected from herself and therefore less available for the family she loves so much.

I also asked her to consider what possibilities for healing were contained in the reality of her being HERE while her family is THERE right now. Could it be that her different perspective, several thousand miles removed from the hospital, doctors, and other distressed family members, is in fact a healing energy for the ones she loves the most and wants to take care of? Does she absolutely KNOW that she "needs to" be THERE, and not right here, right now?

The answer was "No."

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NO Thinking...Just Listening, and Play

Our talk led to a discussion of negative thinking that she has been noticing related to a different part of her life – her romantic relationships. "I've been thinking ‘It won't happen’ or ‘It'll never work out’, and I realize that I'm blocking things from coming to me. What were you thinking when all those good things happened to you this summer?"

"It was NO thinking!" I blurted out.

And it felt like such an opening, a blossoming realization to say that out loud! NO thinking!

After hearing that phrase for the first time over a year ago in relation to the state of improvisation, I felt like I finally got it, on a whole life level, today.

NO thinking is SPACE. It's not filling yourself up with affirmations, or convincing yourself to get rid of negative thoughts (which I've found always involves some level of self-castigation). It's not ADDING anything to your already active mind.

It's simply becoming empty. And we rage against emptiness because we are taught to be so fearful of having nothing at all.

I have felt the complete joy and freedom of empty mind when I've been in a state of pure listening and improvisation. It feels so good.

So good, in fact, that it feels criminal or forbidden. I've asked, "Is it true that life really is this good??" in disbelief, my mind wanting evidence to prove it could start punishing me.

Now I know that the true nature of life feels good, when we experience it from the SPACE of NO thinking.

And two things I read this week have come together to complete this picture. Both are from the Tibetan spiritual teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, author of the book, Tibetan Sound Healing.

The first - Letting go.

It's such a popular term now, thrown around in yoga classes and self-help workshops all the time. Rinpoche says that when we say, "Let go", we usually focus on what we are parting with, rather than what is revealed, when we let something go. In other words, we dwell on the loss, instead of dwelling on the beauty of the new possibility unveiled.

The second - Effortless doubts and spontaneous problems.

We are so quick to believe that things will go wrong, and problems will arise. We might even accept the mantra that life just has to be hard, and that’s just the way it is. Rinpoche says, "Everybody understands effortless doubts and spontaneous problems. We always seem to have some good reasons for doubt - intelligent, educated, and philosophically profound reasons."

But when it comes to feeling joy, compassion, or love, we suddenly need proof. We seem to believe that none of these qualities can *spontaneously* manifest or effortlessly arise. It is easier for us to imagine having a problem than it is to imagine being happy without a particular reason.

And so, it’s time to ask yourself, is it true? Can you absolutely know that your doubts are TRUE? Can you absolutely know that joy cannot arise spontaneously, but problems can?

I invite you to explore your own answer to these questions.

Meanwhile, what I found today for myself was the feeling of SPACE from NO thinking. And I'm going to rest there right now.

Photo credits: Yvonne De Villiers

Kosi Gramatikoff