Friday, March 26, 2010
Earlier today I posted most of this post as a comment in response to blog written by Dan Kreider about how we are losing the ability to truly listen. Please read the original article here because it is wonderfully written and expresses some truly valuable ideas. I want to express again my appreciation for this pertinent reminder to savor the ability to listen for the blessing it truly is.Mr. Kreider’s blog also prompted me to share a personal illustration that happened to me 5 days ago, when a group of about 16 music lovers was gathered at a friend’s home. We are a collection of pianists, some professionals but most amateur practitioners, who gather once each month to play for each other and enjoy musical conversation. Our host chose to finish the performance time with a rendition of the Liszt Sonata and it was a deeply personal reading of a transcendent musical work. When George had finished playing, I was astonished to notice that the woman sitting on my right was overcome by the music to the point of tears. Another friend on my left was also visibly touched and moved by the music he had just heard. After the applause died away both of my companions confessed that they had never heard this music played “live” before and that they were overcome by the experience.
As I took this all in I was humbled to realize that while I had been “listening” to the performance after a fashion, but I had not had the deep immersion experience that these friends had just enjoyed. I expect that some days are just better than others, and there are times when we are more tuned in to deeper meanings of the music around us. Still, I think that we forfeit so much when we assume an air of entitlement or “taking it for granted” when listening to the amazing wealth of timeless music that is so readily available to us each day. I continue to be grateful for this “wake-up call” to choose to listen deeply when we have opportunity.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
After a lull in the conversation she made an amazing observation. She said, “I never realized before that we don’t have a synonym for the word “next.” We talked around the idea for a while and I concluded that she was probably correct. A quick check of some reference sources confirmed that while there are English words and expressions that loosely convey the idea of proximate order in a sequence, none carries quite the same meaning as “next.”
If Inuit peoples allegedly have so many different words to illustrate nuanced descriptions of “snow,” then why do we not have a few more words to talk the idea of “next” as our immediate focus or impending priority? For example, we don’t have a distinct word for a “next” that gives pleasure. Nor do we have a word for a “next” that makes us apprehensive. We don’t even have a word for “almost next” unless you really want to use the word “penultimate.” In my humble opinion, I think this would be a fruitful field of investigation for aspiring linguists and word mavens.
I arise today
through the strength of heaven,
light of the sun,
radiance of the moon,
splendor of fire,
speed of lightning,
swiftness of the wind,
depth of the sea,
stability of the earth,
firmness of the rock. I arise today
through God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
from the snares of the devil,
from everyone who desires me ill,
afar and near,
alone or in a multitude. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
One of the traits most frequently identified as a hallmark of successful people is the ability to focus on desired objectives long enough to achieve desired results. It is also a curious thing to notice that really creative people often have trouble with staying on task long enough to see the results they envision. For many, concentration becomes a process of trying to narrow one’s vision and closing ourselves off to outside information because we are afraid of being distracted. At its worst this manifests in obsessive adherence to repetitive practices that may have nothing to do with the results we are trying to achieve. Often disciplined focus shows up as a “no pain/no gain” approach that does not foster inspiration, and may cause far more harm than good, either in the form of physical injuries or as crises of confidence.
So how do you learn to keep your eye on the ball anyway? At first glance it would seem that staying focused is essentially a question of concentration and trying harder. As a student I often found myself frustrated with trying to measure up to the ideal of fixing my mind on a specific target without wavering. I just don’t seem to be wired that way. To the degree that I try to focus my mind on object “A,” the more objects “B” and “C” become increasingly fascinating. The odd thing is that when I stop fighting the urge to notice the items that are “not important” in the moment, often there is a bigger pattern or truth that emerges. Usually this more diffused view ends up yielding a much more valuable “big picture” concept than would have come from remaining doggedly attuned to the “micro” level details.
While developing a wholesome self-discipline is certainly an important part of becoming a grown-up, I think there are some significant flaws in the way most have learned to think about the ideas of focus and concentration. In my teaching I often ask my students to treat themselves in the same way that they would treat a wonderfully talented child. If you have spent any time with a person under that age of 8 recently, you will have an appreciation for the creative potential of curious questioning. Most of us recognize the flitting from topic to topic and the disparate combining of seemingly unconnected notions as a normal part of children’s learning. Ordinarily we tolerate the random questions and we are gentle in the way we lead kids back to the task at hand.
In contrast, if you were to honestly listen to the inner dialogue you engage in during you daily work, would you be comfortable using those same messages in conversation with another person, let alone a child you cared for deeply? While focus is certainly a tremendously valuable asset, it is much more a process than a destination. I believe that nurturing your own sense of wonder and curiosity about your daily work process is probably the most important thing you can do in the service of developing your own creative potential. As you notice yourself making room for the “bright sparkly bits” that captivate your attention in ways that threaten veer you off of your expected path, look to see if a bigger, more expansive view can actually deepen your focus on the thing you were trying to achieve in the first place.
play faster than normal, causing dangerous accidentals. The sticky pedals
make it hard to come to a stop at the end of a piece~very risky for
audiences. The accidentals have caused no deafs. Analysts see a damper on
the bass market and ask if sales can sustain. Congress is calling the
President of Yamaha to ask when they learned of the treble.
(Humor stolen from Yvonne Marie Glass without permission)
Monday, March 08, 2010
The ability to imagine a potential future that has never yet existed is a wonderful trait. I am talking about being able to “think things up” in ways that have never been tried before. Children seem to come from the womb with this capacity hard wired into their essential natures. But then all too soon something happens as most of us mature, and the world around us squelches that imaginative vision. The result is that we become much better at seeing limitations than opportunities, challenges and obstacles rather than rewards and clear pathways.
In her classic book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards explains how most adults’ artistic abilities are frozen in time at some point in elementary school. She explains that our ability to draw accurately or expressively typically stagnates at the point when our critical abilities overtake our artistic skill development. The tragedy is that along with our artistic skills, we usually begin a lifelong pattern of denigrating our inborn capacities to envision new possibilities. As I work with university students, it is tragically common to hear them say something like, “I am just not creative.”
The biggest lie of the “I’m not creative” myth is that most people are incredibly adept at imagining negative possibilities. In my experience, most of us can think of horrific scenarios that might happen if the wrong sequence of circumstances happened to befall us. Chicken Little ain’t got nothing on me, that’s for sure.
What if for just one day you made a different choice? Could we imagine it better? How else could events unfold? What if the story took a different turn? Then that would be visionary.
Creative work demands a curious balance between solitude and socialization. The nature of my work as a pianist requires that I spend significant amounts of time in a room alone with my instrument removed from human contact. During these working hours I interact with the composers whose music I am studying. They speak to me through the notes they have written and the encoded messages that they have left on the printed pages of musical scores. But this is not what most people would think of as social interaction. Rehearsing for performances has many intrinsic rewards but it can be a lonesome process at times. Then there are other days when I crave solitude, especially when my schedule has been overfilled with teaching or speaking commitments, or if I have been travelling more than I like, or if I have been pressed to attend one too many committee meetings. While I am careful to feed and acknowledge my inner hermit, I know that this cannot be my normal condition. For my work to have any significance or value it needs to be shared with others, and that requires that I connect with a larger community.
Marketing literature is filled with clichés about how each of us has a circle of personal contacts that, on average, total about 250 different people. Typically these relationships vary in their degree of intimacy, but most people can generate a surprisingly long list of acquaintances that they know in some substantive way, and who are not just names on list. Too often we fail to see the size and quality of our personal networks until we need to leverage the list in order to sell a product, to solicit help in finding a new job, or to sell their candy for our kid’s little league fundraiser. When we fail to connect with other people, we impoverish ourselves. If you are like me at all, too often we tell ourselves the lie that we are alone in the world and no one understands what we are trying to do in life. The best remedy for this tendency toward self-pitying victimhood is to get busy connecting to other people, and not just in a “hey, how are you?” kind of way. Instead, the magic formula seems to be to ask, “How can I make this person’s situation substantially better?” Or maybe not just better, but what would make things far better than they ever expected or imagined.
Thursday, March 04, 2010
So much of our everyday thinking centers upon the things we need to do each day. As an experiment, I have been intentionally thinking about how I want to be as I move through my day. Especially in the face of encounters that make me nervous or fearful, this week I am trying to adopt the following list of qualities as a series of “better choices.”
When I am at my best I choose to be. . .
· Connected, not isolated
· Visionary, not limiting possibilities
· Thriving, not withering
· Articulate, not mumbling
· Decisive, not waffling
· Focused, not distracted
· Present to reality, not in denial
· Indomitable, not succumbing
· Energized, not weary
· Poised, not wobbly
This list was generated as a set of responses to Map #3 in Michael Bungay Stanier’s new book, Do More Great Work. While the formula is not magical producing instantaneous results, I have found myself manfesting more of my desired qualities as I have made a conscious effort to think about it.