Category Archives: do the work

Dance Instructions

I recently watched a dance instructor teaching a class of adult beginners. Here is what she said, among many other things:

  • Clarity of intention and clarity of direction: Before anyone even began to move, she explained, in careful, simple detail about knowing ahead of time how you intend to move.  She talked about getting one’s body in balanced position. Once that position is established it’s easy to move a leg or an arm without losing one’s balance. Once the intention is clear and one’s balanced position is correct, then the direction of movement also becomes clear. First things first: intention, then movement.

 

  • Check yourself before you wreck yourself: Continually remind yourself of your intention and check your position. This is the only way to avoid jerky movements, or leading with the wrong part of the body, or falling due to loss of balance. Setting one’s position is not a one time thing; it must be done over and over again — every time we prepare to dance.

 

  • If you’re dancing solo you’ve got options: Some in the class obviously came with a partner; many did not. The instructor began by teaching everyone as individual dancers. Later she began to differentiate between the “lead” dancers and the “partners.” With subtle movements of their hands and arms and bodies, the lead dancer directs his partner in how and when and where to move. While the partner knows the moves, the lead provides the guidance. The partner must be attentive and move accordingly. Watching a couple dance in tune and in sync with each other is truly a beautiful thing. However, the instructor never disparaged the single dancers. Not once did she suggest that the only real way to dance is with a partner. What she did say was “If you’re dancing solo, you’ve got options.” No need to be attuned to a partner; you determine your moves, within the conventions of this particular dance form. Sometimes we think we can’t dance without a partner. Not so!

As I watched and listened, her comments resonated with me, even though I wasn’t on the dance floor trying to learn a new dance. What she said applies to business, hobbies, families, careers, habits, lifestyles, creative endeavors. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to apply her statutes to your own life — wherever you happen to be at this moment.

  • clarify your intention
  • clarify your direction
  • check yourself
  • if you’re dancing solo, you’ve got options

          

Remembering these four things will allow us to dance our life with purpose and gracefulness.

Until next Tuesday . . .

 

 

Surface Safety

In The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton writes:

Better keep on the surface, in the prudent old New York way, than risk uncovering a wound he could not heal.

She’s right. If we stay on the surface we don’t have to worry about uncovering our wounds — either recent ones or ones from another time. No one else will discover our wounds either.

We can be pleasant. We can pretend everything is fine. We can do all the right things. We can keep our secrets.

We can keep everyone at arms’ length.

In my private ponderings I call people like that The Plastic People. The Perfect Plastic People. Their hair is always in place. Their clothes don’t wrinkle. Their face is never without its pleasant expression. Their life appears to be in control. Their homes are in order.

But here’s the problem with all of this. I don’t know how to relate to the perfect people. At my core I believe we’re all made of the same cloth, so to speak. The colors and patterns of your cloth will be different than mine — but it’s still fabric that wears and tears and ravels and gets mended and fades. None of us can escape those things that happen over time. So if all I see of you is exquisite unblemished silk and my fabric is ragged denim I experience a disconnect. Yet, I know . . . I know there must be more to your story, though it’s hidden, perhaps for a long time.  Perhaps your wounds are still open, still unhealed, too personal to be shared — at least so far.

I get that. I really do.

But I’ve learned, after playing the role of the Perfect Plastic Person for longer than I like to admit, that it’s not our perfection that draws us together. Rather, it’s our less-than-pretty, our imperfections, our mistakes, our ordinariness that call us to connection, that begin a friendship.

If I know your silk has some threadbare places . . .

perhaps I have some thread to offer as repair for your unraveling

perhaps you have some yarn to decorate my tear

perhaps in our stitching and careful mending and sharing of pins and needles and scissors we can come to know we’re more alike than we are different.

Exposing our rips and tears and worn places doesn’t come easily. It’s scary at first and requires courage we’ve not mustered before. Over time, bit by bit, we begin to trust another with who we are beneath our plastic exterior.

And so begins the mending of our cloth, the healing of our soul, and the choosing to share our journey toward wholeness.

 

Until next Tuesday . . .

Your opinion matters

When someone asks me, “How are you?” I sometimes . . . occasionally . . . not that often . . . reply, “I’m awesome!” As their surprise at my response settles on their face, I continue. “That’s my opinion. You’re entitled to your own opinion, but don’t feel obligated to share it with me.” We share a laugh. We may touch each other, perhaps lightly on the shoulder or arm, or share a hug. We always walk away, smiling.

This momentary sharing is always fun.

The truth is that most days I’m pretty awesome (in my opinion) — independent of physical feelings or circumstances or schedules or accomplishments or challenges. How I am, is separate from all my stuff.

I don’t know exactly when I came to this understanding; it probably evolved over many decades. Or maybe I finally believed what my parents told me as a child. Like Mr. Rogers, they said, “You are fine, just the way you are.” They knew, and I knew, there was room for improvement. I wasn’t particularly happy with my child self, but at my core I believed I was loved — no matter what.

It often takes us years to grow into that understanding of unconditional love. Some of us have never experienced it in our families or in our relationships. But even with that, it’s possible to learn to love ourselves, to accept ourselves as we are, and believe we are good enough.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I always have improvement projects going one — I can’t help it. It’s just who I am.

But beneath that personal necessity (to always become better) I am content — even if I made no changes.

The question becomes — for all of us — who are we at our very foundation? What does our bedrock look like? What forms our foundation?

 

So, of course, I have questions for you:

  • Did you choose your foundational rocks or were they put there by someone else?
  • Is your foundation solid or does it shift with the tides, the opinions of others, or your own uncertainty?
  • Is your foundation made of old, old rocks or have you laid some new ones?
  • Is your foundation some long standing structure that has served it’s usefulness, that needs to be removed, so new foundation rocks can be put in place?
  • What would it take for your foundation to be secure, no matter the storms that come your way? Because the storms will come . . .

Here are a few suggestions for improving your foundation:

    Examine. Is the existing structure solid or does it need repair?

 

    Excavate. Discover your foundation’s history.

 

    Plan. What changes need to be made?

 

    Repair, renovate, or rebuild.

 

Yes, it requires awareness, intention, and work. Create the best foundation to support your growth into teetotal awesomeness.

Until next Tuesday . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half Speed

Sometimes I think I’m jinxed. The last few times I’ve played Beethoven’s sonata (opus 109) at my lesson, the music has fallen apart. I make clumsy mistakes. I have memory lapses. Why can I play it well at home and so disastrously at my lesson?

Dr. B is much kinder and more patient with me than I am with myself. Even though my disappointment is obvious to him, he always comments on the bits I played well: a phrase here or there, perhaps correct rhythms, or good dynamics.

“The piece just needs more time to mature,” he said. To me, it’s had enough months to mature. Perhaps not.

“To get it more solid,” he continued, “you need to slow it way down. Work with the metronome. Then gradually increase the speed every few days. After several weeks it will be much better.”

Dr. B always has techniques for improving difficulties. I do what he suggests — I’ll either prove him right or prove him wrong — because what I’ve been doing obviously hasn’t created success.

The next day I set the metronome at 50 — half the speed I’d been playing. Immediately I realized I couldn’t play the music slowly. My fingers didn’t automatically get me where I wanted to go, which meant my memory wasn’t secure. I studied the difficult spots, and worked until I could play them slowly. I also noticed dynamic markings that I’d overlooked in my rush to play faster.

Playing slowly was harder than I thought. Several days were required just to play the first page correctly. And this was a piece I already knew!

Eventually I worked my way through all six pages — at 50.  At every stumble I rechecked the music, drilled the tough spots, checked other markings on the music. Once I could play with no mistakes, I increased the metronome to 55. After a few more days, I increased to 60. And so it’s been for the last few weeks.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • My memorization wasn’t as secure as I thought, which explains disastrous playing at my lesson.
  • Slow practice allows me to pay attention to the details: rhythm, dynamics, articulation, notes
  • Slow practice is about being careful and getting it right and listening.
  • “Perfect slow” will eventually be “perfect fast.” It’s the only way to get there.

My questions for you are

  • What are you trying to accomplish at full speed before you’ve mastered the details?  Where do you find yourself repeating the same mistakes or continuing to have the same struggles? What if you slowed down, looked at the details, and worked them to your satisfaction first? What if . . . .

 

  • Where are you speeding ahead because you don’t think you have time to slow down? What if you decided to give up on mediocre and sloppiness? What if . . .

 

  • Where are your personal disappointments? What if, instead of declaring yourself a failure, you slow down, look at the pieces and parts, and create a plan for small changes.        What if . . .

In all my years of piano playing, I’ve never understood the value of slow practice until now. I was always in too much of a hurry to play full speed.

Dr. B wants the music right first. Speed comes later.

Until next Tuesday . . .

 

Swamp Survival

Making it across the swamp, all the way to solid ground, has been a scenario oft repeated in my life. I shared my original swamp story on this blog last week. That story has spawned much pondering and many conversations over the years — with family and friends and strangers.

Though details may vary, the realities of swamp stories are:

  • feeling lost
  • wandering in unfamiliar territory
  • fearing the unknown
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • being abandoned
  • lacking knowledge of how to proceed
  • unsure of survival
  • hopelessness

Maybe your life doesn’t feel like a swamp that threatens to suck you to its muddy bottom. Perhaps your life is more like a zoo, filled with interesting creatures at every turn, all demanding food and attention, and cages that need to be cleaned. Maybe it’s like the desert, where safe shelter and cool water are scarce, and loneliness covers you like the night sky. Or perhaps you’re in the forest, where all the trees look alike, the trail has disappeared, and the night noises steal your sleep.

So what’s a person to do when you feel abandoned and scared and have no idea if you’ll ever set foot on solid ground again?

1. Take courage and share your fear — even with a stranger. You’ll find you’re not the first person who’s been lost in a swamp.

2. Assess what you have — your life, a bit of energy, the ability to look ahead, perhaps just for a tree trunk to hold onto for a bit.

3. Rest — life looks better after we’ve allowed ourselves to be restored.

4. Move forward — there’s no value in continuing to look behind you at what has already been.

5. Check your boots — lest the swamp water flows in the top and sinks you.

6. Keep your lunch dry — guard carefully those things that nourish you, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. They are your lifeline.

You can make it to solid ground.

Until next Tuesday . . .