Earlier in the week we talked through strategies for letting go of emotional and physical holding. If you find it’s difficult to get started don’t be surprised. Take a moment and think about the heavy load you may be carrying. It can be nearly impossible to act when you are weighed down by sorrow, pain and piles of memories. This process takes time; it’s important to acknowledge that the timeline is different for everyone.
Once you are able to let go of some of the uncomfortable thoughts and unfocused memorabilia you can begin to think about clearing your space. Remember there will still be an emptiness that yearns to be filled. In order to clear it’s helpful to inject positive energy into the empty place by creating a sacred space--a shrine.
“To make a shrine, no matter how simple, is to make art--not for profit, but as a gift.” ~Jean McMann from her book “Altars and Icons, Sacred Spaces in Everyday Life. ” She goes on to say, “...many individuals are turning for comfort and stability to the ancient powers of objects: not the glossy consumer items we are encouraged to buy, but the priceless, tarnished relics of personal and family histories. These things represent our triumphs, our epiphanies, our tragic losses; we cherish them, display them, and endow them with magic.”
What are your priceless relics and personal reminders? Photos, valentines, trophies--whatever touches your heart. Look for a place to display your most cherished mementos. Is there a place you’ll see and honor them every day? It may be a space on the mantle or a new sacred spot designated just for this comforting purpose. You may want more than one shrine in your home. It could be a permanent or mutable display. Think of it--you are the curator of these rich memories. Your physical involvement with making the shrine is important--selecting objects, tenderly arranging them and caring for them will help keep your creative energy flowing.
The shelf at the top of my staircase contains a selection of objects that remain constant and lend stability to other cherished mementos that change as life changes. In the past dozen years I have filled it with treasures from my children’s younger days, honored my mother with reminders of my own childhood and even looked fondly back on my pets’ full yet short lives. Calming and bittersweet--it serves as a three-dimensional collage of the times we spent together. This shrine is part of my life--just like they were.
Maybe you already have made an arrangement that brings you comfort. If not, would you consider collecting precious items and making a shrine? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you’d like to share your shrine post your photos on our Facebook Page.
Last week’s post on Empty Nest reminded me of feeling stuck. Focusing on an event such as watching my children move on brings back all those memories. One would think that tears could just woosh away the pain and sadness. Unfortunately that’s not the case. When major life changes occur (and truthfully any changes, good or bad, are processed as loss) our intention is to hold tight. But it’s hard to hold something that isn’t there. We grasp yet all we can find is a hole. That emptiness breeds fear, anxiety and tension in the body--in other words physical holding. That’s why loss is so painful.
Once our discomfort is magnified by sadness and physical pain we shift our direction and begin to hold onto things. It’s a very clever way to hide our distress. Toys, clothes, locks of hair, elementary school papers--anything that might fill up the hole. Now we have complexified our situation. Our bodies are in pain because of emotional holding and our homes are cluttered with stuff. We’re stuck.
Can you imagine the downward spiral if this continued? It’s a wretched cycle. And the worst thing about it is our lives are constantly changing. We are experiencing some kind of loss on a regular basis. Which makes the threat of getting stuck all the more real. Loss of loved ones, loss of job, changes of job definition and serious injury are devastating. Interruption to routine, illness and disappointment are frequent changes. What can we do about it? I wish there were an simple way to ease the pain. If you want to get unstuck the only way is to learn to adapt. Try taking these steps towards letting go:
- Turn and face the pain instead of running away. This is the most difficult choice. I get it. But it’s also the most direct path towards letting go. A wise woman once told me that a feeling only lasts about 30 seconds. You may face excruciatingly painful feelings--but you can make it for 30 seconds. Practice with the little daily occurrences and you’ll be better prepared for the big ones. This is so challenging and contrary to our nature that you may spend a lifetime practicing. It is worth your time.
- Start your day with 20 minutes of uncensored, stream of consciousness writing. Giving yourself the time and a private place to note your darkest thoughts or celebrate your victories will help you let go. Don’t overthink this. Go buy a spiral notebook, put pen to paper and keep it moving. That’s the important part. The motion of the pen will connect with the flow of your subconscious and you will let go. No words? Write blah, blah, blah until the words come. You may have to write a half page of nonsense before words begin to flow--and that’s ok. I first read about this method in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.”
- Evaluate your mementos. Identify the things you’re holding. My mother kept both her children’s bedrooms preserved--as if we’d never left. I did the same when my older son left for college. It wasn’t until my younger son moved out--six years later--that I realized I was doing exactly the same thing. Is there a space in your home that you tend to avoid? For example, my son’s preserved bedroom--I kept the door shut and I felt anxious about going inside. That’s a hint you need to handle it. Take an afternoon and make piles--toss, donate, keep, and cherish. Yes, absolutely keep the items that have meaningful sentimental value. Don’t hold onto every scrap. You won’t lose your children or your memories; you will gain yourself. Give yourself time and have a box of tissues handy. It will be emotionally exhausting work but letting go will make you free.
- Fill the space in a positive way. Look for the possibility instead of the loss. I’ll talk more about this later in the week.
- Review my coping strategies. Try my strategies for coping with loss. Making a plan for handling life’s inevitable losses will empower you and that will help you let go. Edit my list with the strategies that work for you.
- What works for you? Add your steps for letting go and getting unstuck in the comments section below.
My mother always said, “Only two things in life are certain--death and taxes.” I’d like to add one more item to the list--change. Change is certain.
When you’ve spent the last 18 years of your life raising a child it doesn’t feel like anything will ever change. Each moment is a part of you. Their laughter is your favorite song. Their cuddles are molded to your form. Their scent gives life to your breath.
And just like that, high school is over. It’s time for them to go. You want to cling yet they can’t wait to take the next step. And what a big step it is. It's a leap that creates a chasm of space.
Change. As painful as this may feel, take heart in knowing that now it’s time for you. Take all that time and love and energy you sent out to your children and turn it inward. Do you feel lost? Try finding yourself. Are you grieving? Give yourself a hug. Do you feel lonely? Invest in the closest friend you’ll ever have.
This may seem impossible right now. But think of it this way: you’ve had 18 years to practice loving someone. Your nest was a labor of love. Why not re-feather--for yourself?
We’ve been here before. All four of us were members ten years ago when the Colorado Springs Symphony went bankrupt. On New Year’s Eve we played Strauss waltzes while the audience sipped champagne. The next day, the new year, we were out of work and out of benefits. Just like that. Maybe that’s why we were willing to do whatever we could this time around.
Our quartet had worked well for nearly 20 years. Just word of mouth. No advertising save for the very first season. By the time I joined the quartet we had 80+ in the audience two nights in a row. And the 3rd night was growing. It was a dream come true. Then came reality. Our numbers fell off, we exhausted our reserves and our board reached their saturation point. They gave us an ultimatum--go to one performance night or cease to exist. We found ourselves at the crossroads of “Fold” or “Make it Work”.
We decided to take matters into our own hands and start a new series. It was more work for us. Much more work. But it gave us ownership and a way to keep our quartet alive. After years of simply programming music, rehearsing and playing concerts we were now in charge of everything. Where would we play? What would we play? Who would come? We held planning meetings. We selected an informal board of supporters. In order to preserve our core audience we picked another name and organised a photo shoot for marketing.
Last August we launched City Strings at a beautiful space in a brewpub that was warm, inviting and very much at the center of city nightlife. It’s been a year now--our first anniversary concert is next week. We’ve had to learn advertising, marketing, promotion, production--just to name a few of the hats we currently don. It’s been a year of attempts and misfires. A year of celebrations and some defeats. And mostly a year of really hard work. Would we do it again? Absolutely!
As an arts group in the current economic climate you may find yourself in similar circumstances. To realize not only your creative outlet but your livelihood is threatened is devastating. When we first heard the dire outlook for our quartet we were paralyzed. It was nearly impossible to concentrate on what needed to be done. Little by little we absorbed the blow and were able to act. Here are the steps we took:
- Seek the counsel of an expert. After receiving our board’s final offer we talked to an individual with experience in our field. Their advice was--you don’t necessarily have to accept their decision. Prepare yourselves and make a counter-proposal.
- Enlist help. We rounded up every supporter on the board and sought out new supporters to help us with planning and executing the counter proposal. These angels also volunteered their time with meetings, marketing and even generous donations.
- Think outside the box. Just because the model had run successfully for 19 years didn’t mean it was working in the present. We made lists of alternate venues, alternate program styles and different audience segments. From these lists we selected one combination and focused our energy.
- Don’t be afraid to change. Our board didn’t want to lose or confuse our current subscribers so we picked a 2nd name and style to make a fresh start with our new concert series.
- Self examination. We took a good hard look at our strengths and our weaknesses. We picked our strongest element from the established series, then expanded and enhanced it for the new series.
Not unlike most of the classical ensembles I hear about, our biggest challenge continues to be finding audience. And we’ve all taken on more of the work load. But the benefit is we are learning what it takes to run an ensemble. We are completely invested in the outcome.
Will we make it? I’d love to give you a happy ending but it has yet to be written. Today was our first rehearsal together in 3 months. When I arrived the founding violinist came to my car to greet me. “I’m just so excited to play together again.” We are grateful for what we have. I’ve got a good feeling about the end of this story.
Active listening. Josep Caballe’-Domenech delivered his dress rehearsal message Saturday afternoon insisting that actively listening to every single part of the music is our most important charge. No players buried in their music stands--he wanted awareness. And it’s not just the individual musicians who must actively listen, the conductor also listens and responds to feedback. Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic on conducting, “One of the ways to make your sound better is to make it really obvious that you’re really listening and that it really matters to you what it sounds like.” He goes on to say, “As soon as it’s apparent that your ears are open and that you’re interested and you’re following the contour of the sound, then that very contour is affected by that.” Caballe’-Domenech is a fiery conductor who demands our best. In spite of the hard work, playing for him is a most rewarding orchestral experience. To be tuned in to each note and every nuance is beyond compare. It’s electrifying. When playing in the zone your senses are heightened. Constantly receiving feedback, musicians react with split-second precision. And just like he said, the orchestra is not a stage full of individuals playing their part; it is one instrument responding as a single organism.
In this scenario, musicians get feedback from their stand partners, section leaders, concertmaster, and conductor. Rehearsals are full of verbal feedback; in performance feedback is exclusively non-verbal. Musicians use their specific training to listen and respond to a huge number of variables--pitch, dynamics, articulation, style. They take the notes of the page and along with the interpreter, the conductor, and the information practiced and retained from rehearsals they work together to create a spontaneous musical experience. At the end the audience delivers even more feedback by way of applause, cheering and maybe even standing to show appreciation. By the time the performance is done, I know where I stand.
What happens to a musician when they can’t rely on feedback? Or their traditional notion of feedback is turned upside down? I’m also a member of a new kind of orchestra-the Twtr Symphony. Made up of musicians across the world recording remotely, it’s a whole new concept. “...While we approach performance in a very different way than other symphony orchestras, it is our extensive use of social media as a tool for connection which sets us apart." ~ Composer Chip Michael. We met first through social media by tweeting our personal plans, projects and experiences. Our feedback began as a supportive forum, then one by one we auditioned and became an orchestra.
When I started I had more questions than confidence. Alone in my studio with a piece of music and a click track, where was the feedback I wanted? What I got instead was harsh. The click track was a stern taskmaster. The playback was cruel. Neither were willing to bend--or lie. I found myself delivering my finished recording with tentative words, “if you need me to re-record just let me know.” With no stand partner to smile and no audience to clap I was looking for some kind of positive feedback, reassurance or a little pat on the back, hoping that my playing was good enough. After I sent my recording I had even more questions. How do I fit in the group? What does the orchestra sound like?
Maybe I was getting the feedback I needed all along. What happens when conventions are altered? We adapt. True I wasn’t getting “normal” feedback. Instead of concentrating on what I wasn’t hearing I had to look and listen a little bit harder. What was I really hearing? Enthusiasm. Excitement. And lots and lots of support. The Twtr Symphony is an orchestra that supports the group and supports each other. Just like the conventional orchestra I mentioned above we are more than individuals recording separate parts--we are united through support, sharing and investment in the outcome. That’s the amazing thing about social media--it really does connect us. My questions were replaced with confidence and trust. And I’m glad to be part of the adventure.
May is here. It’s time to wrap up another performance schedule and another school year. A calendar chock full of dates and pencil marks and predictability gives way to a solitary question mark. It’s time to move on; time to say goodbye. In one sense we feel welcome relief to set aside bursting planner. And yet.... The unknown brings its own set of challenges. Will I like my new teacher? Will I get enough free-lance work to pay my bills? Will be able to soak in enough of my teen before he leaves for college?
Can you tell I feel nostalgic today? The time has come for me to say goodbye in writing. It’s been two years since my youth orchestra played their last concert. Before that I spent a frantically busy six years running the orchestra. Finally, today I can look back and say it was worth every hectic moment. I had fun!
The last concert was a dream come true. A side by side with great music, a convivial potluck dinner, and a big, enthusiastic crowd--everything came together perfectly. And just like that it was over. We ran out of money and I ran out of energy. I had spent six years fighting to keep it vital but this time was different. I must have known it was time for a change.
My web designer called a month ago to see if I wanted to renew the domain again. I took a deep breath, and said no. Today I’m looking back with fondness and forward with....well, that remains to be seen. It’s time for change. Courage to you in yours.
Many, many thanks to students, families and colleagues who helped and supported us through the years. Goodbye LYS, You make me proud!