28 September 2010

Not Like Anything I Knew

Last night I drove to Santa Cruz and attended the first session of a ten-week seminar on "Effectiveness" being offered by Landmark Education.

Earlier today, drinking coffee on the front porch, a feeling slowly invaded me and produced the thought "I think I drank the Kool-Aid."

People who "believe" in Landmark often remark that personal transformation begins from the moment of registration for a Landmark workshop or seminar. I've experienced it myself. I actually felt lighter, like I weighed less, after my first telephone conversation with a Landmark representative who called to acknowledge receipt of my enrollment packet.

That sensation hasn't happened much since then. More often now, I hang up the phone (or, sometimes, leave the in-person encounter) thinking "Huh? That was weird." And, then just forget about it.

When the Kool-Aid feeling started today, I was reflecting on mental notes about last night's meeting. I remembered the broad waves of laughter that frequently washed through the room and the unabashed sales pitches by the seminar leader. At the end of the evening, we broke out into groups of 5 or 6 and designated a leader for each group.

I became the leader for my group and today the way in which that came to be looked spooky to me: the five of us sat down and no one said a word for awhile. Finally L_____ (one of three group members who have attended Santa Cruz Landmark seminars for many years) said, "So is anyone interested in leading?" I said that I was interested and, almost in unison, A___ , L____ and M____ said, "Great! You can be leader." How did they get me to do that? I wondered, sipping coffee 15 hours later.

I finished my coffee and sat down at the piano. Bach, Chopin and Schumann have been my focus for a few months now but I chose Debussy today. I was not in the mood to exercise precision of technique, time and timbre; I wanted to experience an impressionistic swirl of sound and emotion.

It doesn't happen every time I play but today I found a deeper road into the Sarabande movement of the Pour Le Piano suite. I was attempting a strict rendering of the dynamic markings assigned in the Dover publication I work from. When staccato and pedal and volume and phrasing and tempo were all observed and honored, a new articulation emerged. It was like seeing a brand new world.

The fundamental motivation driving my involvement with Landmark is readiness and longing for transformation. Yet it would seem that when I find myself transformed--taking on leadership of a group of strangers, for example-- skepticism or resistance arises.

In the form of NVC*, I looked first for an objective view of last night's events. What did I observe?

  • A room full of people laughing at something I either didn't understand or didn't find funny
  • A man announcing registration discounts through a lavalier microphone
  • Four people sitting silently in a circle of chairs with me
  • Me saying "I'm interested in the idea"
And what feeling did I experience in each instance? What was the need underlying each feeling?
  • lonely from the (unmet) need to belong
  • embarrassed from the (unmet) need to avoid money (maybe this is actually 'fear'?)
  • peaceful and free from the (met) need to belong and to be held in positive regard without effort
  • powerful, realized, inspired from the (met) need for learning, expansion, growth and challenge
I've experienced Breakthrough many times as a musician and performing artist. It doesn't scare me. I have experienced spontaneous peak moments of grace, good fortune and joy in my life and, at the time, referred to them as experiences of Breakthrough. What I "got" last night is that unless my will is applied to the situation, it's not Breakthrough. I can want or need something; I can even be happy and grateful when it serendipitously shows up on my doorstep. Something nice happens -- but I am fundamentally unchanged.

The essential characteristic of Breakthrough is that it shatters the status quo and changes the life it held in bondage. It's not about an alteration in what's happening around me-- although
it's common for people to change the world around them as a result of what springs forth from their Breakthrough. It's about an alteration in how the world looks to me and how I look to myself and what I create.

A friend who teaches ballet at a local college called while I was out last night. Her regular pianist is no longer available for two classes and she has invited me to take those two classes! This is a very old dream come true. I started fantasizing about being a dance class pianist from the time I learned such a thing existed, probably from some 50s movie or TV.

The gig starts immediately. I'll go to the administrative offices tomorrow to complete paperwork and get the lay of the land. Eight o'clock Wednesday morning I'll play the first class.

This won't be the last time in the transformation that's turning my life that I'll be provoked to fear I suspect, as the shackles of the old ways fall away and I get acquainted with Freedom. I will see myself in a new light and wonder "Who is that woman in the mirror?" I'll learn again and again that Transformation = Change ...

*Non-Violent Communication

24 September 2010

So What Are You Gonna Do?

After 3 and a half days in bed as a vigorous cold made it's way through my system, I am recovered enough to wander as far as the front porch for a cigarette. A little while ago, blowing smoke rings and watching the moon rise and stars blink on, I noticed a numb tingling in my left foot.

"I'm done!" I said aloud to the listening night. "I quit." I knew without a moment's consideration that the tingling was one more firm but gentle entreaty from my body to give up cigarettes.

A major psychological turning has been underway in my life since completing the Landmark Forum and attending the NonViolent Communication Diversity Retreat. Until the cold struck on Monday, I had enjoyed almost two months of exceptional mental, spiritual and physical vitality. Dreaming and motivated to take steps to bring dreams into reality. New piano music compositions, designing a brochure, initiating process to launch a website, into the studio to make a demo recording, facilitating workshops and presenting/performing for Sunday morning UU gatherings.

The fresh energy of this time is notable for the freedom I feel in it. I'm busy but not for the money or to "look busy"; everything I'm doing is motivated by inner curiosity, inspiration, gratitude or recognition of the incomplete places in the world, places where the world is waiting for me.

At last, life feels possible. I appreciate the simple miracle and unfettered potential of my existence -- not as a caption on a card from a Daily Affirmations deck that I chant with morning coffee and hope that it sticks. More like a fundamental, essential awareness that my life is a paradox, its unfolding shaped as much by mysteries beyond my control as by the choices I make. It's amazing. And also, it just is. I cannot predict tomorrow AND I create tomorrow.

I don't need an Affirmation card to remind me. I can't forget it now. It's in my bones. In my dreams.

Last night I dreamed I was seated in some kind of auditorium with the seats spaced in a comfortable if unorthodox arrangement. I was there with other people; no one I recognized. I was happy. My smile was a warm, bright glow. My mouth was open. Suddenly and very quickly, the entire space became a vacuum and it felt like my lungs, veins and arteries, ear canals, intestinal tract, and every cell of my body was sucked clean.

The uptake lasted perhaps 3 seconds but even before it ended my mind was singing: "The smoke is gone!"

Something out of my control could happen to interrupt my smoking habit. Life is mystery and surprise. In the part of my life that I control, I could choose to stop smoking before Mystery stops me. In the future that I am envisioning and creating, I am not tethered to an oxygen machine or bound to a wheelchair with one leg amputated.

I "get it" more clearly than ever now that I am really here, in a fragile, nonrefundable, nonrenewable body; that what I put in this body, what I subject it to is governed by cause and effect.

I get to make choices and I get to experience the effects of the causes I create.

13 September 2010

Natural Compassion

In "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life" Marshall Rosenberg speaks of "natural compassion." He says
Believing that it is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving in a compassionate manner, I have been preoccupied most of my life with two questions. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, ...? And...what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?

My first response to the concept of an innate compassion in all people was "Ahhhh, the world is a beautiful place."

My second thought was "Really? Is it true?" followed by "How can that be known?"

From there, my thought process flowed to considerations of myself: do I find a compassionate nature in myself? Yes, I am alive to compassion as part of my nature.

Among other natural inclinations.

Today, over and over again in every "today" miraculously granted me, I can choose to stand for compassion because compassion is part of my nature.

I cannot "act" compassionately. It is not a mask to wear. It is a part of my nature that I must know and own and choose to embrace so completely that I am absorbed as I absorb it.

I choose away from it sometimes. With varying degrees of conscious awareness of my choice.

Trying to become compassionate is exhausting and doomed because compassion never has a chance to appear while we are "trying" to become compassionate. We are already compassionate. It lives in us. The quest is to discover or remember it.