Flying a Bit Late

I am writing this blog post from the Fort Lauderdale Airport.  I am hoping to fly out to Newark in about an hour from now and then drive home from there.  I was planning on being home by now.  My original flight was scheduled to leave 7 hours ago from a different airport over 50 miles away.  That flight was cancelled.

No, you will not see me on national television, featured as a passenger who was unruly or who caused a riot.  No, I haven’t pulled out the ‘doctor card’ and demanded that I be given a private jet to fly me home because of my status as Dr. Susan M. Featro.  “Everything happens for a reason,” is something my mother has always said.  I am trusting that the universe / God / my Higher Power has orchestrated this change of plans in order for me to a have a different experience.  I believe that we are always co-creating and manifesting exactly what we need to experience…in order to remember who we are.

Sometimes, life doesn’t go as we  have ‘planned.’  One element in my yoga practice is flexibility; just as I strive to be flexible on my yoga mat, I can strive to be flexible off of my mat in the rest of my life.  The quote “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” has been attributed to John Lennon and to Allen Saunders.  I am choosing to not get wrapped up in stressing over the changed plans and what could have been.  Yes, I am disappointed that I will not get to join my parents and my cats for dinner to tell them about my trip.  Yes, I am expecting that I will be tired tomorrow when I wake up early to go to play the organ and sing at church after getting to bed after midnight.  (For me, 9pm is a late night, so this is a wild thrust into night owl territory.)  But I will not be dwelling in the past or in the future; instead, I will occupy the present moment and show up for my life and see what might be calling me in closer.  Is there something for me to notice here, internally or externally?  Is there a connection with a stranger that will happen and uplift us both?  I am open to it all.  One new experience I’ve had so far in navigating this cancelled flight: using Uber for the first time to get from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale.  I also just ate at the Food Network Kitchen.

In my belief system, none of us are entitled to anything that we ‘own’ on this planet…and as we all are one, there is no hierarchy with anyone being better or more important than anyone else.  I am no more special and no less special than another passenger, and I have no right and no reason to treat inconsiderately an airport employee or anyone else doing his or her job…just because of my privileged status as “doctor” or because of any self-determined extenuating circumstances which I might attempt to justify as trumping others’ stories.  We are all on a journey, and we will all get there.  Sometimes the detours are the most exciting parts of the trip.  I am grateful for the opportunity to show up and to be myself as I take each step…no matter where my journey takes me.  Bon voyage!

Tune in to the American Cancer Society Telethon

Live Nation Entertainment American Cancer Society Logo

Susan M. Featro and Tom Flamini will perform at 8:15pm tomorrow on the American Cancer Society Telethon.  The telethon will air on channel 13 on Blue Ridge Cable and on channel 90 in the Tamaqua – Mahanoy City Service Electric Cable area and on channels 2 and 50 in the Lehigh Valley on the Service Electric Cable system.  Please tune in and enjoy our musical offerings.  If you’d like to make a pledge to the American Cancer Society in honor of our performance, you may call 1-800-883-2109 on Saturday and mention that the donation is in recognition of the performance by Susan and Tom, or you may make a pledge online at http://www.cancertelethon.org.  The telethon will be happening live at Penn’s Peak, the concert venue just outside of Jim Thorpe.  Admission is free.

Built on the Foundation of Love

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My new home is continuing to come along.  Progress is being made quickly, and I continue to marvel at how the process of building this new house parallels the process of building my life.  I have been building myself anew in many areas, and it is simultaneously exhilarating & terrifying, and there are so many lessons along the way.  With both my home building and my life building, I am striving to always build on the foundation of love.

I got an idea from my friend Kelly from Chicago.  She had told me about how her church had been installing new hardwood floors, and before the flooring was put down, members of the congregation were invited to come and write on the floorboards.  They could write a prayer, a quote, their name…

Last weekend, I invited some family members and friends to put their touch on my new home.  As I asked people to share messages on my floor, I thought about how I was really making this house my home.  The power of these words will always be there with me.  On any day years from now, when I am feeling defeated or afraid or confused, I can place my hands on the floor and be uplifted by the amazing messages that were offered to me.  It means so much to me that people from all different chapters of my life came together to grace my home and grace my life with incredible heartfelt words.  Prayers, song lyrics, pictures, personal messages, Bible verses, quotes, and some fun and light-hearted reminders will be my inspiration and guidance in every room of the house.  One of my creative friends Stan Stewart wrote an improvised poem on the occasion of my new home.  You can read his poem “Every Time” here: http://muz4now.com/2015/every-time-an-improv-poem/

I believe that our lives are shaped by every person whom we meet.  Each interaction that we have changes us in some way.  I believe that we carry with us in our bodies, our voices, and our unconscious stirrings…a piece of each person whose path has crossed ours.  For that reason, I find it fitting that so many people who mean so much to me have made their mark on my home.  As I walk on the floors of my new home, I remember that I am not alone in the world;  there are so many others traveling on the journey, and my life has been blessed by coming to meet and know them.

There were also several words and phrases and pictures that I added to the floor, as I recognize that I have a personal responsibility for erecting a strong and love-based foundation.  I can’t only lean on others to fill me up and support me.  Another special touch to the floors was a special signed letter and message that builder Curtis Bailey and his wife Dorothy placed under the floor in my meditation room.  Just like an artist signs the piece of artwork he or she has created, I feel that it is appropriate that Curt signs his name to this awesome construction that has been a product of his ideas, skills, and care.  I am honored to have blessings from Curt and his wife be forever a part of my future home.

I am humbled, blessed, amazed, uplifted, and even floored by the incredible foundation of love that has been co-created in the process of building my new home.  My heart is full of gratitude as I reflect on how my life has been touched and moved and graced by so many, and I am inspired to continue to build my life with such care.

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Voice Lifted to New Heights

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My quest to grow and evolve spiritually has taken me to new heights.  As I walk my life path with a heart that is always seeking a deeper and truer union with God, with myself, and with all other beings on the journey, I find myself curious about new experiences that might challenge me, guide me to open to new ways of thinking & being, and support me in my process of growing & evolving.

 

I had never before in my life climbed a rope, climbed a tree, or even climbed onto a bicycle and rode without training wheels.  The idea of getting on a trapeze scared me to my core.  I had been the one who, in my younger years, dedicated myself to taking as few risks as possible.  (Avoid riding a bicycle; it’s possible to fall.  When the volleyball comes toward you in physical education class, move away from it instead of making contact with it.  Don’t cook;  it’s possible to get burned in the kitchen.)  My overactive imagination was quite adept at brainstorming all that could possibly go wrong in any given situation, and I thought that was a useful tool for keeping me from being put in danger.  Now, I would say instead that the greater danger is to go through life without fully living it.

 

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”  ~ Anais Nin

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”  ~ Mark Zuckerberg

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Despite my fears, I was feeling called to step out of my comfort zone, and I reassured myself when going to my first aerial yoga class that it wasn’t that big of a leap of faith.  I was already familiar with the yoga part;  it was just the aerial part that was new.  After doing aerial yoga in the yoga hammocks, I gathered up the courage to then try the aerial silks and the static trapeze.

 

The slogan for Trapeze School New York is “Forget the fear.  Worry about the addiction.”  Some might say that I am addicted;  I would say that I am in love…in love with growing stronger, taking safe and healthy risks, stretching out of my comfort zone and exploring how that transforms me in body, mind, and spirit.  Some people come to the aerial arts, because they are looking for a workout that is fun and unusual.  I do enjoy the great physical workout that I get every time, but my reason for showing up is the workout that I get in mind and spirit.

 

Lifting myself up to new heights and performing skills on the aerial silks, the trapeze, and the lyra (aerial hoop) leads me to discover so many life lessons and to practice these and then to take all of the learning and growth to each situation I encounter in my life.  My mind is almost always full of self doubt when I first see a new skill or sequence demonstrated on the aerial apparatus, but I then have the opportunity to work through the anxiety by using mindfulness, practicing intentional breathing techniques to center myself, listening to my body & my heart, and engaging in positive self talk.  Many aerial skills have helped me to work on trusting myself and trusting my core strength, letting go, balance, communication, working through anxiety, self-compassion, being fully present, stepping out of my comfort zone, expressing myself through artistic movement, and accepting and integrating the various parts of my psyche – the lessons and opportunities for growth are infinite, and I continue to be moved, inspired, grounded (yes!), and uplifted whenever I ascend and open myself to the process.

 

Dr. Christy Gorigoitia came to the aerial arts while working on her doctorate in clinical psychology and was also fascinated by the body-mind-spirit connection that was possible through this practice.  She founded Aerial Mind in Bethlehem, and she and her brother Juan Pablo (JP) offer to those who attend classes the opportunity to explore the aerial arts and to explore within and then to take the fruits of this exploration and apply these in daily life, taking the lessons learned and the mindful approach to one’s school and work, interactions with family and friends, and to life events that come with stresses and challenges and obstacles to climb over.  Because of Christy’s psychology background, this program addresses the way that the aerial arts can be therapeutic and can support a progression toward health and wholeness in body, mind, and spirit.

 

Another aerial instructor whom I’ve trained with is Kayla Dyches who performs under the name Riot Circus Arts.  Kayla credits the aerial arts for turning her life around after battling anorexia, as she decided she’d rather be strong than skinny.  Kayla is also a personal trainer who inspires those whom she works with to create the best version of themselves through dedication and commitment.

 

I’ve taken aerial classes here and there whenever possible while traveling as well, even trying some classes taught in the German language last month when on a trip abroad.  The well-intended concerns from family and friends that I am going to run away and join the circus are unfounded.  I keep coming back to the aerial arts, because I know that this work supports me in everything else I do in life – in my teaching, in my music, in my way of being in the world.

 

I’ve thought about how it’s possible to go through life without being fully engaged and awake in each moment.  It’s common for our minds to wander as we do mundane routine chores and even as we complete tasks in our jobs or connect in conversation with friends.  On the other hand, when I am climbing the aerial silks, wrapping the fabric around myself, and then inverting my body and holding an upside-down pose, it is necessary (in order to be safe) to be fully engaged at all times.  At the same time as my body, mind, and spirit are fully engaged, I am also using all of my strength and resources as I ascend to new heights and perform skills and sequences in the air.  I feel fully alive and find that I am then empowered to take that feeling of being “all in” to the rest of my life.  Just last month, I tried out the flying trapeze for the first time at Trapeze School New York (TSNY) in Washington, D.C.  Trust me:  It’s not possible to have other things running through your mind when you are about to jump off of a platform and fly through the air twenty-three feet above the ground and then to be asked in a matter of 5-10 seconds to hook your knees on the bar, let go with your hands, and do a back flip or to be caught by extending your hands to connect with an experienced trapeze artist.

 

Climbing to new heights and flying through the air encourages me to rise above limitations and to approach life with a free and willing spirit and a playful heart.  The research on the benefits of play for adults support this kind of experiential healing and development that I am doing in the aerial studio.  I am in love with life, and will continue to lift my body, mind, and spirit as I lift my voice.

Lifting my Voice to New Heights - Spanish Web
Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Susan M. Featro, Voice Lifted.  All Rights Reserved.

Aren’t You Dead Yet?

At the end of last year, I read a book titled “Aren’t You Dead Yet?”  This memoir was written by Lucy Stanovick after she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer.  I had studied with Dr. Stanovick as part of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writing Project in 2009, and then I worked with her on the NPWP Leadership Team.  I also had the pleasure of teaching her two children when I worked at Pleasant Valley Intermediate School.  In picking up this memoir, I expected that it would be a powerful and moving read, because I had come to love Lucy’s go-for-the-jugular, tell-it-how-it-is style of writing, but my experience in reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” took me to places beyond what I expected.

Since I knew her, I had admired Lucy as a scholar, as a writer, as a teacher, and as a person.  She pushed her students and all of those she met in life to go deeper, to avoid nothing, and to speak and write with a clear and intentional voice.  She went above and beyond in her work as a professor, and she and her colleague Dr. Lesliee Antonette directed the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writing Project, which has been consistently referred to by teachers as “the best professional development experience I have ever had.”  Besides that, Lucy was a very fun person to be with.  I found Lucy to be a person I wished to model my own teaching and writing after.  She always seemed to know what to do and what to say, and she seemed to have it all together.  In reading her book, I found out that this was far from the truth.  Lucy wrote about her struggles with anxiety, her painful experience of not fitting in at the university, and so many doubts and questions she had that left her feeling confused and messy…just like me.  I am now even more captivated by the wonderful human being whom I got to know, and I wish that I could sit down with her and have a conversation about all of these things and connect over our shared questions about life and those thoughts that keep us awake at night.

After reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” I began thinking more about how so many of us go through our days alone in our heads, believing that we are the only ones thinking these things and feeling these things.  We often don’t share some of those dark or confusing parts with our friends, our co-workers, our family members…we stick to the happy highlights.  We share with others the pictures on our phones of our grandchildren;  we post on Facebook the description of the great meal we ate over the weekend;  we talk about our fun in planning the next vacation.  And then others come to think that everyone else around them is functioning just fine and is without these struggles…and the difficult emotions become even more difficult, because there is the additional pain of feeling different and alone.

Interestingly, shortly after reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” I encountered several other displays of vulnerability and have been inspired and uplifted by them.  One of my aerial teachers sharing publicly about overcoming an eating disorder, a colleague at school sharing a draft of a book she hopes to get published that is written in a beautiful and vulnerable way as she shares about a long period of trials and what got her through, and then also a woman I met at a yoga retreat who posted on her blog about the way this past year has tried her and who shared for the first time about the abuse she suffered as a child  .

These have all been incredible reminders of how resilient we are, and I feel a deep and meaningful human connection with these people…a connection that I don’t feel with “perfect” people.  In only sticking to the superficial in conversations, in keeping the messy stuff covered up and only sharing the highlights, we miss the “just like me” connection.  What was most powerful for me in reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” was the way that Lucy’s feelings resonated with me, and I thought to myself, “Well, if she felt inadequate and unsure of herself and was able to be the wonderful scholar, writer, and person she was, then maybe I am not as lost as I thought I was…maybe it’s not just me.”

I thank each of these people and so many of my friends who make it a practice to embrace vulnerability.  We all have ups and downs.  We all are unsteady at times, and we all need help from those around us.  Being vulnerable and human is what makes us alive, and as long as I’m alive, I will tell my stories.

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If you are interested in reading “Aren’t You Dead Yet?” Lucy’s husband has reported that all of the books from the first printing have sold out.  He is taking pre-orders for a second printing. If he gets enough pre-orders, they will do a second printing.  To pre-order, send John a message at jstanovick@fs.fed.us.

Voice Lifted in the New Year

As we transition from 2014 to 2015, I look back on my Voice Lifted journey in this past year and look ahead to where I hope to take my music making in the upcoming year.

My Christmas Benefit Concert on Sunday, December 7th was a success.  It was a great experience to perform in the newly remodeled Tamaqua Community Arts Center.  I was delighted to connect with the wonderful audience who came out that day, and I am thrilled that the event provided support to the Tamaqua Blue Raider Foundation as well as the Community Arts Center.  I look forward to seeing these two organizations continue to serve our community in the coming year.

2014 brought the release of my second album Voice Lifted at Christmas.  This album is now available for sale online (download or CD) at this link.  My first CD Voice Lifted is also available here.  Downloads of the music from my Christmas CD are also available at Amazon.  Additionally, Voice Lifted at Christmas is available in streaming format on Spotify.  

In 2014, I greatly enjoyed many performances at private events, community events, and at churches.  I am excited to continue these in 2015.  For those who like to plan ahead, I am announcing the date for my 2015 Christmas Benefit Concert at the Tamaqua Community Arts Center – Sunday, December 6th, 2015.  I will be announcing other public performances throughout the year, but I wanted to get that date out right away, as I have loved hearing that some people are now making my benefit concert an annual Christmas tradition.

I also plan on additional performances in the new year with my music partner Tom Flamini.  Right now, we are preparing for a February 8, 2015 performance at Providence Place in Pottsville.

In the upcoming year, I also plan to continue blogging.  I plan to do that with more regularity, as I know that writing is a wonderful source of creative expression for me, and I enjoy sharing my journey with others on the path.  Additionally, many ideas are floating around my mind for live performances and recording possibilities.

For me personally, 2014 was a year that brought many challenges and much growth, and I see 2015 as a building year.  I believe that there will be much opportunity to take all of the lessons of 2014, allow myself to start at the place at which I am, and create much from the bottom up in this new year with faith and trust as the foundations.  Many of those around me have expressed similar feelings about 2014 being a year that involved much tearing down, shaking up of things, a lot of confusion, “a year that brought us to our knees,” and a year that was like a roller coaster ride.  I am envisioning and holding 2015 as a building year for myself and for those around me, for anyone who chooses to embrace this intention.

New Year’s Blessings to all of you and to those with whom your share your hearts and your lives.

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One hug away

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Today marks the last day of Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 5-11, 2014.)  Today is also two months from the date of Robin Williams’ death, following his depression and suicide.  I wrote this spoken-word poem in August 2014 as part of my reflection after learning of Robin Williams’ journey.

 

I am one sigh away from hopeless.

One tear away from despair,

One bead of sweat away from exhaustion,

One track away from derailment,

One choice away from regret.

 

I am one pop-up ad away from a virus,

One dollar sign away from bankruptcy,

One digit away from a wrong number,

One dropped ball away from defeat.

 

I am one accusation away from indictment,

One degree away from the flames,

One vote away from impeachment,

One storm away from disaster.

 

My voice is growing louder;  my words are getting faster.

 

I am one heartbeat away from tachycardia,

One shock away from electrocution,

One mistake away from failure,

One bell toll away from the funeral.

 

I am one doubt away from a lost cause,

One signature away from resignation,

One sin away from the devil,

One broken bone away from a body cast,

One click away from ‘game over.’

 

I am running on fumes.

I am one key turn away from combustion,

One dress size away from losing my dignity,

One pulse away from abortion,

One hug away from good-bye.

 

I am one tragedy away from recognizing that we are all vulnerable, and no one is immune.

 

You today, me tomorrow,

Me today, you tomorrow.

Me, You, You, Me.

Today, Tomorrow, Now.

 

On the border straddling peace and chaos.

One foot planted on the balance beam.

It’s that close of a call.

 

We are all one rabbit pull away from the magic show.

Pull, pull, make him appear.

One hop away from sticking our landing.

My feet are shaking.

Look up, child.  Catapult.

Accept that we stand on moving ground.

 

We are one vow away from marriage,

One paint stroke away from mastery,

One dime away from a dollar,

One contraction away from birth,

One detour away from an amazing destination.

 

We are all one sunbeam away from a rainbow,

One sensation away from ecstasy,

One prayer away from salvation,

One Hallelujah away from Heaven,

One leap of faith away from enlightenment.

 

When you are one x away from y,

things can go either way.

It can happen to you, to me, to them, to us.

Listen.  Look around.  Practice gratitude.  Practice love.

 

Anxiety, depression, people.

It’s about people.  It’s about heart.

You are not alone.  I see in.

 

He was one laugh away from you and me.

He was one smile away from healing.

And we are too.

 

Please don’t judge what you haven’t experienced.

It’s no more foreign than French fries and French kisses.

We are all one heartfelt hug away from each other.

There are only two things you need to say,

“You matter,” and “I care.”

 

Copyright © 2014 by Susan M. Featro, Voice Lifted.  All Rights Reserved.

Recommitment to Love

 

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To the man I witnessed on my walk, screaming at his dog and picking him up by his neck in anger after the dog had run ahead of him out the door…

 

It really bothered me when I witnessed you yell in such anger at your pet and then chase after him and pick him up by his neck.  As I took a walk yesterday with my friend, I was walking with a heavy heart.  I had just spent some quiet time with my cat Song who only has a short time left with my family.  She has an oral tumor.  I had just cleaned out the clear drainage from her eye that moistened her nose bridge & turned to God with a tear in my eye and prayed that Song would not suffer and that we would make the decisions that were best for her.  I had just knelt down to pet Song and felt barely able to stand up again, as my whole body felt shaky in allowing myself to feel the fear about what comes next.  I noticed I was barely breathing as I stood face to face with the frailty and fragility of life.

 

I tell you this not to make you sad.  I tell you this to urge you to celebrate.  Celebrate yourself, and celebrate your dog.  Celebrate your time together.  Celebrate even his misbehaviors, because they are signs of life.  When he runs excitedly out the door, forgetting that he’s supposed to wait for you, overcome by the excitement of a beautiful, sunny day, fresh air, and people passing by, call him back and run after him with love in your heart, and then hug him.  Hug him, and let him know you care.  Let him know your life is better, because he’s with you.  Let him know you’ll be with him until the end and will cradle his head as he takes his last breaths, remembering the times you played together and holding close to your heart that still frame of his furry face, reconnecting with that sweet feeling of walking in the door and knowing someone missed you and could not contain his excitement that you were home again.

 

I am not a judgmental person.  I do not wish to criticize your ability to parent your dog, and I do not intend to chastise you as a person.  I freely and willingly admit that I have been overwhelmed by life at many points, frustrated when others didn’t listen to me, tired of stuff going wrong again and again.  I have screamed, said things I didn’t mean, and have hurt people whom I care about.  I’ve been at my wit’s end.  I’ve made choices that have been rooted in fear and resentment.  I have approached tender hearts with violent words that raged and wounded.  I’ve been broken and breathless after life threw incredible twists my way.  And eventually, I returned to love.  Thankfully, I returned to love.

 

My letter here is an invitation and a reminder.  Please take some time today and look in the eyes of those you love – humans and pets.  Simply and quietly say, “I love you.”  Say anything else that’s on your heart.  Breathe together.  Enjoy the sensations as you stroke your lover’s skin or pet your best friend’s fur, and know this moment is a gift that will not always be available to you.  Vow to hug more often.  Slow down and make time for walks outside and playful exchanges.  Remember to laugh at silly things.  Appreciate.  Wag more and bark less.  Purr more and hiss less.  Forgive.  Allow for mistakes – on others’ part and on your part.  And if you are a person who prays, please offer up a prayer for my cat Song and for me and for every pet who is facing health challenges and approaches his or her final days.  Send some positive energy out to those pet parents who are taking their dogs for that final walk and loading their cats into a carrier to get that lethal injection because the suffering has grown too unbearable and there is no cure.  And I will think of you in a wave of compassion and bless you and your dog.  Thank you for reading this, and thank you for inspiring my reflection and my recommitment to love across the board.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Susan M. Featro, Voice Lifted.  All Rights Reserved.

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Too Busy

 

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged.  I’ve been busy.  Too busy…

I recently traveled to a conference in Portland, Oregon.  The conference was great, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Portland and in the area surrounding the city.  In planning for this trip, I knew I would be very active during my time in Portland, attending conference sessions and seeing as much of the area as possible: the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge area, Portland’s Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Rose Garden, the famous Powell’s Bookstore, and more.  Because I knew I’d be tired from the traveling, I thought ahead and cancelled several of my regularly scheduled weekly activities in the days following my return home from this trip.

Arranging for a lighter schedule as I adjusted to the time zone shift, worked on unpacking, and reunited with my cats at home was really a good decision.  As a conscious spiritual being who is on a journey toward health and wholeness, I try to practice good self care.  Sometimes I do well, but other times I put other people’s requests in front of my well-being and end up cutting my sleeping time short as I rush to meet deadlines and help others out.  This was a time when I succeeded in doing what was good for me. But it went beyond that…

Not only did this extra time to get settled back in after my trip allow me to readjust without the stress I had experienced on other occasions on which I “hit the ground running” and jumped right back into it all.  In addition to that, I noticed that I was breathing more freely and feeling less tension in my body.  It was clear that I felt lighter and more joyful…and even more creative and inspired…as I went through my days.  I enjoyed the opportunity to sit for a while with a book or with my journal and go into that introspective and reflective space that I love.  I saw that I was more in touch with my body, and I was making better choices, as my head felt clearer.  I felt more optimistic.  I was more engaged in the activities I was doing.  I took notice of more that was around me, taking in the beauty of the earth springing to life and the ring of a passerby’s laugh.  I even got to take a little extra time and spontaneously accept an invitation from a friend to spend some time together.  Just a few extra hours in my week made a big difference, for sure.

Upon reflecting on these noticings, I knew I would have to use this information to make some changes to my days.  I also probed myself to explore the meaning behind the choices I had made to arrive at such a busy schedule in the first place.  I remembered some sage and powerful words from my spiritual mentor Brene Brown about how we can erroneously equate busyness with self-worth and see exhaustion as a status symbol.

I believe that many of us, especially women, participate in this race for worthiness, believing that it’s not enough to simply be; believing we have to do…buying into that false belief that we have something to prove.  When we don’t trust in our own inherent self worth and goodness, we look outside of ourselves for validation.  It can (temporarily) elevate our self-esteem when we are “in demand” in our jobs or in the community.  I’ve heard many people comment on how good it feels to be needed by their partners or family members.

Similarly, I’ve witnessed friends and family members accept invitations that they really didn’t want to accept, because they felt guilty saying that they’d rather stay at home and do a crossword puzzle or take a relaxing bath.  Peer pressure is alive & well in the adult world, too.  I think of the judgments that some mothers place on other mothers who are not driving their children to Mandarin lessons and baking for the soccer boosters’ fundraiser.  Why do we push each other to go beyond what is reasonable?  What would it be like to instead affirm others’ choices to take good care of themselves, whatever that looks like at any particular time?

It is a process to step back from the mad rush.  It takes practice to get good at saying “no.”  One thing that helps is to remind myself that every time I say “no” to something that I don’t have time for or something that doesn’t absolutely light me up, I am saying “yes” to myself.

I’ll be blogging soon again.  Maybe the next post will be composed as I enjoy a glass of fresh-brewed iced tea while sitting in the sunroom with a cat on my lap…  I am getting better and better at taking it easy!

Beginner’s Mind

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“Beginner’s Mind” is a concept in Zen Buddhism that refers to having an open mind, a positive & enthusiastic attitude, and approaching an activity or subject free from preconceptions (as would a beginner who knows nothing about the topic.)  I find it to be a good practice to take this approach as often as possible, in all tasks.  Even if we have quite a lot of experience in a particular area, to approach a task as a beginner:  going in open to new possibilities and discoveries, not holding on to those mess-ups of the past, not expecting any particular outcome.  It can be quite refreshing…and can lead us to have fun, to learn new ways of doing things, to break out of familiar routines, to be creative, to challenge ourselves, and to fall in love again with activities we’ve done time & time again.

 

I recently decided to learn to play a new instrument.  As an undergraduate music education major, I was required to learn the basics on all of the instruments in the woodwinds, brass, percussion, and string families.  As part of my coursework, I had to be able to play 2 scales and an elementary level song on each instrument.  When I had taken the semester of strings, I particularly enjoyed the violin.  I even took a few lessons on violin over one summer as a college student.  Now, more than ten years later, I have decided that I’d like to study the violin again.  I’ve begun taking lessons with Simon Maurer, who is a spectacularly talented musician and who is an incredible teacher.  He is a founding member of the Gabriel Chamber Ensemble and is also the conductor of Sunday Sinfonia, based out of the Lancaster area.  Simon gave me the invitation to play with this group for the spring 2014 concert season.

 

Upon receiving this invitation, I was excited but nervous.  I was sounding pretty decent on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and was making progress on “Minuet in G,” but I had serious doubts about my ability to play any of the orchestra music for the second violin section…most importantly to not get in the way of the rest of the (more experienced) players in the orchestra in their process of creating a beautiful sound.  But I knew that I wanted to join in the music-making with Sunday Sinfonia.  It just sounded fun.  And I thought it would be a good challenge for me…musically and spiritually.

 

With my primary instruments being voice, piano, and organ, I have never played in a marching band or concert band.  I’ve performed as part of small ensembles, but that is a very different experience than being part of a large group led by a conductor.  I knew that playing with an orchestra would offer me a different kind of musical challenge, and I trusted that this challenge would strengthen my musicianship across the board.

 

I also welcomed the opportunity to be a beginner.  I know, for a fact, that I am the weakest player in the group.  That means that there is so much that I can learn from being around everyone else and attempting to play with them.  Last Sunday, I attended the first rehearsal for this group, and it was a learning experience, for sure.  I was out of my comfort zone.  By the time I figured out where my first few notes were and positioned the bow, the orchestra was already past that place…and then I had to try to figure out where in the score they were…and that wasn’t an easy task, as orchestra music doesn’t have words…and the first violins right next to me were playing different notes and different rhythms, and … !  Deep breaths.  And so much appreciation for this new experience.

 

Even when I failed, it was a delightful and glorious experience.  I went in knowing that I would not play a flawless anything.  And I was far from flawless;  clueless was more like it, at times.  I went in with the simple goal of fully having this experience:  being in the moment, taking it all in, and growing from it.  I succeeded in doing that!

 

In addition to the musical and spiritual benefits that this new adventure involves, I also am enjoying the process of getting to know the other members of the orchestra.  It was great to get to meet other musicians and talk during our snack & break time.  At this first rehearsal, I began talking to another violinist about my initial reaction to the rehearsal, and she found it refreshing that I admitted to being flustered and unable to play the majority of the notes in any of the songs.  That led us to talk about the common tendency among musicians (and people in general) to pretend to have it all together, and we also talked about the topic of performance anxiety.  Then I made a connection to vulnerability and fitting in versus belonging, mentioning one of my prime spiritual mentors Brene Brown.  My new friend was very interested in my thoughts on this, and she was even familiar with the work of Brene Brown.  That made me feel, even more, like I was indeed part of a community of fellow musicians and human beings, dedicated to growth.

 

Part of the practice of beginner’s mind is to release expectations.  In my case with playing the violin, that is pretty easy.  I don’t expect much of myself.  I’m so inexperienced that I don’t really know what to expect.  I’m just trying my best and having fun with the instrument.  With my primary instruments and with other activities at which I have a greater proficiency, I most certainly have expectations for myself, and sometimes those expectations stifle creativity, freeze me, and prevent me from fully enjoying the experience.  Returning to beginner’s mind, I remind myself to let go of those expectations and to simply be engaged in the task and to allow myself to be surprised by whatever directions things go in and whatever progress I make.

 

I hope to become more accomplished at playing the violin as I continue to take lessons and play as part of Sunday Sinfonia, but I intend to keep my beginner’s mind toward my playing of the violin as well as other activities, approaching each task with that openness and that willingness to start fresh, to explore, and to learn & grow.

~ Copyright © 2014 by Susan M. Featro, Voice Lifted.  All rights reserved.