…“You need to learn to play without watching your hands,” he told me. “You need to trust the music that’s in you. When you watch your hands, you’re not making muisc. You’re only making sounds. Music needs to be free to be music.”
I became a better guitar player after that. Learning to play without watching my hands lent my music a grace it never had before. I’m no professional, but I can carry a tune and the music happens naturally.
Life’s like that, really. When you bend into it deliberately, controlling every move you make, it’s hard to find the flow. You can learn the right moves, follow the progression accurately, but there’s no spontaneous joy in it, no glee.
There’s a song in all of us. On nights when the stars cajole you, it strains against your ribs and throat. The trick is to trust it. Close your eyes, feel it there and let it out.
Universe. One song. Your music joined with the music of everything”Richard Wagamese, “One Native Life”
I have always struggled with control. Having it, maintaining it, fearfully defending my grip on it with all that I have. As Richard says above, I definitely was “bending into my life deliberately”.
You know, at first glance, this seems like such a great way to live your life. Get out there with purpose, drive, determination; just put your head down and dive at it like a lineman with the ball at the 1 yard line on 4th and goal. Git-er-done, push through. Persevere. Get all that stadium-guru mojo workin’ and plow your way to the top of…whatever.
Trusting, was for suckers. It felt like giving up and not directing your life. So onward I went, bending into and pushing forward and trying to tick off all the steps to whatever goals I had formulated. Work goals, life goals, parenting goals, relationship goals. I thought I was hitting all the notes, and kickin’ ass and takin’ names, like a boss. Because there was no way that I was gonna let anyone else drive my bus. If it was to be, it was up to me; yadda, yadda, yadda.
But then, shit slowly began going south on this plan. I was, I thought, hitting all the milestones and steps. But even with all that, life was not full of joy. The music of it had left the building and I didn’t notice. Relationships and other people turned out to have their own agendas, which often derailed mine. Eventually, hitting all the markers didn’t hold that feeling of accomplishing anything, and oddly enough, were not leading me to my goals. The marriage crumbled while I was so intent on all the fret-fingerings of that relationship that I couldn’t take a step back and hear that the music was off key. The parenting notes were not making sweet harmonies, but discordant tense sounds that were anything but musical. The career markers were simply notches in a belt, and not steps lifting me towards a goal. Basically, the orchestra of my life was totally out of tune, no one was leading the ensemble and nothing felt worth the work anymore. The music had stopped, and I was the one left without a chair to sit in.
In talking it all out, so many people said to me that I just needed to “let go” of all those little markers. Of so many things. But that all felt too hard (and scary) for me. After all, I had things to accomplish! I was hitting 60, and could suddeny see that the future did indeed have an end, and I was getting ever closer to the last twists and turns of that ride by the day. How could I possibly just “let it all go” at this critical stage of life? How could I not be planning out the full route of every milestone of the next phase, to ensure that I was getting where I needed to be??
So I kept going the way I always had, even though exhaustion was slowly getting the better of me, along with anxiety and the looming fear of failure every time I missed what I considered to be “my mark”.. if my life was a guitar, I had glued my eyes to the frets and never stopped to hear what my fingers produced. And eventually, like always happens when I insist on staying my course even when it isn’t serving me anymore, I broke, the silence deafening as I realized I could not keep up trying to go at everything like a science project. I stopped dating. I gave up on having professional goals and just kept doing the same things day after day without any passion for it. I gave up snowboard racing because it just felt futile. I stopped working on my fitness and health, because it all just felt too impossible to manage. I could busy myself with all the little steps to success, and fail anyway.
I had reached the metaphorical wall of control-freakdom. And all I had left in that place was the little voices of wisdom that kept coming my way; to let go, to trust in life falling into the places it was meant to and to not try and control every minute piece of everything in my life.
Now what? I had no idea what to do with that knowledge; it was all so foreign to the way I had always done things.
Reluctantly, I started to re-examine those thoughts being lobbed at me. Because if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got, right?? What if I just tried to let some shit turn out as it will? What if I sat still and just listened for a little, to try and catch the tune again? What if I stopped distracting myself with minutiae for just five minutes and listened for the music instead?
You have no idea how absolutely terrifying this concept was to me (well, OK, my fellow control freaks, maybe YOU do). I was sure that I was going to fall flat on my face, and that my life would slowly descend into a cardboard box under a 401 overpass and squeegeeing windshields for coffee money. The whole idea of not controlling every little detail was so anathema to how I had learned to survive. In accounting, as they say, “God is in the details”. It is the drilling down to the smallest detail that leads to an answer. How could I ever manage to shut my eyes to see my way forward??
But, when faced with that versus continuing down a path that led to the same repeated negative results, I realized I had to try. About this same time, I had begun singing again. Not really with any intent, but because I sort of fell into it. A very slow moving process, initally just me, my friend playing guitar and no one else around. But then, he kept encouraging me to share it publicly. I was terrified. But I noticed, if I closed my eyes when I rehearsed, it shut out all the distractions.. people looking at me (OH GAWD NO!), watching the guitar player move his hands, squirrels (just kidding, we were inside). But what happened was that I HEARD the music fully for the first time. I didn’t have to count myself in anymore, I could FEEL when to open my mouth. I stopped worrying about remembering verbatim words, and started to feel the song as a story, and never forgot those verses again. When you close your eyes and sing, you see the song, not the room. THAT is music. Eventually, I came round to being able to sing with my eyes open, but still I focused on a distant horizon and not the audience. Yes, I do interact with them, but in between songs, not during. In the middle of a song, I am in the song, not the room, and that always yields the best performance.
So, what then, about these other things? The bigger ones. Well, that too benefitted from letting go of the details. Not ticking off items on a dating checklist anymore led to opening my heart to a better and drastically “off pattern” relationship that FELT right. That was so different to all the previous ones that had “ticked off the boxes” but somehow never met the intangible of compatibility. It led to so much ridiculous happiness, because I let it unfold to me, instread of trying to force it to go in any particular direction. Insteads of looking good on paper, it felt right in my soul. I dropped the expectation of “how it was supposed to go”, and let it go where it would; willing to follow along or let it go, as it felt. And so far, it’s worked like magic.
Work has become more about what I can do in a moment to make any situation better, not what my goal list says I should be doing… and it has led to the return of my passion for what I do, because it feels in harmony with my inner voice. It feels more in harmony with the people who are also engaged in the same tasks. No more panic when things don’t turn out as I wanted them to, but a mind open to what can be. Yes, I am still detail-oriented, I need to be in order to do many parts of my job well, but I am also trying to tune into the bigger picture at the same time.
Sports and fitness have returned to my days, because I want to FEEL strong and healthy, not because I need to hit a marker on a scale or a particular set of accomplishments to feel it was worthwhile. Doing sports for the sheer joy of doing them, not to feel I need to be the best at some particular skill or another, or it’s futile.
I have begun slowly to let the magic in, and trust that my fingers will know how to make the right shapes to play the right chords for the song of my life. I have tossed the lists of steps to success, in favour of how does the world feel today, and what is the harmony I need to sing to that? I have begun to, just that tiny bit, to TRUST that I am where I am meant to be, and that the events of any day/week/month/year/season will all add depth and dimension to the aria that my life is writing. And I am beginning to hear the glorious symphony of music that it makes, and not just the sounds.
I’m a 64 year old aging hippie with a sarcastic tongue and out of control ginger hair. I am passionate in advocating for women “of a certain age”, especially we single ones, because we aren’t quite dead yet, in spite of the fact that we are often largely invisible and made to feel redundant on many levels. I hope to make you think, make you laugh, and mostly, feel like no matter where you are in life, you are never alone, and whatever dumb thing you think is going to sink you, won’t. Because heaven knows if that were true, I wouldn’t be here.