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I am quick to write off creative pursuits at the end of a long day of teaching.
Despite thinking of myself as a person who is completely happy and comfortable with being creative, being free and playful in the creative realm when I am truly exhausted seems overwhelming. It seems too draining and frivolous when all I want to do is rest and switch off.
Yet now I realise, while I am on holidays and engaging with all things creative, how utterly essential being creative and playful is, especially at the end of long and challenging day.
Just as the opposite of play is not seriousness but depression; the opposite of not being creative is not being still and restful, it is numbing.
Yes, that’s right. Numbing.
At the end of a stressful day, or an argument, or a lesson gone pear-shaped, or on the brink of a challenging conversation, we need to be more playful, more daring and more creative. I couldn’t believe it, but I see it with clarity now. Every time I sit down in front of Netflix, or YouTube, or mindlessly scroll through Facebook, I am not “unwinding” like I think I am; I am numbing. I am zoning-out because I have decided that I am too tired to engage with whatever experiences I have had in the day.
But really, I am avoiding.
How? And what if I am truly tired?
Physical tiredness is inconsequential; you can get to bed earlier, exercise and eat well, and make sure that your body is at its optimum to heal and regain its energy stores.
But emotional tiredness? That requires creativity. It requires a vehicle for expression, and a pathway out into the world where it can be seen and demystified.
It requires voice and play in the quiet and safety of your own mind, away from the noise of the classroom. Away from the demands of leadership, of the assault of angular personalities, grief, sadness, and unresolved issues. It is the voice that soothes the abrasive, stark moments of the day.
The balm that is creativity allows you to do the following:
Being creative is your chance to play in the playground of your own self, heart, and mind. What a crucial part of getting to know yourself! Combine with stillness and silence, and you can truly hear your thoughts, that you may become emotionally strong and perceptive.
So as I sit my exhausted self at the piano and lift my hands to the keys, I remember that with each piece or exercise comes new sounds, healing, ideas, chords, tones, and colours.
As I put pen to page in my journal and write for the five minutes before falling asleep, I see the unspoken words coming forth from me, uncensored, raw and real, authentic, alive, and truthful, that I might make meaning out of my thoughts. That I might see all the places where I have been dutiful, or withheld my true self, or could have done things differently. That I might also catch the wild and amazing ideas that are just below the surface, eager to play.
As I sing, I hear and feel the openness of my voice and how this might feel in rehearsal. I find the satisfaction in producing a beautiful sound, and the wholeness of my body as it aligns in song. I think of how I will share this with my choristers to capture that physical, musical and emotional reward.
As I compose, I practise a skill that is words and music combined. I give energy to silent words on the page and bring them into being, all the while aware that they are guiding my thoughts, and giving courage to my new ideas by existing.
The more tired and exhausted I am, the more I need to be creative.
It stands to reason I’ve left this one to the end.
Even while I was brainstorming my five points of reflection for 2019; this one was the hardest of all to acknowledge, to commit to, and to want to invest in.
Forgiveness, in all its forms, has been something which has both fascinated and frustrated me for a while, eluding and embracing me with equal unpredictability. I’ve been drawn to books which take it apart, or have it as its central theme. I’ve listened to TED talks and read reflections of courageous people who have survived far more in a week than I have my whole life, and been silenced and humbled by their words. And the reason why is this: I want to learn what it means to forgive as an act of love, when the issue at stake is bigger than the usual ups and downs of life. I want to learn how to forgive, others and myself, when there needs to be a process to the forgiveness.
In my natural, un-worked-on state, I am a perfectionistic score keeper. If there is an issue, my instinct is to apologise for the 27.5% of my part in the proceedings (because I’m alway more right), and readily expect 72.5% pure, unfiltered apology from whoever has wronged me. And I would remember it if didn’t happen, or happen to my satisfaction. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t keep loving or working with the person who had caused me hurt, I just could never fully forget the hurt in a way which allowed me freedom and full access to myself, and my interactions with them when it really counted. When I read that forgiveness is an act for yourself, not for the other person, it was revolutionary. So then, I spent some time grappling with that concept, not wanting and eye for an eye, but to forgive and acknowledge for my own well-being and sense of hope.
Now, in my work-in-progress state, I am a recovering perfectionist and advocate of the compassion which is required to live life well. And it comes back to one thing: We are not perfect. We get up each day, we do our best. Some of us do better than others. But we all require compassion and forgiveness at some point in our lives, and I’d rather be an active participant in the process than have to ask someone to forgive me with no return if I am able.
The inability to forgive easily is simple to explain; we are tender-hearted and we don’t want to get hurt. Holding that inability to forgive in place means that we’re in a deadlock, and even if that means hurting yourself a little, it means that you’re relatively safe from any further hurt from the person who caused it.
But it also holds all of you – your joy, your ability to love and move forward, your vulnerability and tenderness – in an absolute deadlock as well. You might argue that you can function perfectly fine without forgiving certain people and events in your life. But those pockets of darkness that remain unexamined continue to hum and buzz in the background, taking away from your love and joy. And loving yourself means truly examining things, even if there is no answer.
Forgiving doesn’t EVER mean letting the other person off the hook, it means that you’re no longer allowing them to take a part of your joyfulness and will to live life without your permission. What’s to say that you, put under a unique set of circumstances and pushed to breaking point, wouldn’t cause a situation where you required love and forgiveness?
As we walk through life together stretched and pulled in different directions by opposing ideas and different people, we walk with a common humanity. It would be ridiculous to expect us all to like each other. But we can certainly start by looking for understanding and the middle ground, holding fast to our compassion for each other, humanising each other, and getting better at sitting in the uncomfortable place which allows us to recognise that very rarely is anyone 100% right or wrong.
So, in holding forgiveness in my heart, I remember the following:
Forgiveness is for me. When I need to look hard at something, let my first thought be for my own well-being and those that I love. Put pride back on the shelf, take ego off the table, and just look at the humanity of the situation. Then look at what I need to do to match my values; is it speak my truth? Walk away? Call a mediation? Offer an apology? Forgiveness will often be open-ended and messy, and I need to be sure of two things; that I have done the best I can according to my values, and that my well-being comes first. These two things push and pull in opposite directions, but that is what I ask of myself.
Anger is okay. Knowing when to express anger in the appropriate manner, to the right person, at the right time, is a unique challenge. But for those of us hell-bent on being perfect score-keepers, it’s so much easier to talk about all the things a person has done wrongly behind their back, than hold them accountable. And sometimes, anger is the right form of communication. Anger can show the strength of a boundary, the depth of a connection + love, or the value of something. Anger, without being derogatory, cheap, or hurtful, is a powerful and important form of communication.
Forgiveness is not an exact science. Forgiveness requires the most creative thought process and tracking than any other brand of problem-solving I’ve encountered. Because you cannot predict how people will respond, you can only deal with your side of things. If you go in with an apology, don’t go in expecting one back. You offer an apology because it’s what you hold yourself accountable to do, and it’s what you think is the right action for you. Forgiveness can be quiet or haphazard, unspoken or spoken, serious or playful; don’t be fooled by its presentation. Forgiveness may also never come, and you may need to figure out a way to find closure, and to make your own peace. If you really want to seek forgiveness, you must be prepared for any outcome, not just the one you want.
Forgive myself. Something I have learned in this past year is to recognise when I need to forgive myself. Often, these times will masquerade as extreme tiredness, or my being unpredictable, distracted, being totally over-the-top, going into myself, not being able to make a decision, and most tellingly, not being able to be fully engrossed in whatever is in front of me. When I get down to the heart of it, it is often a time when I need to tell myself that I forgive myself. I forgive myself that I couldn’t respond to a student in the perfect manner today; I will try and reconnect tomorrow. I forgive myself that I have no energy for my family, I will try and rest so that I am better value over the weekend. I forgive myself the frustration I feel with a colleague because I am on track and they are out of kilter, and it has knocked me off my strong, steady path. I forgive myself that I did not speak up when I had the opportunity, let me make a time to have that conversation, and let me prepare for it. I am not perfect. But I can always try again.
Forgiveness is a skill. Forgiveness is a skill that I would like to continue practising. The more I look gently and tenderly at things which upset, frustrate, or anger me, the more I exercise the muscle which connects me to love and forgiveness. Forgiveness, for all its intangibles, requires the ability to think about a situation from every angle, applying compassion where it would be easier to dismiss. One thing I’d like to do differently to strengthen this conversation with myself is to reach out to friends and family to help me tease out the different viewpoints. What I cannot see, they might be able to lovingly and safely bring to my attention so that I’m not attempting to do the impossible on my own.
Forgiveness takes time. You can’t just figure out forgiveness like you can a maths problem, as satisfying as that would be. Forgiveness is like picking up the threads of the impossible fabric from where you left off, and continuing to weave understanding. As you travel through life and get older, wiser, and collect new experiences, this helps in building your repertoire of skills and understandings to forgive. Allow time. Press pause. Go run around and be human. Then come back to the hard work.
Quiet, considered words are powerful. Forgiveness is rarely overt or loud, and requires some degree of stretching to reach a new understanding. If you cannot forgive at an exact moment in time, that is okay. Aim for being authentic and accurate. Quiet, considered words spoken with truth and accuracy are far more powerful than throwing down a careless and flippant apology or acceptance of something when you really don’t feel it. Because the mind and heart keep score, and it’s your job to know yourself well enough that you can understand what is true and accurate for you.
Forgiveness is love. Forgiveness is love in its purest form. It cannot be measured or extracted, it is given. So, let me remember to consider this first for myself, then those most important to me, then everyone I have contact with in my life. Let me strive to be accurate, authentic, compassionate and honest, straddling the line between compassion and integrity. Let me make decisions on how I will act based on my own morals. And let me understand when to hold fast, and when to let go. Let me do so in the highest integrity, compassion and love.
I am reflecting upon 2018 and drawing out the themes I would like to follow in 2019. The amazing thing is this; while I set out to do some investigative work on what threads I would like to develop, the themes themselves chose me. I never gave that statement much weight and thought it so clichéd when people referred to their main body of work, or significant moment of enlightenment, as something which “sought them out.” But here I am, being sought about by 5 main themes for 2019, themes which I grappled with or eluded me, fascinated me or challenged me, and I gravitated to these instinctively. How do I know this? I made a starting-point list a few weeks ago, put it away, made another today, and found the original one. They were freakishly word for word, right down to some of the starter dot-points.
There are 5 themes, and today, I am going to explore CONNECTION.
I would like myself to know that I can be tired AND connected. That tiredness is no excuse not to connect deeply, to reach out, to soften, to communicate. As in introvert and as a performing arts teacher, where music teaching is like a high-contact Olympic sport played on a daily basis, my tiredness + need to be away from all the noise can be overwhelming. But I’d like to ask myself to articulate. Put things into words, particularly the tiredness and stress that I am feeling. I can be tired AND connected.
Keep in conversation, don’t avoid. I didn’t realise it, but there are days where I am so on a mission, or so peopled-out, that I do not invite conversation. I can keep a conversation short by setting my boundaries compassionately and warmly, but clearly. I don’t have to avoid. I am being small and petty by avoiding others. When we teach, we’re in a world which brings us in contact with such an extraordinary variety of personalities and people. Learn to take the responsibility for drawing clear boundaries, and don’t take the easy route of looking down and walking fast. Engage, because we are all walking in the same direction.
Look up. Look people in the eye when you have a conversation, that is such a powerful way to say, “I care, and you matter.” Again, I didn’t realise this, but the worthiness and connection which flows from one person to another begins with a conversation that is unhurried, even if it’s brief, and with proper eye contact. When I am in a hurry, I rush things and I don’t look up. In that sense, I’m not really seeing the other person. Even more sadly, I am not allowing myself to be truly seen. Get better with my words, go gently, but firmly. But look up.
I am not perfect, and I need to remember that. I am not perfect, God knows I’m not. But how many times do I haul myself over the coals for decisions I’ve made wishing that I was. I am not perfect, and I need to know this and own it. And from this, I need to allow myself to be clumsy, goofy, awkward, but ultimately, marvellously human + connected. In the times and situations where I find it the MOST challenging to tap into that side of myself, the more I need it. Remember that.
Invite people in for them. Just because you’d like to hear how they are going. By all means, invite people in and build networks because of their skills and ideas. But also just because. No one is too busy to do that. Not all the time, but at least a little, as a regular practice each day.
Keep in conversation with myself. I get so good at getting on the work treadmill, that I forget I am supposed to be a living, breathing human with feelings and vulnerabilities, not a machine. I have a tendency to be a machine, and then I am a procrastinating goddess of laziness masked in busy-work. I would like to get better at articulating exactly what is bothering me, or which direction I need to go.
Habit. When I work, or complete a task, it is not through just fear, or because my job demands it. Unless there are absolutely no redeeming factors and it’s a case of “get her done!”, then I’d like to put value on what I do. This makes things a whole lot scarier, but that what creates real connection with myself, my work, and the people I am working with. I do this automatically with my students and my teaching, but it surprises me how long it takes me to connect with things like choral commissions + personal ventures. Partly because I am afraid that I don’t have what it takes and the ideas won’t come, but mostly because I haven’t figured out how to connect with the work, or the course of action. For example, once I look deeply at the commission, the choir or the students I am writing for, and once I get used to polishing and creating in that little pocket of imaginings + creativity, there is value…and true connection.
Finally, I need to reach in and connect with myself. I remember times when I have been playful and silly, serious and affecting, electric and commanding, joyful and authentic, and I realise that life is a whole heap more meaningful if I am connected to myself. Challenge + adversity present more clearly if I have a pathway back into my heart, and there is no avoiding looking deeply at myself no matter what I am up against.
Reach in, take my heart by the hand, and walk side by side with it. It’s the very least and most important thing I can do myself, to love myself as I would a dear friend.
Exhausted + buoyant all at once. Thank you so much to the exceptionally excellent Pulteney staff I work with, whose words + laughter lifted me up and filled me to the brim today. I am so inspired by the joy, compassion + love you share with each other and myself. I am 4 (or more accurately, 3.88-ish! 😂) years old at Pulteney, and I love the feeling of realising I have become a little over-loved, dog-eared, and worn-in, in the best way possible.
Thank you. 😊
Flying joyfully free into holidays + feeling light, but anchored. 🌟
Darling Girl, who aches with hope, here is what I say to you:
Fill the room with all of you. Not pretentiously, but with fullness, authenticity, and the very resonance of you. Stand still and sacred, without aggression, but without apology. Just simply being.
Speak with every ounce of who you are. All of your words in your own simple breath, not just the ones that are curated, consciously or unconsciously.
Be haphazardly joyful, silly, and playful, because your soul needs to breathe.
Fill every space of every moment.
Live, without excess, but fully.
Don’t make space for something that is not there; your heart and soul will stretch when it becomes part of your life, when you need it, or indeed, when there is loss. You will stretch for both joy and pain. You will be okay.
Travel. My God, travel if you can and fill your mind and heart with new understandings which stretch you and embed you with life’s breath and fresh wisdom.
Travel, that you may experience a new angle of gratitude.
Travel, because this learning is embedded in the human spirit. The rushing need to be free, to live, to feel, to embrace.
With every ounce of your heart, your flesh, your body. Do not hold back because you don’t feel you have earned the right, you beautiful, beautiful dear girl. Life will keep moving and you need to be a part of that. You can laugh and cry, shriek and run, without any fear that you will need to be a little more refined and quiet because you haven’t earned the right. You have.
Being human IS your birthright. Not selfish. Human.
Don’t let that gloriously beating heart harden.
Work hard to undo, unfurl, simplify, let go, de-clutter, and set free.
The emotional knots may be many and tightly done-up, but have faith and patience. With time and love, care and unfailing gentleness, deep compassion and courage, you will undo them all.
And your beautiful heart will keep beating freely.
Cry your tears. Feel you grief. Feed your soul. Walk, and keep walking, each step, knowing every crevice of your heart with authenticity and ownership. The shadows of your grief will never leave you. But nor will the absolute, unquenchable desire to live.
Make new meaning every day.
Change as a part of life is like pennies to the dollar, and possible every minute you breathe.
There is no other way.
There is only love.
And my Darling Girl, I love you more than you know.
Thank you for these holidays. 😊
While I always work through these ones, they have been absolutely FILLED with playfulness, connection, energy, reflection, love and joy. They’ve been silly, raucous and poignant, with unexpected moments to reconnect, speak, cook, create, explore, and replenish the stores that make me WANT to walk into school each day and do what I do.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am so glad + grateful, with a new appreciation for the tiny, silly, special moments. 🌟
Everything becomes more present and interesting, rather than just a conveyor belt of “nexts”.
It’s in these very ordinary daily moments of pure joy or stillness that I get glimpses of the untapped courage, clarity and drive I didn’t realise I possessed. I have been loved into realness + life again, which makes me more daring to make that first connection, stand in the wilderness, and speak my truth in whatever way I need. 🦋
To those of you who have been in struggle, I hope that you will be picked up and carried by friends and colleagues as you lay down whatever has been challenging. I’m thinking of you. 😘
It’s funny how life reminds you, in no uncertain terms, how very human you are.
There are so many days I can happily work in solitude, “introverting” to my heart’s content, creating ideas, composing, writing, reading.
And then there are other days where I am crawling out of my skin with anxious, dissatisfied angst, and multi-tasking seems like the simple option, because that’s how many tabs are open in my mind. And I desperately need human connection.
I actually don’t remember a day where I’ve absolutely slept the day away, EVER. Except today. Today felt like the longest day ever. I went in for my annual check-up today and fainted after my blood test and felt so absolutely stupid and alone. What it made me think about in no uncertain terms was the love and support around me that I don’t lean on enough. I have so much support and love around me and do I use it? NO. Nowhere NEAR what I realise I could be, after a day like today.
I can’t be EVERYTHING. Even after a day like today, where I am decimated by my own body, I come home in the afternoon and start making lists of all the things I need to do, the groceries I need to buy, the emergency meals I need to make, and the planning I need to do.
And yet, when I got over the fact that I certainly wouldn’t be doing any of that, one of the most soul-nourishing things I did today was sleep, on and off, for the remaining 6 hours of the day. My body renewed its strength, and I felt better and stronger.
I do not think I am Super Girl, and nor am I vain enough to think I can do it all on my own. But really, honestly, except for moments like today, I don’t really believe it or practice the humility of that understanding.
But I am vulnerable, and it’s moments like today which are needed to absolutely drive the point home. I am made simple, small and humbled by my body and the end point of my capacity. Apparently, I do need help, and when I least expect it. I need to remember to be tender and reach out, DESPITE all the imperfect answers and responses of the world and the people around me, including the ones I love so dearly who disappoint me, as I must them. To connect, despite the let downs and imperfections.
I need to get COMFORTABLE with DISCOMFORT.
Today also reminded me of how strong the human mind is. It reminded me to ask, “so what CAN I do?”
Rather than what’s NOT possible, what can I do right now, with the energy that I have? What can I create or produce? Where is my limit? What can I write in half and hour? How can I connect?
This is not the “create-the-list-of-an-impossible-day” martyrdom, this is “realistic courage”.
And I am reminded, as a person, teacher, musician, and creative, that life NEVER EVER gives you vast stretches of time in which to complete or create ANYTHING. Become a parent? You’re parenting in the gaps and pining for the longer stretches and glad when you get them. Composing? Sure, you might get the coveted Sunday afternoon, but sure as hell Inspiration will be playing hooky and giving you the shits. You have to catch the tiny pockets of time with a little bit of determination. You have to fight a little harder and decide you’d like to focus and grab that little gift of time and ask:
What can I do in this moment?
I feel like I’ve travelled the world twice over in terms of my moral compass lately. It always happens at the end of a long year, the moment I get off the treadmill and the spinning stops, and my heart recalibrates and I find equilibrium, it happens. That stomach-flipping wondering the borders on aimless wandering, except that I’m stupidly busy with family + Christmas + holidays. I always think I’m MORE fine than I am, so utterly happy to be on holidays, and then it HITS. It’s like going off sugar + caffeine, those first few days SUCK. I’m antsy and unsettled. Even though I have plenty keeping me busy, there is nothing keeping me from ME, and for the first time in 10 weeks, or even a full year, I really have to face myself.
Mostly, I like myself very much. I work hard to live joyfully, authentically, work hard, and to be grateful and humble in my footsteps. Colourful, but humble. But for some reason when I’m not intensively planning, conducting, and teaching, and I have to sit still with the reflections of the year, the first few days are always intensely challenging. I feel like I’m in a total tailspin as to how I anchor myself, how I spend my time, what is important, what I need. Then day by day, I rediscover what is required.
All the things connecting with good physical health I have no problems with; good diet, sleep and rest are all easy for me, and I am lucky in this capacity. But I find myself emotionally a little stiff and sore, a little awkward and strange, even though outwardly I am so joyfully happy and there are celebrations all around me.
The most ridiculous things get under my skin; things that NEVER bother me all of a sudden do. What did that comment mean? That’s a ridiculous post. And the most ridiculous of all; why didn’t that get more likes?! This NEVER, EVER bothers me and I am so utterly and completely happy to stay in my own lane for the other 51-and-a-half weeks of the year that to even feel like this seems so ridiculously petty to me. And yet I dive, and I find myself stuck, and in the process of having to unstick myself.
And I find, unequivocally, that “fast-emotion”, like fast-food, doesn’t cut it anymore. I need to the slow rise of hard-won love and grace to feed me deeply. I need to lean into every single one of those emotional cuts and sores that have long since scabbed-over, but I haven’t really taken the time to examine. I need to lean into wonderfully healing conversation. And I need to to COURAGE [verb]. I need to practise “couraging” every single day, in ways that I haven’t needed to when the work-hum is buzzing loud in my ears.
The thing is, it’s easy to feel validated when you’re working hard. It’s easy to hide behind work when you are seemingly working hard. It’s much harder to hide when there is no work to hide behind.
So you sit, with all the scars and disappointments, and you look at them. You sit and hate them for a bit, and engage in time-wasting and soul-sucking staring matches. “Why isn’t anyone calling?” to, “Why do I have to be the first one to organise everything”, to the classic, “That was awesome, where’s the acknowledgement and thank you?!”
You remember, so abruptly and haltingly, that you are indeed NOT perfect, and that elevated sense of self you had while you were in The Hum of Work needs to be shelved for the time being. You learn that slothing it for the whole day makes you equally as unhappy as counting all your faults.
The compass regains, the equilibrium slowly rises. And you find little whispers a creativity in mind, heart, and self slowly creep forward, and the need for approval melts away, the jabs against pride and ego become mellowed, and you face things that you had no idea how to face a few weeks back. You ask the hard questions in the safety of love and time. You may not have all the answers, that’s okay. But you dared to ask anyhow. Your ability to sit with pain and discomfort, like an unwanted guest, rises.
The lane that you were walking on seem so much more like home. Your home. You’re at ease with yourself and the smell of your own weirdness. Without being glib, you are sure and real again, and that old light from inside you starts resonating.
Suddenly you are more YOU than what the world thinks of you, and grace, in all its wondrous ways, has worked its healing magic.
Thank you for the struggle of living, and the exquisite joy of life and grace.
At a time of year where we are both joyful and tired in spirit and soul, let us love gently, passionately, and love well.
There is only love. Even when there is divide, there is love in the way we communicate and relate to each other.
Are you happy with how this year has gone? I both love and am turned upside-down emotionally by this time of year as it’s a time of deep reflection. Have I done all I can, been the best I can be, loved where I am able?
And as I journal, and the words thread themselves into heartfelt sentences on the page, I remember that I am utterly human, that I will fail, but that there is always a second change.
Take those chances, love, reach out, be courageous…life is only tiny little steps of daring, captured in fleeting moments of joy.
Oh, LEAN into those. With every ounce of courage and vulnerability that you can.