My morning hikes are filled with music. My iPod sings my favorite songs to me the entire loop of Jim Green Trail. Everything from James Taylor to Janelle Monae. I tend to be moody about what music I’m into on any given day, so I often fastforward through songs I don’t believe are speaking to me or have the right energy for that day’s walk. I hear the opening few notes, nix it and tap the arrow to move ahead to something more acceptable. It’s mine to control, so why should I have to suffer tunes that aren’t floating my boat?
Early in this morning’s hike I caught myself clicking through a string of Beatles songs. As each began I hurried them along to something else, impatient to find that diddy that sang to my heart and my soul perfectly in that very moment. I noticed because they are all songs I adore and my resistance seemed unusual. Still, I kept clicking. Four or five songs in, the perfect one still foiling me, I stopped. I let that song sing, and the next, and then I surrendered to the iPod. I decided that whatever came up for the rest of the walk I would let it play in its entirety and, in its own time, move on.
Just for fun, click here for a little Lionel Richie inspiration. Don’t forget to let the music play on, play on, play on…
Song after song played as a perfect reaction to the thoughts and memories floating through my morning self, and I laughed at the perfection of it all. As I recalled wake-up time with my son, Sting sang Something The Boy Said. As I emerged from a more wooded area to an opening near the golf course, The Beatles announced it with Here Comes the Sun. I looked at the dusty, drought-weary trail and sent out a wish for rain just as Jarle Bernhoft began Ever Since I Was a Little Kid, and suddenly I was transported to the loop trail of Seattle’s Discovery Park where I used to hike all winter through the mud and a steady drizzle and listened to that then-recent purchase.
I let the water refresh me as I watched two squirrels race up one mossy California Oak, jump across to the next and titter down its twisted trunk, taunting each other for their own squirrel-ish reasons. I took my headphones off and the rising breeze through the tree grove serenaded me as I rounded the final bend of the trail. The orchestrated bleats from the goat farm across the pasture accompanied the last few steps to my car.
I sat quietly, the iPod already on the passenger seat, as I contemplated my day. This friendly but firm reminder was so simple, and if I hadn’t let it play out, I would have missed it entirely. I drove toward home and whatever the day held, knowing I wouldn’t fastforward through those tasks I thought weren’t important or people I didn’t care to interact with. Each one arrives as a perfectly timed opportunity, an experience, a healing, a lesson that is lost if I don’t accept it with gratitude and allow it to play out naturally. If I give up control and relax into the gifts offered, the music all around me rises in a grand crescendo of energy and love that can carry me anywhere. My day, my life, is exactly how it’s supposed to be. It is beautiful music.
I woke this morning thinking about this blog. What to write. What’s on my mind. In my heart. What’s important. I found myself thinking about lack—of motivation, of a driving notion aching to be expressed. The absence of a great idea.
Perhaps I just need the quiet for the inspiration to come, I thought. Yes, that’s it. Sit. Comfortable chair. Quiet room. Deep breath. Open wide. Let it run. Birds outside the window. Breakfast in the kitchen. Lavendar oil on my t-shirt. Deep breath. Moment. Quiet. Peace. Blessed peace. Blessed lack.
In this notion sat the space to be and time enough to see. The welcome memory that lack doesn’t exist. There are always infinite possibilities and just as many answers. Even in the feeling there is a hole to fill or fissure to fix, there is supreme humanity ripe for compassion. In conscious absence there is wisdom. In the quiet is the sacred music of bliss.
The below blog originally was posted in February 2013, partially as a reaction to a hot topic of conversation at the time — a song Seth MacFarlane sang while hosting the Oscars that year. In recent days, another controversial story is again on many lips. Ray Rice, the NFL and Janay Rice all have reminded us of the continuing resistance to the feminine and the resulting oppression of women on an individual and institutional level. So did the recent reports of sexist remarks made toward congresswomen and female congressional staffers.
On some level, it warms my heart to see all the indignation and anger from women and men alike as these stories continue to unfold and these behaviors and ingrained beliefs are revealed even more fully. Last night I watched Jon Stewart and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand talk on The Daily Show with such passion about the NFL scandal, the struggle many women still experience in the workplace, rape culture, and the antiquated attitudes still demonstrated by some in Congress and the military. I empathized with their anger and their desire to do something to “fix it.” But anger isn’t how it gets done. The answer isn’t in any new policies or organizations created from their desire for justice and a forced attitude shift. It’s not in viewing women as victims or in feeling like one yourself.
The answer is in embracing and embodying the feminine energy our society needs so desperately to balance the playing field. That can’t be forced or even compelled; that’s the masculine way of doing it. It needs to be demonstrated, lived and loved. That is where strength can be found. Show folks how to be comfortably feminine and supportive of feminine energy in their daily life. Talk with everyone about it, even those who can’t see it yet, with compassion. Embrace your own open, vulnerable heart and don’t be afraid to bare it for your own good or for the greater good. Love freely. Listen without judgment or a desire to fix things. It will continue to catch on, and the changes we’ll see for the better will come from a true embracing of women and shift toward feminine energy.
In the meantime, enjoy the below…
From Laugh at the Sky, Kid in February 2013:
It’s taken me most of my life to understand. I’m a woman. That’s a remarkable, beautiful thing. My femininity and the strong and divine life force that comes from embracing it are important and inescapable parts of me.
We could get into why it took me until recently to appreciate this, but that would require “a very special” series of blogs and a trip to the store for tissues and it isn’t really important to what I have to say. What’s more noteworthy today is that my struggle to embrace both my feminine and masculine sides, a struggle that may sound familiar to you, is merely a microcosm of what’s going on in the world.
Our collective feminine energy – receptive, open, creative, supportive, unconditionally loving – has been challenged for millennia. You can track patriarchal domination, and consequential oppression of women, from as far back as 4,000 BC all the way up to Seth MacFarlane’s boob song at this year’s Oscars. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed Mr. MacFarlane’s edgy humor many times over the years, as I did that night. When I tune into Family Guy I expect misogynistic jokes — often ripe with satire and provocative social commentary — just as I expected to see them on Sunday. That’s what the Academy bought, right? But I couldn’t deny my disappointment as it illustrated yet again our world’s decidedly masculine bent.
As many writers and historians and ordinary folks like you and me have observed: Look where this has gotten us. As liberal as most first-world cultures are compared to many places in the world, we are still a society more interested in power and ego than the greater good. In economic strength more than feeding the hungry or caring for the planet. In controlling more than teaching and supporting. In doing-doing-doing more than just being and receiving what’s already there. In getting an easy laugh at a bright, talented woman’s expense simply because she has breasts and was brave enough to reveal them to tell an important story…more than saying something funny that also tickles the brains of that 40 million-person audience.
As wise teachers and indigenous cultures have told us for as long as we’ve been able to hear them, we need something different. We need a world filled with people who see creative, nurturing energy as strength. Individually and collectively, we need to offer support and love to everyone in pain, especially ourselves, so we can heal, find our purpose and contribute. We need to love the dark and the light, the yin and the yang, knowing they are both sacred and necessary to creation. We need to celebrate everyone just as they are. We need to embrace our feminine energy.
This is the new paradigm and that scares the bejeesus out of a lot of men and women alike. Hence the continuous attempts to repress it occurring every day in every corner of our world – and these are only the stories being told.
This is not new or news to most of us and many are very, very angry. You can read about it all day long online or in a stack full of books. You likely can feel it in many of the women – and men – in and out of your life. The anger is justified.
Confession: I am no longer angry…well, mostly. As I fully embrace my feminine energy, it dissipates. I can see what’s going on. It disappoints me. I am moved to speak out and shift my own energy in an effort to help. But over time it makes me less and less angry.
That’s the nature, the immense strength, of the feminine. It allows. It embraces. It supports. It holds the energy we all need to grow and thrive. It loves. It doesn’t know anger or resistance.
It’s a masculine society that taught us that anger is a fabulous motivator. That fiery rage moves us to impose change by doing something. Feminine energy offers water to the fire and welcomes the peace and change that comes from simply being different.
If women can come to know the sacred dimension of their own and the earth’s suffering, if they can see that it is part of the mysterious destiny of the soul of our world, if they can look beyond their own personal pain and anger to accept their larger destiny, then the forces of life can flow in a new way. The imprint of the divine face can become visible in this world and the glory of oneness be known, and once again life can become sacred.
While I’ve made some grand declarations above, I’m the first to admit I don’t know exactly what that looks like in our daily lives here on Mother Earth, and I’m certain it is easier said than done. What I do know is there are countless wise souls I can turn to for example, guidance and perspective. Some are magnificent women with boundless love in their hearts and laughter in their bones, many of whom already have guided me through hard lessons and shown me how to be both feminine and strong. Some are beautiful, strong men – two of whom I share my home with – who embrace their own feminine energy and know their unconditional support is just as valuable as their ability to do amazing things. Some are teachers like Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee with the guidance of goddesses in their hearts and on their tongues.
Because of them, I have hope, and perhaps I do know what it looks like. It’s already here. It just needs a little loving care.
At age nine my fourth grade music teacher told me I needed to start playing an instrument. Whether I liked it or not, whether I did it well or not, it was required that I try as part of my proper music education. I’d been taking piano lessons for two years at that point, but that wasn’t an option in the Longfellow Elementary fourth grade band. My parents pulled out my sister’s old clarinet—picked up and quickly dropped once she completed her required musical instrument segment, even though she was pretty good—and suggested I give it a try.
I looked at the scraped up keys, beaten up cork and the thin pieces of wood I was supposed to soak in my mouth and then blow across to make something resembling music. When my sister played it, the higher notes made me wince but the sprawling vibrations of the lower tones rattled through my body like a big truck barreling past the house. Truth be told, it kind of frightened me. But the keys were shiny and complicated, and I did love finding out what buttons do.
Ten years, two performing arts schools, thousands of hours of rehearsing and practicing, dozens of shows with bands and orchestras and ensembles, hundreds of reeds, days of sore lips and one very old and expensive wooden clarinet later, I was still playing that crazy contraption. I was working my way up the ranks of the Ohio University orchestra woodwind section, still taking weekly lessons and master classes, still enjoying it even though it was not my major nor my career focus. It helped there was no more pressure to perform or compete.
After a bit of working together, my faculty clarinet teacher proposed I try out for a coveted student woodwind quintet position. He told me it would require more rehearsal time as they prepared for multiple performances around the state.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not even a music major.”
“Well, then I guess you have a choice to make,” he said.
I’d chosen OU primarily for its prestigious journalism school. Words, I’d decided, were my expression of choice. They were much more specific and impactful, I believed, and I just didn’t love the clarinet enough to do what it takes to make a living playing it. As I looked at colleges and contemplated majors, I justified writing was still an art; it just made more sense to me. And luckily research revealed there were lots of ways to continue to play in college even if it wasn’t my major.
But now in my sophomore year, the more demanding journalism courses were starting to kick in and my adviser began asking what I was doing in my precious non-class time to build my resume and get some practical experience. The school newspaper is one of the best in the country and the yearbook always is looking for staff, he mentioned several times. At that week’s clarinet lesson, my teacher asked yet again if I was going to audition for the quintet, and maybe we should increase our lessons to twice a week if I really wanted to make a go of it.
The next academic quarter I put my treasured clarinet in the closet. Ten years later, I sold it to a music store in suburban Los Angeles owned by a man who could restore its loose keys and nourish the old wood back to its original splendor. He was sure a promising young clarinetist in the community would buy it and use it well.
I hadn’t played the instrument in years, but when I said goodbye I felt a clear sense of loss. Neither choosing writing over music nor selling my clarinet were difficult at the time. My talent, my contribution, is as a writer. But not until it was gone did I recognize a bit of what it offered: comfort in knowing I could pick it up whenever I liked and express myself in this familiar way.
Playing was so clear, so simple. It always seemed like a miracle to me that it worked at all, let alone made music. If I blew air at the right speed across a thin piece of wood strapped to another piece of hard rubber and pressed some buttons to determine where the air goes, I can make a pleasing and unique sound. Playing with these frequencies and incorporating my own voice into the music wasn’t something I understood or knew how to do consciously when I was younger, but I must have gotten it on some level.
Two days ago, I opened up a box and pulled out a brand new (plastic) clarinet, a high-end mouthpiece and ligature, a full set of Vandoren reeds and two new books of sheet music. It was a birthday gift to myself, something my higher self brought to my consciousness only a week or so before. Well, in the universe’s crafty way she’d been bringing it up periodically over the past year in casual conversations, in articles about local adult orchestras, etc. More recently she’d told me I needed to return to this familiar expression, but this time it would be different.
My son watched closely as I slowly put the shiny contraption together. I tossed a reed into my mouth to ready it for squeakless sound and then lovingly placed it on my new mouthpiece and tightened the ligature. It was all so familiar, but completely strange under the watchful eye of my son seeing it for the first time. I walked outside on to the deck for the first blow, unsure if it would be a pleasing noise after so many years. A loud, confident note sang down the narrow passage along the upper level of our home and rang out over the trees. A bird rustled in a nearby bush and flew away. My fingers moved hesitantly, but they knew where to go for the most part.
My mouth found the right shape as it remembered a proper embouchure is formed when you smile.
I walked back inside where my family was waiting patiently for me to share this old but new ability with them. They’d heard the music I’d sung to the forest, and now Henry jumped up and down with excitement yelling, “More! More!”
When the high-ceilinged room filled with sound and echoes, Henry’s eyes went wide. He ran over to me and sat directly beneath the bell of the clarinet, peering up into it trying to figure out where it all came from. When I started a chromatic scale down to a low E, he giggled and involuntarily wiggle-danced, the sprawling vibrations shaking through every cell of his body and mine. He and my husband began to clap and cheer.
The smile of my embouchure remained even after my mouth left the reed. I’d almost forgotten how that note, stretching the length of the instrument, requiring breath from the depths of your soul, could make you feel. It’s a vibration, a frequency that can’t be described by words. It’s an energy that communicates at a different level.