June 27, 2012

life is like a jazz song...

Several years ago, I attended a book signing/reading with author and life coach Martha Beck, a wise woman with a fascinating story of her own path to personal truth. Martha shared a quote with us, at that signing, which went something like this: "Life is like a jazz song: sometimes you have to 'do' and sometimes you have to 'be,' and sometimes you have to 'do be do be do.'" It is a line that lingers at the edges of my consciousness, ready to be summoned in these moments when I am caught between the "doing" and "being," and trying so hard to figure out which should come next.

So much of my creative practice is about "being," about learning to be more present and to use my senses more often and more diversely. It is about sitting out on my balcony and listening to the water flow through the fountain below. I watch the clouds as they drift slowly through the sky, taking notice of their shapes and textures. I feel the heat of the sun on my face and the subtle movements of the gentle breeze through my hair. I watch the trees around our little pond closely, as each of them is moved by the same gentle breeze, which sways their branches in so many different rhythms and arcs. I touch the leaves of  herbs planted in boxes at my feet, feeling the changes in their surfaces and the scents that linger on my fingertips after. 
This practice of "being" is counterintuitive to my sense of productivity. "Doing" is the mode that I have practiced more and it is my personal default setting. I know how to "do" very well, from housework to cooking to making my obsessive "to do" lists. And so much of life requires "doing." I am tempted to approach all things through this filter, to "do" my writing, to "do" my inspiration, and even to "do" my creative "being." I realize, in typing this, how absolutely absurd that must sound, especially to anyone whose natural mode is not to "do." (I envy you, even as I know the grass is never really greener.) When I feel lost, I feel something must be "done" about it, and often that is the furthest answer from the truth. And then I must remind myself to "be." 

Life requires both modes, it is true, and neither mode alone will take us where we dream of going. Whichever mode is our default setting, we will only find our meaning, purpose, and function through practicing balance and seeking to grow comfortable in both modes. I try to remember this often, and to remind myself to switch, when I have spent too long and too much energy in one mode or the other. I am sure you know those moments, when the balance shifts too far in one direction, and a complete switch is necessary. They are the moments when you feel suddenly vulnerable, lonely or out of sorts. They are the moments when everything seems bleaker than it did the minute before, when everything is against you and nothing feels "right" at all. They are the moments when you can not even begin to explain yourself, even to your closest loved ones, or to imagine a solution. Or maybe this is just how it is for me? 
But my practice today focuses on the end of Martha's quote, when the answer lies in a need to not just "do" or "be," but to practice the art of "do, be, do, be, do." Often, life must be lived in this rhythm and cadence, which for me is the hardest one to achieve. This balance and proportion is so much more difficult for me than swinging to one side or the other. I want to find this middle, and to practice living there, letting myself drift gently from one mode to the other and back again.

Where are you today? Are you in a place of "doing" or "being"? Have you found a rhythm that honors both modes? I would love to hear how your song goes.

(My favorite book by Martha Beck is her memoir, Leaving the Saints.)

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