Is It Just Me or Is It Noisy in Here?

tingsLast month, I had the privilege of taking my mother to the doctor’s office. It was a stressful affair for me, and likely for my mother as well, though she acted as if it was nothing. We entered the lobby, sat down to fill out the paperwork, turned it in, and then sat back down and waited to be called. The wait gave me the opportunity to tune into the music (though in this case, I use that term very, very loosely) that was being piped through snap, crackle and pop speakers.

As Michael Jackson hissed an unintelligible lyric, I looked around me. Was anyone else hearing this? Was anyone else extremely irritated? I looked at the young man across from us. He was texting on his phone. I looked at a more mature man next to him. He was reading a magazine. I looked to my right. An Asian man was also looking through a magazine. I looked at my mother and then to the women working behind the desk.

Did no one realize that they were listening to nothing more than disruptive static? Were all oblivious to the impact this noise was having on their bodies, minds and spirits? Did the whole purpose of music in the first place completely elude them?

I blinked incredulously and squirmed in my seat. I could no longer hold it in! Well, okay, I didn’t quite make the scream that I felt rising up from my belly. Instead, I got curious.

“Excuse me, but is anybody enjoying this music?”

The Asian on my right shook his head, “I’d rather have silence.”

Oh, amen, brother! Me too!

Then to the older man across from me. “And you?” I asked.

“It doesn’t bother me. You must not have a 17-year-old at home,” he joked.

And from the young man on his phone, I got merely a silent shrug that said, “Who gives a crap?”

Well, I give a crap! I give a crap that music, the most powerful healing tool on the face of the planet is abused and misused and treated with irreverence and ignorance every day in restaurants, waiting rooms, airports, stores, and everywhere humans hang out.

This was a doctor’s office…a place of supposed healing! Why wasn’t there relaxing and healing music being played over a sound system that could deliver? And why, dear God, why, was there any noise at all when there could have been blissful silence?

There is a total lack of consciousness going on around sound in our environments. And it really, really creeps me out! You know what happened in this doctor’s office? Once I mentioned it, someone tuned the dial and voila, it was still an awful choice of music for a medical space but at least it was actually music as intended.

Had I not said anything, would it have gone on like that all day long…week after week?

Numerous times, I’ve been in a waiting room with some CNN or other news show yammering on and on. I walk up and turn the damn thing off. No one has ever complained yet. In fact, they often thank me.

So here’s my plea. I know I am talking to people (preaching to the choir, so to speak) who understand the importance of this. If you find yourself in an environment where the music is too loud, or there are too many sources of noise, or something isn’t right with the sound system, or the ambient noise is totally out of balance, please please please bring it to someone’s attention. Help them to hear what they just cannot perceive until someone of more sensitivity points it out.

We need to create a world of harmony and balance, and frankly, it seems people are becoming less and less sensitive to a constant and increasing barrage of noise.

I thank you!

Sacred Performance: Lessons in Musical Improvisation

As an improvisational vocalist, I don’t consider myself a musician in the way most musicians do. I am not the one who plays the music. Rather, I let the music play me…at least on a good night. So really, Life is the musician. I’m simply the instrument.

I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life immersed in the Toltec tradition of shamanism. The Toltecs distinguish between what is called the Nagual and Tonal. The Tonal is like everything that happens upon the stage of life. It is matter, what we know and can understand. The Nagual is everything that goes on behind the scenes. It is the mysterious, the energetic. It is yin and yang. It is dark and light. It is manifest and unmanifest, seen and unseen. The Tonal is the paradigm we’ve known. The Nagual is beyond paradigm.

As artists, when we become aware of both the Tonal and the Nagual, we begin to better understand the consciousness or life that exists within our performances. In musical improvisation, I am constantly learning what it means to dance between these worlds. The Nagual is what informs a sacred performance. The tonal is the manifestation of that. The challenge of course is representing the Nagual as clearly as possible. Not always an easy task.

In a recent performance with a group of musicians I had never played with (though I’d played with two of the four separately), some of the things that can get in the way of a pure reflection were revealed.

For example, I had to step into the role of time-keeper making sure each section of our presentation went long enough but not too long. I resisted this task, but rather than listening to that resistance, I ignored it, doing what I told myself had to be done. So every few minutes, my attention was drawn to “are we on time…is this piece going too long”…etc.  At our break, a women expressed to me her feeling that the energy was just building when we took the break; she wished we had kept going. While I didn’t agree, I did take on her opinion in the back of my mind, and it later reappeared and influenced my actions toward the end of our second set: I meant to build the energy again.

In my effort, my “push”, I invited one of the musicians to start some “trouble”. I assumed he would keep that trouble within the energetic framework we had already built. He was taken aback, in part by my poor choice of words (what was I thinking?), and dove headlong into a blues riff slamming the oven door on the ethereal souffle we had baking, caving in it’s light, airy middle. The disconnect with the audience was immediately apparent and, for me at least, incredibly painful.

I tried to ride with it. After all, I know what it is like to go out on an improvisational ledge completely alone just waiting for one of my cohorts to feel it. But my heart just wasn’t in it. And that was perhaps my second mistake. I should have just let it play out, not added to it…hope he would quickly realize he was out there…all by himself. Instead, I forced myself to comply and the result was half-hearted and awkward.

My third mistake came after the vibrational contrast came to an end. I knew recovery was impossible, but I tried to do it just the same, and I found myself out there…alone…overly loud…and taking people where they simply didn’t want to go. They’d had enough. So had I. Ouch. I know not everyone had the exact same experience as a result of the slip. Some people may have enjoyed it for all I know. The point is, I knew something had been ignored; I knew the potential that hadn’t been reached even if no one else did. Although, on the subconscious level, aware of it or not, everyone knew.

Music entrusts itself to me. An audience puts its faith in me to lead it with care. In a moment, I had failed music and the crowd and my fellow musicians. But that’s just one hand of a two-handed story. On the other hand, Life moves in mysterious ways. While it may seem paradoxical, ultimately, our performance that night was perfect; it made me a better sacred performer. I’m grateful it played out just as it did, even if I wouldn’t care to repeat it.

The point of all painful lessons is to learn from them. So, what were my lessons that night?

1) Clocks do not belong in what I do as a sacred performer. A piece lasts as long as it lasts. An offering (show) goes as long as it goes. Breaks come  when they come, not when they are scheduled. This is a challenge in a world run by time and expectations of time.

2) I of all people know how important a word is! But just because I wrote a book about it doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. If I’m clumsy enough to use the word “trouble” instead of the words “take us someplace beautiful”, then I’d better expect trouble! As our manifestations become more and more spontaneous, it is more and more critical to choose our words with care.

3) Never go where the heart of the Nagual isn’t leading. Silence is better than a cover-up,  an attempt to fix, and co-dependent thinking.

4) Don’t try to please anyone but the Nagual. Release opinions and feedback and stay in the moment.

What lessons have you learned in improvisation?