Clearing A Space

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what happens when you say yes to what you truly and deeply love. What comes into your life, and what drops away? My life has changed so much since saying yes to the harp and beginning harp lessons. Many things have dropped away, in what John Holt in Never Too Late calls “clearing a space.” He writes:

“Adults who want to learn to make music well are going to have to clear a space. They are going to have to stop doing many things they have been doing, including many things they liked. To make more time for music, I have had to give up many pleasures I have enjoyed for years. This is no complaint; I am lucky to have surplus pleasures I can give up.”

He describes giving up attending the ballet, the theater and most concerts, outdoor recreational activities, playing sports, most travel, and even listening to great quantities of recorded music, in order to clear a space for lessons, practicing, and playing with other musicians.

It turns out that I also had many “surplus pleasures”: Watching television, reading fiction and going to the movies – I just can’t seem to get interested any longer in the imaginary dramas of imaginary people’s lives. The gym membership, and my workouts on the elliptical machine and in spin classes – replaced with $0 cost early morning walks with my dog up and down hills in my neighborhood, walks that also warm me up for harp practice. Riding my bike – I used to ride about 50 miles a week; the bike hasn’t been out of the basement in the last two years. Making books – I used to create books by hand, loved experimenting with Coptic and medieval binding stitches; the same three waiting-to-be-sewn journals have been on my work table for about three years now.

Shopping – now consists of brief forays to get what is essential for life support. I can’t make myself spend time cruising big box stores or malls. The only clothes I’ve purchased this past year have been two shirts for performances. Black pants fortunately don’t go out of style, and I have enough “work clothes” to reach the end of my days without buying anything else to wear.  Even when I see something I like, I end up comparing how many harp lessons or voice lessons or recorder classes I could pay for instead. The lessons and classes win.

Vacations – now scheduled around classes, lessons, and the beginning and ending of the harp ensemble and recorder ensemble semesters. I’ve never been one to travel in the heat of summer. But I can’t miss the last recorder class and playing the semester’s repertoire together one last time, so the beach trip will start a week later than usual. I can’t miss the first class of the new semester, can’t miss our first reading of music that will be our companion for the next 16 weeks, so vacation travel will be over by mid-August.

Socializing – old friends are no longer surprised that their “meet me for coffee” and “let’s have dinner” invitations are often met with “sorry, I have to practice/have a lesson/have class.” It’s my musician friends who understand that I’d rather be playing or practicing than do most activities I’m invited to be a part of.  And it’s only my musician friends who know my secret – that I’ll try to drop everything and rush right over if they ask me to come make music with them.

Over the last six years I’ve watched lots of adults become enchanted with the harp, start lessons with my teacher, be thrilled and enthusiastic for six months or so, and then drop by the wayside, saying “I don’t have time to schedule lessons,” or more frequently, “I don’t have time to practice.” They tried to squeeze harp lessons and daily practice into an already cramped and hectic life, and couldn’t find room for them.

I knew when I started lessons that I’d have to find time to practice, and that the only way to get that to happen was to practice before work. Which meant getting up earlier, which led to going to bed earlier, which led to the gradual lessening of evening entertainment and recreation. Weekends became the days to relish practicing longer than the 30 minutes I managed on a work day, the days I could work on tricky fingerings and hard passages as long as I wanted to.

I didn’t wake up one day and decide that I wasn’t reading or shopping or riding my bike or having coffee with friends anymore, just so I could play my harp. Instead, that which I loved doing the most became that which I wanted to spend time doing more than anything else. The harp claimed my heart, music became the path I followed, and the space cleared itself. Grace in action, once again.


2 thoughts on “Clearing A Space

  1. It’s so difficult to choose between such lovely things! I am impressed with your dedication to your goals; your ability to focus your energy and enjoy the process.


    1. Sometimes it is still challenging for me to choose and focus between competing priorities. You notice I didn’t say anything about giving up the vegetable garden, which can be as insistent with its demands as the harp. But to get to choose which of the things I truly love to do – ah, what a gift! Janet


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