Socks, Surprise, And SoulCollage®

First Socks

I finished knitting my first pair of socks last week. They are soft and warm and funky and I’m thrilled with how they turned out. I especially like the different colored toes.

I’m also surprised by how much I enjoyed making them, by how much I enjoyed learning to knit on the sock loom and working with yarn to make something hand-crafted and useful. My burst of excitement that started with reading C.B. Wentworth’s blog entry about knitting socks continues. Minutes after I worked in all the loose yarn ends on this pair of socks, I cast on stitches for the next pair.

The second pair of socks will be much easier. This time I understand how the sock loom works, and I know how to do the stitches. Plus, I’m using a plain knit-stitch and self-striping yarn, so after the first bit of ribbing, there won’t be any pattern stitches to count and remember. I suspect most people would start with a plain, easy sock for their first one. Not me. I seem to thrive on starting with a complex version and then once I know I can do it, relax into doing something easier.

I’m delighted with sock knitting showing up in my life. I never expected to be able to knit anything, let alone socks, or to so enjoy this way of creating. I didn’t expect that a sock loom would lead to new friends, to Wednesday evenings sharing wine with other knitting women in a yarn store, surrounded by laughter, luxurious colors and textures of yarn, and vibrant creativity.

This kind of surprise, the surprise of finding something that totally engages me completely out-of-the-blue, is a delight. Much of what I love to do, like traveling, weaving, playing the harp, and playing the recorder were long-held dreams that I was finally able to fulfill. Knitting socks is a total surprise. So was playing African drums. I hadn’t heard African drums played, hadn’t thought about playing drums, and didn’t know anything about them until accidentally finding myself at a drum circle. After five minutes of immersion in those deep, ancient rhythms, my heart said “I must do this for the rest of my life.” It was drumming that led me back to music, drumming that gave me courage to begin the harp. And it was my hands getting sore and having to stop drumming that opened up time and space and courage to join the recorder ensemble.

My delight with SoulCollage® is another accidental surprise. A friend invited me to her birthday party at Catherine Anderson’s studio. I made two SoulCollage® cards that March evening, and four years later, I am still making them, and still welcoming the teaching and the wisdom that the cards carry.

This month I am back in Catherine’s studio, taking her class Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary, based on Angeles Arrien’s book The Four-Fold Way. Last week we studied and created SoulCollage® cards inspired by the Teacher archetype. The way of the Teacher is to trust and to be open to outcome instead of being attached to outcome. My list of outcomes to which I stay firmly attached seems endless. Recurring items include being able to play my ensemble repertoires, being able to sight-read, and being able to perform with confidence and without shaking.

An aspect of the Teacher archetype is the Trickster, also known as The Fool, The Clown, The Court Jester, Hermes, Krishna, and Coyote across the world’s cultures. Catherine describes the Trickster archetype as:

“. . . a Teacher who shocks people into seeing their attachments and habitual patterns. Tricksters typically present surprises and the unexpected as a way of waking people out of their routines. Individuals who have difficulty with surprises or the unexpected have attachments, fixed perspectives, and a strong need for control. When we are attached, we often become controlling and rigid. The Trickster archetypes teaches us about detachment.”

Trickster energy ran rampant as I leafed through stacks of images for my SoulCollage® cards. Perhaps it was my desired outcomes connected to playing the music that lingers just beyond my competence that drew him to me. Three cards emerged, all with images and wisdom direct from the Trickster’s realm (click on a thumbnail to see the larger image):

The Happy Fool turns his back on the journey and lives in today. He holds a healthy disrespect for propriety and convention, and is unapologetic about disturbing the illusion of order. He tells me to live instead of think and plan, for he guarantees and promises that my well-thought-out plans will go awry.

No Sense stays balanced despite the lack of solid ground, and keeps pedaling forward into whatever happens next. She tells me to stop trying to make sense of things, that life is not reason-able, that I will never know or understand why things happen in this chaotic, unpredictable unfolding of being alive. She tells me, “You are not here to think and understand. You are here to live and experience.”

No Control valiantly steers his raft in the river of cosmic unfolding. He is a skilled oarsman and reads the rapids well. With help from his unseen companions, he keeps the raft upright. But he knows the limits of his efforts, knows that he will not bend the channel of the river to satisfy his desires. His survival depends on reading the currents and riding the waves, and on finding patches of quiet water where he can rest and gather strength. He tells me that I can’t fight cosmic currents, that I must ride the energy of life’s rushing waves, and steer as skillfully and ably as I can.

I need these messages and these messengers, need them more than I need the structure and routines that pretend to order my life. I need to look beyond the outcomes I grasp at, beyond the end points I think I must reach. I need to allow what is ready to germinate and grow head for the light. I need to leave room for the unexpected, need to be as open to the unthought, unplanned surprise of what emerges next with music, or with life, as I was with the sudden appearance of the irrepressible notion that I must knit socks.

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Intentions Meet SoulCollage in 2012

I gave up making New Year’s resolutions of the “loose 10 pounds” and “call your mother on Sunday” variety many years ago. But the start of a new year still inspires me to think about what is working in my life, and what attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, if changed, would help me enjoy the next trip around the sun even more. Last year, rather than writing New Year’s resolutions, I wrote intentions for how I wanted to live in 2011. It turned out to be such a useful experience I decided to do it again for 2012.

Some of my intentions, like “release what I no longer needs and what no longer serves me” are continued from last year. I got a good start on that one, but there’s more to do. My “be kind” and “see” intentions are two of my “Three Commandments.” (Ten are entirely too many.) My other 2012 intentions emerged while journaling about what was the best and worst of 2011 for me.

MY 2012 INTENTIONS

  • Create new adventures.
  • Approach life and everything in it as an adventure.
  • Be alive to and say yes to possibilities.
  • Be kind.
  • Cultivate joy.
  • Release what I no longer need and what no longer serves me.
  • Cherish this body.
  • Remember that time is a teacher.
  • Expect positive outcomes.
  • Develop ease and comfort with performing.
  • Laugh at myself and at life’s strangenesses.
  • Recognize love in all the ways it comes to me.
  • See.

A major challenge in living out my intentions is remembering them each and every day. Then I “just” have to find the courage and strength to do the work and make the daily decisions that will support my commitments to my body, mind, heart and spirit.

My SoulCollage Prayer Flag

My SoulCollage cards have helped me find hidden courage and gain clarity about so many situations. Who better than my Committee members and Council guides to help me remember and live according to my intentions? My SoulCollage box held at least one card that resonated with each of my 2012 intentions. Using ribbon, sticky wall hooks, and bulldog clips, I created a prayer flag of SoulCollage cards in my bedroom. They now greet me when I wake up in the morning, and they are the last things I see when I turn out my light at night.

Joyful Woman

Here’s the bigger version of two of my prayer flag cards that will be accompanying me this year as I live my intentions.

The woman in my “Joyful Woman” card finds joy and contentment in who she is, in what she has, and in what she does. She will remind me that joy is always available, and that I can find joy anywhere I choose to look for it.

Musician

 

 

 

My musician card is the perfect ally to help me develop ease and comfort with performing. She exudes the confidence I want to feel when I play my harp or my recorders for any audience, large or small.

Each of my intentions requires specific actions on my part in order to come to life in the coming year. To develop ease and comfort with performing, I know I have to set aside time and create situations where I can practice performing. I need to test out some pre-performance activities and rituals to find out what will desensitize the hair-trigger on my adrenal glands. I have to practice focusing on the sound of my music as I am playing, instead of listening to my distracting internal chatter. Every morning and evening, my musician card will remind me of the actions I need to take, as well as the ease, comfort and confidence that awaits me.

How do you note and honor the start of another year? Have you created resolutions, or goals, or intentions for 2012? I’d love to read them – and I hope you’ll share them or leave a link to them in a comment on this post.

Honest Feedback: Another Charm Against The Inner Critic

I was talking with my teacher about the recent apparition of Inner Critic, and thanking her for sending him back to his lair by transforming what I could play of The Cherry Tree Carol into music. In the course of our conversation she shared some advice for dealing with self-criticism that was given to her by her teacher: “Have the courage to give yourself honest feedback.”

She is so right. Honest feedback is a perfect charm against Inner Critic, who has only grandiose and hurtful adjectives to fling at me. “You’re terrible,” he shouts, after I once again fail to traverse measure four of The Cherry Tree Carol. But if I ask him to tell me in exactly what way I’m terrible, he can’t answer. If I ask him the specifics of what I did wrong, he sputters and snorts, is speechless. Was it my phrasing, or dynamics, or playing the incorrect notes? Was it problems with the rhythm or tempo, my fingering or hand position, a lapse of attention? He doesn’t know.

When I have the courage to step back from IC’s name-calling and from my feelings that arise in response, and honestly look at what happened in measure four, his power to immobilize me evaporates. The act of analyzing what I did and didn’t do in the measure ends my immobility and leaves no room for him in my thoughts. Once I figure out that I didn’t land on the C string for the second note, and that I held the first 8th note too long, I can begin to experiment with how to fix that measure. I know I need to nab the C string with my thumb, so perhaps I can practice grabbing that particular interval, so my thumb learns exactly where to go to find C. I know I’ve got to get off the initial 8th note faster, so perhaps I can use the metronome while I clap, count, and sing measure four, until I feel the note values and the rhythm in my body. Instead of trying to play the whole measure, perhaps I’ll work on only those first two notes, and drill just that half of the measure until I can play it easily.

It takes courage to give myself feedback about my performance, whether it be an entire piece played for others or a few measures played alone in my practice room. It’s hard to look at what I didn’t play as well as I thought I would, to look at what exactly fell short of my expectations, and then to analyze it bit by bit to figure out what I must do to make it better. It takes courage to experiment with strategies to correct my mistakes, for I know from experience that I’ll make even more mistakes as I weed out strategies that won’t be helpful as I search for the ones that will be. And it takes courage to admit that the responsibility for improving my playing is all mine, and to act accordingly.

It also takes courage to notice and name what I did well, and to acknowledge each accomplishment, however small it may seem in the face of IC’s large and sweeping accusations of musical incompetence. But for any sound to have come from my harp, something I did had to have worked. That initial fourth-measure 8th note was too long, but it was the correct pitch, I started it at the right time, I closed my fingers completely and created a beautiful sound. And there was nothing wrong with the first three measures I played.

Inner Critic does not want me to know these things. He does not want facts interfering with his pronouncements. The last thing he wants is for me to take action and figure out the problem, and then shoulder my responsibility for making my playing better, while I name and claim the playing I do well. He wants me to collapse in fear, to take the easy way out, to free-fall into his trap, and let the music in my heart die unplayed and unheard.

Courage

One of my first SoulCollage cards is named Courage. The woman in the card is worried, even afraid, but she faces her fears both big and small with resolve. She has courage. She is not afraid of being afraid. She epitomizes this quote from Mark Twain: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Her gifts to me include a strong heart, a quick wit, and stubbornness of purpose. She tells me that I have the courage to move forward with life and music, despite anything that Inner Critic might say to try to stop me.  She reminds me that I have all the courage I need to give myself honest feedback, and stop Inner Critic in his tracks.

A Sneak Attack By The Inner Critic

One of my favorite blog posts is C. B. Wentworth’s My Inner Critic Is Trying To Kill Me. She so aptly describes the nastiness that comes our way when the Inner Critic awakens.

My Inner Critic isn’t exactly trying to kill me – if I were dead he could no longer torment me. He much prefers to paralyze me with anxiety and then try to drive me insane with his comments about my ineptitude and worthlessness.

I started making SoulCollage cards about three years ago. It’s an artful way to externalize one’s positive and negative energies, as well as the guides and helpers that can be called upon when assistance is needed. Inner Critic emerged onto a card last summer, and

The Inner Critic

he is nasty business. There he is, injecting poisonous thoughts and judgements into my brain, creating paranoia and fear, destroying any possibility of confidence, joy or peace.

He evidently slipped in through a crack in the door on Sunday evening as I was distracted by the challenges of learning The Cherry Tree Carol, one of the tunes we’ll be playing at our harp ensemble concert. This arrangement has unusual harmonies, lots of 16th notes, a repeated lever flip, and odd fingerings, and that’s just the vocal melody line that I’m trying to play. (The actual harp part is full of those little black dots tumbling all over themselves at a pace far beyond what I have the ability to master in only four all-too-short weeks.)

I’ve had lots of practice in the ensemble at taking a vocal line, dividing it into two hands, and playing it up to tempo in a way that it looks and sounds “harpy.” But on Sunday afternoon and evening The Cherry Tree Carol refused to be made into something I could play. The best I could manage at tempo was playing the two strong beats in each measure with alternating index fingers. Which was exactly the only way I could play in the harp ensemble five years ago, and which, as a harp method, I hoped was well behind me.

That was all the invitation Inner Critic needed. Disguised as frustration and disappointment, hopelessness and self-pity, he began: “All you can manage is playing with two fingers? That’s pathetic! You can’t play any better than you did five years ago. You’ve wasted the last eight years taking harp lessons. You obviously don’t know how to play the harp. If you were any good, you’d be able to play this.”  Yikes!

And of course, Inner Critic came along for my lesson yesterday, still hiding behind his facade of frustration and hopelessness, still creating overarching feelings of impending doom. I am blessed that my teacher doesn’t get swept up in my rushing torrents of anxiety and mindlessness, but instead focuses on the problem at hand while discerning exactly what I need to revert my temporary insanity back to some grounding in reality. Which in this case was devising a way to play The Cherry Tree Carol with musical phrases, using all my fingers and both of my hands, in a way that would feel like I was playing music and not plinking away with two fingers on the harp. She quickly eliminated the 16th notes that aren’t needed for the flow of the tune, and changed stem directions and revised fingerings to divide notes between right and left hands. What had been clunky two note measures became musical phrases that are, as she described them, “more satisfying to play.”

I left my lesson thinking that I’ll be able to play this tune after all, and that, perhaps, I’m not a complete harp failure. I made it through Monday night’s ensemble class without a meltdown at having to sight-read a Ray Pool chord progression exercise. We worked on a completely different tune, challenging but one I could play. Still, general unease lingered, and Doubt skulked about in the corners of the rehearsal room.

Once home I got out my journal and invited Doubt to tell me what was on his/her mind. It was Inner Critic who answered, and that’s when he blew his disguise. All it took was the phrase “What are people going to think?” coming out of my pen onto the paper for me to know that none of this distress was about me, or the harp, or the tune, or the tempo. It was all IC trying to mess with me, and doing a pretty good job of it for close to 24 hours. But he ruined his disguise with his question. That question isn’t mine. I know that no one in the audience is going to be saying to their seat mate, “Look at her – she still can’t play the harp with two hands.” Even if people in the audience have come to previous ensemble concerts, no one is going to remember what or how I played last year, or the year before that. Instead, the audience will be enjoying the music we play. Some of them might even wish that they were a part of creating such beautiful music.

Once IC was busted, equanimity quickly returned. I got my box of SoulCollage cards, and pulled his out and stared him down. Then I grabbed my Warrior Rebel card, whose fierceness, strength and will, along with her gift of knowing my own mind and what is right for me, makes her more than a match for IC any day.

Finally, I could return to that place in my heart where I know that the joy of the harp is making music and creating beauty, and that the joy of the harp ensemble is making music and creating beauty with others. Finally, I remembered that joy doesn’t depend on what notes I play, or how many notes my fingers sound. Joy only needs an open heart.  But having a Warrior on my side doesn’t hurt.