Category Archives: work

PURSUING OR ALLOWING?

downloadIn her book Dying To Be Me Anita Moorjani (of the famous NDE and healing of cancer) talks a lot about pursuing vs. allowing. She says that after her NDE experience, she no longer felt that she had to pursue goals, that it was more a question of allowing things to come to her…to happen naturally.

There’s a lot of wisdom in that thought. In my own life, I’ve found that even when we get the thing we think we want, often there’s no lasting satisfaction. I see people on Facebook (and I do this myself as well) busily promoting themselves, whether it’s their art, their music, their book…whatever, usually with little results. But some people do seem to make it “work”—I’ve seen several friends hold successful Kickstarter campaigns, meaning that they got the money they were asking for.

It seems that it’s a question of how we think and where were are in life that makes us either pursue or allow. I can’t sit in judgment and say one is better than the other. I believe that we do what is right for us at any given moment. It may not be right for someone else, and it may not even be right for us after some time has passed. From my own experience I’ve found that the “pushing, pulling, wishing, and wanting” approach has eventually led to frustration and limitation for me.

Last night I watched a video on YouTube by jazz pianist/educator Dave Frank entitled “How Artists and Content Creators Can Survive in the era of Free Content,” where he discussed the current trend of people downloading music for free on the internet. In his view, this new trend is more about people sharing than it is about money, so, as he said in the video, “…there is an expectation that you’ll share some stuff for free, to be part of the global conversation that’s going on.” Then he said that each one, individually, then decides how to get some payback…but…he himself simply decided to give it all away, to share it as much as possible. He said that the spiritual principle he based his choice on is: “If you serve, you will be served,” and that this principle works just like mathematics. “So what that means,” he said, “is that you put your heart and soul out there to people and try to share something that will be of benefit to them, and then what you need will come back to you.” And he wasn’t just “whistlin’ Dixie,” as they say, because he eventually began to receive compensation for his offerings.

I like his approach. To me there’s something very freeing about it. It follows Anita Moorjani’s prescription of allowing instead of pursuing, and I honestly do believe that there is a law as accurate as mathematics that governs these things.

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Filed under art, creativity, individuality, jazz, music, NDE, social media, spiritual, work

Dabbler or renaissance person?

I recently had an eye-opening experience about my life work after more than six decades of questioning, puzzling, trying, wondering, and often feeling frustrated and unfulfilled.

As some of my readers may know, I’ve already written about this topic here and in my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks. One of my posts that I find particularly telling is this one: https://finallygettingdowntobrasstacks.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/distractions-really/

Basically, for those who aren’t familiar with my book or haven’t read the posts that touch on this issue, here’s the gist of it:

I started out early in life (at age 13) with one passion: to play jazz piano. Fast forward nearly 60 years, and my life tells a very different story. True, I played jazz piano. But I also did a LOT of other things, including journalism, translating, editing, teaching, and many others. I always felt, when I was doing things other than concentrating on my music, that I was somehow cheating myself. I felt constant guilt that I didn’t continuously have my nose to the grindstone as far as my music was concerned.jack_of_all_trades-1cfahdf

But the reality was that I had two daughters to raise, which was important, and I had to do what I had to do to do that. As the years rolled by and I worked in a wide variety of jobs while I neglected my music more than I wanted to, I gradually started to see myself as a jack of all trades and master of none.

To my way of thinking, being a jack of all trades was the kiss of death. It meant you were superficial, a mere smatterer, no one took you seriously, and you, well, just weren’t good enough at anything. Whew! What a burden to carry around!

It wasn’t until very recently that I was finally able to change my mind about this pernicious label. And the turning point came with a simple remark someone made: “You have so many skills!” When I first heard it, I cringed. I thought, right, and I’m not that good at any of them! Then, for some reason, I decided to Google “jack of all trades,” and to my surprise I found several bloggers who thought that being a “generalist” was just fine. In fact, they were quite sure there was no reason you couldn’t become a master at at least some of your skills. One even went to so as to call a jack of all trades a “renaissance person.” Well! That certainly stopped me in my tracks!

It wasn’t just a small awakening. It hit me like a meteor with my name on it. Suddenly I knew it was all right to do a bunch of different things. In fact, it can be quite wonderful, and makes our experience a lot broader. I still admire people who can just stick to one thing, and there’s certainly a place for that, but there’s no use trying to be something you’re not. I obviously am not a single-focus person. I saw it. I let it go. I feel better now. 🙂

 

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TGIF and the two sleeps

These are the two things I have on my mind today. Let me explain.

For the past year or so I’ve been reading articles about what is known as “the two sleeps.” Apparently, in times gone by people used to have two shorter sleeping periods at night instead of one longer one. They would go to bed, sleep for a few hours, then wake up for an hour or two, and then go back to sleep. They considered this perfectly normal, and found ways to keep themselves occupied during the awake time between the two sleeps.58434887_jan_saenredam

Today most people go to bed and expect to sleep straight through until the morning, and apparently a lot of people do just that. But there are others, like myself, who don’t necessarily sleep the whole night through. Every few nights, I find that I wake up after sleeping for a few hours. When this first started happening several years ago, I thought I had insomnia, and I used to lie there trying to get back to sleep, often in a tizzy with a million thoughts churning around in my mind.

But then one night I thought: Enough of this! I’m wide awake and I’m not going to fight it. So I turned on my lamp, grabbed a book, read for about an hour, and then felt I was ready to go back to sleep—which I was. Now I’ve actually come to enjoy my “two sleep” nights and always wake up feeling refreshed the next morning.

I have a lot of friends who say they’re insomniacs. I wonder if they’re actually “two sleepers” instead, like me.

OK, so what does all this have to do with TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday)? I see people posting this message all over Facebook when each Friday rolls around. I suppose this means that either they really hate their jobs, or they’re exhausted from their jobs, or bored with their jobs, etc.24277_639824522703024_690725917_n

I have to admit that the thought of getting up every morning, having to dress a certain way, having to get oneself to a particular place to work, working there all day, and then having to get oneself home is not my ideal. I stopped doing that kind of job many years ago. And I’m noticing, quite happily, that more and more people are working from home, either for a company, or as free-lancers. I welcome this change, and hope it continues to grow. And then of course there are the artists and musicians, who aren’t tied to a 9-5 schedule. Nevertheless, I understand that there are some types of jobs where you simply have to get up and “go” to work.

The important thing is loving what we do, and if you love doing a 9-5, that’s great. More power to you.

Now, back to the two sleeps. If you work a day job, it’s going to be tough to do two sleeps, because you’ll probably wake up too late to get to the job on time, unless you go to bed very early. But for all of us freelancers, having two sleeps can work just fine, and frees you from that nagging feeling that you’re an insomniac.

Having flexible hours, sleeping in a natural way, getting up when you’re ready, working at something you love so that the litany “Thank God it’s Friday” becomes irrelevant—that’s my ideal. How about you?

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Which open door is the right door?

Yesterday a Facebook friend posted this on her wall:

This is an honest question, something I’m pondering, and I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on the topic. It has generally been my approach to accept opportunities that unexpectedly fall in my lap or doors that swing open without too much effort on my part—I tend to take that as an indication that it is the right path for me. But I wonder…should one bypass those open doors and strive for something bigger sometimes? Where does a disjointed series of open doors lead? Is it like a dream deferred? And if there isn’t a clear alternative to the door that is open….hmmmmm. Generally the doors that open aren’t the ones I hoped would open! Sometimes I put a lot of effort into prying open doors that stay shut.

Over the years, I’ve found that opportunities tend to appear whether we’re actively seeking them or not. Sometimes there may be a dry spell, but then something will pop up, sometimes to our surprise. When I’ve been surprised by an opportunity that seems good, or at least reasonable, sometimes the temptation is just to jump on it before it slips away. And I’ve done that with things that seemed possible for me to do, that might bring in a little money, and that sounded at least somewhat interesting. So I’ve accepted some of them, and done them for awhile, and then moved on. But I don’t think this is really the issue my friend is touching on here.

Just because something appears unexpectedly without our making any effort, does that mean it’s necessarily the right thing? It depends on what we mean by “the right thing.” I happen to know that the friend who posed this question is a person of considerable and varied talents who often finds herself in jobs that have nothing whatsoever to do with her talents. Sure, I know we all need to earn money, but let’s be careful that we don’t confuse the need for a “day” job to keep us going while we develop our talents, with the real and genuine need to bring out and utilize our talents to the fullest—to make our dreams come true and do what we really LOVE.

I’ve been confronted with this dilemma my entire life, and I can’t say things have turned out exactly the way I would have liked. But I refuse to give a “day” job the importance in my thought that I give to my dream. And when it comes to picking a job out of the various opportunities that present themselves, I do take the time now to consider whether my choice will be manageable or whether it will suck my soul away and keep me away from my dreams. We all do the best we can when it comes to taking care of our basic needs, but we need to be alert to protect ourselves, especially if we are creative types.

I must say that when it comes to my dreams, even if I’ve tried to pry open doors that have stubbornly remained shut, even if I’ve been rebuffed and ignored, that still won’t stop me from nourishing my dream, working at it, loving it, valuing it, seeing that it is deserving, respecting it, protecting it, caring for it, appreciating it, offering it.

If it seems as if there’s no alternative to the doors that are opening to the “day” jobs, just keep cherishing the dream. Those doors don’t open to the dream, so they don’t really matter all that much. Keep them separate. Isolate them. I believe that our true job is to know that the gift we’ve been given comes with its own fulfillment, and if we’re patient and diligent, eventually the real doors will open to us.

The secret is not to identify ourselves with the jobs that we may have to do along the way to sustain ourselves. This doesn’t mean we don’t do our best at them or that we approach them with a negative attitude. It’s kind of like cleaning the house. It’s something that needs to be done, even though we may not feel like doing it. So we do it as cheerfully as we can, but we’re not thinking the whole time: “I’m a house cleaner. This is who I am.” Our identification should always be with our God-given gifts, no matter what other things we may have to do along the way to keep ourselves going. This is where we belong.

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Doing nothing

Are you one of those people who always has to be doing something? Does the idea of doing nothing make you uneasy? Well, you’re not alone, I’m sure. Even with all the current popularity of meditation, there are still lots and lots of folks who just can’t stop their perpetual motion, not to mention the constant static going on in their minds.

I used to be one of those people, and sometimes I’ll still have a wakeful night in bed when I just can’t seem to turn my “thinker” off. And after a lifelong habit of being convinced I always had to be busy otherwise it meant I was lazy, only recently have I come to the conclusion that rushing around like a waiter covering a dozen tables really wastes time and doesn’t accomplish much of anything.

I read a book awhile back that encouraged doing nothing from time to time. The book was aimed at artists like myself, but I really think it applies to everyone. I know some fellow musicians who practice every single day and transcribe solos from jazz records while they’re riding on the bus or eating lunch, and I guess that’s OK for them, but I’ve found that taking breaks provides openings for your creative intuition to get in, while constant activity tends to shut it out.

There have been periods during my life when I’ve stopped playing music altogether (one time for seven years), and when I came back I was not only fresh and full of new ideas, but I seemed to be playing things I had never played, or even thought of playing before. It was as if all the things that were going on in my life during my absence from music had actually contributed to my store of creative fodder, ready to spring into action when I was ready to go back.

Those of us who were raised with the so-called “Protestant work ethic” or something similar, have been programmed to feel guilty if we’re not always doing something, always producing. Even during vacations or entertainment breaks, we feel that we have to be busy at something every single minute. It took me decades before I was finally able to sit down in a chair and do absolutely nothing for a period of a half hour. No book, no laptop, no iPod, no food, no cell phone, nothing. After getting into this new habit, I discovered that there was a freshness, a newness to my thought, as if I were opening a door into something much broader and deeper than my limited little thought patterns. If you’ve never tried this, I highly recommend that you do. You don’t have to meditate on a mantra or even say a prayer. Just be still. Be quiet. You’ll like the results, I promise.

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Breaking out

Have you ever felt that you’re not moving along as quickly as you’d like in some area of your life—that you’re not making the progress you’d hoped for?

I’ve felt this way many times, and I’m sure others have, too. Sometimes there are things in our lives that feel like stumbling blocks, and we just can’t seem to see any way around them. We feel stuck.

When this happens, it’s tempting to think that if we just push harder, or maybe take a big leap forward in spite of our hesitations and fears, that we can make that breakthrough we’re longing for. But often that doesn’t work out, and we end up even more afraid and sometimes so discouraged that we don’t feel like making any more efforts at all.

So what can we do?

I think there’s an example in nature that can help us. It’s been used as a metaphor many times, and I think it’s a very good one when we’re feeling trapped between pushing too hard and doing nothing at all. It’s the baby bird inside the egg. Have you ever seen a baby bird spend his whole life inside his egg? Of course not. But I bet you’ve never seen one just crack open his shell with one blow, either. The baby bird is a perfect example of patience, persistence, and common sense. He pecks at his shell a little at a time—peck, peck, peck. Then maybe he stops for a bit, but soon he’ll start pecking away again. And after a while there’ll be a little hole. He sees a tiny ray of light. So he keeps on pecking. And you know the rest of the story.

Why can’t we be like the little bird? Well, we can, of course. Whatever we’re faced with, we can patiently peck at our own shells until we see that first ray of light, and then finally the full splendor of freedom and accomplishment.

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Is it because I’m creative, or am I just a slob?

Today I was remembering my college English professor, Emily Brady, who used to tell me that it was like pulling teeth for her to stop herself from going into to her kitchen to wash the dishes when she knew she was supposed to be writing. More often than not, though, she’d force herself to the typewriter, and the dishes would keep accumulating in the sink.

Then an old friend, Hartmut, came to mind. He’s an German architect in his 70s who’s been living in Brazil for many years. The last time I saw him he was still very active, jumping into the ocean for a swim every morning, playing in the bands in the Carnival parades, and always working on some architectural project, for profit or not. He lives in a tiny apartment in Copacabana that looks as though it’s never been cleaned. And Hartmut is blissfully unaware of the filth. Aging dust bunnies occupy every corner of his living room, and the one time I went into his kitchen he was cooking something in a pot that was encrusted with years of previously cooked meals, on top of a two-burner stove that had never been blessed by the touch of a scouring pad.

As I thought about this, I realized that I’m a lot like these two people. Well, probably more like Emily (is it because I’m a woman?), because I’m often tempted to go clean something or empty the garbage when I know I’d be better off practicing the piano or writing something. I don’t really think I’m a slob, and as I look around my apartment, I see that it looks more or less orderly. By that I mean that there’s not a lot of clutter around, magazines thrown on the floor, clothes hanging from doorknobs, stuff like that. But I also know that even though it doesn’t look like a mess, I couldn’t say it’s actually clean. I rarely wash the floors (although I’m often tempted), so I have to clean my feet in the bidet before I go to bed (I like being barefoot).

See, it’s really dirty where I live. I’m on the third floor with a big window overlooking a very busy street, and all the black dust, mixed with ocean spray, comes in the window and sticks to everything. Sticky, nasty black dust. Yeah, I know it’s just an excuse, but seriously folks, I have more important things to do than run a rag over my dirty floors every other day (which is about how often I’d have to do it to keep them clean).

As I was pondering this pressing issue, I recalled an incident from when I was a teenager. I had gotten a job doing some house cleaning for a friend of a schoolmate’s mother. She had me dust and vacuum every day, and wipe off all the surfaces in the kitchen with a damp rag. I thought it was really dumb to do that every day, because nothing was ever dirty. I mentioned this to my schoolmate, and what did she do? She went and told her mother’s friend what I’d said, the little snitch. How did I know this? Because the next day at work, this lady said to me, “You know, if you clean up every day, then you don’t have to deal with a lot of dirt. It’s much simpler.” Well, I was relieved that she didn’t scold me, but secretly I still thought it was dumb.

I thought, “Why should I waste my time doing this when there are better things to do?” And then I realized the truth of the matter: I actually like to clean things when they’re really dirty. For instance, I like to tackle an encrusted stove and scrub through layers of embedded grease until it’s all bright and shiny again. I find that much more satisfying than mindlessly running a rag over a surface that’s already clean. I guess that’s pretty much my philosophy about housekeeping. Or maybe it’s just another excuse. I don’t know. But I know that if I don’t stick to my guns about it, then I’ll be tempted to grab a broom or a dust rag every time I know it’s time to sit down at the piano or the computer and do something creative. Housekeeping is creative you say? Well…you’ll have to explain that one to me. I have nothing against it, and there’s actually something kind of appealing about the mindlessness of it—it can even be relaxing. And that’s where the temptation lies, at least for me.

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