At first glance the idea that an invitation to delight, something that touches on a deep desire could evoke challenge may seem incongruous, even surprising, but my reality has often been different, and it happened again recently.
The instant I saw the promo page for Bobby McFerrin’s Circlesongs workshop, I knew I was in one of these. I’d been totally inspired a few months ago when I came across this video of Bobby McFerrin’s concert:
Bobby McFerrin’s concert that so inspired me when I first saw it
a couple months ago
Part of me was beyond excited, knowing it was no mistake this invitation was showing up. But right behind that excitement, there was the chorus of voices chiming in with all the reasons this was a ‘bad’ idea! “It’s just a month away, you’ve already planned vacation this summer, it’s a long way to drive, it costs a lot of money.” On and on the voice of caution went. Though even in that moment, I could already feel the stirring inside me pointing to a deeper truth lying hidden underneath these surface objections.
Next day as I was exploring the possibility further and came across this video from last year’s workshop – some of the faculty offering an improvised mission statement for daily living that they called “I Wanna” – I could no longer avoid what I was feeling.
I’m fine sitting at my keyboard and writing, or being on a coaching call, or even hosting a teleclass with a small group of people – all quiet and familiar experiences. But this was a call to be putting my voice out there – in person, in public, with people I don’t know, doing something I’ve never done before! And though I love singing, I’ve been wanting to find an outlet for joining my voice with others, and never imagined I’d have the opportunity to play with and learn from this master musician, a tsunami of terror swept over me.
This was a potent mix of a sense of public exposure – a stepping ‘into the arena’ as Brene Brown would say, a putting my voice ‘out there’ in a way I’d never tried before. I felt a huge sense of vulnerability, mixed with the potential for shame if (when!) I didn’t ‘do it perfectly’ – whatever that means!
I’d said I wanna, but how much did I REALLY wanna?! Life had thrown down the gauntlet, and like all of us who face that moment, I was at a choicepoint. I could try to play it ‘safe’ by saying no to this invitation – but that surely wouldn’t allow me to experience the aliveness of following the call of my life. I could continue a pattern often played out in the past and run roughshod over myself, forcing myself to do somthing that I thought was ‘good for me’ – but that’s not the respecful way of relating to myself or others that I’m committed to. Or, I could pause and once again here, engage the practice that I so often talk about that has made such a difference in my life, and the lives of so many – that Attentional Living response of notice, accept and nurture.
Pure delight – life outside the straightjacket!
I’ve practiced this so often in response to situations in life that we’d generally think of as difficult or challenging in the classic sense of the word. But here I was being faced with the same kind of body response – layers of fear and deep sadness, the impulse to avoid, to step away and continue to live within the constraint of a self-imposed straightjacket – in a situation that most would consider easy and fun.
Something I realized as I opted for that third choice – that familiar an powerful practice that led me into the space where I could say ‘yes’ to this invitation AND be in integrity with myself – was that Life was calling me to expand my capacity to be present to joy and delight.
Here was a chance for me to do what the poet Jack Gilbert speaks of in his powerfully evocative poem A Brief for the Defense when he says:
We’re called to have the courage to “accept our gladness” – to have that lightness shine in the midst of all the pain. I am committed to expanding my capacity so that I can be equally at home being present to ALL that life brings. This is true freedom. Only when we have the capacity to be present to it all are we truly free to choose.
I find it fascinating that I’m getting to practice risking stepping into delight, and expanding my capacity to accept gladness in the context of this Circlesongs workshop with Bobby McFerrin – one who embodies this kind of delight more than most people I’ve seen. Another of the lines in this Jack Gilbert poem is:
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
Yes, Mr. Gilbert, in less than a month there will be music! And in that context, I’ll be reconnecting more deeply with the parts of me that have known this delight, and inviting in the parts that have lived a much more contained and constrained life. Integration and expansion – a pretty powerful combination!
I’m wondering about your experience with being present to the whole spectrum of intensity – from pain and heaviness through to gladness and delight. Do you feel equally at home throughout the continuum, or are there some places where like me, you’ve not truly been at choice to venture? Wherever you find yourself, if you’d like to explore further, I’d love to hear from you.