When wobbly, steady something
After white-knuckling my way through a piano test, my teacher said to me, “You’ve got to get this rhythm thing down if you want to progress.”
Which she has said to me in some way after every piano test for the last two years.
But my grading gauge has been getting through it. Period. If it ever-so-slightly resembles the tune, I'm elated. Clearly, my playing is not the only thing out of sync. #grading
Which worked, until she whipped out the metronome. Now, we’re tested along with a tic-toc-tic-toc tell-tale blaring reminder of when we are off.
Along with the metronome came a special Learning System she has used throughout her classical pianist world.
It tells us, step by step, how to break a piece down, measure by measure, starting so slowly that a couple of measures feel like forever. It is a grueling test in patience and mind-numbing repetition. But, like starting off slowly in a marathon, letting everyone excitedly whiz by you in the beginning, slow and steady wins the race. Or, in this case, will enable me to play what my brain and body see as a seemingly impossible piece.
Fortunately, there are teachers and time-tested systems showing us more comforting, less white-knuckling ways that work. Like the marathon training schedule that starts at walking one mile, 3 x’s a week. What in the world. How will I ever make it to running 26.2?
In yoga, when you’re feeling wobbly, you steady something... your breath, your gaze, your feet, you engage your legs, you soften your shoulders, your jaw. We’re off balance because we’re not doing one of those things. So we adjust. the gaze. the breath. the feet. ah. there it is.
For instance, mindlessly munching on chocolate covered espresso beans while scrolling Instagram does not steady me. Beating myself up for bean-and-insta-binging doesn’t get me anywhere either. I’ve tried.
What works is scanning my world for what’s wobbly or out of whack...
- Have I been moving my body, drinking enough water, sleeping soundly?
- What am I avoiding (as I head for the pantry)?
- What am I not giving myself enough time for?
- What story am I telling myself about why all of the above is not possible?
Like Bach and the Beatles, classics of all kind offer a deep sense of enrichment when we take the time to embrace and understand them. They are an acquired taste that require attention and cultivation.
The difference with the timelessness of wobbly-ness is that it weaves its way into your world whether you want it there or not. You don’t decide when to start cultivating this sense of appreciation. Oh no. It follows your decision to change, to do something hard, to try a new way, to feel sad, angry, lonely, confused. it will be there. Guaranteed.
When I'm at my wobbliest, I double down on downward dogs. I go all in to my early morning yoga practice. I move through the poses, religiously, seriously, with an opening prayer that thanks all of my teachers and ends with a wish for peace for all beings.
Then, I hit the treadmill for 20 minutes or hike my troubles up to the top of Tumamoc Hill because when I’m moving, sweating, breathing fresh air, I have more patience with the daily-ness, sometimes mind-numbing slowness of the process. I don’t need espresso beans to blindly speed past it.
Thank you to every teacher, friend, loved one who has ever-so-gently pointed out that when I’m wobbly, uncertain, scattered, inconsistent, anything but “rhythmic,” what I’m resisting, is more than likely, exactly what I'm needing:
Take care and tell me, what steadies you?
p.s. my piano teacher shared this TED talkon The Transformative Power of Classical Music (I love his example of how we'd progress if we just kept practicing.)