The artist inside

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Lorraine Hunt Lieberson began her career as an accomplished viola player. While on tour in Europe (in the late 1980s), her viola was stolen. She could have replaced it. As would be imagined, the theft threw her into a state of feeling lost and uncertain. She stopped playing. After awhile, Lorraine began to work with only instrument she had, her voice.
When asked, Lorraine stresses that her decision to go into singing happened quite naturally. “There were a lot of encouragements along the way, but no individual, earth-shaking event that made me change,” she says. “But, back in 1988, when my viola was stolen, I took that as a sort of omen.” (And although she hasn’t yet replaced her stolen viola, she avows “the viola is always with me in spirit when I sing.”)
Interestingly, Lorraine is shy about being interviewed; she has no press agent. But when she sings she is known for an ever-widening swath of ardor and awe that she leaves in her wake. An intensity. Bottom line: her voice—her singing—touches hearts and lives.

The irony is that the gift—the artistry—she has given us all began when life turned left.
Because this is not a story about a viola, or about what has been lost. It’s about the music that remains and perseveres. And we are the instruments.

This week, I needed Lorraine’s story as a reminder (and perhaps reassurance). And to underscore a necessary paradigm shift for us all.
In today’s NYT, I read this visceral headline, “Hacking gives final jolt to France’s chaotic race; Searing battle may leave lasting divisions as country steps into the unknown.” It’s not the specific topic that struck me, although I am curious. It’s just that we live in a world where we can ride a roller coaster of uncertainty, fuel for bewilderment, raw anger and insolence. No matter whom I talk to (good conversations with people in events this past week), the unknown takes a toll. Many, like Lorraine, feel lost or adrift.

In this kind of world, where do we tether our identity for well-being, for self-respect and for dignity? Because if we cannot find that place, it is easy to stop playing music. Or caring. Or risking. Or giving.

So let’s start with the paradigm shift. (And the good news.)
Here’s the deal: Life is not only about what has been lost; it’s about the music that resides and endures. Which means that we have a choice, to say how the story ends. Because when I’m at the mercy of the story—or the script—I demand to make sense of it all. Or rail against it. Or play a victim.
As if I’m helpless. “Sorry, I’d love to play, or make a choice, or make a difference, or take a risk, but I lost my viola.”

When I’m weary in my spirit, I confess that I click my ruby heels, hoping to be transported to a gentler and saner OZ. And in the past, I’ve talked about wrestling with depression, which only exacerbates this notion that we need to make sense of everything before we care, assuming that the job is to find answers or solutions.
When life is uncertain it is easy to live inconvenienced. (Making matters worse because we assume that it’s a bad thing. Meaning that we don’t trust our internal resources.)

You see, this is where we go off the rails. When we focus on what we’ve lost (scarcity), we are unable to access what we have (sufficiency). And when I see only scarcity, I miss the fact that every single one of us has been gifted with creativity, abundance, heart, love, passion, gentleness, helpfulness, caring, kindness, tenderness, restoration and a shoulder to lean on. This is the paradigm of internal sufficiency. 
(Worth noting: In the context of our work (or job), to live wholehearted, authentic and from the inside out, is about the difference between a career and a vocation. A vocation is a calling; a service or ministry or passion that spills from what is already inside, regardless of mood, or pleasant circumstances, or the need to avoid struggle.)

People who play the music that is inside, honor the artist.
That’s not easy to do in this world.
Ask any class of kindergarten students, “How many of you are artists?”
How many raise their hands?  Every single one of them.
Ask fourth graders.  Maybe half.
Seventh graders.  A handful.
Seniors in high school.  Maybe one.
It’s quite the educational system we have created.
We begin with artists, and we slowly wean it out of them.

In the sports section this morning, a story to do the heart good, about lost boys from South Sudan who learned basketball at a refugee camp in Kenya, and the influence of a coach. These boys arrived in Australia as toddlers with thousands of other refugees, relocated during Sudan’s civil war.
Mayor Chagai, 32, is their coach. But none of this was what Mr. Chagai (now Coach Chagai) expected or aimed for. He and a few others started coaching only because it’s what their community needed. Many of the south Sudanese children arrived without fathers. Their new country—generous, rich and often quite racist—needed navigating. And now, he’s on a Fatherly mission.
He’s an artist, playing the music from the inside.

So what’s the secret?
Remember that in every encounter with people, Jesus helped change the paradigm. “You are more than the sum total of your circumstances.”
I do know this: it is easy to lose sight of the artist that resides inside of every one of us. Whether lost or buried or stuck or forgotten or dismissed or ignored… or “stolen.” (Whenever I lead a retreat, Crayolas are mandatory–because it is an unwritten spiritual principle that you cannot learn about life unless you color. It is curious then, how many–otherwise secure adults–will say, “I’m not very good at coloring.” I will say, “Who said anything about being ‘good’ at it?”  Our mind has already morphed from play and wonderto mastery and proficiency.)

When we tag or label or describe ourselves, “artist” is seldom used.
Where I was raised, artist was a phase you went through (a dream), you know, to grow out of, to, move on to something more useful and sensible—in order to get a real job.

There’s a connection here… wholeheartedness and artistry (vocation)… and the need for sanctuary.
So, what is this artist?   It is the place in our spirit that births… creativity, enchantment, imagination, play, risk and investment, with a whole heart.
I quote David Orr frequently. But it’s worth it. “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind.”
Yes. The artistry of being fully and authentically human.  An artistry that does not reside only in the talent or prodigy or genius, but in the vitality, innocence, passion and delight of wholeheartedness. And it isn’t detoured by life’s unkindness.

Parker Palmer talks about retaining a sense of meaning in our later final years. “I no longer ask, what do I want to let go of, and what do I want to hang on to? Instead I ask, what do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to. The desire to hang on comes from a sense of scarcity and fear. The desire to give myself comes from a sense of abundance and generosity. Those are the kinds of truths I want to wither into.” Amen.

The garden moors me. It is a feast of soul nourishment and a grace that nurtures, heals and renews.
Today is World Naked Gardening Day. Don’t know why I thought it was worth mentioning. It didn’t hurt that Vashon had sun and 70 degrees.  The garden is teeming. In the week I’ve been away, there are new surprises and gifts. So I bask while I work. Rivers of columbine in a rainbow of colors begin their May parade. Wood Hyacinth (Spanish Bluebells) with nodding sky blue blossoms. Lilacs, peonies and roses are not far behind.
Saturday, the Vashon Garden Club plant sale. Teeming with eager gardeners, not with black Friday fevered frenzy, but a celebration sprinkled liberally with smiles, goodwill and community spirit.
More than ever we need sanity and restoration. Speaking of which… Please join me May 16 or 17 for a webinar, about creating sanctuary places. There is no cost. Don’t forget to tell a friend. The Sanctuary eCourse begins May 22.
Be gentle with yourself this week, and let your music spill.

Quotes for your week…
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I keep asking myself what is mine to do, now. Every day, every moment: what’s the most creative, loving, courageous, and authentic way that I can show up now? And now? And now? Miki Kashtan


POEMS AND PRAYERS

Field Guide
No one I ask knows the name of the flower
we pulled the car to the side of the road to pick
and that I point to dangling purple from my lapel.
I am passing through the needle of spring
in North Carolina, as ignorant of the flowers of the south
as the woman at the barbecue stand who laughs
and the man who gives me a look as he pumps the gas
and everyone else I ask on the way to the airport
to return to where this purple madness is not seen
blazing against the sober pines and rioting along the
roadside.
On the plane, the stewardess is afraid she cannot answer
my question, now insistent with the fear that I will leave
the province of this flower without its sound in my ear.
Then, as if he were giving me the time of day, a passenger
looks up from his magazine and says wisteria.
Billy Collins

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do. May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.
Amen.
John O’Donohue


 

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