Dancing with My Heart

Woman at left is painter Suzanne Valadon

Image via Wikipedia

“Open your heart.”

What does he mean, open my heart.  My heart is already open.  Isn’t it?

I would describe it as a modified version of the classic closed-eyed-swaying-amoeba dance from 1967.  I was definitely moving.  I was even managing a steady rhythm although I can’t be certain whether it was to the music flying through the air or the music in my head. All I know is that my body swayed. It might not qualify as ‘dancing’ but I was having fun in my own ‘I’m just fine where I am’ way.

My friend, on the other hand, arced across the room. I watched him shift from the cerebral to the intuitive as he left behind convention and expectations. He moved like a planet abandoning its orbit, half satyr, half nymph.  A shooting star.

He was not alone.  The large studio was filled with men and women giving their bodies like offerings to the music.  There was nothing pre-ordained in how they moved.  It was a pure call and response.

I had yet to pick my feet off the floor or move my arms or walk more than two feet away from the safety of the sturdy wall at the back of the studio. I was happy near the protection of the wall. I was safe and content to continue my swaying amoeba dance.  I figured it was a miracle I was moving at all.

So I don’t know how it happened that I was suddenly in the middle of the room with my friend.  We were spinning and I was trying not to fall over and praying I wouldn’t stomp on his toes.  We whirled around one another, ducked under arms, turned forward and then back again.  A few minutes passed and then he leaned toward me and said,

“Open your heart.”

And when the track ended, my friend moved on and I moved back to the consolation of the wall.

What did he mean – ‘open your heart’?  Wasn’t my heart already open?  Just because he can leap around a room and not care who’s watching and I can’t doesn’t mean my heart isn’t open.

A chance encounter a few days later helped me understand what my friend meant.

I was at the Cal Train Station in San Francisco on Sunday with an hour to kill.  A family with a young boy of about four walked into the station and sat on the bench beside me.  The boy and I made eye contact and I asked him about his souvenir cable car filled with chocolate.  His brown eyes were lit with adventure.  He could not sit still.  He wanted to chase pigeons.  I watched him race back and forth with his dad, arms outstretched, laughing louder and happier on each pass.  His contagious joy echoed through the station. We all smiled as he ran with his shoulders rolled back and his spine arched.

And then I had the “aha moment.”  The little boy chasing pigeons at the train station was doing what my friend had hoped I might do. The boy was running with his heart leading the way.

It wasn’t the mythic heart my friend was imploring me to open.  He knows me well enough to know I have a seeker’s heart. What he wanted was for my body to help my seeking heart on its journey.  My friend simply wanted me to create space in my heart center so the mythic heart would have room to breathe.  Room to grow.  Room to laugh.

So this week I’m making a promise – to give myself space and to move through life just like that little boy at the train station who danced with an open heart.

Listen to Your Mother!

Me and Mom

“Do what your mother says – enjoy NOW.”

This was my mom’s response after an email exchange where I bemoaned the fact that I would really love to purchase this Sparrowharp. Except that its purchase would put a pretty big dent in my budget.  It’s not that I couldn’t do it, it’s just that – well –isn’t giving myself this gift just a wee bit self-indulgent? What does one do with a Sparrowharp anyway?  Besides, there’re starving children to feed, homeless folks to shelter and animals to rescue. And don’t even mention the debt ceiling.  We’re in the middle of a fiscal crises and I’m thinking about purchasing a custom-built Autoharp?  Why?  I should be investing in my future, not buying musical instruments I can barely play.  I should be donating to charity, not blowing my savings on a hobby.  I should be saving the world.  I should be…I should be… I should be more responsible.  Shouldn’t I?

Or maybe, just maybe, if I want to save the world, I should think about saving myself first.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that joy begins at home.  We need to remember to nurture our own spirit and embrace what makes us happy.  When we understand how to bring joy into our own lives, we’ll find the strength to be a source of joy for others.

Am I going to buy the Sparrowharp?  I’m still thinking about it.  Playing music is a source of joy for me – it takes me out of head and into my heart.  For that reason alone, a Sparrowharp sounds like a pretty good investment.

Besides, a kid should always take her mom’s advice, right?

ps…if you want to hear me pluck out a wee tune on my guitar click here, and then click “Girl From the North Country.”

Today, Music is My Yoga

Maybelle Carter

Image via Wikipedia

My music teacher in elementary school was a big, buxom woman with dark eyes and even darker hair that she kept piled in curls on the top of her head.  She’d go from classroom to classroom, tapping out rhythm, encouraging us to sing, rallying the boys in the back of the room.  I loved her.  I especially loved her on the days that she brought the instruments – a cardboard box full of triangles, tambourines and wooden sticks.  But the best instrument of all was the one that came in the odd-shaped box.  The Autoharp.  I always volunteered to play the Autoharp, and Mrs. Soldridge always chose me.  Maybe it was unfair to the other few who could manage to keep time, but I didn’t care.  I wanted that instrument.  I wanted it bad.  It was heavy and wonderful and all you had to do to make a sound like angels calling was press a button and strum the felt plectrum across the strings.  And there were so many strings they were impossible to count.

By the time I was in high school though, I’d forgotten all about Mrs. Soldridge and her Autoharp.  I was too busy failing in my attempts to play the opening of Stairway to Heaven on my guitar.  The Autoharp was old-fashioned and silly and so were all those traditional folk songs I loved as a kid.

Flash forward more decades than I’d like to count and enter Evo Bluestein.  Evo brings traditional folk music and dance to schools across the country.  His ability to charm even an introvert like me into believing she’s musical is legendary.  I could take a few pages to sing Evo’s praises but it would be easier for you to just click here.  On Saturday Evo offered an Autoharp Workshop at Gryphon Music in Palo Alto.  With my friend Sarah’s encouragement, I signed up.

The workshop began at 1:00 when I pulled a 21-bar Evoharp (Evo’s custom built version of the Autoharp) from its case.  By 1:15 Sarah and I were playing our first song.  Knowing he had two (cough) extraordinarily talented students in front of him he decided on a more accelerated course.   By 2:00 he and Sarah – a music teacher with a classically trained voice and her own 14-bar Evoharp – were playing exquisite melodies while I attempted to keep a steady rhythm (pick strum pick strum pick strum…).  Our voices rang out in three-part harmony.  By 2:30 Evo was introducing me to more complicated strumming patterns and by 2:45 my left arm was ready to fall off.

He ended the workshop by playing a Bessie Smith blues number.  It was unbelievable.

Music transforms you.  It alters the beat of your heart and the way blood spills through your veins.  I walked into that workshop a bit blue and more than a little nervous.  I left two hours later knowing there had been change on a cellular level.

Today music was my Yoga and every cell of my body was filled with joy.

I loved every single minute of that time spent with my friend, with Evo and with music.  I’m no Mother Maybelle, but damn that was fun!