Yesterday I received the manuscript of the book back from Norton Publishing with the comprehensive editorial and consulting requests for changes – the recipe for what will become fully revised draft 3 of this sweet and time-consuming project, now called “Your Resonant Self: Exercises and Meditations for Well-Being.” And the overall tone of the accompanying email is encouraging and warm from both editor and consultant. (We had a little glitch there in early July when they both wanted to strip the neuroscience concepts out of the book almost completely.)
Phew. I have the sense that I’ve been ocean swimming toward a distant buoy since January, more out of the hope that the buoy actually existed, or based on glimpses of far-off orange through the waves, than out of a conviction that it was there, and I’ve finally reached the marker. And so I haven’t opened the document, even though I received it yesterday. I’m just holding onto the buoy and breathing for a moment before I start swimming again.
During July, which turned out to be a rest from writing during this last editorial review, I got to resume my regularly scheduled program. Some of you know that after I turned 50, I surprised myself by beginning to study cello, ballroom dance and voice. None of these come easily to me, so I found patient and warm teachers close to my home, and I take breaks from my workday by going out and being a learner at my private lessons. After these three years, the concepts and body memories of music and dance are gradually seeping in, but I still need the support of massive doses of self-empathy to negotiate the shame that slams me down when I can’t find a note or can’t reproduce a turn that I’ve worked on a thousand times.
Last week I had a very dear friend in town on the day of my voice lesson. She is a singer whose voice moves me to tears. (This is an understatement, but I don’t know how to describe her without reducing her in your imagination to a concept rather than an essence, which is actually going to turn out to be the focus of this particular piece of writing.) In the week before my lesson, when I knew she would be in town on the same day, I had a secret imagining that maybe she would come with me. There was something so magical in the imagining that I felt like a small child with bubbles in my heart. I didn’t really think that it would work out, so I didn’t expect it, and when she arrived, right before I had to leave for the lesson, I offered it as a thing I had thought of in passing but that wouldn’t happen.
To my delight, she brightened and said that she would, in fact, come with me. I can’t even say now why I was so excited, or exactly why the memory is so sweet, but I felt like a happy five-year old as I drove us the short distance to the music store, explaining that even though I’ve been studying for a while, I struggle greatly with staying in tune. The lesson was scales and major and minor triads. I always have to work very hard to find each note, but as I sat there, my friend sat beside me, singing very softly along with me, I was surprised to find that my excitement continued, undiminished by shame.
As we drove home, she said “It was like you were discovering the essence of each note afresh as you were singing.” With this sentence, which held my efforts with such honoring, she was naming the ongoing experience I have with music, where I think I know what the note is, or will be, but if I only think it, rather than being in it, I can’t actually hit the real note – I’m always sharp or flat. And then she said, “It’s like this with empathy, too. We have to discover the essence of each need afresh as we say it.”
Suddenly a way to name an entire world of struggle with presence clicked into place in my consciousness. It clicked in with such wholeness that I’m finding it difficult to follow a string of single meaning in this writing. My thoughts meander everywhere, trying to apprehend all of the implications of this deeper understanding of doing empathy and of being empathy, of doing friendship and being a friend, and of finding something true within us which resonates with the truth of what is outside of ourselves, a vibrational quality of connection between self and other, and between self and world. There is a startling clarity and a tenderness for the way our brains are made, to both do and to be, and about how much true relational connection with others gently and inexorably moves us toward experiences of wholeness that we could never anticipate or expect. And how without it we are stranded in an arid landscape where all we have are the representations, rather than the essences themselves.
As I think about singing and as I sing now, I feel my friend’s presence beside me and hear her voice as well as my own, and I experience my struggle for alignment in my relationship to the notes in a new way, a way that is stripped of some of the shame that I have carried for so very long, and in which I hold myself with compassion for the minute by minute dance of truth and representation.