Last Thursday, my brother sent me an article about the coronavirus that stunned me. I canceled my plans to leave on Saturday for a meditation retreat in Vermont and am doing my retreat at home. By Friday I had asked all my students to switch to online lessons. Then Sunday night my husband reported that all the restaurants in Paris had closed their doors. And by Monday night, restaurant shut downs were announced for New York State, New Jersey, Connecticut, and many other states across the country.
I keep seeing our globe, miraculously spinning in space, with all of us in this together, even though we’re in our separate homes. We’re so incredibly fortunate to have our phones and the Internet—when our hearts are sad, we can reach out to each other.
There are people in our country who have no running water in their homes. Yet we are lucky enough not only to have running water, but to have been instructed by The New York Times in exactly how to wash our hands.
My husband and I are doing relatively OK. He’s working from home now, and we’re figuring out how to help a family member financially. We know we’ll lose money this year. And we’re not rich. But our hearts are breaking for those who are completely out of work now—including so many musicians.
And what about the kind delivery men who bring our groceries and have to ride the train to work every day, and who spend those days in a crowded store, with so many people going in and out from morning to night? They’re much more at risk of contracting this virus than we are.
It’s a hassle to spray those groceries with alcohol when they arrive—along with the mail and the packages. To wipe off doorknobs and light switches, and to wash our hands countless times a day.
But for those who are stranded in another country and can’t come home, for those who are dying or have lost loved ones to this disease—I can’t imagine.
Living Beyond Fear
I feel tremendously fortunate to have my meditation practice at this strange and challenging time. Like everyone else, I go in and out of relaxation and anxiety. But the practice has trained me to recognize those contrasts when they happen, and to find a way to let go of the anxiety.
For instance, I got into crunching some numbers earlier today—important and necessary planning for the months to come, particularly to help out our beloved relative. As I flipped back and forth from reassuring myself to freaking out, I suddenly felt how tiring it all was, and I just stopped.
I stopped, and I came home to the awareness that this is a gigantic time of transition for all of us, and that in transitions, we’re all very vulnerable and need to be gentle with ourselves. To go easy, to not expect that we’ll be able to relax all the time or to do things well all the time. We need to give ourselves a lot of slack, a lot of permission to screw up. We’re going to forget sometimes to wipe off the door knob with alcohol. To not touch our face when our hands aren’t newly washed. We’re going to lose it when it all just gets to be too much.
Giving ourselves a lot of slack now is a way of being gentle with ourselves. We really need this kindness toward ourselves now. It helps us let go of tension, and that means we‘re able to be much nicer to other people.
Which is what life‘s all about, whether there’s a scary disease going around or not.
Just seeing this clearly brought me so much relief. And then I thought of writing this article and sharing my relief and gentleness with you.
Practicing Beyond Fear
The same goes for practicing our instrument. We musicians are famous for being hard on ourselves. Respect for the music is one thing. But when we lose our love for it in the struggle for perfection, it’s time to let go. We do our best practicing not when we’re trying hard, but when we’re relaxing into our body and heart so that we’re fully available to the music and can really enjoy it.
I remember when my daughter started clarinet lessons at the age of nine. She came to me one day and said, “Mommy, I love playing the clarinet, because I can blow out my sadness.“
This is indeed a time when we can all play or sing out our sadness. Let’s use this time to be gentle with ourselves and to let music heal us. That is always what it has been meant to do.
Here’s to more expressive freedom in your music making!