I suppose that most of us have had a time when we saw someone in passing in a window reflection and later realized that it was ourselves. Or we heard a recording of our laugh or speech and didn’t recognize our own voice.
I was listening to my iPod while exercising the other day, having just added a lot of old cds to the mix. When I put it on “shuffle” some very strange but interesting combinations come up—from Janis Joplin straight to a Schubert impromptu. Well, as I started to pedal the exercise bike, I was listening to someone playing Brahms.I knew it might be me since I often record my own recitals, but then I also record the pieces As Played By Real Professionals. After only a few bars, it was pretty clear that the pianist was indeed I. I’m not sure I’d ever before played that recording of me through; like many people, I dislike hearing/seeing myself “caught” on tape of any kind. But I continued listening and did indeed “catch” the many (small?) qualities that separate amateur from professional: not only the missed notes here and there, but also a tendency not to modulate the dynamics as carefully and gracefully as a professional does. In fact, “banging away” was the phrase that came to mind. Not to denigrate what I had done, but as the following selection in the shuffle was Wynton Marsalis tenderly blowing his horn, and then Mitsuko Uchida breezing through a Beethoven sonata, it was quite easy to see the difference.
Similarly, I remember having to video a “mock” client session during one of my long-ago MSW courses. Though I probably asked most of the “right” questions, the sight that jumped out at me when reviewing the video was the way my head kept nodding, nodding, nodding—no matter what the pretend “client” was saying. And I would never have noticed (or corrected) it were it not for that “objective” feedback.
I’ve said elsewhere in this blog how important feedback is—in anything, probably—but certainly in the creative process. Others seem to see us, at times, much more clearly than we do ourselves: both the “good” and the “bad.” And if we are of a particularly suggestible nature, we use that feedback to self-correct. Hopefully, the more experienced we are, we can comb through the feedback, rejecting what seems wrong for us and considering new possibilities about which we might never have been aware.
My dear piano teacher, Stefanie, has once again provided some excellent feedback in the form of her stated belief that I CAN INDEED play the last variation of Beethoven’s Op. 110. Since it was the double trills in that two-page monstrosity that had me near despair a few months ago, I had convinced myself that I simply could not do it. It was a deal-breaker. But a week ago, she simply said that she KNEW I could do it; that she wasn’t just patting me on the back, but she had no doubt THAT I COULD DO IT.
Sometimes, I think, teachers of all kinds (including parents) are unaware of the power of their judgments about us. Their positive or negative assessments of us and our abilities become internalized, to the point where we sometimes no longer attempt what we have been told we cannot do (or have unsuccessfully tried in the past).
I spoke last time of a bumper sticker that I have NOT (yet) put on my bumper. But the one I do have reads “Do not always believe what you think.” We are usually capable of much more than what we think we are. If we are lucky enough to be in a forgiving, open environment, we are free to experiment with those possibilities, and don’t worry too much about negative feedback, except in cases where it is helpful to us, in terms of necessary corrections.
I had reason recently to revisit John Bradshaw’s book Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child. Initially written for the children of alcoholics, it has become a favorite book of many who seek to recapture the creativity of what he calls the archetypal “wonder child” within us all. He writes,
The wonder child has all the natural ingredients necessary for creativity. Carl Rogers and a group of psychologists and artists studied the dynamics of creativity. They looked for the psychological conditions that are necessary in order for a person to be creative. They found that the following elements were essential in fostering creativity: playfulness; spontaneity; ability to live in the now; ability to experience wonder; ability to concentrate; and the capacity to be one’s own locus of evaluation. [… meaning] that one has a sense of satisfaction with him[sic]self. …When we’re in touch with this part of us, we have our creative power available.
The archetype of the infant-in-exile, as he calls it, is universal. In fact, come to think of it, it’s the theme of The Lion King, the stage version of which I took my grandsons to last weekend. The “real” heir to the throne is exiled, displaced by a harsh, critical, dark version of a king, who must be and is eventually overthrown when the “real” heir grows up and casts out the“pretender.”
We all have this work to do. Simba has to resist the voices telling him to stay and “not worry”–“hakuna matata.” He has to face the danger and do the work of going back and reclaiming his rightful throne. Bradshaw goes on to say,
By reclaiming and championng your wonder child you can let your light shine. Again, it was [Carl] Jung who said, ‘The child is that which brings the light into the darkness and carries the light before it.’…. The wonder child opens us to the mythical divine child expressed in the infant-in-exile motif. It takes us beyond the literal child of our personal histories. All of our stories tell of a hero/heroine, a divine child who was exiled and who is on a journey to find his[/her] true self.
So, no, I don’t feel particularly bad that I can’t play as well as Mitsuko Uchida. I have had too many other interests in life to give the piano those 15,000 hours necessary to become a “master.” But I can see progress, which, in itself, is “heady,” especially at my age. And it’s when I’m at the piano or writing that my “wonder child” comes out to play, seeking all the helpful feedback she can get.
In this season of darkness and light, of stories of divine children fleeing to safety, I hope you protect, encourage, and let your inner child come out to play. Listen carefully and lovingly to his or her story.