Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Real World

Three days after the Orff course ended, the love fest continues. Various students stayed longer and kept hanging out sharing body percussion patterns, songs and the pleasure of their mutual company walking the streets of San Francisco, sitting in parks or gathered around tables in restaurants. They’re letting themselves down slowly into that mysterious place called “the real world.”

I imagine we’ve all had the experience of sheltering ourselves from the pulling and hauling of daily life, whether it be a vacation at a beach resort, a Zen meditation retreat or a backpacking trip. The re-entry is always a tricky moment. And especially in these Orff courses where the intensity is magnified by the constant lift of the spirit through song, dance, percussion in deep communion with colleagues. Colleagues who spend a year in isolation in their school community, day after day thrown alone into the waters of excited and needy children with no one to talk to in the staff room about their triumphs or tribulations. And suddenly, “here they are together with Sofia” (sorry—an in-joke referencing a first day game of meeting each other). The relief of being with people who speak their language is just one of the many treasures of the Orff retreat.

Years back, on the last day of the course, I gave a short talk about the real world. It went something like this:

“I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how hard it will be to get back to the ‘real world.’ I know what they mean by that term, but I think they have it wrong. What can be more real than using all of you— your elegant body, your feeling heart, your imaginative and analytic mind, your deep soul and ascendant spirit—instead of the narrow slice that the so-called “real world” cares about? What can be more real than relating to your neighbor with clapping plays, hands held in folk dances, bodies creating collective shapes, voices blending, conversations in sound and gesture, quiet hugs after a particular moment of beauty, casual conversations at the lunch table and belly laughs to the late-night gathering? Compare that to the tiny world of words only that the real world accepts and it makes you wonder which is more true.  What can be more real than feeling both challenged and affirmed, pushed to be better and accepted as you are, blending into the group so you disappear in the unity of it all and standing out so you express what only you and no one else can? The so-called real world mostly wants you to sit down, shut-up, obey and follow and don’t make waves, tick the box of the right answer instead of daring to ask the next needed question that has no easy answer.

Remember the Velveteen Rabbit? He was struggling with the question of what is real and the Skin Horse said it well. "It only happens when a child loves you, REALLY loves you."

I think you are here in this training so you can learn to love your children better and give them the joy and pleasure they deserve. When you do that well, they will love you, not only for who you are, but for what you give them. And you both will become more real.

But as you are discovering, this is not an easy path. The Skin Horse says it plain. "It hurts." Here in this Orff course, there is nowhere to hide behind your skill and accomplishment. We are asking the impossible— that you express yourself in sounds on 25 different instruments, sing well, dance well, speak poetically and so much more. And the best dancer is not the one with the technique, but the one willing to risk vulnerability and exposure and that can hurt. But “when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.” And you are supported by fellow teachers who encourage you to be real to yourself and to the group. This is a slow, patient process. Again, the Skin Horse:

‘It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.' 

You see, that’s what happened to my hair. (Laughter) I see you all shining and even more beautiful than when you started two weeks ago. But I think the hardest thing about re-entering that unreal world out there is meeting the people who don’t understand. How could they if all they know is the narrow slice of the workaday world or the even narrower view of reality that the media serves up daily?

People, don’t let them fool you. This is the real world.”

That's the talk I gave. And then I went home to pay my bills. 

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