Thursday, October 6, 2022

Through the Eyes of the Other

When the first photos of the Earth from space were publicly shown, people predicted the dawn of a New Age, an expanded consciousness that finally got us out of our narrow slice of reality and see the bigger picture. It was the iconic image on the cover The Whole Earth Catalogue, a shopper’s guide to the new world a’comin’. 


Well, it didn’t quite work out as we hoped. At least, not yet. Seems we’re more hunkered down than ever in our little corners, holding desperately on to our security blankets of political or religious dogma, the very divisiveness that got us into this mess in the first place. 


But as the Collective Trauma Summit bears witness to, many are emerging and reaching across the aisle and discovering that at the roots of all cultures, all places, all people, we all share the same joys and sorrows, beauties and ugliness, hopes and despairs— with different words/ sounds/ images/ stories, but at the root, the same. And in that recognition comes the realization that we are each other’s medicine, that (as Maya Angelou says) “We go forth alone and stand as ten thousand.” Or seven billion. 


To bring the telescope down to my tiny corner of the world, the music class with children. I’ve always tried to think big about what’s going on there, but like most of us, the first step was to teach today’s classes and plan tomorrow’s. But that questioning—“What am I after here? What’s really going on? What are we doing?”— was always on my mind and the path to some answers was not through getting a doctorate in music education. It was through looking at it all through the eyes of multiple disciplines, diverse thinkers, discoveries in other fields. This led me to a lifelong appetite for reading that brought me into the worlds of mythology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, neuroscience, orality and literacy, mathematics, educational philosophies, poetry, gender studies, social justice, spiritual practices, the history of Western music, of jazz, of various “world” musics, the lives and thoughts of composers and improvisers and yet more. Each became a window to seeing deeper into each class with my 3 year-old, 8 year-old, 13 year-old and more students. A way to look at my discipline through the eyes of others and emerge with a large and clearer perspective.


So when I copied down some of Dr. SarĂ¡ King’s words from the recent Collective Trauma Summit, I kept thinking, “Yes! Yes! That’s it! That’s what I’ve been trying to do and am still trying to do, whether at a school, singing with neighbors or playing piano for elders. “ Here is what she said, with the boldface mine.


We need to look at these festering centuries-old wounds of ancestral and intergenerational trauma that is alive in each of us and is interrupting the force-field of intimacy and interconnectness that is our birthright.  What are the kinds of truly intimate spaces in which we can perceive ourselves differently in a way that what matters to me, both the pain and joy in my body can be received by another with a loving awareness. It calls on each of us to be reflecting back to each other the uniqueness and richness of our being.”


Yep. Yesterday I had 8th graders do mirror movement with each other, with partners they normally wouldn’t have chosen. An activity that wouldn’t have been their first choice, but I knew they needed it. And I’d like to think that at the end of watching each closely, expressing something in their body about some quality or emotion they feel and copying the other’s expression, that they had the opportunity to perceive each other just a little bit differently. They had the option to express joy or pain without the extreme vulnerability of words, to show at least a little bit of the uniqueness and richness of their being at a time in life when much of it goes into hiding, worried about being shamed by peers or unseen by adults. 


The exercise developed into double-mirroring with groups of four and then all four creating a choreography to a song I sang in which contributed one motion and they decided how to put them together. And so the connection reached deeper into the creative act, as it does. And then, of course, they shared back and commented on each other’s first-draft work, expressing the details of appreciation that helps craft the creative act and refine it.


And so when Dr. King said the next thing, I was already there with her.


“We have an extraordinary resource in us in the presence of art. In the presence of altered aliveness— the neuroscience of witnessing moving art is that the brain doesn’t feel it as outside of ourselves, but inside.”


Here she’s speaking about standing in front of a painting that stops us and draws us in or listening to fabulous music at a concert. But the whole show amps up a notch when you’re the person actually creating art and yet again, when you create it with others.  


Nothing she said was a new idea for me, but all of it was a marvelous affirmation and another way to think about and talk about this tiny corner of a big universe that so few understand or pay attention to. Yet here it was, present in a Conference dedicated to the most important thing on our collective table— the healing of ourselves and the world.


Perhaps I could be invited to speak at a future Conference? Or better yet, do a class with all participants.

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