Is anyone else having week after week of new growth and understanding? Inner discoveries continue unabated.

This week I performed online at a ceilidh with a group of new and old dear European friends. I realized by the presence with which they performed that I was in very good company—it wasn’t just their technique or sound quality (as good as Zoom can get), but it was how every note they played and sang drew me in more deeply. I’ll get more into where we are taken in a minute.

One of my new friends wrote this beautiful article for Classical Music. She speaks about what her Arts Therapy training has taught her about vulnerability as a source of creativity. She sent me the chapter from which she quoted, “Bearing Gifts to the Feast”, from Stephen Levine’s book Poeisis, which explores how the artistic process relates to rites of passage and the culture of gift exchange. I was deeply impressed with how he tied the artistic process back to creating deeper community, shared experience, and the capacity to accept and understand our suffering.

As I prepared to share at the ceilidh, my familiar inner critic spoke to me, “What do you have to offer?” In that moment came the simplest, most beautiful of answers: “To witness.”

And sometimes for me, to witness means just to be with what is. To create a sound and be with it. Notice it. Feel it. Listen to where it is going, and where the phrase wants to go. And if I’m able, I reach out with my mind and heart and invite the listener in to witness with me.

Two years ago I would have been so afraid to do that, in fear that it would over engage my ego—inviting them in to listen to ME. But it’s different now when I invite them in to witness something beautiful, something real.

Yo-Yo Ma has a fabulous class in the Masterclass Series. He emphasizes how he envisions his audience as guests to his party. I’ve been lucky enough to feel that first hand.

When we invite the listener in, we have the responsibility to share honestly. And to honestly share can be scary and vulnerable, and downright impossible when we haven’t been honest and real with ourselves.

Witnessing big emotions

Remember my TEDx talk? I talked about how we all feel the resonance of energy within us, like the strings on a piano that come alive through sympathetic vibration. Just this week I’ve realized that I had only focused on lifting the dampers off of the positive strings of joy, peace, love—all of these top shelf feelings that we long for.

Now I realize that whenever I got hit with a big emotion, especially one that scared me, I would dampen it immediately and not let it run its course (did you know that emotions have a beginning, middle, and an end?). I felt shame in having big feelings, because I wanted to be already evolved beyond them. (I know, right?!?) When I dampened a big scary emotion, it didn’t just go away—the energy had to go somewhere. My body absorbed the energy, just as the damper absorbs the energy of the piano string. The felt on the dampers is very durable, but eventually all of that absorption hardens the dampers, creating noise and inconsistent closing of the notes. It’s a long process of releasing all of that stored energy, locked within, and I’m thankful for the triathlon training.

By the way I just realized another interesting correlation: felt on the dampers, emotions felt in our bodies.

Now that I’m working on witnessing myself ride the beginning, middle, and end of big emotions, I am beginning to see and feel more resonating strings inside of me that I could have imagined: enlivening vibrations that bring meditation alive and leave me in a state of wonder.

This state of wonder is what I desire deeply to share through my playing. It is my song to sing.

When an artist is successful at sharing their own experience of suffering or inspiration, it brings us into that unified state of humankindness in which we feel the shared connection of our souls. The artist helps us to witness, understand, and bear the gift of our own suffering, the sacred place where our human limitations aspire for more growth and understanding.

The Gift of Witnessing

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