In an interview with Krista Tippett, cellist Yo-Yo Ma reflects on the transitions inherent in life while quoting Isaac Stern: “The music happens between the notes.”
“What does this mean?” Yo-Yo Ma pauses to ask. “How do you get from A to B? Do you glide into the next note, is it a smooth transfer, or do you have to reach—physically, mentally or effortfully to go from one note to the next? Could the next note be part of the first note? Or could the next note be a different universe? Have you just crossed some amazing boundary and suddenly the next note is a revelation?”
Making music is infinitely complex. It takes mental and emotional and spiritual investment. A meaningful life requires the same.
As much as we would like it to, life never stands still. I am halfway through a summer where I have spent some blessed downtime focusing on my first book project. The thought of the academic year beginning in a few short weeks makes my heart heavy. But Yo-Yo Ma has made me pause here to ask, “How do I move from one note of life to the next?”
In Psalm 98 the Israelites are encouraged to “sing a new song” while living in exile. They were far from home, living in a foreign land with strange new foreign ways. It was a painful, uncomfortable time. Yet the psalmist encouraged them to sing. Find your way to the next note, I imagine the Psalmist advising, and, find the way your notes connect to make your song.
According to the psalmist, we each have a song to sing. Knowing this can be a comfort in the in between times when we find ourselves stretched, uncomfortable, depressed, or grieved. Our lives have meaning and purpose, but how we make our way from one note of life to the next determines the melody we make. It would serve us well, then, to lean in and listen; to be intentional in the in between times; to find our way with purpose, confident that our notes will eventually connect in a song that only we are meant to sing.
[Feature Image: Pogo1]
Since I took yesterday off, I told myself I would sit down to write first thing this morning. Before getting to my desk, though, I did the following:
- Cleaned up the dirty dishes in the kitchen
- Got a load of laundry started
- Set my kids clothes out for the day
- Made the beds
- Scrolled through Facebook
- Ate breakfast
- Drank two cups of coffee, slowly
- Put my daughter’s hair up in a ponytail
- Went through the hall closet sorting shoes to give away or toss
- Had my kids try on their winter boots to see if they still fit
In other words, many tasks took precedent over my daily goal to sit down and write.
During yesterday’s readathon, I finally got to Stephen Pressfield’s book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, which has been on my list to read for a while. For me, the most helpful part of Pressfield’s book was his characterization of Resistance—that which keeps us from creating, growing, learning and evolving as human beings.
Two of the most intriguing points Pressfield made about Resistance were:
- “Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor. Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.” (See my list above.) “What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true.” (The majority of tasks on my list above needed to get done.) But, Pressfield insists, we can do what needs to be done and do our work. Resistance just does a good job of convincing us that everything on our to-do list is more important than our creative work and therefore must come first.
- Pressfield introduced me to the Principle of Priority, which states: “a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and b) you must do what is important first.” What’s important, Pressfield wants us to hear, is the work—the daily, creative work to which we are called that makes us and the world better. “That’s the game we have to suit up for every day,” Pressfield writes, “that’s the field on which we need to leave everything we’ve got.”
I also appreciated Pressfield’s description of what Resistance feels like. As a writer, he wakes up “with a gnawing sensation of dissatisfaction. Already, I feel fear. Already, the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact. I’m present. But I’m not. I am aware of Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.”
This daily battle with Resistance resonates because it has beaten me so many times, allowing me to excuse myself from my writing. Pressfield’s clear characterization of Resistance is helpful, then, in discerning what the enemy looks and feels like, as well as the weapons Resistance uses against us. Resistance keeps us from being the creators we were always meant to be.