BEHIND THE SCENES
DRAWING BACK THE CURTAIN ON THE MYSTERIES OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Did you ever have the experience of walking into a bookstore and seeing all the published books on the shelf, and feeling overwhelmed about your own chances as a writer? Or go to a museum and feel the same way seeing other's art displayed on the walls? Or going to a concert and hearing the perfection of professional musician playing extraordinary music, and on some level thinking, "Where is there room for me, in all this?" or "How can I possibly reach that level of perfection?" Read on . . .
Thae polished jewel you are comparing yourself to almost always had to go through many stages of rough drafts and refinements to get to that place.
It didn't just spring full-blown from the creator's forehead, like Athena from Zeus.
The problem is that what goes on behind the scenes in not usually available to the average partaker of the end result, and so — in the absence of understanding all the iterations and revisions that underlie most great art — we compare ourselves to the end result, and come up (in our own estimation) short.
Another way of saying this is that because most artists (in whatever media) have applied the requisite refinement process to their work well before releasing it to the public, when the "perfect work" is unveiled / launched / placed onto bookstore shelves (and the like), this gives the impression that the work was born perfect — that these creators have an edge that we ordinary mortals never can.
But the polished jewel to which you may be comparing your own creative efforts and your chances of accomplishing your seemingly elusive goal almost always had to undergo many stages of rough drafts and refinements to get to that place. The problem is that unless you are part of a repertory company, or a student in a master class, or privy to the inner, unvoiced workings of the creator of a work-in-progress, what goes on behind the scenes isn't usually available to witnesses of the completed work.
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by the creative process, and have gained great nourishment not only from viewing discussions and formations of various works-in-progress, but also from observing my own creative process as it unfolds, backtracks, and finds unexpected open fields — a sensibility that I bring to my work with my clients.
When we encounter a finished work — books in a bookstore or library, already out in the open, being reviewed, discussed, becoming part of the culture — it’s all too easy to assume that they were perfect to begin with. Even if the author confesses difficulties in the earlier stages of the writing, once it’s in its finished, “perfect” form, that completion tends to be what we focus on. And then, even subliminally, we compare ourselves to the greats; and guess who falls short? “I could never do that,” we lament. And then, don’t write our book — or write it, but feel hampered by our perceived insufficiency.
And so because I have gained so much awareness and faith from not only watching the creative process of others (where it is watchable, as in the performing arts) but also of myself — my own starts and stalls, missteps and circlings round, and what it takes for something whole and perfectly itself to emerge from the pieces that show themselves enroute —
therefore I am dedicating this page to sharing with you my current book-in-progress — a nonfiction book about how understanding and appreciating musical harmony can translate into harmonious human relationships. It’s not something I have read about, or even experienced in any systematic way. But since I do love harmony in music, and am good at it (if I hear someone singing a melody, something wakes up in me that knows how to join it in a harmonious way) — and since, like most people, I do not automatically always know how to bring human relationships into a harmonious wholeness — I feel drawn to see what I can find out about this potentially inspiring pairing. And to live it, of course.
In the process, what I’m hoping is that you’ll come along for the journey. That you’ll find my stumblings and epiphanies interesting in their own right, and also — especially — that they will suggest something for your own writing process. Sometimes we learn best by being told things directly; and sometimes we learn more deeply by letting things come in through the side door. Throughout the sharing of this book-in-progress, I will include both what comes to be written, and my record of the process, so that you can see through my eyes and let it be useful for your own considerations when you write.
So, welcome. This will be an insider’s glimpse. May it show you what you want and need to find out.
Note: You may also want to read the “Creative Process” page.
Behind the Scenes of My Book-in-Progress
JOIN ME IN A REAL-LIFE LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES AS I WRITE MY BOOK ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MUSICAL HARMONY AND HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS
Unvarnished and in real time. . . .
NOTE: My comments on the process extend to the left margin on your screen. The actual writing is indented.
Also, what follows is the actual order in which the writing shown here came to me. In the early stages, it’s not necessarily so clear — or interesting. But if you are interested in following this process, so that you can learn more about (and learn to trust) your own, hang in there. See what you can see about how the process shows itself. You may find encouragement for your own book, and perhaps even things you’d like to try, yourself.
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For many years, as a singer and lover of musical harmony, I had wanted to write a book about applying the ways of musical harmony to situations that are not inherently musical. It seemed to me that musical harmony held an immediate, deeply spiritual invitation to our souls that did not tend to get translated into how we are with ourselves and one another. “Why not?” I wondered. “What is it about harmony in music that’s so different from ordinary relations and interactions? Are there things in musical harmony that are not just translatable but truer than our ordinary view of life — and that, if we were to be aware of them and seek to apply them (or simply open to them) would transform our experience of life in a genuinely beautiful, uplifted way?”
I set out to find out by writing about it.
This idea actually occurred to me as early as 2011 (as I trace back my notes and old files). I have pages dated from 2013. It was a good idea . . . and I let it drop. I felt overwhelmed by the unknowns and the possibilities.
But apparently it did not drop me. Because one day in meditation in early 2019, I found myself feeling like writing this book was important not only for the book’s own sake but for carrying out my true life’s journey. And so, accepting this but still baffled, I asked the question:
“What kind of book about my life with music should I write? A novel? [Writing a novel had been a possibility that I had researched and tried out for some time.] A memoir? [A memoir had been the framework for an earlier incarnation, though it hadn’t gotten all that far.] A non-fiction book?”
And then the answer came, clear and strong: “A non-fiction book. You’re ready. It’s not as sticky or vulnerable as a book about your own life, whether memoir or a novel. And you could get it out fairly quickly. It could be of great help to people. What’s obvious to you is not obvious, or even known, to everyone.”
[Of course, in hindsight I realize that even a non-fiction book would include my life, at least enough to draw from and give a sense of how the subject lived in me. But as a nonfiction book rather than a memoir, it would not have to exclusively center on me.]
Inspired, I jotted down everything that came — largely, notes about a possible book structure, and odds and ends about what to write. I was so happy to be following something guiding me, my pen whizzing along the paper as I did my best to keep up! I knew something had been conceived, had landed; some new life (though it had actually started years before) was growing. This is some of what I wrote:
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Asking for clarity on the book — what came: “Start with the nonfiction book about using the principles of musical harmony to bring into human relationships. 5 chapters. / Listen to music that has harmony in it. Classical is excellent. Listen to first line and then the other. Bach is superb for this, including contra melodies. / (1) Notice the harmonies. (2) Listen to 1 at a time. (3) Listen to them together. This immediately puts you into a wider awareness, where the texture of both can be experienced simultaneously. (4) A prerequisite for effective harmony is agreement on the key and rhythm. Within that, so much is possible. / Title: ____. Subtitle: How Harmony in Music Can Help Us Bring About Harmonious Human Relationships. / When the book is out, do readings from it [implication: singing can be part of this]”
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I wrote 6 pages of notes, just essentially taking “dictation” from wherever it was in me that was listening. I did not question anything at this point — no criticism, no dismissing. When, for example, on the first page (shown above), I got “5 chapters,” I wrote it down as it came. Would there actually be only 5 chapters? Me, with my propensity to write at length — at least, in early drafts? (I’m reminded of what Blaise Pascal wrote: “I would have written a shorter letter but I did not have the time.”) No way to tell, at this early juncture. But it gave a shape to things that might prove fruitful. That is, if there were only 5 chapters, what would be the most important 5 areas to write about and develop organically, to interrelate?
The other pages had more suggestions. I include them here. (I know that this is not the especially interesting-reading part; but I’m including it because in the beginning, one does not really know what will come. It’s important to let things land; like brainstorming. Later, things will undoubtedly sort themselves out.)
There is an invisible field in which the music resides. Does it create it, or is it created by it, or both? This field holds all the harmonies that happen within the playing. This can be our “playing field.”
So you have to recognize that there is a field to be experienced, which works (potentially) on us.
The will-towards-harmony is creative (story of my harmonizing experience — say, at my spiritual group).
Ground in the music of it. Then take it into (personal / human) relationships. Just the intention — the silent looking for it, the advocacy of it — can have a profound effect. Because much of how we communicate is vibrationally, [can’t read my handwriting] intention, though we aren’t always aware of it.
Part I: Harmony in Music / Part II: The Music of Human Relationships (intention)
[Structure possibilities:] Part One — The Harmony of Music / Story / What is harmony? / Listening to harmony / Playing with harmony / / Note: Include references to specific pieces of music — whether as Internet links, or the audio version of the book (which includes the music) / Overtone chanting — internal harmonization of the body and the extended field / [Marginal note to myself:] Maybe record the book at a studio if piano is needed — or find out how to get better recording sound with this [my] piano.
Part II [The Harmony of Human Relationships — carrying musical harmony into this arena]: The setup / Has stories from my experience / Exercises / Stories from others’ experiences? // Introduction: “In a way, this is so obvious as to hardly need saying. But perhaps that’s just why it does need saying — it’s so obvious that we didn’t even think of it. Even trained musicians may not make this translation into the realm of human interaction, because we tend to think of music — as significant as it is — as being bounded by its own (confines, parameters), like a special discipline such as anthropology or sociology. But music permeates so much more of life than we tend to realize — the rhythms in the body, for example, if regular and aligned, keep our health going, whereas irregular rhythms bring about ill health in various ways and degrees. Returning the body to its natural rhythm can have a profound effect. . .
on its health and well being. // The body of our humanity is also affected by a musicality or its absence. It’s certainly worth exploring whether an intent towards harmony — given the benefits of at least a direct appreciation of musical harmony, and some facility with developing intentionality and the willingness to note what unfolds — can bring about (—or perhaps release) a harmonious way of being between (among) people and peoples. // Maybe it’s contagious. Like a strong, pulsing rhythm that persists through distractions of noise and at some point catches the attention of the enraged, the fearful, the hiding-behind-dogmas, and so on, the presence of musical harmony — even if not heard with our physical ears — can reignite an awareness of the essential harmony in our deepest being, and bring forth a (fan) of beauty. . .
Imagine living as if life is music, has a meaning, a progression, an innate beauty that we are indelibly part of. This is truly possible. We only need to want it, and to begin. // The baton rises. The instruments begin to tune up. This is our moment. We take a breath — we open our ears and our hearts — and enter into the harmonies that will hold and nourish and keep us. // [Musical notes] // (Also — maybe this is just a chapter — or a portion of a chapter — or a whole Part 2—): Becoming harmonious within yourself. Then, your presence in the world has a harmonizing effect: — The outlook / — Exercises: (toning into each center/chakra?) — going with the actual notes? C = root, D = sacrum, E = solar plexus, F = heart, etc.)
I put away my notebook, done for now, and feeling immensely supported by what had come, and how fluently and confidently I had been able to receive it.
Less than an hour later, while washing my hands at the sink, a sentence came to me. Or perhaps an insistent thought. Knowing that water was a frequent stimulus of my creativity, I quickly dried my hands and went to the computer, where I wrote some translation of what was in me. It came out like this. (Note that I date my writings. This helps me find some sense of order later on. I may not end up using the pieces in chronological order — or at all; but it’s a categorizing system, among others, that keeps the inevitable “chaos” of the early drafts from becoming overwhelming rather than a flurry of creative possibilities.)
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(For Harmony book, Part I, towards the beginning (2-7):
How would it be if all instruments played the same note in an orchestral piece? The horn, the violin, the flute, the piano, the trombone, and all the rest — all playing a single note over and over? “Ayyyyyy,” “Ayyyyyy,” “Ayyyyyyy….” — it would get tiresome quickly.
Or what if these assorted instruments played a tune with many notes, even a very nice tune — but all played the tune at once, with no harmonies or variations? Imagine — just for simplicity’s sake — “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” (actually, a composer no less than Mozart took off on this tune and came up with some very lovely variations) being played as a single tune by the piano, violin, viola, cello, trombone, tuba, French horn, oboe, clarinet, and all the rest? It might sound interesting for the first go-round – at least in terms of instrumental textures — but after a while, you might think, “All right, already — I get it, I get it!”
The reason for all these different instruments and their tonalities and capabilities is so that they can play differently and different aspects of the one piece being played. The soulful nasality of the oboe is so different from the rich, belly-ripeness of the cello. The piercing sweetness of the violin is so different from the echoing announcements of the trumpet. They are meant to go together, but ideally, each in its own way, using the strengths and particularities of that instrument. Then, harmonies that accompany and enrich a melody will bring a sense of breadth and simultaneity to the listener’s experience, a feeling of wholeness brought about by the coming together of these instruments in a harmonious way.
“Harmony” may bring its gift to the melody as a full partner, as often happens in Bach, particularly the countermelodies known as counterpoint. In this case, each line has its own completeness and integrity, and is composed to intertwine and interact to bring out the best of both lines — and something more.
But harmony can also be weighted in favor of the melody, its contribution entering more as a phrase or a comma than a paragraph, and still create a feeling of amazement. I was once at a birthday party where we sat in a circle and gave to the birthday-man something we had brought: a poem, a blessing, a piece of music. The man to my left took out a harmonica and began playing — modestly, at first, but then his passion began to increase into full-flavored fervor, wailing exuberantly into the living room, to the amazement of all of those present.
And then, another man across the room took out his harmonica, and also started playing.
I knew about this man that he was an excellent musician (though I hadn’t known he played the harmonica). And what he did, when he lifted the slim instrument to his mouth, told me what an excellent and professional player he was. He listened to the first player, wailing into the room on his instrument; and he added just those touches that would augment what the first player was doing. A little back-up here, a riff there, all perfectly inserted and tuned, the notes (although his playing seemed quite spontaneous) chosen to support those of the main player. I could see the harmonist listening, the attentiveness in his eyes, as he played a few notes here and there. Had the first player suddenly stopped and the second player continued, he would have been playing not much worth listening to on its own — no melodic lines, no through-lines, just a bit of notes here and then there. This told me that his entire intent was to provide a harmony that would showcase the work of the main player. The lack of ego in this was striking, and touching. He had chosen his priorities well. He was harmonizing with the person as well as his music.
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The joyful state in which I wrote this was in some way its own reward, but it also meant something to me that I was connected with what was coming forth from me. And towards the end of this piece, when I got to write about the two men playing harmonicas, it was so satisfying to be able to put into words what I had silently observed when it actually happened. I had been so very alert and present to the skill and intention of the second man’s harmonizing, as I heard it — it was if, afterwards, I was bursting to share this subtle yet potent realization with others. But it wasn’t the kind of thing that could just be dropped on someone’s doorstep. It would need inner spaciousness, patience to communicate why this was so special and meaningful, and how the musical harmony was intertwined with the human-relational harmony.
As I wrote the above piece, that memory returned. Here was my chance to make this otherwise invisible event (and what lay behind it) known. One of the things I most love about writing from lived and observed experience is that you can compress or (as in this case) stretch out something onto the page that in linear time took only minutes. You can make the seemingly small — the nuanced and otherwise invisible — large and in the forefront, worth paying attention to 100 percent. Already, I was really enjoying this process of exploring harmony through writing.
My website (this website) was nearly done. I’d gotten a lot of writing and rewriting practice in perfecting it, over the course of more than a year. Now I was getting ready to let people know about the wealth of treasures in them that could be served by the wealth of treasures revealed on the site.
And then it came to me: Here I was, telling people about how writing a book could be such an intimate pleasure, etc. — and I was still stalling on writing my own book! That is, unlike the daily perfecting of my website, it was not an ongoing activity, not built into my calendar. I thought about it, sure — but was I actually committing to it in the way I knew clients would need to commit to writing their books? My integrity, as well as the book, seemed at stake.
“Okay,” I promised myself. “This Friday. This Friday morning. That’s my writing time. I’ll get up, meditate, and write for 3 hours.” And it actually felt good to make myself that promise.
The night before, I realized that some performance anxiety was creeping in, now that I had promised myself I would do this. I felt the beginnings of a clenching feeling in my stomach. But, aware of that, I asked myself, “What would I need in order to really be there for the writing? And even enjoy it?”
And what came was: “Really be in the moment. Let go of all thoughts of past and future. See what’s alive in the moment. Maybe I’ll use the time to simply contemplate musical harmony, or harmony. Maybe I’ll be able to write something and see where it goes.” That kindly self-talk helped a lot. I felt in good hands. I would not seek to produce a certain number of pages, or force writing out. I’d be there, and be present, and follow what came.
I also set an intention to take the book to heart, and be there for it. This intentionality gave me not only more strength and feeling of direction, but actual eagerness. And this led to the thought that I could actually listen to music as I wrote. I had never before done this. I tend to like silence for writing, so as not to be influenced by outer conditions. But in this case, having music seemed appropriate. Also, it would give a rhythm that might entrain my own.
When Friday morning came, I woke a bit before the alarm went off. I got up, fed the cat, brought the portable tape recorder and some music tapes into the living room, where I meditate. I brought in my laptop and put it and the tape recorder on the coffee table.
I meant to plug in the devices, then light a candle and sprinkle a few drops of rose essential oil into the diffuser, then go into meditation to reach an inspired inner state. But before I could even do that — while I was still plugging in my laptop and tape recorder — a sense of what to write came to me. It had to do with the music in the universe, and the music of the spheres, and how that relates to us. It was not in full sentences yet — but the impetus was there. It was as if the inner world was completely present, and whispering, “Go, go, go!”
Well, I am not one to look the gift horse of inspiration in the mouth! I went straight to the computer, and typed the sentence. And then, more came. Three pages of “more.” And I must tell you — such a wonderful experience! — that when I was writing this part, I really felt inspired. I felt like something deeper was opening things up for me — it was not just “dictation,” it was a slowed-down sense of being tuned in to something that, ten minutes ago, was not even known to me. When I was writing, I was following what was given, but I was also bringing my own perceptivity and writing skill to it. I remember pausing, at times, to feel it out and to find just the words that conveyed the sense of what was wanting to be known. It really did feel like a divine collaboration.
This was what I wrote. Afterwards, I called it the “Introduction.” And then, revising that, the “Prelude.” Because this is a book with a musical theme, after all.
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It’s said that as the planets in the firmament turn, there is a sound produced by the intervals between them that is music. It is known as “the Music of the Spheres,” and it permeates all of space.
There is a view that when the Creator brought life into manifestation, one word was used to bring that about, and that word was the directive, “Be!”
There is a view that music is not only something external to us, created by others out of “thin air,” but is actually the stuff of which we are made; that if we could hear the whirling of our atoms, attend to the fineness of our breath at very stilled moments, we would hear . . . music.
There is a view that not only are we music, but we also are a note in a great cosmic symphony or chorus; that our note is not only unique but utterly necessary for the flowering, the manifest transcendence of the universe.
This does not necessarily require us to play an instrument or sing, although perhaps our chances of realizing our innate musical being and our interrelatedness with our “fellow musicians” are increased if we do. But it does mean that when we realize that we are the music of life, particularized as ourselves, and that we can – are meant to – harmonize with all the other particularized notes of humanity and creation, then our chances of experiencing the uplifting and astonishing beauty of this intended collaboration are vastly improved.
There is a lot of noise in the way of our realizing all this and bringing it into our lives (“noise” being defined, in musical terms, as sound that is not ordered in a musical way). This noise includes a limited view of who we really are; a collective human history of discordance and the expectation that this discordance will inevitably continue; our own personal legacy of discordance, and the unresolved wounds arising from it. (In music, the term “resolve” is used to describe what happens when a series of dissonant notes or chords – inserted strategically and deliberately by the composer – find their way to consonant, harmonious notes or chords. In that case, at the moment of resolution, the previous dissonance is realized as having been necessary to build the tension that the harmonious chords would resolve.)
In light of all this, we have more music in our intrinsic being than we do noise, more harmony than discordance. It is our very background, shared with the rest of the cosmos; it is our own makeup. If we take this seriously and explore it, we take a journey of discovery that leads us to a whole new identity – as an individual, as a species, as a necessary element – a note – of the cosmos. Perhaps it’s something like finding out through DNA testing that the monolithic ancestry you were sure you had turns out to be laced with threads of exoticism, ties to peoples and lands you never considered. The opening of “Who am I, then?” that comes with such new information eventually must loosen the ties of insularity and bring this newly multi-racial, multi-geographical, multi-tribal person into a larger sense of “me.”
This is what coming to understand about our innate musicality suggests; what realizing our interrelated notes throughout the cosmos suggests. That not only are we more than we imagined, but we have ancestry that proves it, and that seeks – yearns for – a family reunion. The discordance we have resigned ourselves to, within ourselves, between ourselves, within the world – all this is noise, a distorted, incomplete understanding of who we are. When we can open to our notes and let them play as they are capable of, we naturally will seek to play with other notes; and the Music of the Spheres will play in our human sphere, bringing harmony of a kind that we have only dimly yearned for or known to yearn for. When we realize our innate music, as with sung or played music we have heard from whomever we have enjoyed it, we will also realize that simply playing our one note is so far less enjoyable, inspiring, beautiful than playing together in harmony.
It is for this reason that I have taken on – or, more accurately, been called to – the writing of this book, which explores what musical harmony can teach us about human harmony. And, considering that we actually are music, we don’t have to go that far afield to find this out and, thus touched by the “magic wand,” bring it into play. We only have to realize it. And then, the music in our hearts will begin to do the rest.
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And then I sat down to meditate. Gratitude streamed from me.
But I still had it in me to write more, though I wasn’t sure what. And so I gave myself to the meditation in both an allowing and a strategic way. I paid attention to my breathing, bringing my awareness to the rhythms and volume of breath. And I did some practices to ground my subtle awareness, so that I could truly draw from whatever wanted to give itself to me instead of imposing it. (That didn’t stop my mind from traveling far and wide about things unrelated to writing the book, but I also was not dissuaded from continuing the meditation or the writing to follow.)
One benefit, if you want to call it that, of my roaming mind was ideas about the book. A thought about doing some key interviews with people in the field of sound and healing — a woman I’ve been in correspondence with who makes and sells tuning forks. My former husband, once a classical musician and a fund of knowledge about harmony and harmonics. When I realized I couldn’t shoo away the thoughts, and that they might be useful thoughts, I wrote them down. By the time I had ended the meditation, I felt ready and eager to return to the writing.
I got up from my meditation chair and crossed the room to the couch behind the coffee table holding my laptop and the tape recorder. I put a tape of spiritual chants on, and plugged in my headphones for a closer hearing. I opened a new file on my laptop and titled it “Part I.” That was good. Part I would follow the Prelude. But what then? Ah: “Chapter One.” Of course!
It’s at a point like that where the conflicted mind can go to town. If you don’t believe me, listen to the hilarious excerpt from an old “Frasier” TV episode about two psychiatrist-brothers writing a book together that I recorded and put on the “Resources/Medicinal” page. Because, after writing the heading, “Chapter One,” then what? That’s where the real struggle often begins.
But it wasn’t at all a struggle for me. An image had come in meditation of myself as a young child, in our old New York City apartment, with my parents nearby: an image of deep joy, though nothing much is happening. But primed by what had been given to me during the meditation, and still being in that highly receptive state, I trusted everything that came to me — did not second-guess anything — even though I would, as it turned out, be able to pause and make slight adjustments as I wrote, if something didn’t feel quite right. And so I accepted starting with an image from childhood as the beginning for Chapter One (at least for now), and would see where it would go. This is where it went:
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PART I: THE LONGING FOR HARMONY
My early childhood memories, a long time ago now, took place in light and a sweetness of sound. In my mind’s eye I can still see myself as a young child with my parents in the living room of our New York City apartment, my heart wide open and shining through my eyes while my parents sat on the floral sofa and looked at me with pride and joy. There is sunlight pouring through the venetian blinds, making stripes of light on the wooden floor. And there are the sounds of pleasure (though these, I may be inserting with hindsight): the “aaahs” and “ohhhs” that come spontaneously in the presence of love, where every little movement of the child causes raptures of amazement in the parent.
So perhaps I was twirling along with the dust motes illuminated by the light, turning round in little circles in the living room, while my parents — young and beautiful, and still in love with each other — fondly looked on. Perhaps they clapped, rhythmically, to applaud my exploration, to cheer me on. Perhaps they said my name aloud, and its three syllables turned into song in their mouths, when spoken from that early depth of love.
I am inserting these possibilities and these aural “memories” because they fit with the visual memories still remaining with me. We tend to remember words that are said to us that have a strong emotional charge, whether of anger or intense love; but in this case, the soundtrack for these memories was not so much about what words were used, if any, but about the likely sounds that issued from my parents in a time when love was still the language of their land. Those early sounds — early in the life of a loved child, and early in the life of astonished parents, astonished that such sophisticated and perhaps world-weary adults such as themselves could have spawned such a bright, happy, innocent being as a child: how could such a being come from them? — formed a world for me, a place to stand. So the sounds that I would insert for myself in retrospect, as I twirled with the dust motes dancing in the bright sun squeezing through the slats of the blinds, would have been the sounds of utter contentment: giggles, sighs, a fine, illuminated breathing.
When such moments of pure being, pure happiness, take place in childhood, I believe that they are noted, absorbed, but not necessarily treasured in the way that we might treasure them as adults. Because at that point, they feel simply natural, an external confirmation of how life feels inside. The livingness of life, prior to mental constructs, requires a natural bowing to all that is, an acknowledgment of its preciousness in the spirit of “Goodnight, Moon,” where a child says goodnight to the moon, the dresser, the doorknob, everything in her world, with full conviction that it all has life and feeling, and will return the acknowledgment. And so this scene of twirling in the light as my parents looked on besotted with love for me — which has lived (though sketchily) in my memory for all these years and which I have filled in a bit, visually, and wholly imagined, aurally — may lack a remembered soundtrack simply because it was so harmonious. When you are young and all the pieces fit together seamlessly, you may feel so part of it all that the details merge into an inseparable whole. Only later, when the pieces become the foreground and the whole recedes into the background — perhaps to be retrieved through a journey of seeking or perhaps never to be even believed — does distinct memory arise, those sharp edges and clangs that gain our attention and hold it hostage as trauma, as the pinned-down parameters of our story, the story we proceed to tell ourselves over and over again as the years pass and our lives take on a fixedness absent from our beginnings.
So it was with me. In time, the early, sunlit pictures faded. And what came into focus were the times of clanging discord; the endless fights between my parents, their wills and helplessness colliding in mid-air as they shouted curses and imprecations at each other. And to live in a room where these words had been flung over and over was to live in a tangle of unkind sounds, sounds that hovered in the air well after they had been shouted; sounds that made of the once-neutral space in the rooms a war-zone.
That this took place well before I was old enough to understand the words, much less the helpless feelings in these gods, my parents, that loosed the curses, meant that the tonalities of these sounds were what entered my skin, my nervous system, my increasingly frightened heart. Later, growing up in that atmosphere of colliding sounds, I would come to understand the words, and they would settle into my mind like books I did not want to read but eventually would read over and over. And only much later — searching for an understanding of how the early Eden in which I had lived with these very same people had devolved into war, searching for a way to get that Eden back — did I come to understand what may have been going on inside those unhappy people whose misery caused them to bring such sounds into the room as to fill its atmosphere with dark, furious scribbles of sound, with no “Ohhh” or “Ahhh” – no parental-love music — to be heard.
[HEADING — to come]
The connection between human harmony, or its absence, and musical harmony may not be something we normally think about, but its roots are as personal and intimate, and ubiquitous, as this. When the music of our real being, which young children still are attuned to until a certain point, is overridden by the conflicts and traumas of adult life — whether in the larger culture or, especially, within the family — we lose track of that music. The influence of the sounds we take in when young becomes largely the soundtrack of our lives, and the rhythms that accompany those sounds entrain our nervous systems to operate in those same rhythms.
We may know, these days, much about the “Fight, freeze, or flight” reaction of trauma that’s a living relic of our reptilian brain and the hallmark of the overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. But we may not know that there was once a more musical rhythm underlying our very breathing, onto which the world has superimposed its ways, which we have taken on as our own, as a child whose adoption is a secret gives full, uninformed allegiance to the people who stand in as family. It’s not that they aren’t family; it’s that they let the child believe that they are the truth of his or her origin, when they are not. There is a truer legacy hidden away.
The connection between human harmony and musical harmony is a real one. It’s in this “hidden-away legacy” that the clues to our innate musicality and harmony are to be found. Human relationships, including with ourselves, have become in modern times so very complex — we proceed in the absence of awareness of the intrinsic musicality and belonging that shows up when we are in a state of wholeness (the Tower of Babel comes to mind to describe our attempts to communicate with one another from this place). And so trying to unravel what is off about our ways of relating may be more complex, relative, and ineffective than seeking to understand how musical harmony, the nature of the universe of which we are part and that is part and parcel of us, can help us regain our natural tone and our tune.
[Pick it up here?]
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Re-reading this now, I feel such gratitude that I allowed myself to follow the trajectory that showed itself to me from within. It would have been so easy to chide myself, “Stay on point!” or “Your sentences are too long!” or what have you (the inner critic is never short on things to chide about).
But I actually love it when I write that way. There’s a fineness of perception that makes me feel real, and a linking of experiences, thoughts, analogies, and such that makes me feel like I am putting things together in a way that means something, that draws back the curtain on something I do know but ordinarily don’t know I know. In short, while it did take energy and very precise concentration to write this, it was also joyful to be able to put into words subtle things that I knew to be true (at least for me, and, I hoped, also for others) but was usually too externally focused to make contact with. In writing this, I felt like the depth and realness of me had finally been seen in this way. And it was myself doing the seeing!
I felt full, and happy, and energized. And that I had indeed “pleased myself.” In such a situation, what a glory it would be, down the line (well, actually, right now), to share this with others. Because I did not need validation for the writing. Doing the writing was the validation. But I probably would want to share this experience and evocation with others.
It was at this point that I knew that the book would not be only for myself. That I would publish it, whether myself or through a larger publisher with larger distribution, so that the healing in the book would be available to anyone reading it. And that this might well be a large part of my larger contribution to humanity, a legacy to leave and — hopefully — live in, before I die. Anyway, it made me happy.
Where will I pick it up during my next writing session? When will my next writing session be? I guess that’s my work now — to put it on the calendar and keep the date. To make this a habit. It may be that not all writing sessions will be this fruitful. But even if that’s the case (and of course, I hope it’s not), I’ll have the grounding in what happened today to remind me. And I suspect that something has been actually conceived — as some women know when they have conceived before seeing a doctor to confirm it — and that it has its own life, and that we will continue to communicate and commune.
Well, it’s been some time since I sat down to write, and I didn’t even realize it. So much of my time and attention have been taken up with other things — work, family, inner growth (self-generated or not) — that although the reality that I’m writing a book didn’t slip my mind, the need to actually write it did. I’m shaking my head, inside. How did I let that happen??
I can feel the invitation to let my inner critic rise up and loom to giant proportions. But seeing that is helpful in curbing its power. Let me look into that, instead. What’s in the way? What would I need in order to stay with the writing?
I think I have underestimated the power of consistency and “sweat equity.” That is, as much as I love and believe in inspiration — and believe I am in touch with ways to invoke and engage it — there is something to be said for the “perspiration” aspect, too (as in the old saw, “It’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”). Something grows and gains gravitas when I bring a dedicated commitment to anything, and stumble, and regain balance and engage again. It’s a relationship, and in real life my relationships are deepened and strengthened by contact.
So I need to institute some structure for doing the writing — how many times a week, what general time of day, for how long or how many pages (I don’t love this last one), things like that. I’ve read about this countless times, from countless authors: don’t just rely on inspiration; show up consistently. Rewriting and future-dreaming about what will be in the book can be part of the chosen writing time, as well. (If I relied on sheer inspiration for running my business, I would not be able to run a business. I’ve given myself lots of time and energy to learn things I didn’t start out knowing. For something I care about on this level, why give myself less?)
I need a more conscious remembrance that this subject is important to me — that there are things about relating musical harmony to human relationships that I really want to learn, become conscious of, and put into words (for myself, to start with). When I don’t write or think about writing, the magnetism of the subject — which really wants to be explored in the way that I am capable of (even if I sometimes question that) — fades. So it will help me to remember that this is a subject that is mine — we chose each other — and that when I pay attention to this relationship, it grows and flowers.
How will I do this? I’ll start today. I’ll give myself at least 1/2 hour to just focus on the book, see where I am with it, what elements are needed to start giving me momentum about the writing. That’s my promise to myself for now.
Here is a way to be truthful without being unkind to myself: It’s taken me a month to get back to writing the book. That’s the truthful part. The kind part is that I have learned so much from writing and rewriting this website, and one of the things I’ve learned is that rewriting is where I really begin to shine. There have been numerous times when I put down my cursor and told myself, “I’m done!” — only to realize that something more could be tweaked and refined. Call it perfectionistic — yes, no doubt. (I try to reserve my perfectionistic tendencies for my art and my work.) But all these pages — all these pieces — form a whole, and when even a part of a single page has been refined to a higher level — where (finally!) simplicity has replaced more wordy denseness — that sets a new standard to tune the other pages to.
So coming to the end of writing the website (not that there won’t be updates and so on, but the end bringing the site to a point where it’s worth sharing) leaves me without something to perfect. I’d come to enjoy the process, look forward to the prospect. “You could write your book,” a voice inside said. Not in a whisper.
So that’s one reason I have returned to the writing.
The other is that not writing it was having a constricting effect on me. It wasn’t just a superego “should”; not writing about the subject that had chosen me (as well as me, It was leaching my motivation away.
One morning I awoke and realized I felt dry, listless, empty inside. It took a lot of energy and will to bring enough attention inside to inquire as to why. And perhaps not having written was not the full reason, but it clearly seemed part of it. I’ve known for years that saying from Jesus: “If you bring forth what is in you, what is in you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is in you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” I silently held this as a mantra when working with clients going through their (possibly inevitable) doubts and fears. But I had put my own book on hold; and more than just the book, the connection to that which wanted to be known. In allowing there to be distance between my attention and the subject of my book, I had lost touch with harmony, even the part I didn’t know about it. That left me in a more obscured, disconnected state, feeling more at the effect of what happens than being aligned with the creative cause.
The morning after I woke up empty — this morning — I willed myself to meditate before doing anythiner, g else (other than feed the cat). I sat and chanted and listened and prayed, and I did not, I must say, feel all that inspired. But then I prayed for guidance and inspiration, and something came to me — something more close to home, more personal than before. I walked across the room (it was only 6:30am, I was in solitude) and opened up a new Word file called “Harmony Book” (I didn’t know what it would be, exactly, or where in the book what I wrote would fit, exactly). Then I placed my eyes on my fingers on the keys, so as not to fall prey too soon to being critical of my writing by looking at the screen, and I began. And 9 pages later, I reached the end (of this portion).
I felt that it was real. That I was completely present for all of it. That is a wonderful feeling. And, for me, a litmus test of the writing’s worth.
There was an energy inside me that felt both galvanizing and whole. While I didn’t know what I was going to write until I wrote it, there was a direct flow from one thing to the next. My intellect was not running the show. I could feel the words coming out of an energy in me, and my wish to make the connection between musical and human harmony was much of the fuel behind what came out in writing. As soon as I related the lack of harmony — so human, so unfortunately prevalent — to my own situation, I knew I had material to draw from. And yet I didn’t want that to be the focus, only what opened the door.
This is what came, verbatim. Even now, as I share this with you, my heart is smiling. This “child” is coming to life.
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My husband and I are on the verge of a fight, I can feel it. I can feel it rising up in me – something he has said, some implication, some taking advantage of an earlier admitted vulnerability – it’s all about to come back in my face. I tense up, my breath shortens, I’m ready to defend my life – with him as hostage. I cringe when I see instances of violence on TV, the web of seemingly implacable appetites for conflict. And yet here I am.
It will do no good to try to remember the ground rules of nonviolence – the “I” statements, the putting forth of what I need rather than recitations of what I don’t want, the honoring of my needs while honoring his right to say no (“requests, not demands”) – the cortisol is already coursing through my body, revving up my heightened feelings, egging me on how I’m being wronged, and he is wrong, and I am right –
and this is someone I love! Someone I pledged to spend the rest of my life with. (And I am older, now; the “rest of my life” lies before me as a reality, limited in years, each one increasingly fraught with the need to use them well, apprehend their preciousness, not waste them. . . )
Where is Bach when you need him! I wish one of us could have the sense to put on some Bach.
# # #
Harmony in music is a soother in itself. Something happens inside our breathing, our nervous systems – something unwinds our knotted thoughts, slows down our breathing to the pace of greater ease and kindness, lifts us like a crane out of the morass of our confining concerns and reminds us that we can expand into beauty. Perhaps it reminds us, quite viscerally, that we too are instruments, that we can be brought back into tune when we are out of tune by being in the presence of a perfectly attuned feast of sounds. When we think of ourselves and our identities, we don’t ordinarily include our instrumental selves, which are capable of resonating, of coming into tune with a more well-tuned instrument, as playing a chord on a guitar will stimulate an overtone sequence further up the fretboard on strings that no fingers are touching.
Bach, perhaps more than any other composer, was a master of harmony, and in a particular way. Where later European classical music – say, in the Romantic movement of the 19th century – used harmony as largely a way to give ballast and texture to the main attraction, the melody – Bach came up with multiple melodies that wound together at the same time. These, he called “counterpoint.” Each contrapuntal melody could exist in its own right, although it was clearly connected in pitch, rhythm, and phrasing to the other. And in fact, one melody was the lead melody: it established the lay of the land, first; and then, the counterpoint began, emulating many of its features, saying, in effect, “I am from the same country as you, the same key signature and more.” Yet as the melody wove through like a river, darting forth and then sometimes circling back on itself, the counterpoint would – while keeping its connection with the melody – also venture off in a different direction, sometimes going lower as the melody went higher, sometimes using the very same stepwise motion in a different direction, and sometimes holding the baseline steady as the treble line went off in search of nirvana (and often returned with it quivering in its open palms).
What we can learn from Bach about harmony! What we can learn from music about harmony! What we can learn from opening to the music of our own being, and allowing these connections, these cross-fertilizations, to be known.
And why not? Why should we operate as if everything in life is separate, a discipline owned by a certain field of naming, when behind our very breath is a Source that draws everything together, unconcerned with the differentiated and confining namings that both anchor us and separate us? Musical harmony is less remote from who we are than we may realize; and there is much we can learn about how to be in life from it.
I decided to give myself this learning. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it found me and urged me to explore this, wouldn’t let me go until I did. For I did begin, and then let it go for quite a while – not just once, but a number of times – and what I began to find, after a time, was that my life lacked luster, meaning, eagerness, wholeness, an awareness of and readiness for the pick-up note. For every time I protested, inside, that I didn’t know enough about the structure of musical harmony (although I do sing, and have sung in a handful of semi-professional choruses) -- as if that were the hurdle I needed to jump; as if I were being asked to defend a thesis before a stochastic and stringent committee – something in my heart went flat when I deferred the task, the holy opportunity to venture into this territory of “How could harmony in music open up harmony in human relationships?”
Perhaps in the beginning it felt too intellectual to go far with; but then my personal life gave me ample reason to make the journey for the sake of my own health, fulfillment, and right tuning. I held certain ideals, yet acted in ways opposed to them. I thrilled to certain esthetic tapestries of beauty, yet felt my life was operating in a much more mundane, even debased, key. I needed to thread my higher longings closer to my actual living. And I held the hope that this might contribute to the world’s way of being, as well.
# # #
In the midst of a rupture with my husband, it would have done me no good to try to remind myself of “reasonable” things. The “amygdala hijack” that takes place when our oldest brain, the “primitive” reptilian brain, is activated has nothing to do with reasonableness. When its blare is felt, it drowns out anything that the reasonable portion of our (more recently evolved) brain, the prefrontal cortex, might have to contribute; indeed, it actually disables the prefrontal cortex for a time. What I could have easily been aware of during a more reasonable period would be out of the picture during a reptilian-brain-induced conflict. And yet “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” Have we even begun to take this in, and to make use of it?
When I am caught in my “rightness” and his “wrongness” – when I am hoodwinked by something much less than my true inner being into feeling endangered by how I am being approached or perceived, and must pull out all the stops to keep myself from being taken over or annihilated – whether it is the cause or just an unfortunate effect, I feel painfully alone at that moment: lonely alone, painted-into-a-corner alone. It is from this place of fear-based loneliness that I lash out, trying (I know it makes no sense) to convince him to treat me as I wish to be treated, seen as I wish to be seen. Martin Buber writes about the difference between “I-Thou” and “I-It.” At this moment, I have turned my beloved – during our wedding, the precious “Thou” of my heart – into an “It.” This is perhaps the greatest loss: who I become when this happens.
When this happens, on some level I am the only one in the room, the only one in the world. This is the bizarre split that happens when the frightened ego insists on its domain: the other doesn’t really exist as a person, and neither do I. Not as a feeling, connected person, as someone who is aware of both myself and the other. When the other disappears and becomes purely the source of my frustration, something essential about myself disappears from my contact, as well.
But if I could possibly open to, remember, the presence of the harmony between us . . . the harmonic, harmonious field . . . .
# # #
There is a harmonious field that surrounds and penetrates us. Certain things may call it forth, remind us it is there. Because it is invisible, because it can precede us, it is easy to forget its existence or not ever be aware of it. Yet being aware of it can make all the difference.
When I was in one of the first choruses I joined, I did not, at that time, know how to sight-read. I could sing, I could stay on pitch, and after a time I could memorize the notes well enough to remember what followed what, and use the music on the page to trigger my remembering. But in the beginning, although I could read music well enough to pick out a piece on the piano (and I had taught myself to read music, a feat I was hugely thrilled by), I could not pick up the tune just by looking at the notes strung along the musical staff on the page.
And so it took me some time to get my part down. When I sang soprano, it was somewhat easier, because the soprano line carries the melody, and melodies are generally easier to memorize and follow than the lower-pitched harmonies, which make total sense within the context of simultaneous singing but don’t always make sense on their own (that is, in the alto part one might sing a phrase of connected notes . . . then have to pause for a few bars . . . then come back in with three notes a few bars later, with no intrinsic self-referential logic to it other than the connection with the melody line). So yes, it was somewhat easier when I sang soprano than alto.
But still, it was an effort. Staring at the notes, trying to sound them out, their distance differentials (“How far up from middle C is this note here – F? I know what F looks like, but what does it sound like? [Internally humming up the scale]: “C . . D . . E . . F” – “Ah, that’s F!”) was possible – but by the time I got there, the rest of the chorus was already half a page of singing further. Never all that quick on my feet, I tried to keep up and not despair. I would look at the page of notes and listen to what the singer next to me was doing (all sopranos were seated together in the Soprano Section, and likewise with the Altos, Tenors, and Basses), and mimic her, just a fraction of a second behind her. Imagine the tension of that: She’s blithely (at least that was my projection) singing, “Do-mi-ne tu-os,” her voice rising and falling in all the right places, a strength and brightness to it born of confidence in her skills as well as the music; and I’m hobbling behind her, trying to catch up:
She: “Do-mi-ne –
Me: “Do –“
She: “tu-os –“
Me: “mi-ne. . . .”
This was the best I could do at the time, and ultimately it would work: I would know the notes enough to let go of my exclusive focus on each one, and, as the conductor liked to say, “actually start making music.” But during this period – and this is my point, if you’ve wondered whether I have one – my attention was completely on myself, on my own situation of learning the notes. Everything happening around me was basically background noise; I was the center of this universe, not in the sense that I needed everyone else to stop and bow to me, but in the sense that I was, for all intents and purposes, the only one who existed. It was all about me zeroing in on the notes in an effort to get them, so that I could then sing along with the others.
An astonishing thing would happen once I had the notes enough in hand to keep up. As soon as I no longer needed to zoom in with such exclusive focus, and I had a more relaxed, extended attention available, the rest of the voices came in. I could hear them. When I no longer needed to focus so intensively only on my own situation, what had been happening all around me all along had room in me to come to my notice. My God – there were soaring, sweeping harmonies sounding all around me, right next to me – I was even part of it! How could I have missed it? And being surrounded by this rich-textured harmony that surpassed anything I could think of lifted me up into a state of holy belonging that, until I experienced it, I hadn’t even known I had yearned for. And it had been all around me, all along. Only when I was able to lift my fixated attention off the individual notes and open up to the neighboring sounds could I even hear it. And when I did, I was transported.
This incident has often returned to me, and has seemed – still seems – like a perfect metaphor for what can happen in human relationship. Whatever it is that takes up our total attention – in my case with the music, it was trying to learn the notes and keep up – keeps us from realizing the harmony all around us, which we ourselves are contributing to without knowing it. When we are locked into our hyper-personal space, all we know is the three or so inches of what we are focused on, before us. When we can come out of that fixation and become aware of what else is going on, there is a harmony that encompasses us and holds us, draws us into something larger that simultaneously includes us. In music, this is much easier to see – and probably, to work with – than in human relationships where we don’t yet know the notes. But I believe it’s possible to learn to read the music, and then to hear it all around, and be held by it.
It is a state of consciousness; what we choose to be aware of. It is a willingness, an exploration. It is a way of looking at life, of holding ourselves and others. It may be a new muscle, but with practice, it can become strong. In this way, we can begin to find, and forge, the harmony of human relationships. And in the process, everyone has a more inclusive, more cared-for experience.
Copyright © 2019 by Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.