Monday, January 16, 2006

The Wisdom of No Escape

Lately, I’ve been spending more contact time with the guitar. I know this is because it feels easy, familiar, and accessible – in other words, I feel less like a clumsy dolt. I can find my way in any song; to my enormous amazement, I’ve been playing along fairly evenly with a favorite album, Tim O’Brien’s Traveler. (Allow me this aside: Traveler marks a year of landmarks for me. In February before it was released, I met Tim. In August, I went to Nashville for the CD release gig at the Belcourt. In September, I went to a songwriting event and attended workshops by Tim and his frequent writing collaborator, Darrell Scott. On December 26, I moved out of my house, and my marriage, and took my old life back.)

I love the sound a mandolin makes, but it’s definitely more work for me than guitar. I can sing along easily with the guitar, but the mando requires more concentration and precision. Even if I’m just chopping cords, evoking the right sound demands dead-on technique when hammering the frets. Sometimes I just want it a little easier. Who doesn’t?

I chose the mandolin precisely because it was new and strange to me, and would force me well outside my comfort zone. How often we abandon those challenges that might bring us to a whole new view of things, a new world of wonders, give us a new perspective, prove to us that we are more than we think, and allow us the fullness of joy we so desire. When I spare the patience, time, and endure the frustration it takes to learn a new song on the mandolin, I know the feeling of satisfaction is worth it.

One of my favorite writers is a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. In one of her books, The Wisdom of No Escape, she writes about taking off the armor we all wear, piece by piece, until we realize we have the courage to do the craziest things, the things that scare us the most, without throwing up or running in the other direction. Achieving this is no leap of faith; it is a daily practice, a commitment to smell our own fear, then move ahead toward the unknown, calculating as best we can that we’ll find what we need.

Each of us has a thing that we fear most. My boss says much of what we fear is our own success. I think there is truth in that; we fear actually having that thing we most desire, or achieving that which we think is in us. Rather than advance toward it in some way, we retreat behind our armor, step back into our comfort zone.

I’ve learned for a fact this doesn’t work and only extends my grief and frustration. Life is short; so far, it has always brought me not necessarily what I want, but what I need. When I trust it, I find that things work out for the best, and I am less afraid to go to the places that scare me. We all have to go there eventually to get what we are supposed to have, or more importantly, give what life demands of us.

This song is about getting outside the comfort zone at that precise moment it becomes most critical. It’s honest and beautiful. One night recently, while in comfy guitar mode, I put this song on and played through it, to my great surprise – proving that I can work harder. It’s a love song, but I think it could be applied to any goal. If we have the right support, and faith in ourselves and in the objective, we can push beyond that most frightening place, and probably find that we are still standing, even if what we thought we wanted or expected to find turned out to be something else.

If you are struggling with such a thing, take one small step every day to realize it.

Let Love Take You Back Again
From Traveler
(Tim O'Brien, Universal Music Corp/Howdy Skies Music/ASCAP)


At January 17, 2006 12:50 PM, Blogger Shameless Agitator said...

A beautiful post from a beautiful friend...

Thinking of you,


At January 18, 2006 8:00 AM, Blogger Shannon said...

I see the time coming, in not the too near future, to expand my musical horizons... not sure with what instrument yet but the rumblings in my soul have been there for a while now and are getting louder with all your writings and idea plantings...

1st step is to get the cello fixed...

nice beach pic by the way, who took it ;)

At January 18, 2006 8:32 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Andi! Thanks for visiting! I MISS YOU SOOOO MUCH!

Shan, I feel the same. Get that damn cello fixed so we can get "strung out" together! And for a hint of things to come, visit (And yes, fabulous beach pic. Looks like the ones you took will have to last me a while, but what a different time that was. Was that really ME?!)


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