I have been listening to a radio interview* with Tami Simon, the founder and CEO of the publishing company Sounds True - and something she said struck me as being true for us, as teachers, performers, parents, and people:
Recently, I gave a talk . . . and afterwards somebody came up to me and said, "Can I tell you what the most important part of your talk was? . . . It was when you paused. What were you doing? What was happening?"
And then I paused again, and I tried to remember. . . in that moment in that talk, I was pausing and I was feeling “the emptiness” in the situation. And the person who was listening actually caught a spark in that moment that flew between us. . .
In any moment or situation where we find this gap . . . we find this sense of “everything’s not just one long sentence that isn’t even punctuated!” We wake up in the morning and we have so much to do and then we go to sleep at night. And yet, it’s in those moments when there’s that quietude . . . we become this conduit for fresh ideas that are wholly responsive to the situation at hand.
Tami Simon’s story reminded me of watching the pianist Simone Dinnerstein begin a concert of The Goldberg Variations.. She walked out to the bench – and just sat there, listening. She drank some orange juice. She seemed totally comfortable. She glanced up, waiting – not to get ready; she wasalready ready. She was listening for the music to descend into her so that she could carry it through the piano, and out into the air where we could hear it.
Ever since, before I play, I first sit still, listening, waiting until the music descends. It is amazing how different that experience is. There is no anxiety in it. That’s probably because the experience is not about me at all - I am as surprised as anyone else at what comes out of the piano.
We think, when we are surrounded by people who expect action, that we don’t have time to experience the gap, to feel the emptiness, to listen for the music. But if we practice experiencing the gap when we’re alone – at our instruments, washing dishes, taking walks, or doing whatever quiets us – then we can learn to expand this experience into a social context.
Because there is never not time. Even in an emergency, our ability to respond quickly and effectively is schooled by our ability to “feel the emptiness in the situation.” That is the place where there is no resistance, where just the right move, the brilliance, can comes through us.
This is the place of integrated reflexes. This is when the movements we have “practiced” over and over can find the exact right neural pathway to the pre-frontal cortex, so that we can creatively respond to whatever is actually happening now.
The place of unintegrated reflexes is when we are at the mercy of our habitual stress responses. We are stuck in the lower functions of the brain. We are not in “now” time; we are repeating something that happened that no longer exists, except in our minds.
When we meet a person - child or adult - who is stuck in a stress response, it is easy to get triggered into our own personal story of stress. Then, however “logical” or “practical” or “fair” we think we are being, we are simply justifying our own stress - and, in a way, venting it. It sounds harsh to say this, and I say “we” because I do it too. Far more than I like to admit.
But, as Tami Simon says, when we truly listen, the gap of no-resistance can travel across audiences – and also across a classroom to reach a troubled and troubling child. When we can give ourselves the gift of that inner silence, that micro-second of listening for the music to descend - then we can become “wholly responsive to the situation at hand.”
And that is what good teaching – good parenting – good relationships – are all about.