Assertiveness

Assertiveness…it’s complicated. It’s a way of behaving that implies a comfortable level of self-confidence, but perhaps with overtones of aggressiveness?  It means standing up for yourself, demanding consideration for your right to be heard and for your opinion to matter, but might possibly cause you to cross the line into boorishness?

What sheds a positive light, for me, on the idea of being assertive is the fact that the opposite of assertiveness – to be timid, or meek, or uncertain – isn’t all that attractive . Assertiveness settles nicely into the middle ground between passivity and aggressiveness.  I read descriptions somewhere of those three personality characteristics as 1) a fear of being on the stage, 2) being on a stage and inviting others to join you, and 3) being on the stage and trying to push everyone else off. Via media wins again.

Being assertive compels us to be clear about what we need or want, communicating those things in ways that leave room for disagreement and disappointment. Asserting our right to be heard is only effective when we equally open the way for others to express their thoughts and feelings. What we’re actually claiming, when we stand up for who we are and what we believe, is that we’re equal to others. Not better. Not less.

Assertiveness acknowledges that we’re in this (whatever “this” happens to be) together, accepting responsibility and delegating, speaking and listening, conveying ideas and admitting mistakes, having enough confidence to demonstrate gratitude for the work of others, showing a respect for ourselves that inspires others to realize that we also respect them.

Goldberg Variations – 10 (Assertive)

Peace,
Sonya


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was gifted to me on January 5, 2016.

 

 

 

Lovingkindness

For anyone who decries the grammar-challenging flexibility found at the birth of a new word, consider the word “lovingkindness.” I doubt that Myles Coverdale had any idea what a useful word he was creating in 1535 when he used it for the first time in his translation of the Bible into English. It’s a word which has since proven handy when translating precepts important in Hinduism (Priti) and Buddhism (Mettā), as well as Judaism, where the Hebrew word חסד (chesed) is most often translated into English as lovingkindness. The lovingkindness of God is invoked many times in Coverdale’s Psalms, though it strikes me that the original psalmist assumed that people do not have a comparable ability for that same forgiving, non-judgmental love.

 You, O LORD, will not withhold Your compassion from me; Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me. – Psalm 40:11

Yet gemilut hasadim is the Jewish mitzvah which commands that one act with lovingkindness, without expectation of anything in return. It is a religious duty that requires one to “love your neighbor as yourself.” We can at least aspire to equal God’s capacity for lovingkindness in our daily interactions.

This melding of love and kindness into a single motivation for our actions implies a gentle attitude of service that does not come easily to many of us, but Bach’s 9th Goldberg Variation led me to think more about what this might look like. Or at least what it might feel like.

Goldberg Variations – 9 (Lovingkindness)

I’ve been slowly savoring a beautiful biography about 17th century poet and Anglican priest George Herbert which is called Music at Midnight. Though he never used the word “lovingkindness” in any of his poems as far as I know, he often wrote about such an intention, as in Love (III).

In Herbert’s best known poem (set to music by several composers, incidentally), God welcomes the narrator of the poem, presumably into Heaven, where a feast is offered, though the guest feels unworthy of Love’s hospitality. The poem’s dialogue between Love and the guest leaves the reader uncertain about who is speaking one significant line near the end.  Following Love’s question of who is to blame for the guest’s feeling of shame at his unworthiness for such a feast, it is unclear who then says “My dear, then I will serve.”

Is God serving the guest, or the guest serving God?  Each, it seems, feels the mitzvah to serve the other with lovingkindness. I’m so glad a new word was born in 1535.

Peace,
Sonya

P.S.  This Sunday, March 19, I’ll be playing on the annual Bach Marathon at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church.  Come and go as you please, it’s free. Bach Marathon 2017


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was gifted to me on January 5, 2016.

Persistence

My appreciation for persistence as a desirable trait has been on a roller coaster in the past month or so. It seemed like an admirable quality to have until I went to see the film about Ray Kroc, of McDonald’s fame, titled, inappropriately as it turns out, “The Founder.” Kroc’s mantra-like reliance on his belief in persistence as the tool for success in business exposes his cutthroat tendencies. When he asks one of the McDonald brothers, with whom he is partnering to expand their fast food concept, if McDonald would be willing to put a garden hose down the throat of his drowning competitor, the brother carefully responds “no…nor would I want to.” Persistence, at all costs, has no place in my repertoire either.

And then persistence was redeemed! It happened for me when Senator Elizabeth Warren was chastised and temporarily silenced on the Senate floor as she tried to shed light on the history of a political appointee. A Senate colleague said of her: “Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” (Washington Post, 2/8/16)

Two ways to be persistent. One that hurts people. One that demonstrates a dogged interest in uncovering truth. One that looks no further than a tunnel-visioned need to dominate. One that is willing to overcome dismissiveness.

 Goldberg Variations – 8 (Persistence)

Peace,
Sonya

P.S.  This coming Tuesday, March 14 at 12:10, a performance of Debussy’s one-act opera L’infant prodigue.  No tickets.  Join us!  Church of the Epiphany, Tuesday Concert Series


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was gifted to me on January 5, 2016.

 

 

Generosity

Defining generosity as a process of making space for something might be a back door approach, but it works for me. Our most generous impulses are guided by those spaces we create in our minds, our hearts, and our lives for the needs we see in others. Perhaps genuine generosity begins when we share that which we hold most dear, whether that is our time, our money, or even sometimes our privacy. Generosity in those times becomes risky and makes us vulnerable. It requires that we give up something, and not just give. Perhaps giving up our superiority or our certainty creates the space we need to be  more generous.

Generosity is one of those human traits that seems like a great add-on to an otherwise perfectly good person.  We expect people to be truthful, to not steal or hurt others.  But being generous?  Speaking for myself, that is something I admire in others and hope that perhaps I’ll find a way to cultivate in myself. Someday. When it’s convenient.

My mind focused on the idea of generosity in direct connection to my experience of playing Variation 7. Graceful and dance-like, the ornaments that decorate so many of the notes require just a bit of extra space in the beat and in the shape of the hand in order to play them as fluently as possible.

Goldberg Variations – 7 (Generosity)

I wonder if any pressure we do feel to be more generous stems only from the cultural and historical contexts of religion. Showing hospitality to the stranger is a core tenet of the three Abrahamic faiths, as well as Buddhism and Hinduism, after all, and at the heart of hospitality we discover generosity. But maybe there are actually reasons to be generous beyond religious commandments? Sociological studies tell us, and we probably know from our own experiences, that to give does so often mean that in one form or another we receive in return. Those studies show the ways that a person’s health and happiness improve when a life of generous practices is adopted. Logically, generosity is good for a peaceful society when people take care of themselves in ways that also help to take care of others.

Wherever and however the impulse to be generous inhabits us, we can never be motivated by anything other than a desire to be open to understanding and responding to the needs of others, and then make space in our own lives for the kinds of relationships that just might result when we do.

Peace,
Sonya


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was gifted to me on January 5, 2016.

 

Vagueness

My near-sighted eyes have depended on contact lenses and glasses to function in our detailed world since my early teen years. Blurriness has always been an uncomfortable state, one to be avoided, but I noticed not so long ago that I can differentiate between closely related shades of color more easily without my glasses. Hmm.

Which made me wonder then about impressionistic art and the intentionally blurry visions created by artists such as Degas and Van Gogh, often so colorful and conducive to seeing beyond the details to the essence of a landscape or the movement in a scene. It’s not unlike something called Schenkerian analysis, which music students apply to a piece with the hope of somehow uncovering the essence of a work’s tonal structure by taking away as many of the notes as possible.  The details are blurred into the background and underlying forms and meanings sometimes emerge.

Interesting that just as photography was taking off in the late 19th century, recording the details of life with great clarity, artists such as Renoir and Monet were finding ways to blur those details in their paintings. Ambiguous tonalities and freely formed musical works picked up on this same desire, particularly in works by Debussy and Ravel (though they are both known to have rejected the term “impressionism” for the own styles).

No one is ever going to describe any moment in Bach’s music as “impressionistic,” I’m quite certain. He was a master of clarity and precision. Still, the idea of being vaguely lost in a blurry world came to me as I played Variation 6 because its imitative lines of music are  a step apart – i.e. a canon at the second, which creates momentary dissonances between notes right next to each other.

Goldberg Variation 6 (Vagueness)

The music becomes temporarily blurry, not, as is often the case in most music, with the intention of creating a dissonance and welcome resolution, but rather to suggest a fleeting moment of indecision or of feeling lost. And what’s so wrong with that?  Occasional indecision gives us more time to fully weigh both sides of a decision. Being lost sometimes leads us to places or people we would never have encountered otherwise.

I heard a story that utterly charmed me not long ago.  A group of millennials, all poised to answer the question of the moment with their pocket oracles, otherwise known as their phones, were stopped by one of the group who said, “Wait, let’s not know for a while.” Occasionally spending some time in vagueness just might remind us to live more often in wonder, and to peel away the details of certainty while we delve down to the essence of what is good.

Peace,
Sonya


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was gifted to me on January 5, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Extraverted (or is it Extroverted?)

(the answer is both)

A few weeks ago I wrote about introversion, making the perhaps obvious observation that most of us have personalities which are a combination of introverted and extroverted traits. Not equally balanced between the two surely, but with any luck a balance that works for us in all of the different situations we encounter in our lives. If extraversion is simply defined as having a desire to engage with the world outside of ourselves, then that is a worthy goal for every introvert. Taking on the assertiveness and enthusiasm of an extravert has a place in any introvert’s toolbox for dealing with the world. And if extraverts are sometimes people who talk too much, or those who always need to be the center of attention, or who don’t read social cues well enough to know when enough is enough….well, cultivating some of the quieter, reflective qualities of an introvert might be in order.

It’s always about balance. Having good physical balance, balancing competing interests and demands on our time, being balanced in our emotions. The golden mean. The via media.  Possibly part of The Goldberg Variations’ continuing appeal is found in the equilibrium that Bach created within the music.  He built each variation with two sections, each repeated, creating unchanging structural symmetry. Additionally, the “theme” upon which these variations are based is actually a 32-note bass line and that parallels the 32 measures of music in each variation. Which, in turn, corresponds to the number of variations, counting the opening and closing Arias which surround the 30 variations, giving stability to the whole. And that’s just the beginning of the beauty to be found in the mathematics of this music.

Goldberg Variation 5 (Extraverted)

Variation 5 is lively and sociable.  Bach suggested that it be played on two manuals – i.e. a harpsichord with two keyboards. The piano, of course, has just one keyboard and the player’s crossing hands spend a fair amount of time playing right on top of each other. Not unlike an animated dinner conversation, where perhaps the extravert has more chance of being heard!

Peace,
Sonya


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was gifted to me on January 5, 2016.

Openness

The music itself is obviously responsible for the “intention” I’ve set for this 4th Goldberg Variation. Open intervals of 3rds, 4ths and 5ths provide the music’s primary color, eschewing fancy running passage-work or complex polyphony. There is something so earnest and guileless about this variation. Some might even say unsophisticated, as trusting open-heartedness can sometimes seem.

Goldberg Variation 4 (Openness)

Easy enough to define openness as the opposite of secrecy. If your feelings and vulnerabilities are open for all to see then the armor of secrecy can’t protect you from others’ judgments and attacks. That sounds scary, but secrecy seems even more dangerous since it also protects you from having to be truthful…Pinocchio, I’m talking to you.

As Sophocles wrote, “Do nothing secretly, for time sees and hears all things, and discloses all.” Or as the Buddha taught, “three things cannot long stay hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.”

Openness asks questions. Secrecy tries to hide the answers. Openness is sensitive to surrounding beauty. Secrecy is too busy guarding the gate to see what is outside of  it. Openness seeks to make connections. Secrecy closes doors. Openness tries to see what is possible. Secrecy fears new information. Openness disarms with candor. Secrecy empowers the manipulative.

I choose openness.

Peace,
Sonya


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was gifted to me on January 5, 2016.