A few months ago, Hurricane Matthew raged outside my back door. As I watched the trees convulse against the house, and the rain-lashed fence bow and release, I made the only decision a sane music fan could make. I went to a concert. Like, anyway.
You see, gentle reader, I’ve had tickets for Jason Isbell twice. Twice has some bit of unexpected mayhem gone down that prevented me from getting to the show. Take if you will, the charming Norovirus that manifested in Florida after I flew all the way down for the performance. So, I just wasn’t going to give my John Paul White tickets up to the gaping maw of Mother Nature without protest. Sorry, Universe. Not this time.
The downpour marched on in ragged, unorganized sheets. I shrugged on a worn pair of Chucks and my husband’s favorite hoodie and prepared to be the only idiot in the village that came to the venue. I may have been foolish, but I was not disappointed. John Paul White was exactly as I imagined him—all wry humor and pathos telegraphed out to us through an epic pair of pipes and a mostly pressed suit. I sat with my wet sneakers propped up on the edge of stage because so few people came that they moved us all up to the first few rows. And then, I got to pose for a photo with old dude himself.
I have a muddled relationship with meeting authors or entertainers I admire. I feel compelled to do it if the opportunity arises. Because, if you can breathe the same air with badassery, you probably shouldn’t pass that up. But mainly, I prefer my own, secret understanding of who they are and what they do. I feel awkward about encountering the real thing. The actuality can be kind of intrusive in the face of who I imagined.
So, when John Paul White suddenly materialized in the flesh while I was busy buying a concert T-shirt, I stood in line to meet him, awash in equal parts eagerness and reluctance. For the record, he was extremely nice, and possessed of the practiced availability of someone who knows that he represents some idiosyncratic abstraction for each of us. Here’s the photo:
It’s nice, right? We might both look like we’re going to a funeral or maybe the podiatrist, but it’s a nice shot. Now, kiddies, here comes the point of this blog, other than to humble brag that I met John Paul White in the middle of a hurricane:
My camera app still up, I ran out into the rain to wait for my husband and happened to pass by two members of the opening act, The Kernal and His New Strangers. I had never heard of them before that night.
I “knew” John Paul White. So, do you think a single thing came out of my mouth to him about how much I admire his lyrics or musicality? Do you think I told him that my 2-year-old daughter refuses to listen to any song but a very specific one of his on the way to preschool? That I recommend one of his songs to clients sometimes? Nope, I said none of that because I “knew” him, and it all somehow seemed established and therefore less open for examination.
But, I was happy to rhapsodize to the heretofore unknown Kernal and Cotton about how their harmonies had been so tight and surprising that I simultaneously got shades of the Eagles and the Judy Bats. And, oh yeah, I also kind of thought The Kernal resembled what would happen if David Foster Wallace and Christopher Lloyd had a love child. I asked why the band was called the New Strangers. I asked for a photo or five. Now, look at the difference between the photo of me, The Kernal, and Cotton and the one with John Paul White:
You know what you notice in that second picture? Curiosity about the moment and the people I was with just then. Joy in discovery. Mainly, it was that I was present in that second photo because I was having more fun posing for it than I was imagining who I would show to afterwards. I was just there.
I have one job as a therapist, and it’s the same job no matter what issue you come in to address. The whole point of therapy—pick any problem you want–is to develop a capacity to be where you are, right now. To look into trauma and hold the space with it so you can be here now. To look at your partner and acknowledge, in the face of history and vulnerability and disappointment where you are together right now. To look at physical sensations that may be scary or painful or aggravating and be with them just as they are, now. All of that is fruit of the same root—a strong aversion to tuning into this moment when some far-flung future or past are so much friendlier or at least familiar. Also, my apologies to Ram Dass for stealing his schtick. He’s not wrong though.
I’m the sort of person who has a million New Years Resolutions every year. I think I just like to hedge my bets that something gets done. This year, however, I’m putting myself on the spot. I’m looking at the root of all the emotional chaos that creates the peccadillos of which I am most guilty—overwork, disconnect from source energy and consuming rather than creating. I’d like to tune into the most basic meaning of mindfulness—being available to what is, right this minute, right where I am.
Just as a brief programming note on that—I don’t think we’re all struggling with mindfulness because we’re pathological. On the contrary—humans have extraordinary emotional ingenuity that forges more pathways forwards and backwards in our imaginations than reality could possibly present. It’s kinda rad when those powers are engaged in a user-friendly way. Like, you know, when you’re psyching yourself up to run a marathon or going back over memories that no longer trigger because you’ve done hard work on them.
I hope all of you out there have a wonderful holiday season and a very happy start to 2017. If you want to show me your pictures of random encounters with famous people (I have some with Al Gore and Carrot Top to trade) or you just want to have a few life-editing conversations, give me a ring. I’d love for you to come on in so that we can talk about it.
Your Partner in Healing,
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