Sunday, April 24, 2011


Yesterday, an interesting thing happened to me. I had one of those music-filled days that I like to blog about, but my mood (as you may have noticed ;) was a bit down. I woke up having one of those blue days, but I was ready to just roll with it. I have been reading a book by my favorite Buddhist author, Pema Chodron called "Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears."

Pema Chodron talks a lot about the Tibetan Buddhist concept of shenpa. Shenpa is that feeling of being very uncomfortable and having an immediate desire to get out of it as fast as humanly possible. Her teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, gives a great metaphor to the first part of that definition. He says that we humans are like children with poison ivy. The itch is very uncomfortable, and the first thing we want to do is scratch, but everyone knows that scratching makes it worse, and will actually cause the discomfort to spread. Shenpa is the experience of feeling the itch and really, really, really wanting to scratch it.

When shenpa is happening, our first instinct is to do something to relieve the discomfort. If we are feeling sad, we may turn on a trashy reality show to take our minds off of the pain, or if someone says something rude to us, our first instinct may be to say something mean back. The problem with giving into shenpa, is that it has consequences. It only relieves our suffering for a short moment, and then we have to live with the guilt of insulting that mean person who was probably just having a really crappy day. In terms of watching a reality show to relieve the suffering, if you are like me, you have to shower or go for a run or something like that to get that gross feeling out of you. Ughhh. We know better, and in moments of shenpa, it is hard to remember that.

The Buddhist response to shenpa is to sit with it. Instead of getting hooked by the feeling and reacting in whatever our conditioned instincts tell us to do, we sit with it and observe. Yesterday was a shenpa-filled day! Jesus, I thought shenpa would never end!

Despite my dramatic introduction, it was actually a wonderful morning. I met 4 students and their wonderful families at the Grammy Museum in Downtown Los Angeles and we saw the John Lennon exhibit. It was so much fun to explore this amazing museum with my students and their parents. They had so much fun playing with the interactive exhibits about music genres and sub genres.

I learned so much myself. There are literally hundreds of genres out there that most of us never learn about. It's really quite amazing.  There was an entire wall dedicated to the history of social change music that made my little heart go pitter-patter. Being in such a sensitive state right now, my eyes even teared up a bit.  If you have not been to the Grammy Museum, I cannot recommend it enough. Anyone who loves music will love this place. It is the only museum I know of that honors and documents 20th and 21st century music from the evolution of sound recording to the evolution of popular music.

The shenpa moments came up in bursts, which is normal when you are going through big changes.  Actually, they are a normal part of everyday, period. As I was watching the amazing video footage of John Lennon at the museum, I felt my heart get very heavy and filled with sadness at the fact that someone took this visionary away from us in such a cruel way. Enter shenpa challenge #1. I wanted to cry and mourn the death of John Lennon and feel angry at the man who shot him. I felt so sad for Yoko Ono, because no matter which side you take on how you feel about her, you can see that she loved him so much. My heart always goes out to her, because when I see footage of the two of them, I feel like I have never seen two people so in love with each other, and how awful to have that taken away from you. With Pema Chodron's teachings fresh in my mind, I decided to practice by feeling every ounce of sadness and then making a conscious decision to let it go and move on. Success.

Shenpa Challenge #2 came during the afternoon when I went home to practice for my evening performance. I kept feeling sad and unmotivated. I had moments where I just wanted to watch TV and not do anything I set out to do. I remembered to sit and observe. I reminded myself that music is a healing process and that if I just get myself to the piano and make myself play something, I will feel better, so I did. And I did feel better. And prepared! ;) Success!

Shenpa Challenge #3 came when I arrived at 7:00 to the gig I was scheduled for. It was a Japan Benefit concert in Hollywood with 40 performers on the list! FORTY PERFORMERS! That is freakin' insane! Of course, the event started 45 minutes late, and each performer was to play one song only and we went in alphabetical order. I almost called my mom to thank her for naming me Michelle and not Vivian, which had been the original plan. I did not go on until almost 10:00. When I saw the roster and did the math on my estimated performance time, I felt a strong desire to make up an excuse and get out of there, but being committed to conquering this shenpa thang, I decided to stay and sit with it. I let myself really listen to the performers I vibed with (and man, there were a lot of good ones!) and I let myself walk around outside and enjoy the moments to myself when I wasn't so into the performances. At first I thought, I committed to this, so I will honor my commitment, and then I can leave. But as the evening went on, and I continued to check in with myself, I noticed I was really having a good time. The musicians were fantastic, really inspiring. There was free food and wine, and the performers who were hanging out outside were a blast to talk to. I had a chance to bond with the guys in the new band I am singing back-up for, and I can't remember a time when I laughed so much. My performance was very well received and I felt a lot of love and appreciation. Then, after every thing was over, 7 musicians and I stayed up until 2 am (when we had to be kicked out ;) and had an impromptu jam session/sing-a-long. We sang  Fire and Rain, Imagine, Hallelujah, Let It Be, Patience. What a blast!

It's funny how I preach so much about the power of music and how healing it is, but I guess when you do something for a living, it is easy to take it for granted. The experience last night was worth waiting for. It was so healing to me. Sitting with the challenging shenpa moments throughout the day were just place holders for an amazing set of musical moments at the end.

When sitting with Shenpa, I am realizing that it's ok to feel a little pain. It's ok to be sad and angry at times. Just remember to sit and not react is the secret. The moment will pass, and a beautiful, exciting moment will eventually come. We just have to be patient.

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