Sometimes while playing jazz at the coffee shop, what I hear coming from my piano is just a bunch of notes.
Sometimes though, it’s music.
I always strive for it to be music but far too frequently that isn’t the case. You see, at times I get distracted. Folk might wave at me, all friendly like, and I smile back as I play. Typically then I stumble a bit, take a phrase or two find my place again. But even when I get back into it, it’s lost its sense of musicality. Sometimes it doesn’t even take someone distracting me; my mind just does that mind thing of not staying where it should. The notes carry on but the music has stopped.
I’m trying to deal with this problem by giving myself frequent reminders. I say to myself make it music today, Terry. And when I very deliberately put my mind there, and force it to be only there, I’m able to do it. Melody and meaning interlace together.
I suspect that most others don’t hear that difference between when it is music and when it’s just notes. But I do, and it bothers me. It feels like I have the concentration span of my Great Pyrenees dog, Lady, walking on a windy day.
And that, unfortunately, is pretty short.
This time in my life has been one of reflection. It’s been going on now over four years after my career as a psychologist which lasted over forty. And I remember that sometimes when I was in the middle of a psychotherapy session it was like music. You can extend that metaphor for yourself with notions of great timing and interpersonal harmony and a sense of emotional meaning.
Unfortunately, other times it was just a bunch of assessment questions and theoretically correct therapeutic interventions. I probably did those things convincingly. They might have sounded sincere and insightful. But, alas, it was a going through the motions sort of thing.
As a writer now, I can employ the metaphor of this being about mind and heart. When I’m playing jazz and just notes are coming out, the heart part is absent and the mind goes somewhere automatic. And sometimes back when I was providing psychotherapy my heart would be absent, like I was too tired or something, and my mind just went to all of my education and training that told me how I ought to do it.
Let’s think music first.
There’s a rhythm machine on my digital piano. It can even put that beat into in a guitar and bass accompaniment. Using the canned rhythm track I could play the melody line and people would be able to dance to my music. There are all sorts of different rhythms to indulge in there, like rock and folk and calypso.
I guess…. could, if I wanted to.
However, the relentlessness of the canned beat means there can be no variation in tempo, no place for the heart to speed up a bit in excitement or slow down in reflection. You know, that truly human stuff. I used to think that if I added in the canned rhythm I would be playing someone else’s music while claiming it to be my own, not really being honest as a musician. Now, I don’t think it’s music at all. It’s just a contrived sense of what music is, stripped of a human being conveying what it means to feel and make meaning.
And shifting to the profession of psychology, the whole notion of taking the heart out was very popular in the culture of psychotherapy as my career progressed. Understanding the suffering and struggles of a person was to be all about tick boxes for symptoms to fulfill criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis. Treatment was about following the protocols of approved therapy models.
Toward the end of my career I felt a strong compulsion to view psychotherapy as creating occasion for sharing the human condition within all of us, clients and practitioners alike: its suffering, celebrations, stories, misgivings, confusions, missteps and delights. Obviously, we focused on those aspects of the client’s life, structured the time for their benefit. But they would know I experience that human condition too. Thankfully, I found other psychotherapists who also shared this humanistic perspective on the field. However, the institutions guiding and regulating the profession held fast: practitioners were to stay within the practices of objectifying diagnosis, scientifically vetted treatment protocols and an evolving imbroglio of ethical guidelines. We were there to consider clients as disordered or deficient, and ourselves as technicians doling out proven treatments. Complementary roles.
The prevailing notion was that university based research knew far better what my client needed than did my empathy, sensitivity, open-heartedness and compassion. Psychotherapy wasn’t supposed to be about the psychologist as a caring presence engaged in a subjectively meaningful way with the suffering person. Indeed, perhaps it could even be dangerous if we presumed to take our humanity into the therapy room: a forbidden sort of relationship might develop. Instead we were to take in what could be standardized and objectively documented, the canned rhythms built into the profession. No place for the heart to speed up in excitement or slow down in reflection.
So what difference does it make for you to read this? Can I suggest you try a little experiment? What I’m asking is that you become aware of little instances of humanity that might break through in your experiences today. Perhaps it will be a smile involving the eyes as well as the mouth, or a an unexpected warmth in a service provider who sees you as a person rather than a task or problem. Or maybe you could come to hear me play some Saturday at the coffee shop and listen for when the music breaks through.
Clickable links to prior blogs
October 2023 - About endings
September 2023 - Sacred ground
August 2023 - Are we there yet?
July 2023 - How smart is SMART?
June 2023 - Only half there
May 2023 - Who gets to write the story?
April 2023 - Intersubjectivity. Hunh?
March 2023 - A disturbing trend
February 2023 - About being in the middle
January 2023 - Can we have a little heart here please?
December 2022 - A story about story
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.