Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Greatest Gift...

I Have Received…

(This post is a response to my friend Ed Taylor's request for stories about "the greatest gift you have received". Thanks Ed, for inspiring the following.)

I think the greatest gift I have ever received came from my mother. Not just that she "gave me life" but more importantly, that once I was alive she gave me space to find myself. At an early age I think she recognized that I was a sensitive internal kind of kid and whenever she could she gave me space to find my own way. 

This took many forms...sometimes when she noticed that I was feeling sad or somehow "off", she'd make time to do something special with me...even to the point of taking me out of school for a day for something like a "field trip" to a museum or something like that. Sometimes it just took the form of leaving me alone to work it out myself. 

When I was a bit older, Jr. high school age, we moved to big old Midwestern Victorian house, and I ended up with the entire 3rd floor to myself. It was kind of an attic apartment with lots of weird shaped rooms...She let me do whatever I wanted to with that space...I could decorate it any way I chose...Nail a tree branch to a door frame or collage all the walls with magazine pictures...later, I got really into animals and pets...I had all kinds of cages and terrariums up there...All she said was, "You can keep whatever creatures you like as long as they stay up there on the 3rd floor."...She let me lock my door at an early age too which was important to me...I always wanted my own space. This became especially important when my parents got divorced and during the usual "adolescent identity crisis" years.

Whatever I was interested in, as long as it was relatively safe and didn't harm anyone or anything, was OK with her. I never felt pressured to take any particular path...the only thing she encouraged me to do was to find things that I really enjoyed, things that gave me real pleasure. When I decided to take a year off after high school to pursue a career in music, she didn't pressure me to go to college even though I was virtually alone among my peers in not going. Instead, she gave me a couple of thousand dollars she had been planning to spend on my education and let me stay at home rent free. When that year became an ongoing thing...she decided to charge me the same $100 a month that she charged the boarders she would take in to help with the mortgage...She wanted me to have the experience of paying my way, at least somewhat. She did want to see that I was actually pursuing music and not just messing around...but she was never too pushy or intrusive about it. 

I think she knew I was going to be a late bloomer and trusted me to find my way eventually. I ended up living at home until I was 24 or so. But I left home having spent a lot of time educating myself...I read a ton of books...I had had a couple of serious relationships...I had written my first hundred songs or so...and I had worked some interesting jobs...I had gone through and come out the other side of my "lots of pets and animals" phase... and most importantly I had done a lot of soul searching and established a solid orientation towards pleasure and "feeling right" as a guide in life. 

Of course, I still had a lot of learning to do...I pursued music in New involved with a therapy-cult group for a while...I gave up music...moved out to the Northwest with my girlfriend at the time...lived in a little cabin in the San Juan islands...decided to move to Seattle pursue T'ai-Chi, Yoga and Bodywork...liked Yoga and Bodywork and did a lot of both but T'ai-Chi was love at first sight and the that became the main thing for me over time...I re-started and re-quit music several times, trying to find a way to do it that felt right...I became a T'ai-Chi teacher...met and married my wife tired of the city...quit teaching and moved to Iowa for a couple of years before moving to Ashland...figured out a new way to teach T'ai-Chi that really felt right to me...established myself as a teacher here...finally found a way to do music that felt right (recording everything I write and making it as freely available as I can and seeing what comes freely back) and living a life I truly feel good about. All of this involved letting go of some cherished dreams and replacing them with better and better ones...ones that were more and more in alignment with my nature.

A creative life is not an easy life. It demands constant work, attention and experimentation, but I've been living one since I can remember. The space my mom gave me as a little kid and then as a young adult gave me the time I needed to connect strongly to my inner "muse" and the courage to follow and trust it, wherever it led me. I think to be creative it's important to have a certain kind of confidence, and a willingness to explore and experiment. It's not confidence that something good will happen if you give something a try, it's more like confidence that nothing bad will happen if you give something a try. I will always be grateful for her for the space to do things my own way, in my own time. I'm sure I've made some dumb choices and certainly pursued some dead end paths, but the end result is a life I love, that truly feels like mine, that contributes to my community, and helps other people as well as myself find a less forced and more balanced approach to life. Vincent Van Gogh said that a man is truly blessed who has found his work and I totally agree. Without the space my mom gave me growing up, I don't know if I would have found mine. 

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