Saturday, February 24, 2007

building your dream

You've zeroed in on the way you'd like to feel. Now you need to come up with a variety of situations that are fertile ground for good feelings.

1. Return to your happy memories. Make a list of all the things or situations that made you feel good.

In my list, this would include singing, being with family and friends, being with my boyfriend, doing yoga, moving my body, doing activities I love (and not doing activities I don't love!), having enough of everything I need, watching movies, reading books...

2. Now probe a little deeper. You're not necessarily looking for a strict set of criteria, but a variety of possibilities. What are the real situations that bring out your happiness?

I'm not always happy when I'm singing; sometimes I don't like the way I sound. Sometimes my voice just isn't working properly. Sometimes I don't like the songs I have to sing. I find learning new music tedious. And I don't like to sing music that goes too high.

But if I care for my voice properly, and exercise it well and use good technique, I improve my chances of making sounds that are satisfying. And I know that when I'm practising, I like the freedom of not worrying about whether or not anyone is being bothered by my noise.

Once I've learned music that I love, I find singing a joy, especially if I am working with people (accompanists, directors, choir members) who pursue their own music-making with excellence and joy.

So in the case of singing, I increase my chances for happiness if: I care for my voice; I make time in my schedule to practise regularly in spaces where I feel free and comfortable; I do as much as I can to ensure I'm singing the styles and ranges of music I particularly love; I choose to sing with people who will enrich my experience of the music.

Does this mean we should become hedonists who seek out only those experiences we know we will enjoy?

Yes and no. There is always the danger of falling into the trap of grasping at pleasure. But if you approach the circumstances of your life as choices, and if you continually choose those which align with your best possible existence - in the spirit of aparigraha (non-grasping) - you run a better chance of being a Dream-Fulfiller.*

True, not everything that contributes to our best lives is enjoyable. I remember one choir I sang with several years ago: I was easily the poorest singer in the group, surrounded by university voice majors who could sight-read rings around me. I lived in a panic every time we went through a new piece, and I frantically tried memorizing everything between rehearsals, so that I wouldn't be found lacking.

Another woman in my section seemed to dislike singing beside me, so I was always trying to avoid any confrontation with her. And when I was one of the only singers on my part, I felt too ashamed of my voice to sing out strongly.

This all sounds like a recipe for disaster, and indeed I writhed in mental agony for most of the year-and-a-half that I sang with this group. But they were performing my absolute favorite period of music - renaissance - and the moments when I could relax and enjoy the exquisite harmonies of composers like Thomas Tallis and William Byrd were like precious gold. Plus in the all-too-brief eighteen months that I belonged to the choir, I was pushed and stretched, and grew more as a singer than at any time before or since.

(So I guess I should add to my happiness list: I like experiences that challenge me, and test my limits.)

Doing a "pleasure audit" of your life can take some time. Don't expect to get it all figured out in a day - or even a week. Truly, it can be an ongoing lifetime exercise. But do continue to think seriously about what makes you happy.

Next we'll begin to talk about your physical surroundings, which is what most people hire me to help them take care of.

*see my post from February 19, 2007: daring to dream

copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

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