So I admit, I’ve been feeling  a little bit guilty these past two weeks as I’ve been saying goodbye to students, responding to questions like, “How are YOU doing?” (in that concerned tone one uses with the bereaved at a funeral), with a big smile on my face. Happy. I feel happy. I feel light and happy to be letting go of something that was done in my mind and is now done in the physical world. I celebrate so many things right now, like my freedom, my creativity, my health, my energy, my desire to enjoy my own life. And I also celebrate setting people free to find their own truth, to go more deeply into the world to find what else is there for them.

And yet it is interesting to watch how tightly they hold on, grasping for anything that will give some illusion of continuity for the story they wished would never end.

I read this today, from my favorite book of Zen stories, Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?, by Ajahn Brahm:

“Grief is what we add on to loss. It is a learned response, specific to some cultures only. It is not universal and it is not unavoidable….there is an alternative to grief. Not that grief is wrong, only that there is another possibility.

“Grief is seeing only what has been taken away from you. The celebration of a life is recognizing all that we were blessed with, and feeling so very grateful.”

This is how I wish I could urge the parents in my school to frame this transition someday for their children. I know this indicates my near-delusionally high level of expectations for others, but it is my wish. I feel happy not because I am a sadist who enjoys inflicting loss and pain on others to watch them cope with it. I feel happy not because I just have to “mix things up every once in awhile” for fun. I feel happy because there is so much to be grateful for in the five plus years I gave in service to my students. Every moment I spent with them was in full presence. And I brought things to an end when I knew for certain that I could no longer be with them in full presence. Ironically, it was the same speech I gave in Loyal Wilson’s office the day I announced to him that I would be leaving the venture capital finance industry to pursue my dream of living in California and opening a violin school. I said, “I’ve always given 300% of myself to this job, and I wanted to let you know that I am no longer 300% committed in my mind to this,” just before explaining to him my dream. He, being a long-time businessman and wise soul, understood in a fatherly way what I needed to do for myself, and recognized the selfish part of him that would like to have me working under his firm’s brand name for as long as humanly possible. He could differentiate those two sides of himself. He said, “Well, if you said you were going to another firm, I’d have fought to keep you here. But I can’t compete with following your own dream.”

Amazing how few of the parents in my school could find it in themselves to distinguish these sides of my decision. Not surprising, either, since it seems that when some parents have children, so many channels in their brain shut off just to dedicate themselves solely to the care and feeding of their young. It’s a Darwinian mechanism that ensures the survival of the species, I suppose. Add that to the list of why I’m not that excited right now about having children of my own, thank you very much.

But I understand it. I can chalk up that kind of behavior to the reason I am here and where I am today. I get it. From an outsider’s perspective. I don’t get it from my own experience, since I don’t have kids. That, in the end, may be the core reason I felt that working so closely with parents on their kids’ development was not the best use of my gifts. Without kids of my own, I really have no interest in trying to tell people what to do with their own. For all I care, they should do whatever they see fit. It’s none of my business.

Meanwhile, I have uncovered numerous other ways to improve the quality of life for adults. And boy, do we need it. It seems I’m surrounded by the walking dead, people who have convinced themselves that there is not much more to life than keeping the lights on. These are not the poor and the destitute, mind you. These are not people facing the reality of living on the streets. These are people paralyzed by the elixir of suburban (or urban) security, so wed to their idea of what they “have to” do in order to survive (literally!), that any alternatives, even casually mentioned, spark the kind of fear one might expect if a live grizzly bear walked into the room on its hindlegs, wondering what its next meal would be.

Fear. What if fear, which we’ve been taught is ubiquitous and unavoidable, is like grief? What if we don’t have to live in fear of how we’ll make a living, how the bills will get paid, or what other people will think of us when we do what we know needs to be done? What if fear is something we choose to settle into like a comfortable chair, giving us no good reason to get out of it and do the new, uncomfortable things that lead toward our growth? More importantly, what is the alternative to fear?

Eleanor Roosevelt said something that is now framed on the wall of my studio as inspiration to all who enter:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…Do the thing you think you cannot do.”

“Think” is the key word here. Most things we “cannot” do are simply things we’ve decided in our minds not to try.

Maybe if we saw fear as an invitation, just like seeing loss as an occasion to celebrate life, we might stop all the chattering and excuses and complaining, and step into the life of our dreams.

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