It is the time of year where even the most free-spirited and unstructured among us succumb to the magnetic pull of seasonal routines and rituals. We begin to think about holidays meals, make grocery lists, plan massive shopping trips to the store. We find ourselves charmed by those little decorative gourds and mini-pumpkins at the farmers market that could cheer up our tables and mantles with a bit of autumn spirit. We schedule the traditional cultural touchstones onto our busy calendars: the afternoon Nutcracker matinee, the holiday choral concerts, the Christmas and carol services that give this time of the year meaning and joy. We order paper for holiday cards, light menorah candles, don our houses with strings of lights. We all have practices, I often say when I’m giving workshops. The ritual and discipline of practice is hardly limited to musicians. And as the world begins to deck its halls and gather for feasts and festivities, practice is everywhere.

In the studio, one of our seasonal practices is that every year, the week after Halloween, I fill the sight-reading library with Christmas music, thrilling some students and annoying others. “I am so over Christmas music,” one kid said to me last week. I just looked at her. She is twelve, and already jaded. Oh dear.

In this strange year, when we find ourselves trying to pick up our precious rituals and celebrations and traditions only to have them knocked out of our hands again by the ever-changing rules of the pandemic, it occurs to me that we are smack in the middle another transition of sorts. “This year is just hard in a different way,” I said to a friend recently. “Isn’t that the truth,” she replied.

Despite all the ways we seem to be back to the busyness of our pre-pandemic lives, there are still so many restrictions (Masks and Handwashing and Proof of Vaccination, Oh My!). If I have to do one more Covid math equation, I will scream (…if Joe came down with a breakthrough case of Covid on Friday and I was in rehearsal with him on the previous Tuesday evening….or if Clair was exposed Monday and came to a piano lesson on Tuesday…or…or…or…). Enough already. As my husband has taken to saying in these trying times, “I am so done.”

This year is still hard, yes, but we are living in another sacred liminal space if only we would put down our pies and tinsel and twinkling colored lights long enough to pay attention. But too often the glitter and the shiny ornaments and the dancing reindeer taunt us, luring us away from the meditation cushion, the piano bench, the ritual of our evening walks under the stars. “I have one word for you, Miss Amy,” said a (mostly) charming kid this week, “Halloween. Of course, I couldn’t do all my practice boxes.”

Of course, how very unreasonable of me. “We must pay attention to the season that surrounds us and we must live the season as much as possible,” writes contemplative Robert Benson. Of course. When I am really paying attention and attending to the details of the moment, there is less space for the monsters of bad moods, restlessness, or anxiety to take over, and more room for gratitude to sneak in the under the shadows. I find myself delighting in my creamsicle cat rolling in a patch of morning sun on the black and white kitchen tiles. I fall in love with the Christmas cactus blooming right on cue with the season. I mark time while I practice by the bells ringing the hour from a church a few blocks away. If I am entirely swept up in the present, I don’t obsess about the five hours of teaching still ahead of me. I am simply there, listening and heeding the tiniest particles of my life: the inner rhythms of my music, the way the sound fades on a long note, the beauty of some unexpected harmony in the middle of a complicated passage.

Paying attention is the very essence of practice. As a result, I sometimes think, paying attention may be the hardest practice of all. “People who pay attention to what matters most in their lives, and who learn to ignore everything else, assume a freedom that is highly creative as well as potentially dangerous in contemporary society. Having abandoned everything of insignificance, they have nothing to lose,” writes Belden Lane in The Solace of Fierce Landscapes.

I remind myself that as the world plunges headfirst into the sugar and the bustle and the bling of the next few months that there is still time. There is time to choose this over that: this long conversation with a former student over that rushed hour running errands. This afternoon at a yoga restorative workshop over that noisyone at the holiday parade. This long evening walk with a friend over that one in a crowded restaurant. There is much to celebrate in this bountiful season: for the permission to gather once again for holidays dinners around a festive table, for the live music being made in concert halls and churches, for the vaccinations that allow us to hold one another tightly (“Miss Amy, I just want to give you a hug,” said a sweet Little One last week. I looked at his mother. She smiled. “It’s fine with me.”)

So much to celebrate. We are so not done.


PS. You can still register HERE for the FREE webinar I am giving this afternoon (November 14th) at 2pm MT. If you register, the link can be viewed anytime. The workshop entitled “The Life-Changing Magic of Practicing in a World Gone Mad” is not just for musicians, but for anyone interested in the spiritual discipline of practice.

PPS. And speaking of free online events…This Thursday, November 18th, I am joining my friends and fellow musicians violinist Ruxandra Marquardt and cellist Joel Becktell for a FREE Livestream concert of our favorite chamber music at NOON Mountain Time. You can find us online HERE.


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