Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013
When I grew up, we celebrated my birthday every year at a local amusement park. I was a frequent rider of roller coasters, as was my dad. My mother did not enjoy the ride and preferred to sit and wait and hold our belongings while the rest of us had a blast. When my niece was in elementary school and would visit me every summer, we enjoyed visiting Fiesta Texas and riding the roller coasters. We especially liked the end of the day when we could ride the coasters over and over, sometimes even getting off the car and back on again within a minute. When my niece was afraid of a new type of coaster, we would analyze it together and then think of a way to "ease" ourselves into trying it. We succeeded each time in challenging ourselves to try the new ones, even if they did look scary because they ran backwards, upside down, loopy, and feet dangling. It was all a great deal of fun in the end.
My niece has grown now, and I have had no reason to go to the amusement parks for many years now. Two years ago, though, I visited my father, who was suffering from an illness that kept him pretty tied down to the house. He suggested that I amuse myself at the park one day. Remembering how much fun I had with the coasters years ago with my niece, I gladly drove to the park by myself.
I hopped on the first coaster I found -- an older, wooden kind that bumped and jerked and banged and squealed around the course. I managed to hang on, but I was terrified. When I got off the coaster, I almost felt a spark of nausea. What was this? Have I reached the age like my mother when I can no longer ride the coasters? I considered this, and I thought about how many other rides I would not be enjoying, since they also involved the thrill of risk and the fear of crashing. I sat on a park bench with an ice cream cone and thought for a long time that day about what this fear of riding the coasters meant. And this was just the usual type of coaster. This was not a newfangled kind with the loops, feet dangling, backwards motion, upside down, and supersonic speed. This was the usual one, the one I had grown up riding.
It was a dark series of moments on that park bench as I thought about the future -- my future -- at amusement parks. All of this thinking took place with the squeals and shrieks and roaring noises that form the backdrop of the roller coaster amusement park. In those moments, I came to a decision that I would not be defeated by this setback. I would not give up. Of course, as most of my readers already know, this is typically the way I deal with things eventually. 26.2 miles? Why yes, thank you. Where do I start? What? I have to finish it within a certain time period. Pfft. Nah. I'll just go 26.2 miles, thank you. 50K? Yes, I do believe I can stay the course, even if I have to crawl.
I approached my decision to meet the roller coaster challenge as I would meet any decision -- like a Suzuki teacher would. My first question: What do I need to do to bring me to the point that I can ride the things?
I just needed to do it, I decided. I needed to get back up and do it. OK, maybe not right away. First I will ride that Pirate ship swingy thing, because that always bugs my stomach. That is what I did. I rode it and endured it. Then I went back to the original scary coaster and rode that again. The second time wasn't that bad, actually. I felt better about my decision. Then I looked for another medium-to-easy ride. Then I went for another coaster that looked to be about one step up from the one I had first rode.
I alternated this plan of challenge versus easier for the entire day. I circled the coasters on the park map and made mental notes of the rides that I had accomplished. I walked around that park all day long and into the evening as I continued my plan. I noted that with each coaster, I got stronger and stronger. By the end of the day, I was ready for the ultimate coaster challenge -- the coaster that starts out by going straight up and then straight down. I had circled this monster most of the day, several times in the day, and viewed it from all angles. I had listened carefully to the reports that excited youths shouted to their friends about the rush and the experience. I was ready. I had saved this challenge for the end of the day, and the line was long enough to make the waiting and the anticipation excruciating. My father called me sometime while I was in the line to ask where I was. I think I had been at the park for 8 hours by that point. I explained that I was waiting to go on my last ride, and that I would come home after that.
The ride was fabulous! I do not know whether I would want to ride it again, but I can go through my life with the knowledge that I did it.
This experience was 2 years ago. This year I returned to visit my father, and we went to the park together. My father did not ride with me as he would have in our younger days. He rode a few things with me, but then he preferred to sit and wait and talk to a friend while I indulged my coaster fun. I approached the first coaster with a little trepidation. It was the coaster that I had first experienced two years before. I had a history with it, and I wondered idly about what kind of experience I would have this time. I prepared myself mentally for the challenge, whichever way the challenge would turn out to go.
I need not have worried. The ride was terrific. Oh yes, it was fast and scary, and bumpy and jerky, but I had no trouble handling it and finding that place of enjoying the challenge. I did not worry from that point on. In fact, every roller coaster I rode that day was fun. I enjoyed them all. I did not have time to ride all of them, and I did not want to tax my father and his friend's patience while they waited for me to ride.
Where am I going with this? There are several lessons to take away from this experience, or my experience. "Roller coaster" is merely another word for challenge, and life will be full of challenges if we want to experience life to the fullest and the richest. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience."
Do not let too much time go between challenges. I let several years elapse between my roller coaster experiences, and the result is that I forgot several things, such as what the experience would be like and how to handle it. Do not allow yourself to be benched for too long. Get out there and try again. Often.
Develop a plan to meet the challenge. Do not rush into an experience without contemplating the best way to approach the challenge. Observe. Reflect. Consider. Create a plan to face the challenge, which will allow for setbacks, rest, and new evaluation.
Enlist the help of others. Although I did not have anyone to help me through my coaster crisis two years ago, I did glean information from other people this time. While I stood in line, I talked with folks about the ride experience, and I used this information to form a mental picture of how the ride experience would be. I prepared myself mentally with the help of information derived from other people's experience.
Use your mind to prepare a picture of the challenge and how to handle it. I am a firm believer in the power of visualization. Anyone who has ever woken in the middle of the night with night terrors -- racing heart beat, paralyzed scream, and panting breath -- will realize that the mind is powerful enough to believe that a monster is coming out of the closet and the body should prepare for fight or flight, even when the reality is that there is nothing there. Our mind is a powerful thing. We have the power to figure out how to use a computer, drive a car, and use all sorts of electronic tools. It is also indicative of how powerful our mind could be if we turned it to the task of visualization. Visualize a successful outcome. Be prepared to succeed. I ran many marathons, and I formed mental pictures of my routes, which carried me through the difficult stages of the races.
Put in the effort. Practice the skills you need. Two years ago I developed a plan to inure myself to the challenge of riding the roller coasters. I exposed myself time and again to each coaster so that I would lessen the fear. This is skill practice. Do it over and over. Again. One more time. Ability development is mostly about repetition and review.
There is one more lesson that I can offer. The entire experience is so much more rewarding when you share it with someone else -- a friend, a spouse, a relative. During my recent park experience, although I spent the afternoon with my father and his friend, I did spend some time alone in the waiting lines. I met several families, and in the case of one ride, I spent quite a lot of time in conversation with two younger boys, about 9 and 10 years old. They were terrific boys, and we had a great chat about the various rides the boys had been on and which coasters and rides the boys recommended that I try. I ran into the boys again later in the day, and we compared our experiences and reconnected. The rides together were so much more fun because I could share them with these two youngsters. I almost wish that I could have hung around with the two of them for the entire day,
Now look back through my list. Do you see how this works as a teaching plan?
Do not let too much time go between challenges. Offer students a little piece at a time, but do not allow the students to rest too much in between. Stagnancy is all too easy. Growth does not occur in this state. Stagnancy is good for rest periods, but a challenge outside the comfort zone is where the real learning occurs.
Develop a plan to meet the challenge. Suzuki teachers attend teacher training workshops to learn how to teach the Suzuki materials in a linear progression. Even university instructors have standardized syllabi that guide teachers and students alike in the progression of skill development. Each student (and teacher) and student-parent-teacher relationship is unique and will present different challenges and opportunities to create new plans to address the individual issues. Nothing much happens though or within a reasonable amount of time without a plan that systematically addresses the challenges, opportunities, and individual issues.
Enlist the help of others. Parent and teacher work together in the Suzuki world. Teachers in general work together to help each other come up with solutions to creative teaching problems. We have teacher-student-parent forums. There are blogs like this one to help teachers and parents. There are collective organizations that provide encouragement and support for teachers and parents, and there is nothing like the Internet to provide us with just about every answer for every issue and problem.
Use your mind to prepare a picture of the challenge and how to handle it. Visualization is the most powerful tool that I know for handling challenges. I never fail to note how the Olympic athletes spend time in quiet reflection with their eyes closed before beginning their next event. I am certain that this quiet reflective time is spent conjuring up mental pictures of successful efforts and outcomes. Playing a musical instrument has much in common with athletic endeavors. Musicians would do well to borrow from this most successful athletic technique.
Put in the effort. Practice the skills you need. This is self explanatory, yes? We cannot accomplish something unless we actually do it. Talk is useless. Eventually we need to step up to the plate and take a swing in order to figure out where we go next. Nothing happens if we just sit back and talk about our experience. Some of my favorite lines in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, occur when Mr. Darcy's obnoxious aunt claims expertise that she does not actually have:
"[M]usic is of all subjects my delight. . . . There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully."Uh huh, we all giggled when we read that. To claim proficiency without actually doing anything? Comical, that.
Share it with someone else. Challenges are best shared. A physics teacher explained how ladies' footwear and the different heels on the shoes change the way that pressure is spread across the wearer's foot. Larger, wider heels spread the pressure more equally across the foot than the localized, pinpoint pressure experienced with a spiked heel. So it is with challenges: as we share the pressure of the challenge among a wider range of people, so the pressure is lessened a bit on ourselves.
Challenges are a part of life, and life lessons are everywhere. Dr. Suzuki recognized this phenomenon when he made it his life mission to teach children and parents in order to raise children to have noble hearts and admirable character. Dr. Suzuki used the violin as the vehicle to reveal these life lessons. The truth is that everything we do and face in life will reveal these life lessons if we are open to receiving the instruction. For me the challenge has been to ride the roller coaster and to continue to ride the roller coaster throughout my life.