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Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: Putting Things Into Perspective

Greetings from Roma, Italia! I have been in Rome since Friday morning, and I had to hit the ground running. Two of the pianists have not yet shown up, so I was asked to cover more music for the programs. Tonight I accompanied four Schubert Lieder from the "Shwanengesang," and about an hour and half before the performance, a flutist and a singer approached me in a panic because they had not yet found their pianist. So I have been a busy musician!

There's nothing like travel to remind us about the value of understanding perspective. Yes, that is right, "understanding perspective." We all start with perspective as one of the basic components of our personality. Our perspective, gained through our own unique experience, governs much of our approach to life, to others, and to new opportunities. Our perspective is what definitely sets us apart from others. No one else has the same set of life experiences, environmental influences, successes, failures, challenges, or upbringing as we do. It is therefore important that we understand what perspective we have, how we gained that perspective, and perhaps, why we maintain that perspective.

Because perspective is such a powerful thing, we must be cautious about what perspective we allow to gain a foothold in our mind. Sometimes we are at fault in our thinking or we allow some improper influences to shadow our way of thinking about things. Sometimes our perspective stagnates because we refuse to allow ourselves the freedom to venture into new, unfamiliar territory.

I took some Parelli horse-training courses last year, and I was constantly reminded of how much I was not in my comfort zone. I love a challenge, however, because I love the sense of power that I get from venturing into the unknown and gaining new knowledge, so I persevered through the entire first level course. During the training course, we were introduced to a new way at looking at our learning process, and I found this new "perspective" about learning to be another useful teaching tool.

The Parelli horse instructor drew a large circle on the exhibit board and drew a smaller circle inside the larger one. The instructor pointed inside the smaller circle and said that it represented our comfort zone. This area was our familiar territory, where we felt safe, comfortable, and knowledgeable about what we were doing, so much so, that we did not even have to think much about how or what we were doing.

The instructor pointed outside the larger circle and called that the "running scared" or "panic" zone, where we were so uncertain, fearful, and nervous, that all we wanted to do was turn our hind ends and take off running in the opposite direction and not stop, just like a horse, incidentally, but more about that shortly. The instructor wanted us to alert her whenever we were in that panic zone, so that she could "talk us down from the ledge," so to speak, and guide us back onto the proper learning track.

Let me tell you an interesting thing about horses. They were created with the ability to run about 20-21 miles at one time without having to stop. They can even poop on the run so that nothing has to stop them or slow them down. This ability serves them well, because that is the distance needed to outrun the mountain lion, the horse's natural predator. While the horse has turned its hind end away from the perceived danger and is heading out 20-21 miles, the horse is not operating from a rational perspective; the horse is just reacting to the danger and running away, and basically using the right side of its brain, which is the reactive, instinctual part.

So what happens at the end of the 20-21 miles? The horse turns around 180 degrees. At that point the horse's brain draws on its left side, and the horse begins to think about its situation, specifically the question about whether it has run far enough to outdistance itself from the mountain lion, or whether it has to run an additional set of miles.

Note the trend in the thinking process and the various perspectives that correspond with the horse's thinking process. When the horse is reacting, it is unthinking and acting on instinct or conditioning. When the horse has turned around to confront its fears, it begins to think about the situation and to consider what options to follow next.

Isn't this what we as humans also do? When we are in our comfort zone, we are not thinking too much about what we are doing. We are generally just reacting to things as well, based on our past experience or previous perceptions about things. When we are frightened out of our comfort zone and into our panic zone (and by frightened I am referring to that state where we are beyond thinking rationally), we are usually just reacting to things, following our instincts (if we even think that much), and just letting things around us buffet us in a particular direction.

Let me take you back to the two circles the horse instructor drew on the exhibit board. Remember that the area within the smaller circle represented our comfort zone and the area outside the larger circle represented the area where we were "running scared." What about the area in between the two circles?

This area represents our "learning zone." This is the area where we actually learn something. We do not learn anything in our comfort zone. That is our safe place, and and we do not let much happen there that would spur us to new growth. In fact, we are likely to do whatever is necessary to preserve our comfort zone and to prevent any stimulus that would change it or cause us to form a new perspective about it. In the "panic zone," we are not thinking at all. We are just running away without giving any serious look to what we are running away from.

To actually learn something, we need to keep ourselves in the learning zone, in the area outside our comfort zone and within (or before we reach) our panic zone. We need to keep our hind ends turned around and focused on what we are running away from. In this case we should be focusing on what keeps us tied to our comfort zone as well as considering what is causing us to consider panic as a viable option. This area between the two zones is where we will make the best discoveries about our perspective and ourselves.

So how can we gain this new perspective? It is actually remarkably easy by just the trick of a few exercises. Do things differently. If you always order the same thing on a menu, make a point of always ordering something different on alternate visits to the same restaurant. If you write sitting down at a desk, try standing on top of your desk for a few minutes. Wow, let me warn you that this is a great exercise for expanding your perspective! If you are standing while doing something, try doing it sitting down or even better, while lying down on the floor. If you always face north, then face south. Rearrange the furniture. Park in a different spot. Try one (or seven) impossible things before breakfast. Travel to a new place. Stay home instead of going out. Put your feet up, let your hair down. Put your feet down and tie your hair up. Wear purple or fire engine red. Pick up someone else's trash. Bus your own table. Take someone else's empty grocery cart back to the cart bin. Smile at a stranger. Make a grumpy person smile. Startle someone with a gesture of kindness.

Let's get even more personal. Take a lesson with another teacher. Play a recital, which would involve rehearsing and practicing, maybe more than we usually do. Play an audition for someone. Perhaps take a lesson with an important member of the local symphony or a university professor. Come to Rome with me in a future summer and play in the festival. Get a passport. Take karate or a cooking class. Plan a night out with your friends or your spouse or partner. Sign up for a university class, or register to obtain another degree. Travel to another country. Make a recording of yourself. Write a letter or email to someone important that you have never met (I wrote an email to Rudy Giuliani and actually got an answer!). Write a letter to a respected teacher or your parent and thank them for the contribution they made to your life. Express gratitude to a student for the joy they brought to your life. Tip someone generously. Introduce yourself to someone new everyday for a week.

The possibilities are endless. The purpose of the above suggestions is to urge you to try something different, maybe many different things. By adding new experiences to your life, you will be opening up the possibilities that you will alter your perspective, that you will open up the portal that allows entry into your perspective, and that a new thought, even a stray thought, will find its way inside your mind and thereafter affect what and how you think about your life and the opportunities around you.

During this next week, look for opportunities to alter your perspective about things. Ask yourself, "what else could this be about?" Look for other reasons why things happen a certain way. Ask yourself, "what can I do differently today to really experience fully what my day has to offer?" Then, have the courage to do what you need to do. Corraggio!

Have a great week!

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