Transforming a disability into joy

Every musician has had the experience of playing at a gig to only a handful of listeners, or even to nobody. Trying to live from just performing your own music is practically impossible unless you are very well-known and can get sponsors. Most musicians I know have to teach music as supplementary income, or do some other part-time job. I am currently in the same position: I teach guitar and also a bit of English. Although I enjoy that work, it would obviously be very satisfying to get more well-paid gigs: to perform my own creations. I am working towards this because I know it is possible with the music that I produce. What I have to offer is generally very highly appreciated. I believe my vision is much more realisable now because of an inner development which I want to tell you about here.

Up until almost a year ago, I often used to be very disappointed when hardly anyone turned up at a concert. It didn't seem fair. It also didn't quite make sense. There I was, playing something original and also unusual, which I knew to be of high quality. I had put in months of work to refine and practice my pieces and make them as valuable as possible. It always cost a lot of energy and time to set up and get to bed late, and the pittance I would earn on those evenings was like a slap in the face. Conversely I would get private gigs where I was payed a fixed sum handsomely.

Of all those that did come to any of my gigs, many would thank me and express great enthusiasm, so I knew I must be on the right track at least. I would also sometimes pass a hat around to collect cash, instead of charging for entry. This has become a common sight amongst even very talented musicians, basically because of the undervalued arts these days, and bureaucratic obstacles that make organising concerts with tickets so expensive that it only makes economic sense if you are already well-known.

In short, the odds are heavily stacked against the less-known quality artists. After a few of these hats-passing episodes, I quickly became disillusioned because I noticed that often people in the audience were unaware of the investment required to give a high-class performance. They would give less money for that than the cost of the beer, but still call me a fantastic musician! Whilst I could understand this lack of understanding, it still got me down.

It is very sad to see top-notch musicians walk out of such a gig with as little as €20 each but I can see now how musicians themselves have allowed their art to be culturally downgraded by going along with the process themselves. I for one, decided never again to be in that begging position. I find it preferable to play for entrance fee, if the organiser doesn't pay a lump sum themselves. In that way I can state what I'm worth, and if only a few people turn up, it doesn't matter because I have kept my integrity. This isn't the whole story, because sometimes it is worth playing at unpaid events to guaranteed big crowds, in order to promote oneself. I have also done benefit concerts along the way, which of course is a completely different ball game.

To return to the dissatisfaction I was experiencing – it was getting me down enough to make playing seemed more like a badly paid job, then a creative outlet and passion. This went on for some time until a major event occurred. One day, after moving some heavy furniture around in the flat in a hurry, by myself, my left shoulder became inflamed and immediately put a stop to almost all my guitar playing ability. It didn't go away and imprisoned me physically and mentally in many ways. I was only ever able to practise for 5 min at a time and I only managed to do three gigs over the course of a year. It was a huge undertaking before a concert to balance delivering the goods by practising just enough of the right things, and avoiding absolutely any unnecessary movements with my arm that might cause further inflammation. Fortunately I was able to teach guitar during this period, as I didn't need more than a minimal amount of demonstration with my own playing, to give a good lesson.

I tried various natural-healing remedies to cure my shoulder. I finally came up trumps with an effective combination of laying-on of hands, known as Jin Shin Jyutsu. This is an ancient, holistic Japanese energy-healing tradition which is similar in its principles to acupuncture (more about that here). It had been recommended to me by an experienced practitioner and good friend.

I noticed improvements within 2 weeks. Although the problem has not completely gone and I still have to be careful with some tasks (e.g. typing with a computer keyboard) I am able to live normally and play guitar as I wish! This was such a relief to be freed from an affliction which completely blocked my musical passion and caused significant inconveniences for 12 months. Because of this, I rediscovered my joy in playing, and have since had many unpaid musical sessions just for the sake of living my music. 2 years ago I wasn't motivated much by sessions at all; the question was more about the success of my musical career.

I'm so grateful for this course of events because on the one hand I have learnt to present my self-worth and set limits so that I don't sell myself. On the other hand I can see what an incredible gift it is to be able to play at all. If you are alive and have enough creative outlet, that is a blessing. If you can be successful in your creative career, that is a bonus. All this time I have never had any income problems. You could say that my art has been supported by other means! I still have the bigger vision of reaching many more people with my music, and being able to support myself more from it, but simply being aware that that is a bonus, is liberating in itself. Who knows, I may achieve that dream simply through having all this newfound fun on the way!

Becoming empowered by developing gratitude

Do you generally suffer from a lack of gratitude? If the answer is "yes" then you could benefit from this article. It is not always possible to be grateful due to turbulence in life, but gratitude is an essential quality to develop in order to achieve greater fulfilment. I am going to explain why and how you can put this into practise.

The sense of gratitude is enriching and pleasant: it puts us at ease, brings joy to our hearts and puts a smile on our faces. So wouldn't it be a desirable goal to achieve this more often?

You might be asking right now, "Why be thankful when there appears to be many reasons that suggest life is against me?" If that is the question, then congratulations – things can only get better from that starting point! There will be times in life which are wearing, painful and frustrating – where we can't envisage being thankful in the moment and need to focus on finding an external solution. However, there is a big difference between continually viewing yourself as a victim in times of trouble, and welcoming problems as a springboard for becoming a stronger and happier person. You don't have to like what is happening in order to be thankful! Let me illustrate: if you have a conflict situation with another person, it is possible to simultaneously want to change the situation AND be thankful. You could find that person's current behaviour to be selfish, counter-productive, hurtful, manipulative etc.; you can ALSO be aware of an opportunity to learn not to lose sight of your humanity at the same time – i.e. your respect towards your "opponent" who also has his or her own problems and development to go through. You don't have to agree with that person's attitude right now in order to feel thankful to them for providing you with a motor to develop compassion, for example. It is not about always being nice, rather, about cultivating the skill of seeing beyond the current unwanted situation. This may seem a lofty objective at the moment, but this is where we are heading!

If you are in a dreadful situation and really can't change the situation itself, you may need to let go of your negative feelings. That, too, can result in gratitude later. However that is a big subject I won't be dealing with here. Let's assume now, that you don't have very good reason for not being able to focus upon filling your life with more gratitude. I'll put this into context. Because we live in a materialistic world, where it is considered normal to search for happiness outside of the self, it is extremely common to complain when things don't come up to expectations. And we are full of expectations! Therefore, lack of gratitude resulting from an habitually weak view of life – rather than because of actual dire circumstances – is extremely common! The problem is not the events that we don't like, but the meaning that we give to them. The more expectations we have, the more we will be disappointed with life's blows. Whilst having wishes and goals can create a dynamic life, we shouldn't cling obsessively to them. Developing gratitude involves focusing on the many beautiful things that happen in our lives from moment to moment. Some of these are so simple that we just take them for granted. In richer countries where there is material abundance for most, it is easy to become literally spoilt for choice. We simply aren't aware how lucky we are.

I once had an English pupil who had a high-ranking position in a large company. He told me how he was amazed, while on a trip to Brazil, to see radiant smiles on the faces of poor people who'd managed to find enough food to survive on a rubbish heap in a large city. He felt himself to be a not particularly happy person, despite having the secure, large income, 3 cars, paid-up mortgage on a large house etc.. I got the impression that he hadn't practised learning gratitude. I hope that clarifies the issue!

When we are generally ungrateful, we are not particularly pleasant to be with. Not only do other people around us pick up on our bad energy, but it's also a vicious circle, like any habit which occurs without conscious observation. Our frustration often attracts patterns of events which refuel our belief. We have to be able to step outside ourselves to change this. Wouldn't it be more favourable to be in the positive energy of gratitude? How much do you desire that change? Are you prepared to take the next simple step?

The Method

Now we are going to get creative with our imagination: an incredibly powerful, yet highly underused tool for positive change.

Take some time to relax a little. Imagine the last time you felt good about something. It could be a holiday, social event, going to a concert, a funny TV programme, the smile on a child's face, a dog jumping into a pile of leaves or something you achieved in the face of difficulties. The list can be huge! Take any example that you can think of which is appealing and reflect upon it for as long as it feels good to do so. Try to relive the memory of that event. Now you can repeat this for as many themes as you like. Try to imagine that these events have been given especially to you, by life. Don't worry if this is difficult at first – it might require some practise even at this stage but I'm pretty certain that you will find yourself more capable than you had previously thought.

Next we want to turn our attention to something that is happening, or exists, around us now. There may be a possession, or a person that we like in the vicinity – perhaps a picture on the wall. If not, just look around you for the most appealing object or happening. Again, savour the moment and reflect positively for as long as possible, and then repeat with anything else that captures your affection more than any other! You may well see yourself as simply having forgotten how good something is.

Once you get a kind of momentum going you can move up to the next level. The first steps were the easiest because you were dealing with themes that you found pleasing. It is time to focus on anything you really neither like nor dislike. This is the neutral category. It might be a traffic light. Ask yourself how it might be beneficial. You could try to reflect, for example, on how you have been able to avoid car crashes because of the positive side of a well-functioning traffic light system. Or if you are sitting on a chair right now, imagine how uncomfortable it would be if the chair didn't exist and you had to sit on the floor or stand in front of the computer for a long time! That chair has aided your comfort so you can be grateful for that. The sky is the limit regarding examples here and I am sure you will begin to be able to think up reams of them! Try to include people – those who you would otherwise find uninteresting. A shop assistant who helped you in a rather bored manner could be turned into someone who had to do a boring job but who nonetheless pointed out where the food was that you particularly wanted and couldn't find yourself. Had the supermarket had no interest in providing assistance, you would have wasted a lot of valuable time in finding things.

Many banal and mundane themes appear to have no meaning in your life at first sight but they are ALWAYS part of your experience. Don't forget this! You give them a value – good, bad or neutral.

The technique of seeing your situation relative to that of someone who is much worse off in some way is often an effective method to get gratitude quickly into perspective. The thing to avoid here is guilt, unless you can transform it into a genuine desire to alleviate poverty and help others less fortunate than yourself. Would you choose to live in Somalia? If not, then be thankful that you have been given the opportunity to live where you do, where you don't have to think about how to get enough food to eat and clean water. Take the time to consider where all your possessions come from. How many people worked for little wages in order that you could buy products at an affordable price? You may find yourself feeling extremely lucky and relieved that you have such a great lifestyle! If that brings up compassion to share around more, then you are a great asset to creating a happier, healthier world!

The final main step will very probably take much time to master, but it if you make it your vision and goal, you will start seeing enormous benefits and self-help. You have probably guessed by now that we are going to start dealing with developing a sense of gratitude for events, material things and happenings, which we definitely do not want to experience. Typical examples would be personal conflicts, hardship, illness, the decay of the body through getting old, and anything else where we might hit rock-bottom. Consider this: the bigger the problem, the greater the power of motivation to free ourselves from suffering, which means more positive change! We can literally achieve quantum leaps in conscious living and ultimately great strength, happiness and gratitude as a direct result of big problems. We are here to learn and must try to relish the opportunities presented to us so that we may grow. As a result of illness, for example, we are sometimes forced to take time off and get used to letting go, doing nothing and resting. Our bodies can also benefit from illnesses by building up resistance to disease with newly formed antibodies. You could learn through illness how to respond to your body's signals better and thus avoid much affliction in the future, e.g., by eating healthily and taking the necessary time to relax. Thank your body that it helps you to make the right choices when you listen! It is a question of understanding suffering and responding the most creative way.

One of the greatest challenges in life is having to deal with people whom we don't like. We tend to want to avoid them but that is not always an option. When we are faced with the person we perceive to be unpleasant, or to whom we react by taking their comments and actions personally, we should try 100% to create value out of the situation. What can we learn from them? Do they reflect any of our own weaknesses? Are we hypocritical? Or maybe we can finally summon up our courage to stand up against their injustices instead of giving in to fear and bowing down to their authority. You can use the same techniques I discussed previously for being thankful for uncovering opportunities in undesirable situations. If you can't do it on the spur of the moment when you are confronted by your "enemy", be determined to take the issue seriously and rise to the challenge of transforming it. Take time to reflect upon the good qualities in the other person. Consider how fear is operating here. Are you taking into account your own self-respect? Are you afraid to convey that to them? Try to visualise happiness for both of you. This last one can be very difficult at first but don't be put off. I recommend repeating this daily, if possible, until you notice the seed of happiness starting to grow within you again!

You will need to train these positive mindsets described above, as well as other creative methods in the field of personal growth, which I can hardly touch on here. With practise you will start to understand deeply how problems are actually a blessing in disguise. Gratitude will start to become the norm!


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