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The unexpected gift of jazz

Updated: 2 days ago

Quite a few years ago now, a friend and I made a trip to London. This was a person with whom I shared my passion for music, but our backgrounds and preferences differed some. Jazz was his thing, but as someone who has done music her whole life, I had yet to discover and understand the true beauty of this genre. It simply wasn’t my cup of tea. This was all fine, of course. If we don’t like a specific flavor, we don’t have to drink it. So, I had some musical discovery to do but really no motivation to do it.


However, on our last evening before flying home, my friend wanted to invite me into his world and very excitedly shared that he had a surprise for me. He was going to take me to a jazz club with live music. I looked at him, feeling somewhat doubtful but smiled without saying anything. I didn’t want to be seen as narrow-minded and told myself that perhaps I would enjoy it. Heck, I even knew a song or two and could always sing-along.


It turned out that my first encounter with live jazz would not be an easy listen; it was hardcore, free-improv jazz. This meant that to my ears, there was no melody, no structure and no predictability, simply discord and dissonance. Of course, this was nothing but my own ignorance speaking, and when watching the musicians onstage, they knew exactly what they were doing, picking up on each other’s cues. They were obviously having lots of fun playing together, and so was my friend sitting next to me.


Meanwhile, I was faced with my own resistance and had begun to hype myself up. Have you ever done that? It’s like you start out fine but then you subtly invite that little critical voice inside your head and all of a sudden you are all consumed by anger and frustration. Well, there I was, silently clenching my teeth and waiting for the evening to end.

But then something happened that completely took me by surprise. It’s like the music spoke to me, directly to me. I know this probably sounds strange but bear with me here. There I was, pouring judgment at a genre I didn’t understand while the music itself simply held space. This music was so free, so all-encompassing, so improvised, that there was plenty of room for every emotion and expression possible, even mine.


I judged the music, but the music held no grudges. It wasn’t bothered by my inner drama one bit. It didn’t stop exuding joy and fun, and it didn’t take my emotions personally. And here’s the key: it did for me what I wasn’t able to do for myself, which was to hold me and my experience in love and acceptance.


See, I had a tendency to take my feelings personally, making them mean something about my own character rather than seeing them for what they really were: information and a window into unmet or unexpressed needs. I had a thought that some feelings were better than others, and the ones I had in this moment were not okay.


Needless to say, this evening ended a bit differently than it started. By the time the music finished and we were heading to the subway, I was in a complete mix of tears, humility and gratitude. Once again, I was reminded of how healing it can be when what we feel and experience is allowed, held and seen as an opportunity to learn something new about ourselves.


A former teacher of mine and the author of the bestselling book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Debbie Ford, used to say that what we cannot be with won’t let us be. Many times in my life, I’ve found that to be true, and that evening in a London suburb taught me that sometimes it’s easier to hold ourselves in acceptance when first being held by someone else. Or, as in this case, by something else.


In warmth and jazz,


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