Sabbatical Middle: reflections on a life on Shuffle


September 10, 2013

My friend Jodi gave me a couple of cd’s a few months ago.  She is what I think of as “a real music person,” and her husband is an actual musician.  Recently, in my presence, she played a song I liked, and when I commented on it, she protested that it should have been familiar, because it was on the cd she had given me a few months ago.  I responded, “Oh! I just downloaded them into my iTunes and I play everything on shuffle.  I guess I haven’t gotten to that song yet. “ 
She threw her body back as though she’d been slapped, and shook her head vehemently.  “NO, NO, NO Kara! That is NOT how cds are supposed to be listened to!  It’s a whole experience!  You have to listen to the whole thing!”

My coffee pot has a pause setting, that means if you are not patient enough to wait for the whole pot to brew, you can just remove it midstream and fill your cup, letting it resume after you’re sipping away.  “NO!” my coffee-trained, brewing guru brother-in-law says. “It’s a whole batch! You have to let it finish brewing before you drink it!”

I’ve always taken secret pride in my incredible multi-tasking abilities.  I can juggle, baby. If there was a juggling contest, and instead of balls or pins it was things like appointments, emails, projects, relationships, menus and errands, I would be a true contender.  I get props for this too; it’s an ego stroke when people whistle with admiration and say things like, “Wow! You sure juggle A LOT!”

Only, now that I am pausing, now that I have far less to juggle, I’m dropping things.  I’m stumbling a little.  And it’s dawning on me that a part of me has atrophied.  That part that sits still.  Turns out, I have almost no patience.  

When you have 800 songs on shuffle, your odds of hearing any one song decrease considerably, and the chance of hearing something you’ve never heard before – that is slim indeed.  Not to mention the relationship between songs that you miss when you throw everything into the same big pot and hit the shuffle button.  
When I play music on shuffle it seems like I am hearing everything, but maybe I’m really not listening to very much at all.
  
And then the thought occurs to me, maybe I juggle everything so well because I am not so good at balance.  It’s easier to stay in perpetual motion than to stop and listen to a whole entire cd from beginning to end, or wait for the coffee pot to finish before pouring a cup.  
Maybe I’ve gotten good at appearing balanced, and really I’m just flailing around.  Perhaps I can “balance” lots of things in the air at once if I keep moving, but take one or two things out of rotation and suddenly I drop things and stumble a little.

So I wonder, what happens if I am empty-handed? What happens if I hold still?   
I am flexible, baby. I like to think I’m good at yoga, but I’m really kind of terrible at yoga. I can get into some pretty great sitting poses that put my arms or legs into surprising places, but I can do almost nothing that requires balance. 
 Can I raise my leg into tree pose and close my eyes and hold it?  
No.  I really can’t.  Not even with my eyes open. 
What good is flexibility, ultimately, if standing still is hard?   
What good is juggling lots of things if you can’t hold onto a few?

I want to hear new things.  
And I want to notice the relationship between things.  
I want to stop and be present to the music.  
To breathe into the stillness and hold it.  
I want to stick with one thing for a spell instead of wildly juggling to stay upright, bouncing impatiently around genres, taking whatever comes next on a shuffle kind of life.  
I’m craving balance.

But balance takes patience, and patience takes time, and time is something I like to act like is in short supply.  
Except it’s not.  
It’s what holds us always, it’s how I move through my day whether that day happens to be packed and breathless or empty and open.  
And what do you know, right now, Time is staring me in the face with questioning eyes.  
Hello sabbatical.

I’m naturally flexible, I didn’t work to become that.  
What does not come naturally is balance.  
Maybe this is my time to practice.  
This is my time to stop shuffling and juggling and learn to balance while holding still.  To exercise patience.  This is my chance to greet time differently.
I think I’ll start with those cds.
And that cup of perfectly prepared coffee.


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