I admit it. I am one of those…more sensitive types. Certain people, situations and conditions have always had a big impact on me. Growing up with two more outspoken sisters, I tended to internalize rather than outwardly express my reactions whenever I was fearful or confused. Feeling unsafe, I withdrew into throat-fisted, tummy-tight silence and rode those moments out alone.
My young life was particularly complicated whenever someone said I was ‘overly’ sensitive or moody. Those words only fueled my constant struggle to balance my own vulnerabilities and perceptions with my empathetic, engaging nature.
After five years of trying to be a good student, I stopped taking private piano lessons in 7th grade. Between the impatience I endured from one teacher to another who insisted on clipping my fingernails down to the bloody quick, I was chronically humiliated. I was self-conscious; I wasn’t having any fun. I’d often improvise on the spot rather than try to read all those tiny black circles and stems on the page. Piano lessons were a bust. I didn’t feel safe.
It wasn’t until I reached my mid-thirties that I finally recognized how essential sensitivity was, and is, to creativity. Regardless of the form, ideas often emerge from that deep (and sometimes dank) internal chamber where core sensitivity resides. Artmaking, in its broadest sense, relies on the powers of sensitivity, attention and perception to trans-form a fresh idea into an original song or play or dance or painting or scientific discovery.
Being an artist and teacher has really helped me embrace and channel my ‘overly’ sensitive response to the world. My confidence blooms as I am drawn to the nectar of transmuting something/someone unseen or uncomfortable into something/someone more fully measured, transparent, and stem-strong beautiful.
Measure is an interesting word in our language. In a musical composition, each measure is defined by a particular number of beats. A majority of Western pop, country, and blues songs feature a specific number of measures comprised of a 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4 time signature (meter) with a steady rhythm that remains predictable throughout the song; other genres and cultures often contain more complex, changing meters and rhythms in 5/4, 7/4 or 9/4 time – adding layers of complexity to the sound and feel of a piece.
In addition to its role in appropriating structure and rules, a measure can also refer to the amount or magnitude of something. A thermometer measures the temperature; a rain gauge measures precipitation; a speedometer measures velocity; the Richter scale measures the strength of an earthquake.
How do we measure human behavior? Not as tangible as seismic waves, is it?
I learned my lesson about this difficult and slippery terrain when I was in college. After asking several of my female colleagues about their experiences in class with a seemingly disengaged music professor who had inappropriately wandering eyes, I made an appointment with one of the deans. I tried outlining my concerns about this person’s questionable teaching style. It backfired, and I was chastised in front of my peers a few days later by the accused professor who, uninvited, burst into the middle of our choir rehearsal.
I definitely relate to the current drama unfolding at a secondary public magnet school here in Colorado. An ongoing investigation is underway, based on accusations from a number of enrolled students (and their parents) regarding a small group of allegedly abusive dance and vocal music teachers. Bullying, invalidation, passive-aggression, intimidation, and fear-based methodology are some of the actual words used to describe the atmosphere in these classrooms, according to those raising the issue.
For the record, many of the gifted children in these classes have defended these teachers, as well. They appreciate the high-pressure intensity and rigorous agenda that motivates them to strive for personal and artistic excellence. Nonetheless, the voices of those who have felt violated and unsafe are loud and clear. Two teachers recently resigned, and the jury is still out on the others.
Are those whose emotions are negatively impacted by the challenges of this kind of environment simply too sensitive to handle the tough-love that so often accompanies these performance-based disciplines? Are they destined to fail in the ‘real world’ as artists because they can’t take the pressure?
It is imperative that we all understand the faceted face of sensitivity, and how it manifests differently among us. Where some, under duress, find the inspiration to risk, respond and reveal, others become disoriented, distressed and disappear. How we connect with our own sensitivity throughout our lives impacts our sense of personal safety and reality.
I believe in safety first. As an artist, coach, friend and fellow human being, I aspire to create a safe place inside myself and hold that same space for those I encounter, regardless of our roles or positions in life.
Inhaling and exhaling is a great way to break ground in this context.
My wish is this: that we all learn to more deeply relax; to trust ourselves and one another; to practice patience and kindness; to offer, receive, listen and connect; to open up and explore unfamiliar ground on a regular basis; to expand, grow and shine, regardless of the path we choose.
These are safety measures that will make our hearts sing.
©2018 Lynn Skinner