In This Edition:
1. In Like a Lion
2. Succumbing to Attachment
3. In with the New?
4. Extraordinary on a Small Scale
In Like a Lion
Weather-wise, the Northeast is taking it on the chin, but we’ve got balmy days down here! When I lived in Connecticut, I frequently heard the expression, “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” meaning, I suppose, that the end of March ushered in the beginning of Spring. Actually, in my 26 years in Connecticut, it hardly ever happened that way. Instead, just around the time you wanted to put the snow shovels away, another storm would hit. Yippee! No school, stuck at home again.
Succumbing to Attachment
On a personal level, getting stuck in a rut is no less common. Attachment reigns supreme to achievers of all ages. When my daughter was 4 years old, her mother and I bought her an old, upright piano. It was a little beat up, a little banged up, and was missing a few keys, but hey, for a 4-year old, it was fine.
To our amazement, she played well. At age six, she began piano lessons. The teacher encouraged us that our little girl had a special talent. Two years later, the piano teacher told us it was time to buy a Grand Piano for Valerie. It would be quite expensive, but she was now winning awards, so it seemed like the right thing to do.
We went to a large piano emporium and Valerie tried all of them! Finally we came to a piano that proved to be “the one.” She loved it and we bought it. We told Valerie that the piano movers were going to take the other piano in trade, but it didn’t register with her. Days before the new one arrived, we cleaned up the old one, and then talked to Valerie about how that piano would be leaving and the new one would be arriving.
The old one had been her piano from the age of 4 and she was now 8. In other words, she had been with this piano for half of her life. She broke into a sob – not just a kid crying, but a deep mourning sob, as if she had experienced the death of a parent or a close friend.
“It’s the only piano I have ever known, I have been playing with it since I was 4! Why do we have to get rid of it?” Now, trying to be a good father, I started to explain to her that realistically we couldn’t keep both pianos. The house is a good size, but two pianos are a bit much. Psychology tells us the older you get, the harder it is to let go of attachments. The way we do things and how we think start to become embedded into the brain in the form of neural pathways. These pathways serve as paths of least resistance that prompt us to take mental shortcuts in response to stimuli.
In with the New?
We took photos of the piano and we videotaped her playing – we made sure we had it covered. I explained to her that once the old piano departed, she would start to play on the new one and she wouldn’t even think of the old one. But hey, this is not an argument for an 8 year old. For days she lamented, “Why do we have to get rid of the old one?”
Finally the day arrived. The piano movers came to deliver the new piano and take away the old one. Something in me, I don’t know where it came from, finally got through to her. I was able to communicate with her in a way she could understand and accept. Or, maybe she got there on her own, I don’t know.
After another tearful outbreak I said, “Val, when the piano goes back to the store, then some other parents will see it and maybe they’ll buy it for their little girl. She’ll learn how to play, and she’ll have that piano several years before she gets a bigger one.”
Now, Val’s expression started to change a little. She was still sobbing, but I knew that she was ready to forsake her attachment when she said to me, “Or maybe it will be a little boy.” A change in facial expression nearly always precedes the readiness to let go of attachment.
Extraordinary on a Small Scale
To me Valerie’s ability to adapt represented an extraordinary chain of events. Here was an 8 year old willing to give up her attachment to something she had for half of her life. In my own life, I have had far more difficult times with attachment. I have had attachments to objects, to people, and even, to opinions, as we all do.
I once couldn’t stand Elvis Presley; I thought he was a country bumpkin. One time, 25 years following his death, a TV special about him showed him discussing his acting ability and he said, “If I were as talented as James Dean.” I stopped in my tracks, I just froze, as Elvis Presley had used the past conditional, “if I were”, which is correct English. Not one person out of 10 knows that this is correct terminology.
Most people would say, “If I was as talented as James Dean,” but “if I were” is correct because he knew he would never be as talented an actor as James Dean. All of a sudden I was willing to give up my attachment to have Elvis be some kind of bumpkin. A small issue you say?
What about the dozens of things at work to which you are attached right now, many of which impede your ability to embrace new, potentially more productive ways of thinking and working?
Further on in the special, Elvis was shown going through 28 takes for one song. Everybody in the studio was saying, “Yeah, we got it, there is at least one take on the reel that is fabulous.” Elvis says something like, “Wait, we don’t have the right version yet.” He went on for 35 takes in all, and later the group selected one of the takes in the 30s!
Are you so attached to the way you do things that when you’re exposed to another way you fight tooth and nail? Do you resist trying another way and gravitate to what you’ve been doing, even if it doesn’t best support your quest for accomplishment? Maybe it’s time to give up the old piano.