Years ago, a friend of mine shared a story from his time studying music at Julliard. He described rigorous training in developing and sustaining attention, particularly when approaching a particularly challenging movement in a piece.
In his final year of study, students were invited to perform their most difficult pieces before a mock panel of judges in preparation for adjudication. As they approached the challenging passage, someone behind the student would suddenly drop a large object, often made of glass, creating a significant, startling disturbance behind them.
Could the student maintain focus on the challenge that lay before them? Would their training sufficiently protect them from unexpected or unwanted distractions in the performance hall? Could the skills they developed in comfort withstand the clamor and dissonance of the actual environment?
In the aftermath of this turbulent election, I find new meaning and wisdom in my friend's experience. Something unexpected is happening in our communities as we witness unprecedented reactions to a presidential contest. Many of us fear that our way of life and values are under threat, while others feel heard and empowered in new ways.
So, the question is: does our training protect us from distraction and keep us focused on our work of compassion? Or, are we happy to jump into the fray, abandon our purpose, and assign blame for a disruption in our ideal working conditions?
Today, more than ever, I feel called to the work of love, inclusion and compassion. I spent a good week after the election trying to clean up the glass and pointing blaming fingers toward those I decided had dropped it, created pandemonium, and interrupted my concentration.
Then, it occurred to me that this is the practice.
This is what we've been training for.
Compassion is easy when we feel benevolent and loving toward those we are in relationship with. But, can we sustain that compassion toward those who disrupt our peace, our attention and risk the beauty of the music we are creating?
Isn't that the true test of our practice? And, isn't that where and when compassion is most needed?
And back to work.