Tag Archives: year of self compassion

Year of Self-Compassion #33 #Respect

In the most humble of starts Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis – where else but the south? Her birthplace is a barely preserved tiny house in Lucy St Memphis. A plaque was put up last year and I expect in no time at all it will become a shrine to the Queen of Soul and pilgrims of music will be flocking there in much the same way Gracelands has become a shrine for Elvis.  Memphis is one helluva town – you can see the entire music industry ecosystem of a bygone era on every corner, outfitters to the King, through the Gibson guitar factory, Beale Street holds the memories and sounds which became the bedrock of 2oth century cultures and sub-cultures. But without the songs of the slaves being drawn out of the swamps and all along the Mississippi we wouldn’t have any of it.  Memphis is a place I would not have thought of visiting but it was the first stop on a gospel singing tour I did with Tony Backhouse in 2016.  I learnt a lot in Memphis and I bow down to their contribution and showing the world their talents.

Music is such a healing force in my life. I can’t imagine what it would be like without music or the capacity to make music. When I make music with others there is a visceral and involuntary bonus of community that holds me for a moment. Singing in my local acapella gospel choir is the best medicine. I grew up with singing around the piano to show tunes from My Fair Lady to Godspell, to songs from family stories like Galway Bay and Tie me Kangaroo Down, to songs of a generation penned by Lennon and McCartney or Rodgers and Hammerstein. Later in life (my teens and early twenties) this music was replaced by the rock gospel of Jesus Christ Superstar and American evangelical songwriters like Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill and Keith Greene. There was the inevitable St Louis Jesuit set as well as these were needed in the repertoire for church services. Eventually Australian composers got a bit of look in, but the majority were from the US.  Going to Memphis I was able to put it altogether  – I got to the DNA of rock and roll, hip hop, soul and R & B – it was in Africa. The slaves had bought their music and the back beat and syncopation, the pathos and driving rhythms, the pounding confidence in a higher authority – it was all there – in Memphis.

The appropriation was there too. I could no longer listen or sing with enjoyment to Peter, Paul and Mary or even Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie without realising they were on the back of this tradition. I had to go to the source to understand.  Like the practice of hermeneutics in theology (where you apply a set of principles of interpretation to look for what is and isn’t in the text by what is visible and what I say is sewn in the seams), I discovered this is true in music too. All music is from the streets, the fields, the transit stations, threshold moments in personal and corporal history. When you hear, or read a line, that says she went back to her husband, you know that means she left her husband; when you hear I told her we couldn’t keep meeting like this, you know that means there were meetings of an intimate kind … these are the ways a story is revealed, but not spelled out.  When we hear Aretha sing Otis Redding’s Respect we know there was no respect first. Aretha made this song her own and it became an anthem.  She spelled it out R E S P E C T. There was nothing left to find still hidden in the seams, she made sure it was writ large with all the savvy and sass Memphis could squeeze out of her. And writ large, is how I hope as a sign of respect, her first home in Memphis will be made visible to the world.

Aretha’s version of Respect is on high rotation. It is a song that is deeper for me, now because of having gone to Memphis and understanding the town and their music a little more than I did if I hadn’t visited. In this time of wake, I reverently bow to Aretha and all the people that brought her music to the world.

I find myself in this year of self-compassion, giving thanks to those invisible behind the scenes who have brought me to places and spaces, sounds and sights and opening me up to self-respect. To respect yourself and give yourself the same acclaim, admiration, regard as you would any one else is perhaps one of the key ingredients to self-compassion.  I have a natural aversion to feeling pride and taking credit for anything, because I know nothing, absolutely nothing is down to your own devices. Maybe respect is not pride, and instead, the surety of acting with integrity to yourself and with the trust and conviction of the horn section in Respect (a riff that can’t be unheard once heard). Standing up for yourself and your interpretation of the lyric and the sound, is a way to respect yourself, to tell your story as you see it and hear it. Respect is commanded because of your self-respect and sometimes you do have to spell it out so you can sing your own song and go back to your roots and find the strength in those foundations, unappropriated, raw and ready for release.

Thanks Aretha, Otis and all the crews at Atlantic Records for inviting us to the conversation for a little respect.

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Where Aretha was born

Year of Self Compassion #1

Cultivating-Mindful-Self-Compassion

How does a Year of Self Compassion begin?

Making appointments for body and soul is where this pilgrim started, the past need not define the future for the heart to find a new beat and rhythm.

Do you remember that feeling of being on a swing getting higher and higher, more light headed and giddy with of the movement as if you were flying? Pure joy. Self-love swinging yourself into your own bliss. I used to love being on a swing and would sing softly and loudly,  compose melodies and lyrics filling the air with song going back and forth – an embodied metronome. I remember distinctly a couple of very joyful swings – one in the back of what was actually Ian Fleming’s home in the UK (author of James Bond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – it was an education centre and my Dad ocassionally worked there) and the other at a country school location being turned into a camp site where my Mum and Dad were helping to get it ready for the next season.  I think I would have been about 8 in the first one and quite old, perhaps 11 in the second memory. These childhood memories of singing to my heart’s content in complete abandon from the world. I was truly in a self contained exhilarating world, slightly expanding with the energy pushing forward, and contracting to slow down to a steady, more gentler pace before hopping off and back into the world again. I think self-compassion might be a bit like that – playfully making music in space and time in the deep security of knowing you are safe and your sounds wafting into the air around you and all whose ears could hear you getting a glimpse of the uncontaminated bliss of abandonment.

My year is beginning in song, but one I don’t yet know the name of or the tune, and, I am just warming up to the swing. The musical style of swing may well have a few clues, with its emphasis on the off-beat. The off-beat is always the weaker pulse in the music, the weakness is the reason it works.

Self-compassion is an invitation to love the weakness, that off beat, to make the whole sound swing. We’ve all heard swing with a soloist heading over the top of all the sound with an improvised voice of the melody overlaid. Making it up as you go along in the security of the pattern holding it all together.  Just as I made up words and music as a child on those swings, and I am improvising now, having forms and knowing their functions to employ as they are thrown at me. The lesson of ‘yes and’ is a great teacher – there is no compromise – you must accept the offer and do something with it. You don’t have to like the offer, you just have to accept it.

Pages of pain are real.

Explicit. Nothing left to imagination.

All the soil has been shoveled.

The first of the choir arrives

Tall and slender in the hot bitumen

Striding down, missing me, calling me to come back.

Laying hands on me at the bakery.

Forecasting: This is your year.

The second arrives

Offering a centurion service

A kind of protective custody

Armed with weapons of mass distraction

In fast succession

Guardians, escorts, witnesses, wise counsellors (after all it is Epiphany)

The choir is now bursting at the seams

In harmony, each knowing their part

Yes, and … I surrender to the sound

Gabriel’s trumpet heralds a mighty day.

The choir of self-compassion is in session.

A self compassion discernment question is forming: Is this an action loving me into my self?