Chautauqua

Yoda and a Grain of Sand

“And suddenly, that was all I could see.”

Lately I’ve come to believe it is no coincidence that Yoga and Yoda are so close in spelling. Some of my favorite yoga instructors sound like wise sages imparting bits of wisdom while they look at my downward dog and think, “Mmm, flexible you are not.”

One morning our class was led by a petite older man named Simbai. While he wasn’t green and wrinkly, he was very Yoda-like in his instruction: speaking little while masterfully guiding the force within us. At the conclusion of our practice he told us a story about the time he visited the Grand Canyon.

“I looked out over the expanse and was so moved by the incredible beauty.” he said. “To think that water and time had created this gigantic thing of wonder.”

“As I marveled at the view, a gust of wind blew a little bit of sand into my eye.” He winked and winced now to mimic the irritation that he felt.

“I cursed, and rubbed, and cured some more. Damn you, grain of sand!!” he bellowed.

“And suddenly, that was all I could see. Here I was on the edge of this Grand Canyon, and my entire focus had instantly been reduced to a tiny speck in my eye. I laughed, wondering how often I let something small take my attention away from all the good that surrounds me.”

“Maybe the sand in your eye is a person, or a situation, or a negative thought… Whatever it is, don’t let the little things keep you from seeing the beauty that is your life.”

[Aligns chakras. Walks off mat.]

Enjoy the long weekend my friends, and may the force of a larger perspective be with you.

Coaching

Perfect Timing

Lately I’ve had a blast doing my “Listen & Be Heard: The Art of Communication” workshop with various teams and organizations. The first part of the 90-minute interactive session covers 6 barriers to effective communication; context, tone, trust, timing, clarity, and word choice. Life continually throws new material into an ever-evolving communication overhaul that’s part stand-up comedy, part raw vulnerability as participants work collaboratively to hone their skills. 

The comedy comes from unscripted situations like a dinner conversation with Rita last week.

Rita is my 88-year old friend and a gem of a human being. Playful, classy, and full of spirit, Rita delights those in her company with a genuine engaged enthusiasm. One night we were sitting on her porch in Chautauqua watching the world go by and talking about “the kitty”.

Many guests come through the Chautauqua home and during their stay they put some money into a jar known as “the kitty” to help cover groceries and cleaning fees. With the summer winding down and no more guests on the schedule, Rita was telling me about the elaborate (aka ”expensive”) breakfast offered at the nearby hotel. In mouth-watering detail she described the menu then said with excitement, 

“We’ll take whats left in the jar and treat ourselves to a nice breakfast…We’ll eat up the kitty!!”

As we laughed I turned in time to see a couple walking past the porch with horrified looks on their faces. The woman nervously reached down and picked up their miniature poodle, no doubt fearing that if we could so joyously talk about eating cats then her tiny dog was surely next.

“Oh dear, “Rita giggles, “I dare say I don’t think we’ll see them again.”

Thanks to context and timing we made two less friends that evening, but gained one hilarious experience in miscommunication.

The Ding-A-Ling

Glancing up from her keyboard, Carolyn said, “Well you look strong and athletic which is good, because you’re gonna need all that in a second here.”

“I am?” I asked, “Why’s that?”

A playful smile spread across her face, “Because you’re about to ring the biggest bell in the tower with one finger.”

Perhaps the most famous icon of the Chautauqua Institute is the Miller Bell Tower. Erected in 1911, it plays the Westminster Chimes every 15 minutes and the number of the hour on the hour. Many Chautauquans measure their days by the bells which also ring out 15 minutes of song at 8am, noon, and 6pm daily thanks to chimemaster Carolyn Benton. 

In a single day you’re sure to hear classics like “It’s a Small World” or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and though she plays only hymns for the morning bells, Carolyn takes requests so “Happy Birthday” frequently slides into the lineup. 

Carolyn grew up coming to Chautauqua with her family and took over as chimemaster in 2002. 14 bells played by hand is no simple task, and when Carolyn started, well… she was so bad that folks dubbed her “the ding-a-ling”. 

Admitting that she’s always lived a little off-key, Carolyn embraced the name and over time has added her own twist on traditional songs as a tribute to having her bell rung when she first took over. 

“What folks don’t know is a few keys don’t work and we’ve got a bell or two that’s fallen out of tune”, she explained as I watched her play the evening bells. “But, that’s life. People judge what they don’t know and I’ve learned to accept it.”

I blushed and confessed to Carolyn that lately I’d been thinking the same - wondering why some tunes were off and why things didn’t always sound quite right.

“But the difference, honey, is that you’re here. You were a curious monkey and now you know.”

4… 3… 2… 1… “DONGGGGGGGGGGG”.

With one finger I rang the bell that weighs 3,200lbs. And, it was AWESOME!

Thank you, Carolyn, for letting me chime in and for the reminder to play our own tune regardless of how others may judge the music.