The art of living in troubled times

I received an email today from a musician friend who is having a very hard time of things right now. He’s far from the only one, but his emotional outpouring of sorrow and hopelessness inspired me to share my belief in what I’m calling the art. The art of living in times of dark clouds and turbulent waters.

“Inspired” may seem an odd word to use, but I do feel a strong desire to take friends and others in need by the hand and help ease them into a more positive and productive frame of mind.

Your community will eventually find its way down the other side of the curve – that side that reflects fewer victims of the virus. The spread will ease and a cure will be discovered.

The world will have changed in certain fundamental ways, but interpersonal community will return as will the resulting gigs, recording sessions, festivals, broadway shows, symphony performances, classrooms of students, and just getting together with friends to have fun and play music.

I don’t mean at all to downplay the seriousness of our situation. The fate of many many people hangs in the balance. Rather, my intent is to share how I choose to deal with it and my hope for you to find a bit of peace throughout your increasingly difficult times.

The question is, how do you make the most of your life until things turn for the better? My three thoughts for the art of living through this time are simple ones.

1. Start with gratitude

Gratitude is powerful. It is one antidote for fear. It could last for a blink of an eye or for hours or a lifetime. You’ve collected many moments and built relationships throughout your life that are special and that made you who you are today.

Think of one right now. Maybe a moment in which your musical greatness was recognized. Maybe one in which you recognized and expressed the greatness within someone else and made them feel special. Maybe it was that moment of your first interaction with someone that blossomed into a lifelong love. How did you feel in those moments?

Maybe the moment was one of humor. A joke you told that lit up the room. Maybe the moment was one of wisdom in which you helped someone close to you through a difficult moment or one in which someone took you into the light.

Moments can be a great performance or a once-in-a-lifetime recording, an incredible vacation or special gathering. They can be the birth of a child or a wedding or holiday.

Gratitude is a feeling. To benefit from it, you must transport yourself into that specific moment in time in order to experience that feeling. See what you saw at the time. What kind of day was it? Was there a smell in the air? Was there a sound you remember? Transport yourself into that time. Give yourself permission to fully feel that experience.

2. Pay attention to small things

I just returned from my habitual climb up a nearby mountainside to practice/blast my trombone into the void. Returning down the mountain, I passed a half dozen workers laying pavers for a neighbor. They were on lunch break.

I stopped and we had a moment. A broken English conversation about trombone and music. I told them that their work looked great so far and to keep it up. One guy reached into his bag and handed me a can of soda. I probably looked like I needed some refreshment!

That moment didn’t change the world but it did make us all feel good. Even if the rest of the world is on fire, I got to experience a human moment where I recognized good people for doing the good work. I guess that’s another contribution to my gratitude storehouse.

Last night, a subscriber wrote to ask me if I would create a simple video wishing his friend a happy birthday today. Apparently he and his friend are fans and it would mean a lot to them. Maybe his friend is feeling a bit down right now.

Of course I did. The act of me wishing him happy birthday on video and playing Happy Birthday on trombone was a small request to honor to make him and his friend feel good.

3. Do something

Remember the saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? There’s a lot of truth to that. And now, most likely you’ve got a lot of idle time on your hands. How will you spend it? Obsessing over the news? Collecting tales of woe from the media and friends? Contemplating the end of the world?

Please don’t. For your sake and for those who need and love you. Find something to occupy your mind and hands that will transport you into a more positive frame of mind.

Of course, take care of your survival necessities first, but after that, what? Here’s a list of possibilities. If none of them resonate with you, make your own list. Starting your own list is a positive activity in itself.

  • Write an inspired song
  • Send a friend some encouragement
  • Bake a cake
  • Take a walk in a safe secluded area
  • Ride your bike
  • Learn a new computer skill you’ve felt a little guilty not knowing
  • Neaten up your garden or landscape (spring is here!)
  • Find interesting objects to take a creative picture of inside or out – then send it to people. Don’t post it to social media. Send it to specific people with a personal note.
  • Climb a mountain and play trombone

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Look, if you’re an immunologist, the top of your “Do something” list is to discover the cure for the virus. But if you’re not, try to stop obsessing if you feel yourself going there. Please do everything possible to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy, but beyond that, falling into a spiral of doom and gloom over something you cannot change will hurt you. Emotionally.

Please turn off the news, or at least reduce your current obsession with it. Instead, obsess over your moments of gratitude, pay attention to small beautiful things, and please engage in some fun activity to occupy yourself.

Please stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay positive.

19 thoughts on “The art of living in troubled times”

  1. Thank you for taking the time to cheer up humanity. What beautiful playing. I wish the song didn’t fade. Love the glissando solo. My #2 today was paying attention to a mass email sent by my longtime friend Mike Lake.

  2. Thank you Mr. Lake, excellent observations. I particularly like what you said toward the end of your piece. You stated that “……falling into a spiral of doom and gloom over something you cannot change will hurt you.” That is so true. In difficult time especially, we have to be cognizant of what we have control over, as opposed to those things that are out of our hands, out of our control. Some things we can do nothing about. Focus on those things over which we have some command. Thank you…………

  3. Michael, this is very thoughtful. Good contemplation at this moment in time. And a reminder that every moment is one in time. “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” – Mother Theresa

    1. You’re welcome Rod. Stay safe!! The temperature will be getting into the 80s this week which, from what I’ve read, is bad news for the virus and good news for us.

  4. Trombonists UNITE – BE the catalysts!

    Thank you for your message: The art of living well in troubled times.

    At noon I have started stepping outside of my house and playing INTO the neighborhood…the Star Spangled Banner, solo and/or with my wife playing flute.

    Once a day playing God Bless America, also solo or duet. At sunset and/or at dusk.

    Each day I receive new texts or neighborhood ‘Groups email’ thanking me for the echo of sounds.

    New musicians are starting to surface around the neighborhood. Good infections, yes!

    Yeah! We LIVE to create MUSIC.

  5. I enjoy the song very much. It is artful playing for sure. I review several written pleas for mental health help every week. My suggestions to the people in distress are a lot like the ones you offer here. People need stimulation, creativity, and productivity. Oh, and physical challenges. Music is a great way to feed yourself what you need. Building accomplishments over time is good for self confidence, and that generalizes to other areas of life.

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