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Talent is not what you think it is

This blog was originally published here.

Finding the voice is like meeting with the true core of one’s identity.

Finding the voice as an opera singer is a true parallel to finding the voice in career, relationships, self-development and even spirituality. I did not know what path I was on when I took my first voice lesson. The quest for the perfect sound became a lot more than that. It forced me to research, to heal, to dare and to expand. My becoming an opera singer was like the quest for the holy grail: I had to meet myself and rise from within to get there. And what does happen when we get to the holy grail? Well, it’s just the beginning of a new quest.

“Easy for you, you have a passion. You know what your thing is. I would like that, too. I don’t have any talent. I don’t know what my place in the world is.”

I have heard those words many times throughout the years… We do not get to choose what we are made of. We choose what we do with what we have received. We were born with gifts and defects, and sometimes what we have received is not so fun to handle. Likewise, the singer can’t choose or change her voice, just like your voice is here and has always been here. At the end of the journey, when our faces are wrinkled like crumpled paper and our hair so white it becomes translucent, what will matter the most will not be the holy grail, but everything we learned and all those we met on our way to it and from it. We can’t hold the holy grail, because the path to the core of the self is eternal. As it is often the case, we are on our way to ourselves unknowingly. Challenges present themselves, and we grow and expand as we overcome them.

My mastering opera singing made me the Indiana Jones of my own life!

The actual voice is the sound produced by the air passing through the vocal cords as we speak, sigh or sing, and the vocal cords are 2 short muscles attached to 2 pieces of cartilage. I will always remember my first voice teacher telling me that it takes at the very least 10 years to make an opera singer from a naturally beautiful voice. I was 12 then, and 10 years seemed like an enormous amount of time… Tuning a piano requires technique and experience applied to that very type of instrument. Even if there are slight differences from one piano to another, tuning a piano is basically always the same process.

How do we get to tune the instrument called human being?

The human instrument is a unique artwork made of flesh, emotions, personality, and life experience: Your very unique flesh and bones; Your emotions and sensitivity and how you deal with those; What you’ve been through, what happened today, what happened 20 years ago; Your self-development and your own growth; What you understand about yourself and about the world; Your knowledge; Your qualities and your values; Your goals: why you do what you do, where you want to go next… On top of it, humans are ever-changing beings in an ever-changing world. As much as we are ready and willing to explore ourselves and the world, the quest is endless. In other words, there is no finding the voice, only exploring throughout our interactions with our environment to allow the truth of the self to unfold.

There is always another holy grail to run after.

The opera singer learned very early on that the goal of practicing is to free the voice. There are countless books and voice teachers talking about the liberated voice. What they fail to explain is why we need to take on this journey. Is your voice in jail? Where did you go wrong? You did nothing wrong, you are simply human…

In some ways, the simple fact of being human puts your voice in a cage.

A child constructs her models interacting with others, and we shape our reality based on the environment we grow in. Just like we learn that the sun is called sun, and red is called red, we learn what is right and wrong, and how to please others. Our voice – physically and figuratively – grows all the same in a frame. Both a tense body and the beliefs we hold on to limit our expansion. By re-learning how to move our body, we are able to free the tensions accumulated over the years, and to build the forgotten deep muscles that support both our breathing and our voice. Similarly, transforming our belief system can free a doorway to the most amazing life.

In my early twenties, I got the privilege of spending some time singing with an internationally acclaimed soprano. She surprised me with this one sentence:

“The more talent you have, the more work you have to do.” — Natalie Dessay

We may only express and develop a talent by digging deep down into our inner core, deep down into our fears and wounds, to rise into our own fire. No sublimation can happen without something to sublimate. We have to have patience, compassion, love and imagination to tune our human instrument. Think about it: there is no reference in matters of freedom, by definition!

The talent – the gift, if accepted – forces one to go on an endless journey to beauty through pain. Isn’t it what the difference (defect) is all about, too?

A popular belief is to think that if one has talent, one clearly knows what to do with her life because it was given meaning from the start. None of this is actually true, and we all get to choose the direction and meaning we want to give to our life depending on the present circumstances. The talent is NOT the result, the talent is a path among others to the truth of the self.

Most of the times, people disregard their talents because it requires too much work to master, or simply because they are not passionate about it. There is a common confusion between passion and talent. Exploring a talent is unavoidable to those who have something to escape from, or some puzzle to solve. But why bother when you were born in an emotionally safe environment? In my case, singing gave me an acceptable frame to unload the heavy charges, to RELEASE my emotions when I had no other means. It is not a passion, it is part of my identity, and I struggled with choosing what to do with my talents just like I struggled with my innate defects.

Sometimes, all we have to do is fall into the black hole to find ourselves, again, and again.

Remember, it’s the journey that counts, not the result. Talents, and differences, compel one to go on an inner journey, that’s all! Whether we acknowledge our talents or not, we are all in the same balloon, in transit to the immaterial truth of the self and the core of life. Be at peace with what you received to grow and rise in this world. Instead, ask yourself: “What can I do right now with what I have and where I am from?”

That is what being enough truly means. Stop looking, it’s time to embrace and love the pieces of you that you know. And, who knows, you might discover another treasure tomorrow.

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We all need tools to help us return to peace instead of remaining in fear and anxiety.  

Tools to Help Us Return to Peace for Thanksgiving

By:  Henry Grayson, Ph.D.

We have so much that we are dealing with in this world today. There is so much stress, fear, and concern. Yes, all the stress weakens our immune system. We all need tools to help us return to peace instead of remaining in fear and anxiety.

We need tools to help us with this. One I find very helpful is to stimulate on the thymus gland for placing the hand flat on the upper chest. Then, begin to rub it soothingly in a clockwise direction, looking on from the outside.

Then say to yourself, “I deeply love and accept myself, even though I have been feeling a lot of anxiety about all that is going on in this world. I deeply love and accept myself and I choose to let that anxiety go.”

Then take a couple of slow deep breaths and say: “And I deeply love and accept myself, as I choose to let all that anxiety go…. fully and completely, as I let that anxiety go.”

Continue the deep breathing and continue to make this statement. Each time, you are letting more of the anxiety go, knowing that keeping it will not help in any way. Let the anxiety go, breathe it out slowly and fully, “I am letting go of the anxiety and bringing in peace into my mind and my body.”

Dr. Henry Grayson

Dr. Henry Grayson is an expert of the mind/body/spirit psychology: He received his Ph.D. in psychology from Boston University and a 4-year post-doctoral certificate in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis from the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health. He has studied neuropsychology, quantum physics, and Eastern and Western spiritual philosophies.

Dr. Grayson is the author of several books and an esteemed colleague and faculty member of The Graduate Institute where he teaches energy psychology for the Integrative Health & Healing program.

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The Power of Forgiveness and Gratitude

Could Forgiveness be a gift and a passage to Grace?

When asked to write an article about forgiveness, I felt hesitant. With so much contention in the world how can anyone willingly surrender their strong position and forgive?

I consider forgiveness to be a superpower, right up there with gratitude. It’s recognizing there is a state of grace beyond suffering, no matter the situation.  They are both evolved qualities that require a certain capacity to hold strong negative feelings in a larger perspective.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  –Martin Luther King Jr.

Anger and fear are normal, intelligent emotions signaling that a boundary has been crossed. Something needs our attention. When a human being feels betrayed, diminished, abused, oppressed or exploited, instinct is to fight back, run away or dissociate. If the hurt isn’t processed and resolved, seeking revenge, ruminative thinking and resentments often follow. Blinded by emotion and thoughts, we have difficulty seeing that we are hurting ourselves by embodying that painful emotion and resonating that energy inside our bodies and to others.

 “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”  –Buddha

Neuroscientist Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain writes, “Our brains are like Velcro for bad experience and Teflon for the good.” When hurt, our tendency is to want to hurt back. Forgiveness requires the we stay present with all of our reactivity. It requires that we meet the moment with an open heart and feel what we feel. if we can’t then we stay open and gentle with that, too.

Holding onto anger may offer a temporary feeling of justice, (as anyone knows whose ever held a grudge) but it doesn’t make the hurt go away; there’s often an energy that remains below the surface, growing and expanding the feelings of separation. Unforgiveness feeds the ego that wants to be right. It can also be a powerful energy that fuels destructive action. Unforgiveness, when it is unconscious, is not bad, it simply keeps the suffering growing and expanding, bringing us more of what we don’t want.

Rather than trying to get to a state of forgiveness or gratitude, I think it’s enough to just be present for what’s happening right now. Presence is staying and participating with our experiences in each moment; giving non-judgmental, open-hearted attention to what’s within, whether it’s forgiveness or non-forgiveness. Softening the resistance to a situation or person we have difficulty forgiving can be triggering, so a big dose of patience and gentleness helps. It doesn’t mean becoming a doormat or staying in an abusive relationship. It means making decisions from a place of love not fear.

 

forgiveness

Practicing presence helps build the neuropathway of wisdom; making us better able to respond with equanimity. Meeting non-forgiveness with self-compassion and self-acceptance begins the process of healing and wise action and raises our vibrational energy. The body moves from fight/flight to homeostasis.

 

Forgiveness, like gratitude, comes from a non-dual mind that recognizes we are one. It arises when we include other perspectives; when we are able to shift from a mind that is certain–it’s either right or wrong, to one that is open and willing to observe the nuances of a given situation—I can see why it could be right from another perspective.

 

Presence, like forgiveness, has a quality of receptivity and wonder. It sees and accepts what is, without the reactivity. We discover that what we resist persists, and so we learn how to drop the resistance and stay with the moment.

Anger is palpable in the world right now and many are blaming whole groups of people (politicians, white men, the wealthy, the poor, immigrants, the police, protesters, people who won’t protest, people handing out money, people taking money). Angry energy resonates in the collective and we all tend to blame each other. Recently, anger has been directed at me for not wearing a mask and also for wearing one in the same day.  

 This unconscious behavior isn’t anybody’s fault. It’s our wiring. We can’t see what we are doing because the decider (ego-limbic system) shuts down the prefrontal cortex (newest part of the evolving brain).  The reactive reptilian brain of our ancestors is wired for tigers and, for the most part, it’s worked fine for thousands of years.  But we are realizing that the old mind isn’t working.

We are at a moment of potential global awakening. With meditation practice, a non-dual mind emerges and the prefrontal cortex learns how to stay online; we can notice the reactivity of the limbic system sooner. There really isn’t a tiger, it just feels like one.

World problems aren’t getting solved by the old mind of right and wrong thinking. Racism, sexism, partisan politics, and economic inequality are still here and thriving.

“We cannot solve problems with the same mind that created them.” –Einstein

The new mind is one that has a capacity for nonduality. It knows how to cultivate presence and invite forgiveness and gratitude, not as a strategic quid pro quo, but because it’s our true state. Nonduality can recognize the dual as part of itself; not a bad part, just part of our wiring. Awakening is a natural unfolding of universal intelligence and the implicate order of an evolving self-organizing system.  

The non-dual mind can engage the prefrontal cortex and open space so the different, limitless energy of our universal heart and mind can emerge. A non-dual mind can express the need for reparation without blame or criticism because it sees the nature of our interdependence and accepts the reality of both, human darkness and light.

For example, the dual mind might say, “I am angry at you. You are wrong.”  With awareness, the non-dual mind might say, “Anger is arising, let me investigate what this is about.” Personalizing the situation isn’t necessary, just an ability to be with anger and respond from our wisest self.

Nelson Mandala embodied the power of forgiveness. Anger did not rule his actions. He once said, “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”

We don’t have to wallpaper over unforgiveness with fake forgiveness. I suggest we come to recognize our capacity for presence with whatever is; to begin to intimately know and process anger and unforgiveness so we can finally move on from duality.

There’s a fragile, mysterious and beautiful interconnectedness of all things– the good, bad and the ugly. Forgiveness is not something we do, it is an energy that arises from the awakened consciousness.

Eventually, we realize that the world is our household and our capacity for forgiveness and gratitude, and the wise action that emerges, has the power to stop the war against ourselves and the planet. 

“Your heart is the light of this world. Don’t cover it with your mind.”  –Mooji

 

By Kimberly Ruggiero: Kim received a BS in Chemistry and MA in Consciousness Studies. She works as a Program Coordinator in Integrative Health and Healing and facilitates a Mindfulness Meditation Group at TGI. She is also a professional coach and fine artist.

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Mind, heart, and the power of breathing – why would you consider breathwork?

This blog was originally published here.

Mind, heart, and the power of breathing – a new perspective on breathwork as a way of life. 

“It takes a very long time to become young”.
— Picasso

You may wonder why I, an opera singer, would quote the painter Picasso. A child will grow and his knowledge will expand. He will come to accept certain rules, to impose certain structures upon his mental development, and, unavoidably, he will lose some spontaneity and freedom in his creativity. The young opera singer will try to act and sing like his idols, to find a perfect sound reflecting his own idea of his voice, which he only hears from within himself. When I was fifteen, I was told that it would take at least ten years of hard work to be an opera singer. I was shocked. Only much later was I able to understand what it truly meant. As one is trying to find a sound and trying to reach some perfect ideal that one has in mind, one misses the essential point.

The sound is already there. The perfection has always been there. The hard work is to allow them, simply, to be.

The path of an opera singer is a quest for truth and a long life of questioning. I was lucky and started my vocal education at the very young age of twelve, with a wonderful, caring teacher. In the following years my teachers were afraid to put undue stress on my voice: they made me sing and understand how to move my ribs and lower back muscles, but did not really teach me the bel canto art. It was quite late for me, and after some years spent in engineering, that I met people able to guide me in using my whole body as an instrument, beyond the natural voice. Along this path I found some of the answers in my quest for truth, just as I often found more questions as well. It is as if one went deeper and deeper within oneself, within one’s mind and soul, which entails a deeper understanding of life itself.

In classical singing, it takes years to learn how to breathe, until one finally realizes that it is as simple as letting one’s whole body, one’s whole self be part of the game. It takes years to learn how to breathe like a baby. Look at a baby crying and shouting: he does it with his full body for hours and hours without damaging his vocal cords. But we, the adults, have lost this ability with pressure, anxiety, and fear brought on by education and society. Real breathing is like real love: full, devoted, trusting, spontaneous. Real love knows exactly where to go and what to do. Real breathing works in the same way.

Real breathing and real love have to be learned or re-learned, as strange as it may seem, and I often think this process might be the very reason of our existence.

From a technical point of view, the beauty of the voice as an instrument resides in the harmonics obtained by the coexistence of chest resonance and a high spot in the cranium. This is quite literally the union of the head and heart through a tiny path made possible by the power of breath. The whole body has to be a soft and flexible mechanism where every single cell of it is breathing.

 

 

It reminds me of birds flying in the sky in their coat of feathers: the perfect mix of strength, confidence, and letting go.

If the body has the slightest stiffness, some quality of sound is lost and, more seriously, the emotion and the art lose their interest too. It means that any fear, any doubt will lead to failure in auditions and competitions.

Nobody truly wants a second Maria Callas, Tatiana Troyanos, or Luciano Pavarotti. What they want, rather, is to be surprised. Embracing our uniqueness is the true secret. Those who succeed are fearless, as curious and open, as arrogant as a young child, despite their knowledge. I witnessed famous opera singers talk about the energy emerging from their solar plexus when they perform. They explained the vibrating crown they feel around their head, and the global well-being that singing provides them. I, too, have been feeling this for years now. I needed to let the fear of not being enough at the door of the audition hall. By successes and failures became the best friend of the child within me: it is always this child who wins when I do well, whereas it is the adult that makes the mistakes. The ability to connect heart and mind means saying “stop” to negative thoughts. This happens through full consciousness, meditation, and breathing.

One’s brain has to serve the heart, as one’s heart has to serve the brain.

The miracle of opera singing lies in the connection between the head and the chest and, concomitantly, between the mind and the heart, by the power of breathing and letting go.

The miracle lies in daring to be, and in daring to love.

Do you have a breathwork practice? Let us know in the comments below.

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