Monday night, I had the good fortune to be sitting in the balcony at an intimate solo acoustic concert of one of my favorite performers, Sam Beam, of Iron and Wine. Alone on the stage with only his sister singing backup, he played the 9-minute song, “The Trapeze Swinger.” (The version linked here features a different special guest). You’ll see, the song is cyclical and totally repetitive. It goes around and around like a ferris wheel — a simple little melody and Sam’s colorful, nostalgic lyrics. The only words repeating are the plea, “please, remember me.” It is 9 minutes long, so, if you are able to listen to the song concurrently, it should take you through the rest of this blogpost, and then some.
pause….pause….pause….. I’ll give you a moment to work that out….
The song itself is riveting, yes, but what has had me up at 5:00 a.m. the last two mornings was the impact of the performance. It was urgent and breathless; raw and guttural. It rose and fell, earnest and sad and hopeful, and totally in the moment. There was a split second when I could literally see him enter the space of the song– letting the realness of him inhabit it, and then letting the realness of the moment be shared. It was, as one of my beloved clients says, total surrender. It was so captivating to see, it seemed we all held our breath, while this human being made his heart visible…for 9 whole minutes.
9 minutes, my friends, of total surrender. It’s available to all of us, and I do witness these little moments — but rarely for more than 3 or 5 seconds. I’m talking about total presence when someone finally offers up the truth in their heart. A simple apology (“I am so sorry I hurt you”); a sincere and direct compliment (“you are radiant”); a request for help; a genuine thank you; an uproarious laugh; a long and full embrace. Every time, they fill our eyes and our hearts, and then, almost immediately, we started dabbing away at ourselves with tissues and apologies. This one, though, was 9 minutes of someone baring his soul.
Sam Beam has a lovely soul, I’m sure, and he crafted a beautiful song through which to share it, but what occurred to me is this: sharing is not what we think it is. Sharing yourself, I realize, is really just showing up; inhabiting the moment. Sharing is releasing the attempt to control what others might think of us, because that’s none of our business anyway. Sharing is not needing to look a certain way and just allowing others to witness us, exactly and imperfectly as we are. Sharing isn’t about giving; it’s about being. Total surrender.
What occurred Monday night was Sam showed up and his essence filled the whole auditorium. There was so much energy generated in those 9 minutes, we were drenched in it. Drenched in the beauty of him, and moreover, drenched in the possibility of our own beauty. If he can be this raw, this tender, so can we. What would happen if we allowed — even encouraged — each other show up the same way? To surrender to our own humanity?
It makes me think about why we love babies so much. It’s that we haven’t censored them yet. They are exactly who they are — nothing more and nothing less. Not dressed up. Not deciding to act a certain way. Not concerned with what people think. Just purely themselves — perfect and hilarious and not-the-best-timing, and human. We have no way to “tell” them how to behave — and we can’t control them. So, they take us under their beautiful raw spell and we fall victim to its simple and painful beauty. Potty smells and food on the face and loud screams. All perfectly fine, and even more, we’ll rearrange our whole lives around them. We will sit and marvel at the glorious unfettered wonder that is human life.
Who are we when we aren’t censoring ourselves or “trying to come off” a certain way? Moreover, where does this liberated baby go?
Witnessing it — pure presence of heart — for 9 minutes Monday night felt like a gift from the gods. If these moments of pure presence of heart are so wonderful, why are they so scarce and shortlived? What are we so busy doing?
Exchanging niceties, feigning interest, hiding our pain, taking stands, holding tight to what we “believe” versus feeling what we feel, saying “you” instead of “I,” busying ourselves with what’s “appropriate,” suppressing laughter, competing with each other, making plans, changing the subject, cutting short our moments of celebration, filling our conversations with details we’ve rattled off a dozen times already, shooing away compliments, half-listening, holding in our gratitude. This is how we fill our phone conversations; our time together.
Remember when Cuba Gooding Jr. won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “Jerry Maguire”? As the Academy tries to get him off the stage to take a commercial break, he gets louder and more effusive and more animated, and more physical in his acceptance speech — taking over the music and the stage with a mission to express his gratitude. Every other winner politely says “thank you this and that” but Cuba lets it all hang out, as though it was his last moment on earth and he wanted to be sure to express how he really felt. And, wow, not only was it okay that he did that,– he had the entire audience on their feet! A standing ovation for pure, raw authenticity, as if to say, “thank you, Cuba, thank you for taking this in, letting it impact you, sharing your true self, and reminding us we can too.”
So, if we give standing ovations for authenticity — for total surrender, then what are we doing avoiding it so often? If we would only — even for a few minutes, 9 minutes, a day — speak from our hearts, what impact would it have on the world? On our lives? On our relationships? I’d dare to say, we wouldn’t need much. I’d dare say, we would simplify our lives and release ourselves from regret.
Picture this: If we had heart expression available to us — if we made it safe for everyone to exist from their heart-center and we, ourselves, could have access to the feelings and pure emotions that resonate and live in our hearts — what would our lives look like? Who needs a better TV or another pair of shoes when you have ripe, juicy, authentic heart expression available to you? Who needs elaborate plans or protocols when you could have the truth of the matter? Who needs excuses or complaining or blaming or any of the things we do to avoid knowing what’s in our hearts when right here, right now, you know you’ll get a standing ovation for total surrender. A standing ovation for total surrender. A standing ovation for total surrender. Thank you, Sam Beam.