I just listened to this segment on Ira Glass' fantastic program, This American Life. It offers an alternative to frustrating patterns of communication with our loved ones with Alzheimer's...patterns that often result in power struggles and, frankly, just don't work for anyone involved. Scratch the old way, and consider using humor, creativity, and an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude for greater connection.
So maybe I'll never have THESE moves...
"The devil's a liar! Don't listen to him! There are angels all around you!"
No, these weren't the words belted out across the pews at a church on a Sunday morning. This was inspiration found in a weekday funk dance class.
I'd decided to try an intriguing new class, CardioFunk, offered at my local gym. Scanning the others in the studio, it was clear that I wasn't going to be the only one relatively new to this style. There's something about dancing that can bring out insecurities and self-consciousness, making an otherwise capable adult feel as vulnerable as a gangly teen at a school formal.
Luckily, the instructor was onto us. Milo had enough experience teaching hip hop to suburbanites to know that we just might be feeling, well, a touch un-cool. That's when he started with the verbal support.
"Don't listen to that voice that's bringing you down. That's the devil and he's a liar! Let loose and dance like you're alone at home."
Milo's words were enthusiastic enough to override the negative thoughts that were threatening to derail our fun. His message was clear: the more you just go for it, the more confident you'll look and feel. I often use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques in my counseling work. I know how powerful our thoughts can be in affecting our feelings. Who knew I'd be reminded of a principle of psychology in my morning gym class? Thank you, Milo, for guiding us out of our heads and onto the dance floor.
In his new book, "Imagine: How Creativity Works," Jonah Lehrer explores the artistic genius of renowned cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. "But Ma wasn't always such an expressive performer. In fact, his pursuit of musical emotion began only after a memorable failure. 'I was nineteen and I had worked by butt off,' Ma told The New Yorker in 1989. 'I knew the music inside and out. while sitting there at the concert, playing all the notes correctly, I started to wonder 'Why am I here? What's at stake? Nothing. Not only is the audience bored but I myself am bored.' Perfection is not very communicative.' For Ma, the tedium of the flawless performance taught him that there is often a tradeoff between perfection and expression. 'If you are only worried about not making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing,' he says. 'You will have missed the point of making music, which is to make people feel something.'"
Lehrer goes on to write that "there is something scary about letting ourselves go. It means that we will screw up, that we will relinquish the possibility of perfection. It means that we will say things we didn't mean to say and express feelings that we can't explain. It means that we will be onstage and not have complete control, that we won't know what we're going to play until we begin, until the bow is drawn across the strings. While this spontaneous method might be frightening, it's also an extremely valuable source of creativity."
Reading Lehrer's words and his description of Yo-Yo Ma's process reminds me of Brene Brown's work with vulnerability. So many of us work hard to keep the walls up around us, to protect us from judgment and shame. Yet when we find the courage to show ourselves and release some control, we are often rewarded with increased connection and expanded creativity.
Marnee Reiley is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working with couples and individuals in Irvine, Orange County, California.