Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Roll with the Punches

Perhaps the biggest lesson that I have learned in my life came when I was 16 and had the opportunity to spend the summer touring Europe with a band--not a rock band, but a 120-piece symphonic band where I was lucky enough to be able to play both the alto and tenor saxophone. To a 16-year-old who had never left North America, it was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. The thought of spending the summer touring Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein (yes, Liechtenstein!) was almost more excitement than I could take. The other members of the band were students like me from all around New England. We spent my sophomore year preparing the music on our own, and then at the start of summer, we came together for a week of very intense practice to build our program. Then we were off, spreading the joy of music to anyone who wanted to hear.

Before we left for the intense week of practice, my band leader warned the six of us from our school who were going. "This experience is going to be one of the most memorable ones of your life," he said. "But I need to warn you. Coordinating 120 students and ten chaperones for months of travel in several different countries can be very difficult. Things never go as planned. No matter how well you prepare for something like this, the unexpected can happen and things can turn out nothing like you plan. So I am going to ask you all to be as flexible as you can going in to this and know that rolling with the punches is going to become your motto. View this as an adventure, and no matter what happens, it is what is supposed to happen."

At the time I did not really understand what he meant. But as soon as our plane landed at Heathrow International, I started getting a sense. Have you ever tried to travel with two suitcases and two saxophones by yourself? It was just like an "I Love Lucy" episode. I hadn't quite figured out how to carry everything yet, so the director told me he would carry my second saxophone--so I set it down prior to going through Customs, thinking he would pick it up. When we met up again on the other side of Customs, we chuckled at how long it had taken. Then we realized that neither of us had my second sax, but we could see it just over the line on the other side. In our post-9-11 era, this makes more sense, but to me, then, it made no sense...I asked one of the guards if I could just reach over the line and get the saxophone, but of course he would not allow that. They had to search the saxophone case and me, and I held up the entire group while they made sure I was not an international terrorist. And of course it just kept getting more and more bizarre. In our first night in London, one of our band members was sexually assaulted. In Paris a group of anti-Americans broke into our tour bus and stole everything--all of our passports, money, wallets, and cameras. (And a French horn, but we were not exactly sure why they would take that!) Then our tour bus broke down in Austria. Someone had a death in the family and had to arrange and emergency departure (which was delayed because we still did not have our passports back). During our last week, when most people were feeling very homesick to begin with, we visited Dachau, the concentration camp in Germany, where the stench of rotting flesh and spiritual energy of the pain that had happened there just forty years earlier was more than most of us could take. It was a sobering reminder of how life isn't always what you want or expect. I remember my very wise band leader telling us "just think of it all as a journey. It's all a ride. It's still going to be wonderful. You just can't let the troubles get you down."

For me, a small-city boy from New Hampshire, it was absolutely incredible to be halfway around the world, connecting with people who might not even speak our language. I took my band leaders' advice, and the day I got seperated from the group in Switzerland and had to walk through a French-speaking town to our concert site with two saxophone cases in the full heat of summer, lost and afraid I would miss the concert and be sent home, I chose to look at it like an adventure. Sure, there were members of our group who were upset that things didn't go just as the itinerary had outlined. People were angry because they were not able to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower due to high winds. People were angry and shocked that the people of Paris were not thrilled to have Americans there. People were angry because the bread tasted weird in Germany. And it was then that I realized that life is what you make of it. You have the power to choose. You can choose if you are going to go down that path of "poor me" or if you are going to look at life as an adventure.

And so since then but especially over the last three years of my life, I have tried to remember this lesson. Floods? Shoplifting? Family deaths and illnesses? What a ride! World issues? Earthquakes? Hunger? Horrible but part of the human experience.

In these times, we can either sit back and feel like victims, or we can roll with the punches. What can we do? Well, we can start by taking care of ourselves. You are no good to the world if you are not at your peak level of wellness. Many people sit at home and feel bad for the people of Haiti. Isn't it horrible? Yes, of course it is! But if you sit there and watch it on CNN and do nothing, nothing gets better. But if you are physically active and healthy, you might actually considering organizing a relief effort, or going down to help. Or maybe Haiti isn't where you feel compelled to help. Maybe you feel drawn to help people closer to home...putting together a collection drive of food for our local friends who are struggling this year.

The media talks a lot now about the doom and gloom prophecies of the world ending in 2012. Of course, these theories are loosely based on facts, but when you look at the actual prophecies themselves, you see that it is not the world that is ending, but the human systems that are currently in place. Communication, finances, social welfare...all of these things are changing. And for more humans, change is difficult. We had better learn to roll with the punches, or we are going to have a very difficult time as the world shifts.

Yes, life is tough. There is no question. As this New Year rang in, I looked back at my own life...all of the things that had happened in 2009. So many good things happened, despite the difficulties. And I realized that many people would be making their own New Year's resolutions. By this week in January, 70% of all New Year's resolutions are broken already. So my challenge to you is to do two nice things for yourself every day. To those of you who already do this and more, I commend you. You are in the minority now. So please take this as a reminder to continue your efforts. But for everyone else, consider which two things you would do for yourself if you could.

One thing is easy. Maybe you drink a glass of water. Maybe you go to the gym. Anyone can do one thing. But honestly, if you only do one good thing for yourself all day, that is not enough in this world to maintain wellness. What if you also got a massage, or went for a walk with a friend, or listened to your favorite music? What would the world be like if we all felt empowered to be the best we could be? What if we turned off the television for one night and did something? What if we all made our own health a priority?

Most of us use excuses about why we cannot focus on our wellness. Well, the car broke down, or I had a surprise visitor, or I ran out of cash easlier than I expected this week. Or it is too cold outside to walk so I am just going to stay inside until April. We all do this from time to time. We let the stressors and surprises of life prevent us from focusing on the most important thing in our lives.

But what if we took that same roll with the punches attitude about our wellness? Okay, so it is cold outside. Perhaps I could join a gym, or walk around the mall. I could climb stairs in tall buildings. So my car broke down...perhaps I have a friend who would also like to go exercise and would be willing to give me a ride. My surprise visitors showed up? What if I told them how happy I was to see them, but that I have to use this time to do Yoga--would they like to come with me, or would they prefer to wait here at home until I get back?

Believe me--I am not saying I am perfect. I never procrastinate about my own wellness and the wellness of others--but there certainly are other areas of my life that I do not focus on as much as I should. And I do understand how hard life can be sometimes. I understand that probably as well as anyone.

But I think if we all do at least two things every day for our wellness, this will be a major improvement for society. So I challenge you...try it for a week. See how it feels to focus on you and not let anything else prevent that. Roll with the punches, and see how far you can roll! I imagine that even you will be surprised at how far you can go!

Be well!
William Kelley
Pyramid Holistic Wellness Center