In moments of silence this Sunday we honor the place of origin that lives within.
What follows is a story about Maryliz Smith. Some of you know her, as she was a guest musician at a CIYO program in California. This story will appear in Barbara’s upcoming book From Transition to Wholeness: Women Coming Into Their Own.
May we all slow down into our own spacious interior rhythm and discover our own line of music.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Barbara and Peri
Improvising As a Way of Life, Sourced in Being
The Dwelling Place of Being is not just peaceful self-contentment and comfort. It is a well-spring of vitality and wholeness that can unfurl into the dance of living from one moment to the next.
Maryliz talks about the unique way she found this source of inspiration in herself. In her early years she learned to play the pipe organ and by age nine she was backing up other musicians. Over the years, she became an exceptional organist-- and a magnet to church-goers. Through Maryliz’s choice of music and her delicate touch, she could interpret her minister’s inspirational message musically, providing a soaring and heart-opening undercurrents for his words. She described her inner process as “listening acutely to another’s script and amplifying this through music written by famous composers.” One Sunday over lunch with her minister, he issued her a challenge: “You have mastered the score; perhaps it is time to move into improvisation.”
Soon after, Maryliz lost her way and her confidence. As the mindset of accompanist dissolved, Maryliz was awash. She knew that sourcing her music from within was essential if she were to deliver non-scripted music, perfectly tuned to each moment. She said, “Up to this point, I was very good at what I did, but I was missing.”
Shortly after this realization, Maryliz was invited to join a team of women who work with terminally ill cancer patients in a retreat program called Callanish. Her contribution would be improvised music with the intent to ease suffering and evoke inner peace. As she listened deeply to the men and women in her groups, Maryliz learned to use percussion, keyboard, wind instruments and her own voice to convey the impulses that arose in her. She reports:
“In the beginning, I could only bear two seconds of improvisation before retreating to known passages for fear of getting lost. Finding my own line of music in the moment was a matter of deliberate slowing down into a spacious interior rhythm. In my work as an accompanist I had tracked the world with my mind -- and now my primary receptor was my heart.”
Maryliz found that as she became more at home in her body, her capacity for sustained improvisation grew, as did her ability to return to the place of stillness that precedes sound.
“I am confident now, that I can go anywhere and find my way back home to the stillness. Even in high stakes situations when one note matters, I can embrace everything, including my own terror, and simply find the tone in my body that needs to be outwardly sounded.”
When Maryliz is home in herself, she can sense the qualities of this central place of Being in others. This perception comes to her as an auditory gift: the “sound” of the unique essence of another. Using her instruments, she can mirror this unique quality back. She explained how this capacity assisted a man dying of cancer who had lost track of his intrinsic wholeness beneath the illness. Sitting with him in his intense agitation near the end of life, she began instinctively to use her voice and breath to help him remember who he is. Maryliz sensed that D flat was his dominant home vibration. Bathed in this tone, he seemed to regain a tangible sense of “This is who I am.” His anxiety calmed and he began a reconciliation with his life. Maryliz believes that his resonance with the tone gave him the confidence to face both his life, as it had been, and his death. A week later he left peacefully.
From this quiet place within, Maryliz can connect not only with a person’s essence, but with an archetypal essence that flows though collective consciousness. A presentation she made at Grace Cathedral Church in San Francisco still reverberates in my bones. Matthew Fox and Brianne Swim asked her to join them in a program that honored the “deep feminine.”
Both men spoke of the universal creative force that births and sustains all of life, then they turned to her to play this energy on the organ. After sitting quietly for a while on the organ bench, Maryliz placed her hands on the keys and her feet on the pedals; the sound that emerged engulfed the cathedral with astounding delicacy and power. At the conclusion of her interpretation of the feminine spirit the congregation sat very still -- tears flowing -- for a long time, filled with glory.
In this quiet, centered place of Being in ourselves, we can feel our own unscripted voice awaiting expression in ways that are natural for us -- through words, actions, decisions and a myriad of artistic forms.