Ah, Peace of Mind. It’s given a lot of lip service. But what does it mean?
“I learned to accept who I am not what I am.”
This was the conclusion of a post I read on Quora recently. It was written by a man with personality and mood disorders in a marvelously cogent answer on the value of seeking a diagnosis for certain suspected mental health problems. If you think of it, his is a very profound statement. How many of us go through life with labels either given to us by ourselves or by others? How courageous and wise of this individual to decide that he wasn’t a series of capital letters all strung together – his diagnosis – but a real person who has a few important problems and isn’t going to let it ruin his outlook.
How many of us decide we are a “what” instead of a “who?” I’m bright, I’m selfish, I’m organized I yam I yam I yam, etc… How much better to just accept whoever we are in that moment without putting a name or a personal pronoun on it, live it to the fullest and thus be a lot nicer to ourselves: correct what we do, not what we are and thus be who we are, not what we (or others) think we are?
In corresponding with students, violinists, and teachers on various social media I have noticed a certain amount of unhappiness, or non-acceptance, out there. I know one violinist who is convinced that he’s not very good (he is, but doesn’t seem to realize it), and will never be as good as so-and-so. Just how much is he enjoying his playing? What effect will his frustrations have on his teaching? You can well imagine that he has nowhere near the student load he would like to have and needs economically. In fact, I spent a good bit of time convincing him to be kinder to everyone – himself, first and foremost. Unaccepting people don’t attract students and may have a hard time keeping the ones they have.
This lack of self-acceptance is not limited just to teachers: one adult student I know told me that because she would get very angry with herself when she made mistakes, her teacher decided to stop giving her lessons. Why? Because the teacher took this anger to mean that her student was cutting herself off from the teacher. Seriously? If this is how this teacher felt, she should have been breaking her neck trying to reconnect with the student and helping her deal with her self-flagellation, instead of kicking her out of her studio. That’s what we are supposed to be doing: helping our students direct their energy, focus, and passion away from themselves and towards the music. I reassured the student that nothing was wrong with her and everything was wrong with the teacher, a person perhaps so upset by and taken with her own self-perceived defects that she couldn’t handle the misdirected energy of her student. A student like this can be helped by a compassionate and outward looking teacher, which I hope she found. But this student was so traumatized by this experience that it took her three years to get up the courage to even talk about it, let alone look for another teacher.
So teachers, you don’t have to be happy and fulfilled to teach well (although it helps!), but you have to accept who you are and learn to live with it, if you can’t love it. Not accepting yourself means that you remain mired in your own problems, thinking about yourself and perceiving everything that happens in your studio in function of yourself instead of your student. Not much peace of mind here.
I deeply admire the courage of the man quoted above. He also said that, “The peace of mind we seek comes with the acceptance of who we are.” From his official diagnosis, it sounds like suffering is a big part of his life. If a person with such problems can find peace of mind, can’t those of us with fewer challenges and who hold the psychological wellbeing of others in our hands do so, too?
Remember, if you’re worrying about yourself, you aren’t worrying about who you should be: your student. If you’re thinking about yourself, you aren’t thinking about who you should be: your student. If you react to studio events by taking things personally, then you are denying your energy and passion to your student. Peace of mind comes from acceptance of who you are.
So does effective teaching.
I think I’ll write to that young man and thank him for his wisdom.
Post author: Eloise Hellyer