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Posts Tagged ‘four simple strings’

Tug ‘O War

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Today I found myself caught in a tug ‘o war.

On one side: I was stuck in the future: So many projects happening all at once. I was thinking that maybe I’ve put too many irons in the fire at one time. How am I going to get ‘em all done? How can I do ‘em all well? Filled with anxiety.

And then, of course, I also found that I’d been dreaming about the potential success that these projects bring. The accolades that could be/might be there.

On the other side: I was trapped in the past. I could see so many missed opportunities. I could see things I should have done differently. I was playing the “If only I’d…” game.

And then, of course, I also found myself basking in the sweet memories of things that have gone well. Things that went according to plan. Or even better than I’d anticipated.

The problem with all of this? I wasn’t moving! I was stuck! 

It’s like BOTH sides of the rope had an equal pull.  Both sides were locked.  And so was I.

After what felt like HOURS of sitting and fretting and daydreaming, I realized what was happening. So I had to stop. And breathe.

And I took a strum break. The sound of those four simple strings always helps to bring me back to the present moment and helps me to focus! (And to be totally honest, sometimes I find myself calming down just by looking at an ‘ukulele. Simply knowing it’s there brings a smile to my face.)

I had to remind myself that the only reality is the present moment.  

Yes… I have a lot of things on my plate. But fretting about them or dreaming about their potential outcomes doesn’t help me to move forward. Instead, I’m stuck.

And likewise, worrying about things I’ve done wrong in the past or basking in the glow of past accomplishments doesn’t move me forward, either.

So I’ve set a timer to remind me to take conscious breath every hour.

And I’m keeping an ‘ukulele within arm’s reach.

And I’m making (tiny!) movements forward. One at a time today. But movement–any movement!– is good.

Movement is not stagnation.  And I’m grateful for that.

Right on.

*What do YOU do when you find yourself in a tug ‘o war between the past and the future?  How do YOU return to the present moment?


It’s been a long afternoon of work.  Sitting in silence at my desk, concentrating on getting the job done.  But it’s time for a much needed strum break!   The sound of those four simple strings can take away so much of the stress that’s been building up all day.

I reach over for my ʻukulele (Yes… I like to keep one within arm’s reach!) and get ready to strum.  I hold the ʻukulele against my body.

And then I stop.

I notice my body’s position.  My shoulders are crooked.  The left shoulder is pressed up toward my ear and then juts away from my body at a strange angle.  My feet are not planted evenly on the ground. The right knee is raised, the ankle is rolled toward the floor and the right foot balances on the side of the ball and the big toe.  My hips are crooked.  My neck is tight.

I notice the quality of my breath.  Instead of being steady and even, I see that it comes in short bursts.  Gasps.  My ribs are concave, compressing my lungs and diaphragm.  I couldn’t take a deep, well-supported breath if I tried.

I’m a mess.

But this isn’t unusual.  In fact, this is the position that I can be found in quite often when I’m playing.  How sad is that?

And you know the saddest part?  I’ve only recently realized this.

A strange (and wonderful!) series of events and coincidences over the past two weeks have given me the opportunity to step back and view my body and breath–two things I rarely think about.  Ok… maybe I haven’t thought about either of them in a long, long time.

Except for the times that my body has “failed me” by being in pain or having something SO WRONG that it prevented me from doing what I wanted to to do.

So when I remember, I stop.  I notice.

And I’m shocked.  And horrified.

These are my “habits” and my body has grown used to them.  Was I aware of body placement in the early days, when I was just beginning to strum and sing?  Maybe… But it’s been so long that I’ve grown lazy and complacent  and my playing/singing has surely suffered from it.

And I’m hopeful.

Because now that I’m aware of them, I can do something about it.  I can make changes.  I can take a moment to relax and breathe deeply for a few conscious breaths.  I can remind myself to “let go” in the shoulders.  To plant my feet on the ground. To open my chest with ease.

I wasn’t aware of my “unsupportive habits” before.  And so I continued to reinforce them–allowing them to grow stronger every day.  Every time I picked up the ʻukulele to strum.  Every time I opened my mouth to sing.

It has taken a long time to build those habits that don’t support a healthy body or sound.

It will probably take a long time to get used to building new, more supportive habits.

It will probably take a long time to build the habit of simply stopping and noticing the quality of the body and the quality of the breath before I begin to play.

But that’s ok.  I’m in this for the long run.

It’s a process.

One step at a time.

Awareness is a good first step.

Right on.

Are YOU aware of your the quality of your body and your breath throughout the day? Drop me a line! I’d love to hear from you!


I should be preparing for the trip right now. I should be packing. I should be studying. I should be (insert any number of tasks that I should be doing right now).

But I’m not. I’m overwhelmed.

And do you know what I do when I feel overwhelmed?

I strum.

That’s right. I don’t smoke. I don’t touch drugs. I rarely drink. I’m not even an exercise aficionado who works out my stress on the treadmill.

My quick-fix: an ʻukulele.

It does something to me. I have a physical reaction to it.

I was hooked the first time I heard it. I remember watching a television commercial that featured the sounds of an ʻukulele being plucked and strummed. I remember it had been a really lousy day. I remember I was really angry. And the sweet sound of the ʻukulele coming through my television made me cry. FOR REAL!

My shoulders—which had been up beside my ears—dropped and relaxed. My breathing—which had been shallow—became slower and deeper. My anger subsided. I softened.

And I knew this was something that I needed to explore. I needed to find out more about this instrument. I needed to play it. I needed to feel that way again.

Four simple strings …

A guitar teacher once told me I had “clumsy hands.” I felt like I’d never be able to accompany myself while I sang. But there is a “friendliness” about the ʻukulele that makes it easy. I was able to play a chord pressing only one string. Using my “clumsy hands” I was able to make music and prove the naysayers wrong!

I was playing full songs after just an afternoon of study. It was instantly gratifying. It made me want to practice. It made me want to play.

I’ve studied the ʻukulele for a while, but I’m not a “flashy” player. Although, I love what today’s ʻukulele superstars are doing! They’ve been able to show the world that the ʻukulele is not a toy. It’s a serious instrument worthy of any virtuoso. It takes an incredible amount of skill to make the ʻukulele sizzle like Jake Shimabukuro can!

I play “kupuna-style. (Think: “Grandparent-style.”) No fancy riffs. Usually only three or four chords for an entire song. And yet MAGIC can still be produced with simple strumming. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful that can be!

When I was working for a media giant in midtown Manhattan, there were plenty of days where the stress would be overwhelming. I kept an ʻukulele at my desk and was known to break it out and strum—especially after a difficult meeting. Often I wouldn’t even need to play a whole song. A few simple strums would do the trick! And the folks around me shared the benefits, too! How can you be upset when a dude is strumming an ʻukulele as he walks down the hall?

Crazy? For sure!

Did it make people smile? Absolutely!

It was a win/win situation.

Now that I’m writing and traveling, I keep my ʻukulele within arm’s reach at all times. (Being the Accidental Hawaiian Crooner has its moments of stress, too!) I know I can calm myself down with a few simple strums. And I never know when I might meet someone in need of a quick serenade!

No need for me to travel with a medicine cabinet full of remedies. I’m fine with an ʻukulele, thank you very much.

Now … if you’ll excuse me … I need to get back to my strumming so that I can get back to work!

What’s YOUR quick-fix??