“Life we all know is of course completely unpredictable and is constantly changing, and the way we navigate through life is simply by improvising.” Niels Lan Doky
When you don’t know what to do, how do you approach that situation? Do you create a plan or improvise?
When we don’t know what to do, we often improvise. Sometimes that works out well, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least we may have learned from the experience.
This pandemic time is especially stressful for those who want life to stay the same and have a set plan to live by, but it requires some change for virtually all of us, and that can lead us to do things that we don’t usually do.
We can create new games for our children, bake bread, work on the novel we’d put away, zoom with friends we rarely have coffee with, and we wear masks when we go out rather than just wearing them at Halloween.
We Can Learn About Life From Jazz
While changes in life create some discomfort for us all, the ability to improvise can make all the difference in what comes next. In Niels Lan Doky’s wonderful video “How Jazz Wisdom Will Change Your Life,” he says, “You can always create something out of anything.” Really? Why not?
I hope you will watch Doky’s video because it is profound. He states that you can apply the principles of jazz technique to your life. They are the ability to adapt to change, the ability to be creative on demand, and the ability to treat your life as a work of art.
Following the Unknown Path
When I look at my own life, I can honestly say it has not followed a planned path. I’ve had to improvise. As a result, I’ve been exposed to situations that helped me grow. I would not have thought to create them. For example, I’ve moved many times, each for a different reason. Things just happened.
I was living in Denver working at an art school and teaching modern dance part-time when the economy in the 1980’s bottomed out. I lost my full-time job and couldn’t live on part-time work. I didn’t know what to do. I loved being close to artsy Boulder, was exploring Buddhism, and had a meditation community that supported my spiritual growth.
At the same time, my brother, my only sibling, lived in New Orleans, with his wife and kids. Since I didn’t have kids, I liked the idea of being near him and experiencing his children going up. My parents also lived there. There was much I didn’t like about New Orleans, especially the humid weather, but it was also an artsy place, so I thought, “Why not?”
During the twelve years I lived in New Orleans, my world greatly expanded. I loved knowing my brother’s children as they grew up, being close to family, and enjoying the arts. I worked as a full-time high school teacher in two excellent situations. I taught multicultural literature in a private Catholic girl’s school and later taught in a public school in the African-American community. As a result of this second position, I was one of several teachers who traveled in West Africa for six weeks on a grant.
The Value of Choices We Prefer Not to Make
Unfortunately, after twelve years in New Orleans, I became ill with Chronic Fatique Syndrome. My doctor was adamant that I needed to live in a dry environment in order to get well. I had no idea what to do. Then, that summer, a close woman friend of mine decided to move to Albuquerque to be near her family. After she moved, she invited me to visit.
During that visit, I fell in love with the colorful art I saw throughout the city and in Santa Fe. For the first time, I saw art on the side of buildings. Art and brilliant colors were everywhere! Amazingly, when I applied for a teaching job for the new school year, I was hired.
Although I never felt at home living in the desert, I liked being near mountains, and the sunsets were stunning. Teaching in one school with mostly Native American students taught me about the reality of their culture, its beauty and its challenges. Again my cultural awareness was expanded. After four years in New Mexico, I was cured of the Chronic Fatigue and ready to move on.
By this time, two of my friends from New Orleans had moved to Asheville. I had previously visited them several times and loved being among the mountains and forests. It felt like my soul’s home and similar to the land in Arkansas where I grew up. So I improvised again.
The Values of Improvisation
Perhaps I could consider these changes because I had learned the value of improvising when I was a modern dancer. When a dancer improvises, she never knows where the dance will go or what the outcome will be. Each moment, the movement changes. The interaction of the dancers shifts. Often the result is a beautiful phrase of movement one could not have imagined.
Life can be like that too. When we are confronted with a new situation, how we choose to respond may take us to places we never dreamed we could go and awaken us to a new dance of life. I am grateful that I found the courage to improvise, for that decision has led me to a richer life. May you find the courage to improvise too.
Be sure to watch Doky’s video and see how your life is like jazz. Cool!
© 2020 Georganne Spruce