A young girl leans her head into a small wooden instrument, where it rests between a pursed-lipped chin and a shoulder that stiffens when she struggles to find the right note. The song is new, difficult, and coming out in squeaks that occasionally call out, “Err-errrrrk!”
Her teacher guides the young violinist patiently, encouragingly. And when the lesson is finished, the girl runs to her mama and nearly shouts with unbridled excitement, “I’m learning a new song!”
And in the same breath she continues that enthusiastic outburst of joy, jumping up and down and squeezing her happy fists to her face, declaring, “It’s so HARD!”
It’s so hard!
When was the last time you heard that phrase being expressed in joy before? Have you ever? I’m willing to bet it wasn’t coming from an adult if you have.
Since when did the word hard become such a drag? When did we all forget how to get excited about challenge?
My dear gongfu sister shared with me the story above (minus my embellishments), and she told it to me from her perspective as the violin teacher. It came at a very key moment for me, for she and I were about to set down our mats for the very first day of a new class in our Chinese Internal and Martial Arts curriculum at MogaDao.
In its description, the class was presented as “The Challenging Series,” and with yoga being fairly new to me in my gongfu/ taiji/ qigong regimen, I was feeling a little wary.
All throughout that first sweaty, involuntary-grunting, at-points-feeling-like-I-might-cry-or-collapse class, I kept hearing those words bursting out of an exuberant eleven-year-old.
“It’s so hard!”
Balance lost at my third attempt up:
“It’s so hard!” in the tone of “How awesome that I can keep trying again!”
Sweaty feet slipping on the mat, adding to the impossibility of me holding the pose:
“It’s so hard!” like, “Yes! Gimme more! I got this!”
Muscles in my legs trembling in exhaustion:
“It’s so hard!” as in, “I love it when my legs turn to burning jelly!”
The shift in the tone of how you use the word hard gives you an unbelievable amount of leverage for changing your own perspective on the situation.
A Shift in Tone, Photograph by Brea Fisher
When you speak about your challenges as if they are beautiful and glorious and ecstatic and Divine, even the hardest of them become things to look forward to, to take pride in, and to hold as reasons for self-admiration.
The eleven-year-old violinist with the outrageously positive attitude takes great delight in her process of learning the hardest of techniques. Take vibrato— you know, that magical wavering of pitch that happens as if drawn out of the instrument simply because the music itself is just too beautiful to keep steady.
This young student takes every tiny improvement— any millimeter closer to the technique— no matter how small or “insignificant,” and she celebrates that as a victory. She might achieve an aspect of vibrato that we adults might say is “not it, but closer,” and she’s up and running around the room crying, “I can do it! I can do vibrato!”
This celebration of small victories as if they themselves already reach the height of your achievement is a brilliant way to attain the goals you set for yourself that seem so far away.
For me, it would be getting out of Savasana, bowing my “Namaste,” and then springing up off the floor and shouting, “I did it! I did the hard yoga class!”
Life is hard.
I mean, “Life is HARD!” (and I’m smiling with my arms raised into V formation!)
When the hard stuff happens, remember that young violinist. Let her jubilant and wise enthusiasm fill your heart and soothe your mind. Even say it out loud— joyously and with exuberance— “This is so HARD!”
Sometimes you won’t be able to do it. Right-in-the-moment challenges past a certain degree can be like that. That’s ok. Wait a little and when you feel a window, then do it. Bring her in. Let her show you her vibrato.
And you show her your ability to execute a perfect Ardha Mukkha Svanasana (a handstand) even though your adult self sees that you’re really in Dolphin Pose, feet still on the floor, and forearms shaking as they barely hold your head off the floor.
Your child self is jumping up and down with an ear to ear grin shouting, “Look at me! I’m doing it! It’s so hard!”
The wisdom of loving the difficulties of your life lies in your capacity to recognize that in every challenge is a wealth of offering.
Challenges give us so much. They keep us from getting bored; they provide us the opportunity to form alliances with others who are challenged in similar ways; and we grow because of them, whether we “defeat” them in the way we intend to, or not.
A life full of challenges is one that opens the most space for accomplishment.
And that’s something to get excited about.
I hope this helps you as it did me. Let me know if it does. It would make my day to hear.
Want to learn vibrato, too? For real? New Song is an incredibly talented, sensitive, and kind-hearted violin instructor who offers private lessons in the Santa Fe area. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.