One of my best friends is a bass player, of both the bass guitar and upright bass varieties. Watching him play is amazing, and there is nothing like feeling a good deep note vibrate away from the instrument and right through your body.
I’m a very amateur musician and don’t quite have the language and vocabulary to speak all that intelligently about music, but I have always believed that bass notes are what ground it….they keep it from being too superficial and safe from flying off into the unicorn land of pretty melodies that sound nice but lack real substance. Rob Bell, one of my other best friends (who I’ve never actually met in person or ever talked to and in fact he has no clue that I even exist) frequently talks about many things/people/etc having too much treble and not enough bass. The first time I heard him use this analogy on his podcast, I loved it and now I frequently reference it. So many things in life aren’t well rooted in anything, aren’t grounded, lack wisdom, are unbalanced, or are a mile wide and inch deep, as the saying goes. Bass is essential; like the deep roots of a great old tree, it holds us steady and firm.
A couple of months ago I was listening to my friend jam with some other musicians in an informal setting…him on his upright, a saxophonist, and a drummer. They didn’t seem to have a plan in place when they started to play, and the saxophonist took the lead, and then the drummer and my friend followed on their instruments. The impromput jazz that resulted for the next 45 minutes was mesmerizing. As someone who has played piano since I was nine, and led my church congregation in hymns on the piano for 5 years as a young adult, I had never spontaneously jammed with anyone. Most of the time, I’m one of those people who has to be told what key we’re playing in, and I’m not great at improvisation. So, I was amazed when this little group of musicians started playing jazz and there was no discussion ahead of time of what key was going to be played, or what direction the music was going to take.
Later that evening, after the show was over, I asked me friend how he knew what key to play in, when it was the saxophonist who took the lead but never specified this detail. My friend told me it was hard to explain, but that when they started playing, they would just kind of “find each other”, and thus, land on the same key. My heart broke wide open when I heard him say that, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. People finding each other and the right key on instruments by listening and being sensitive and paying attention to each other. Which then led me to thinking about moments when people will meet each other at just the right time, in just the right place, sometimes completely unexpectedly. Or how people might pass by each other in life for a while, as acquaitances or friends, but then something happens that interwines you at some deep level and you know that you and that person are going to somehow be bonded forever. Which led me to thinking about standing waves and resonance and how sometimes magic happens out of nowhere with people…and there’s no real explanation for any of it, and all that is left is it to just be grateful that it happened and receive the lessons and gifts it has brought with its arrival.
So, super quick physics lesson. On standing waves. Don’t groan….there’s a reason I’m bringing this up, and I think it will help better illustrate a point I want to make later, which is basically the crux of this whole blog post.
A standing wave occurs when two waves going the opposite direction, that have the same frequency, superimpose on top of each other through interference. They just line up and fit each other perfectly. The end result is that they either completely cancel each other out, or they add to each other. When this happens, it oftens creates an illusion that the wave is standing still, which is where “standing wave” comes from. While you may not off hand recognize what I’m talking about, you’ve experienced a standing wave when you pluck a guitar string. If you want to geek out a bit and really understand the point, watch this video:
We often use the phrase “I resonate with that” or “I resonate with that person”, meaning that we ‘get’ or feel like we fundamentally connect with “that person”, or what was just said. Something about whatever we resonated with feels true to us at more of a core level….our frequency of being seems to match up with the frequency that that person or thought is operating from.
Finding resonance, especially with people, is kind of magical, and it feels like, at least to me, that in those moments I’m a little more connected with everything outside of me and I feel a little less alone in the world. Sometimes, it is so strong that it feels like life is standing still, just like those standing waves. It is such a good thing to feel understood, and to think that, at least to a certain point, you really understand another person in a meaningful way. When you meet someone who plays a bass note, figuratively speaking, that you’re also playing….when your values, or goals, or things that bring you deep joy, or even life pain, match up with that person and you feel “okay-er” because now you know you’re not out alone by yourself in the universe… when you’re not the only one playing that particular bass note.
My understanding of relationships, especially romantic relationships, has evolved significantly over the last twenty years. For much of my life, although I don’t think I always consciously knew how strongly I believed it, I thought that a big factor in women reaching their full potential and happiness was to find partnership and contentment in relationship with a man. But, because of my religious background, this understanding was pretty skewed. Eve screwed up in the garden, which pretty much tainted the rest of female-dom, and it was now our job to redeem ourselves by becoming Proverbs 31 women, raising perfect children, and supporting our men. I’ve written about this before, but in churches I was a part of, there was definitely a sense of lower class citizenship if women were unmarried, and if, God forbid, you got divorced, you fell to a negative status, even below that of spinsters or not-yet married virgins who hadn’t landed a man yet. Yes, a little hyperbole and snark here, but hopefully you get my point.
After I got married and had been married for quite a number of years, my understanding of husband/wife relationships shifted…away from the idea of the wife needing to submit and be a helpmeet ( “Ugh, I despise that concept now”) to her husband who was supposedly appointed by God to be the head of household. I moved to more of a complementary mindset that was being propogated by slightly more progressive Christians….basically saying that men and women bring their own strengths to the relationships and create a “whole” by the uniqueness that they each contribute. Thus, the marriage becomes complete by the two parts brought to it. I am not intending to jump into theology much here, and I clearly do not hold to traditional marriage concepts in many ways, or think that marriage or committed relationships are only for men with women. I’m bringing this up simply as a foundation for a later point.
I definitely grew up with a sense that I was not fundamentally OK, and I have been working my way out of this state of being since I was a child. I remember, from the age of about 4/5 to around 11, I would be doing normal life things and suddenly an invisible energy would come over me and kind of paralyze me for a minute, and I would get this horrible, uncomfortable sense that I didn’t belong….that things were not right in the world….that I wasn’t OK for being here. I have no clue what triggered these experiences, other than that they usually happened when I was alone. I also don’t know what eventually made them stop coming, but it was definitely good riddance. Each time I experienced that energy, I would literally want to crawl out of my skin. Next to panic attacks, they were some of the worst things I’ve ever exprienced in life. Thankfully, they typically only lasted about 30 seconds to a minute at a time.
For so many other reasons, which I’ve probably blogged about ad nauseum in the past, I grew up so wicked insecure and untrusting of myself. I always needed external validation to feel OK, I needed an outside committee to help me make any major decisions, and I clung so tightly to rigid rule-based paradigms because, while I hated being a rule-follower, doing so made me feel safe.
These insecurities naturally extended out to my relationships with people. When you don’t feel like you’re inherently good and worthy and deserving, you don’t particularly want to be around people but at the same time you absolutely want and need to be around people so that maybe some of them will make you feel OK. Or, you search like crazy for the person who will fill the gaps in you, or complete you. And then, when you try and try and try to get valiation you need, and people won’t offer it to you for whatever reason, or you finally realize that outside validation isn’t actually as satisfying and fulfilling as what you once thought…it can all feel like a hopeless, damn mess.
I felt like a hopeless damn mess for the first 30 years of my life.
A good friend of mine recently reminded me of a Shel Silverstein book I first read years ago and then forgot about. When I reread the story this time, it hit me hard, and I finally “got” it in a way that I never had before. As a prelude to that book, watch this video on another of his books first.
If you skipped over the vidoe, take the time to watch it. It’s clearly dramatized for kids, but it is brilliant. The incomplete circle is constantly searching for it’s missing piece, only to be discouraged or rejected. And then, finally, it finds a missing piece that fits it perfectly, and actually want to fit it, and they end up combining, thinking that at long last, they had reached fullfillment and that they were both now complete and OK. But, as it turned out, this sense of finding completeness in each other, and relying on that other person to HAVE to be there in order to be complete, was stifling. And the incomplete circle ended up discarding something that actually was probably not a bad thing for him simply because too much was put on that piece to carry and be responsible for.
But then!!!!!! Silverstein’s brilliant message comes across in this next book, the one my friend reminded me of. In this case, it is from the perspective of the missing piece, not the incomplete circle.
OH my GOD I love this story so much. It really resonates me with me. (See what I did there?). Starting with the desperate search to find the piece that would complete me, then finding what I thought was that peice when I got married only to discover that my missing piece didn’t want to grow with me and DID NOT like the directions I was growing….to the parts about feeling so completely stuck and incapable of movement…..to meeting a handful of people who were complete in themselves and encouraged me that I could be, too…..all the way to me finally getting brave, flopping over a couple of times, and starting to wear off the hurt, sharp edges of myself…..and beginning to learn to feel more OK in myself, a complete circle on my own.
OK, now I want to try to bring all of these ideas full circle (see, I did it again. :D) and tie in what it means to be complete, and experience resonance with someone, but in an additive and not subtractive way.
Like I talked about earlier, finding deep resonance with a person can be magical, and it can definitely make the universe feel a little more personal, a little more connected. But one thing I know of myself is that it can be easy to grasp hard on to that resonance…to be like, “Look! I found my missing piece! Don’t you see this resonance we have?!” And there’s nothing wrong with finding resonance and connecting deeply with someone. But where we, (I) can get into trouble is when we see that resonance as a source of validation that we are fundamentally OK, or when we start to lose ourselves in that resonance permanently.
Standing waves have two types of points called nodes and antinodes. Nodes are where the passing waves intefere with each other in a way that they cancel each other out. Antinodes are the places where the two waves create constructive interference, resulting in an increase of amplitude….they become additive together to what they were individually. I really like nodes/antinodes as a metaphor for what can happen when we are in a deep, bonded relationship with someone. If we lose ourselves in the relationship, or think that it completes us, then there is the potential to completely cancel out any of the power and good things that come from the relationship. But, if you can stay in the relationship in such a way that you recognize you are complete and the other person is complete and there is no sense of grasping, then your energies can combine in a beneficial and healthy way.
I hope I’m making a little sense. This all makes sense it my head, but it’s hard to get out into words.
I had a conversation a few weeks ago with my therapist about some of these ideas I’m writing about here, especially Silverstein’s books. I told her that after rereading the Big O story that my friend reminded me about, I was simultaneously both in love with it and also extremely uncomfortable. I explained that the idea of rolling along through life BY someone, but never actually physically or deeply connected as the story implies, felt so paralyzingly lonely to me. Parallel play, with two people in their own little boxes/worlds, is all I could envision from the story. I don’t want to be codependent with anyone, but strong, deep, safe, trusting, meaningful connection is so very important to me.
Right there on the spot, my therapist came up with a metaphor that helped me tremendously. I value her opinion so much because at age 70, she has lived an abundant life, is a freaking badass, and I want to be just like her when I grow up. She explained that a healthy relationship with someone in who you find resonance, is like a set of train tracks that merge together for a bit, but then split back apart to run parallel to each other, only to merge together again. It’s a constant coming together and moving apart
My therapist’s metaphor and helpful words were the bass note I needed. Being whole and complete isn’t about ultra-indepenence or never committing and connecting intimately with another person. And resonating with someone on a deep and meaningful level isn’t about merging together so tightly forever that you completely lose yourself in each other.
Real love….real, authentic, meaningful relationship is about having the freedom to come together and move apart without fear of grasping or being rejected….without the NEED to have someone with you every moment so that you’ll feel validated, but WANTING that person there often because you see their presence in your life ( and vice versa) as additive and not complementary. And beyond all of that, real love, even with someone whom you resonate deeply with, doesn’t grab and cling and despair when one of you wants to leave the relationship….because being complete in yourself means knowing that the lack of that other person may be sad and you may grieve hard, but it’s not going to invalidate you as a person, or make you any less, or break you. I also think, as I’ve mentioned in other blog posts….when you bond strongly with someone in a healthy, good way that is additive to both of your lives, you’re never truly going to lose that person….you will always be connected in some way, and the love will never just go away.
Yep, feeling these things deeply today. None of this comes easy. It’s not like you can just wake up one day and say, “Well, hey! I feel super complete in myself and I will no longer strive to find my missing piece, and if I meet someone who resonates strongly with me I promise to never grasp or cling!” So much of this involves learning about the attachment styles that formed you when you were growing up, and rerouting your neural grooves in you brain so that you can start operating out of new belief patterns. It involves allowing yourself to get really uncomfortable for a while, facing your feelings and biggest fears.
I’m not a Big O yet. I don’t roll smoothly along next to people. I still get stuck sometimes and do more of an awkward flip-flop motion than cruising breezily along. But these big bass note lessons have been working their way into me over the past many years, and they’re finally starting to take.
May we all know that we are good and worthy and complete, just as we are. May we be able to “find” our way to the people that we can resonate deeply with. And may we all learn to love well, and be loved well.