Be Ye Transformed!

Beethoven transformed the symphony.

Madonna transformed music videos.

The Real World transformed television (hello reality shows!).

In the beautiful piece Enigma Variations, the composer takes a musical theme and transforms it to represent the different personalities of 14 of his friends.  Listen here to the 1st movement to hear the initial theme and then compare it to my favorite movement, Nimrod.

So music, as it is transformed, is often simple to hear even for the novice listener.  In life on the other hand, those transformational moments might be a little harder to spot.  I remember for example the moment I fell in love with books.


It was library period and I was in the 1st grade.  I found myself aimlessly wondering among the pungent wooden shelves, looking for a book, not sure what I wanted to open.  On the bottom shelf of one particular bookcase stood a large rectangular book with a picture on the front of a boy and a cat.  We had a cat at home that I was very attached to, so I thought I might like to read a story about one.  As the story unfolded with only a sentence or two per page- the pictures illustrating for me as I stumbled over the big words- I got to know this little boy and his cat.  The cat was his best friend and the tale drew me into their fun daily adventures. At the end of the book, his cat grew ill and he watched it grow weaker and weaker and eventually die.

You may be thinking to yourself, what kind of book for first graders is this?!!?

Wait, don’t judge!  Out of this came an incredible experience.  I was there with that boy, experiencing his pain; amazed that a book could take me to this deep emotional place. For the first time in my life as I read a book, I wept.  I enjoyed that experience so much that I immediately opened the book again and started to read it from the beginning and was confused when I didn’t have the same emotional reaction the second time.  This book had transported me and this moment TRANSFORMED me into a life-long reader.

So, what lessons can we take from this simple story to help us remain open to life-altering moments as they come our way?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss them!

1.  Enter the Library

Library

Sounds simple, right? But what if I decided before I ever gave the library a chance that it was a boring place where nothing fun happened thereby closing myself off to the experience?  Mark Twain once said,  “In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”

And it’s not just libraries.  For example, I can listen to the 2nd movement of Beethoven 7 in my living room all day, but when I sit down in Carnegie Hall and let the strains of the symphony pour over me I am transported into another realm.  We owe it to ourselves to enter that church, to sit under that willow tree, or wander that beautiful museum for an afternoon and see what those spaces whisper to us that can’t be heard in the middle of our hustling and bustling lives.

2.  Test the waters

toes

The Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Why would that be in there?  Because God knew that many of us would live our lives afraid to even have a taste of him.

True transformations come when we genuinely allow ourselves to test out a new experience.  I can’t tell you how many friends I have that are repulsed by the church and church people because of horrible things they have seen so-called Christians do and say in the name of Jesus.  I’ve witnessed some pretty awful stuff myself and can see why they feel that way.  That being said, some of these same people have a curiosity about who Jesus really is that has never been satisfied because they have never tested the waters themselves.

They’ve never stepped into the library.  They’ve never opened the book.

Testing the waters is risky.  But no true transformation is possible without leaving our comfort zones and entering a new space. Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing…”  We can only begin to fill that vacuum when we are bold enough to taste and see.

3. Go Beyond the Emotion

reflection

It’s important for us to grasp that transformational moments are deeper than the emotion that goes along with them.  If I’d left that book reading incident just experiencing the feelings, I wouldn’t have taken the time to notice and understand the deeper underlying truth of that moment.  The same is true in spiritual matters.  I think we often want to “feel” God so we leave an emotionally packed spiritual experience feeling better for a few hours, but not experiencing any lasting change.  It is left up to us to reflect deeply so that profound change is possible.  We’ve got to truly capture our learning so that these transformational opportunities aren’t lost in the ebb and flow of our hard-wired habits.

As William Wordsworth said,“Habit rules the unreflecting herd.” I don’t know about you, but the herd mentality is of no interest to me.  Instead, let’s be open to and aware of the moments in our lives where our minds and thoughts can be transformed for the better.

Laugh Yourself Spiritual

I can’t talk about laughter without telling you about Adi Menczel.  Adi is a boisterous Israeli girl that I met at summer music camp when we were teenagers.  She is one of those people who is funny by accident. The humor just is her. Knowing Adi is not about liking her jokes.  It is about being drawn in by her belly-laughter.  She has fingers like lightening as she flutters up and down on her flute and when she takes that instrument away from her lips she literally overflows with joy.  Her irrepressible spirit is infectious.

That summer when I first met her, she won the illustrious superlative, ‘Person who can fit the Most Words into an Eighth Note Rest.’ I won ‘Volley Ball Queen’, but that had nothing to do with skill.  I won by default because no other girls played.

164377_486237577625_3613578_n

Adi & Misty in Israel in 2011

She has a few different laughs and they are all uniquely hers.  One is a resounding ‘whoop!’, and often gets heads in the restaurant turning, sometimes with great displeasure.  I’ll admit we’ve been told ‘This is not that kind of place’ at a restaurant or two.  Another of her famous laughs sounds a bit like African Ululations.   If you don’t know what those are, check them out here.  Please click that link.  I promise it is worth it.  Another of her laughs involves snorting and throwing her whole body forward then back in a full body convulsion.  I’ll admit, that’s my personal favorite.

You might look at a person like that and think to yourself, “I’m just not funny,” or “I have a serious nature,”  but did you know that psychologists extol the benefits of laughter for healing and health?  This is corroborated by a Proverb that says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

So how do we make laughter a part of our lives?

1.  Dwell on the Good

alex-haley-cropped-2

Alex Haley, author of “Roots”

The brilliant writer Paul said it this way, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Often we do just the opposite, don’t we?  Psychologists call these negative repetitive thoughts “rumination.” Ruminating is about as useful as spinning your wheels in the mud. The Anxiety Network says, “Thoughts grow with attention.  If you focus on negative thoughts, they will grow and grow and become even larger.”  Let’s instead make a conscience choice to dwell on what is praiseworthy.

As a child I got to know and love the great author Alex Haley.  His favorite mantra was,  “Find the good and praise it,”and he lived his life by that creed.  He certainly found the good and praised it in me, and it literally changed the course of my life.

2.  Cultivate a Grateful Heart

grateful

According to the New York Times, ‘Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners.’  When we cultivate a heart that is grateful, we also remove the focus from within and begin to look outside ourselves, acknowledging that in many cases we have done nothing to deserve the abundance we walk in.

Let me give you an example.  I remember my father asking my first horn teacher (Dr. Little) if we could pay him more for my weekly lessons since he only charged $5 for half an hour and often taught me for much longer than that.  He would never accept my father’s offer to pay him more and continued to give me books, mutes and music to listen to for free.  Finally, my father stopped him in the hallway after one of my lessons and said, “We feel like we are taking advantage of you.  You are going to have to let us pay you more.  If you don’t I am going to pull her out of her lessons!”  Dr. Little looked at my father and teared up as he said, “I should be paying you to get to teach a student like her. The only reason I charge you at all is so she will know this is worth something.”  My 10-year-old ears heard that loud and clear.  Here was a teacher who was grateful to teach me?  What a beautiful and rare perspective.

3.  Count it all Joy

Mahler-Gustav-12

Composer Gustav Mahler

The great composer Mahler wrote music that has this incredible mixture of sorrow and joy. Those two emotions are indelibly linked and wouldn’t exist as we know them without each other.  I’m sure you have all experience bittersweet moments in life where your heart is pulled in two directions simultaneously.  I remember feeling that as I played Mahler 3 in Avery Fisher Hall with my graduating class from Juilliard.  It was an impeccable performance, but I knew that after this concert we would all move on in our own directions, never to play together in this way again.  I remember my teacher from the NY Philharmonic came backstage to meet us right after the performance.  He said, “Oh, to be young and fearless,” because we had played with such abandon.  It was heavenly, but afterwards my heart ached a little.

So how do we experience joy when we are facing real sorrows?  I’m not talking about the bittersweet moments, but the heavy moments of serious illness or emotional pain?  How can we achieve that coveted belly-laughter when we are getting pressed in on from all sides?  In the book of James, the Bible says it this way, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. …”  Notice here that he says to consider it PURE joy.  In some translations he says to consider it ALL joy.  That sounds like an impossible task, doesn’t it?  In order to get there we must cultivate faith that believes that these tests and trials are for our good.


So we can’t all be Adi and just by existing bring light to those around us, but we can deliberately cultivate joy as a part of our daily lives.  We can strive to live each day with hearts of gratitude.  And we can approach the trials that come our way with a spirit of faith that allows us a deep knowing that God makes all things work together for our good.

And lastly, and I think most importantly, we can remember to not shoot those with loud laughs dirty looks at restaurants.  That seemingly obnoxious snorting and convulsing person might be shining a light of joy into their table-mate’s life that is the perfect remedy for what ails them.  Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.

2013 Copyright by Misty Tolle

All rights reserved

Lessons on belief from a Cheetah (and Nelson Mandela)

We’ve all heard the saying,”All things are possible for one who believes.”

Let me tell you the story of how my believing began.

img056My father, a watercolorist, was always shuttling me around with him when I was a kid as he took photos for paintings he was working on. On one of our more adventurous jaunts we headed to the Cincinnati zoo. We wove our way around to the staff entrance in his big conversion van and were met there by a beanstalk-tall woman with frizzy lion’s mane hair named Catherine. Upon greeting us she led us to an enclosed grassy area, let us in and shut the gate.  Momentarily, she returned with two squirming, spotted cougar cubs – one neatly tucked beneath each lanky arm.  She knocked open the door with a raised khaki knee and plopped those cubs in with us.  “Be back in a couple hours,” she said and loped off casually as if she left civilians alone with wild animals on a daily basis.

Dad was loading film in his camera and one of the cubs automatically spotted its dangling strap and bounded his direction on paws too big for his body.  In the ensuing hours they swatted and tumbled and gnawed on each other and on my long hair.  My dad snapped photos and I tried to stay still so as not to get pounced on.  They were awfully cute, but wasn’t this dangerous?

lakota

This painting, called “Lakota” is the outcome of that day at the zoo.

As the afternoon wore on, they nibbled grass and catnapped (literally) and had me giggling at their clumsiness.  Soon I began to curiously explore their little bodies with my hands, growing bolder as they grew more tired.  And just as I was starting to feel comfortable the cat lady returned and whisked them away.  “Back in a minute,” she tersely said, kicking the gate shut behind her as she went.  Dad began to pack up his camera and before he had finished, she was back.  “I have one more thing to show you.”

We followed her to a nondescript cement building where we entered a narrow, dark hallway surrounded on both sides by floor-to-ceiling fencing.  As if on cue, a regal cheetah approached the front of the cage beside us and looked up at Catherine expectantly.  She undid the latch and the cheetah glided silently out into the narrow passage and stood with us, so close that her long tail would have touched me if she flicked it.  She didn’t flick it, though.  She stood as still as a statue, her teardrop eyes trained on Catherine.  The next moments seemed to play out in slow motion for me as I experienced them through a filter of awe and fear.

440083-1680x1050“This is Angel,” said Catherine.  She then wordlessly took Dad’s hand and placed it in front of her flat cheetah nose.  She smelled him curiously and vigorously began to lick the back of his hand.  I could hear the sandpaper roughness of her tongue resonating loudly against the cement walls and floor.  As she licked, the cat lady explained that Angel was what she called an ambassador cat.  She had spent her life in captivity and had dedicated her energies to raising money for her own endangered species by visiting schools and doing other appearances.  I could barely hear Catherine speaking; my eyes were too trained on the tongue licking dad’s hand, waiting for the teeth that peaked out to sink into his precious flesh.  I could hardly keep myself from saying something.  Maybe she didn’t know how important those hands were.  I mean, maybe she didn’t understand that without them he couldn’t paint, couldn’t make a living…..

At some point Catherine finished talking.  I honestly have no idea what else she said.  All I remember is that she sharply clicked her tongue twice and Angel abruptly stopped licking and reentered her cage.  Blurry thanks passed between the two adults, a short walk towards our van ensued and ice cream cones were gathered along the way.  I climbed up in my captain’s chair and we started home with me so dazed I didn’t even notice my melting cone.  Dad looked over at me gauging how I was, since the silence in our van was not something he was used to from his little chatterbox.   “Did you have fun?” he asked between licks.  “Yes.” I exhaled breathlessly.  Silence.  “Well,” he said slowly, “I want you to remember one thing.  Today we went to work.”  He stopped, letting that sink in.  Finally, he continued, “If you don’t love what you do this much, don’t do it.”

Duly noted, Dad.  Duly noted.


Yes, all things are possible for one who believes, but it helps to have someone live this out in front of us so we can experience firsthand an unbelievable life.  Then, it seems more possible to create our own.

Nelson Mandela said it best.  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Give someone else permission to dream big by living your life with boldness.  Remember that playing small does not serve the world.  You are a child of God.  You were made to shine.

Click here to experience the art of Misty’s father, Mitchell Tolle.

To find out more about the Cheetah named Angel and the fund established in her name, click here.

2013 Copyright by Misty Tolle

All rights reserved

3 Ways to Listen Like a Pro

In the book Music: Ways of Listening, author Elliott Schwartz argues that our listening skills have been “dulled by our built-in twentieth-century habit of tuning out.”  I can’t help but agree with that and admit that I’ve been guilty of it myself.

The Bible says more than a dozen times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In light of this, it seems this isn’t a 20th century phenomenon after all.

There’s nothing more important to a musician than how acutely we listen.  So how do we cultivate ‘ears that hear’?


1.  Listen More than Once

black woman listening

Sounds simple, right?  But how often do we receive sound advice, hear a great message, or read a great book and rush right on to the next thing without stopping to let it sink in?  The great violinist Itzhak Perlman said, “When we learn something slowly, it leaves us slowly.  When we learn something quickly, it departs our minds quickly.”  So, let’s take our time and embrace repetition.  Want to really know that piece of music?  Hear it over and over again.  Want to really learn that spiritual lesson?  Sit with it, meditate on it, listen again to the words that were spoken until you have internalized the message.

2.  Listen in Lots of Ways

man headphones

When I get called in to play a new Broadway show, I need to know it backwards and forwards before I show up in the pit that first night.  I prepare myself by listening to the music almost constantly.  Sometimes I listen while watching the musical score so I see the notes of the whole orchestra flying by.  Sometimes I listen while looking at my horn part, so that I really understand the specifics of what I need to play.  Sometimes I just listen in the background while driving, walking the dog, or doing other mundane tasks.  I listen to the cast recording, the original recording, and the current pit orchestra playing it themselves.  Sometimes I even listen to it while falling asleep at night.

Want to know what God has to say in your life? The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Listen to the word while you exercise, while you cook, and while you travel to work.  Listen to a few different translations to hear interesting nuances of interpretation.  Listen when you are deliberately paying attention and when you are not.  The Bible says that God’s word will not return void, so no matter how and when you listen to it, there are promises attached to that hearing.

3.  Listen More than you Talk

img048

At one point in my career I oversaw a team of artists from many arts disciplines. They were a mixed group of dancers, actors, musicians, potters, storytellers, etc.   Working with them all jumbled together I began to notice that the musicians seemed to be more adept collaborators than those from other disciplines.  They specifically flourished in the large group conversations.  As I began to grapple with the reasons why, it struck me that they were simply better listeners.  I noticed they spoke up less often in conversation.  They were thoughtful responders to what they had heard rather than steering the dialogue based on their own agendas.  It’s not that the people from the other arts disciplines didn’t listen; of course they did.  It’s that the musicians were able to listen with such focus and intention and understood the value of remaining quiet until they could truly contribute something of import to the dialogue.

Want to become more sensitive to what God is saying to you?  Spend less time talking at him when you pray and more time lingering in his presence.  Thoughtfully prepare questions for those spiritual mentors in your life and then listen while they pour out their wisdom to you.  Talk less.  Listen more.  The Greek philosopher Epictetus said it this way, “God gave man two ears but only one mouth that he might hear twice as much as he speaks.”  

Looking for a great way to listen to the Bible everyday?  Check out my favorite resource- Daily Audio Bible.  Subtle backgrounds of ocean waves and meditative music add to this daily dose of God’s word.

2013 Copyright by Misty Tolle

All rights reserved