Lessons from India

I have just come back from an incredible journey in India. There is so much I want to share. This may be the first of a series of posts. We will see.

My main purpose in visiting India was attending LSUC – the Learning Societies’ Unconference. I was invited by my dear friend A just a few weeks before the unconference. In a nutshell, LSUC seeks to unite people from all walks of life who wish to unlearn certain ways of living taught by society that may not serve the greatest good, and who wish to explore alternatives to these ways. After much deliberation, I took the leap of faith and decided to go.

For those of you hearing of unconferences for the first time, an unconference is a gathering of people looking to share and exchange ideas in an unstructured setting. It is a much freer kind of event than a conference, in that you have the freedom typically to create your experience.

 The loose outline of each day at LSUC. There was fluidity between sessions and during each session as well. The loose outline of each day at LSUC. There was fluidity between sessions and during each session as well.  The Open Sessions board. Anyone who wanted to lead a session on anything at all, could create a poster and pin it up next to a number with a certain location and time. The Open Sessions board. Anyone who wanted to lead a session on anything at all, could create a poster and pin it up next to a number with a certain location and time.  At the Gift table. This was a table where you could leave a prized possession or gift for anyone who needs or wants it. Anyone can come up at any time to leave something or take something. It was unmonitored, and worked based on mutual trust and love. At the Gift table. This was a table where you could leave a prized possession or gift for anyone who needs or wants it. Anyone can come up at any time to leave something or take something. It was unmonitored, and worked based on mutual trust and love.  A and I on the first day. A and I on the first day.

There are many things I learned from LSUC, but here is one poignant story I wish to share today. On the second to last day of the unconference, there was an open mic night. Given the unstructured nature of the unconference, I only found out about this open mic night when we arrived that day. That morning I had been thinking about sharing a few songs on my ukulele to anyone who wished to listen. The universe must have been listening because this open mic night opportunity showed up. I signed up with encouragement from my friends A and B.

I ended up having to wait three hours before going up to perform. Long story short – there were already performers scheduled to go on at a certain time. As I was waiting, I made a friend, S. S is a music facilitator at Swaraj University. We started talking about music. He mentioned how he had also wanted to join in for the open mic before the scheduled act had gone on, but now that they were performing, the whole atmosphere of the night had changed. What was at first a casual event where anyone was free to go up and share their talents, regardless of how “good” they were in the conventional sense, was now more of a concert setting where the performers onstage were very well-trained. The audience was enjoying the act, though perhaps some members were enjoying it because they thought they were supposed to – because the performers were giving a well-prepared performance in a style known for its difficulty.

I told S that I still wanted to perform, but that now having heard how he felt, started to feel anxious about going onstage. He told me not to worry, to just be myself. To remember, in the spirit of the unconference, that I am still learning. That everyone has their own style of music, none of which is better than the other. Each of which is unique. The important thing is that we create art for our own pleasure first and foremost, before that of others.

I kept that in mind as I got up onstage. I had prepared a few covers, which I had only been practicing for a day or so. I was nervous and uncomfortable as I don’t normally sing in public with my ukulele. I was afraid I would forget the lyrics. As I performed the covers I tried to get everything perfect. With the little screen of my cellphone as my crutch, I paused here and there to scroll down the screen for the lyrics. I wasn’t connected to the music. I was performing, and very well aware of the fact. As I had been taught to do in my classical piano and violin training and performances growing up, I was trying to impress the audience.

After my covers, my friend B shouted from the audience that I should sing my own song. I was slightly caught off guard but am so grateful that he did, because I was able to share a song I had written in Costa Rica, that holds a special place in my heart. I sang it effortlessly, looking out into the audience and connecting with them, as I no longer felt the need to keep my head down staring at my phone. I felt the song, and felt the freedom of sharing my truth with those gathered there.

After my performance, nearly every compliment I received was on my final song. Another friend B told me it was a beautiful performance, and that what he enjoyed most was how I was completely myself up there, gaffes and all. During my covers, I had trouble with scrolling to see the lyrics, and basically – looking back, quite embarrassingly – voiced my inner monologue of struggle out loud instead of keeping it to myself. It was a novel experience for me, not having to hide anything in a performance. Feeling safe to be myself.

 A dome built onsite by one of the participants. A dome built onsite by one of the participants.

I think so often we feel the need to hide parts of ourselves due to fear of not being liked or accepted. I have learned on a deep level that that is unnecessary. Only in sharing your purest self can others feel safe to share parts of themselves as well. For this invaluable lesson, I am eternally grateful to LSUC and to all those I had the pleasure to connect with through it.

My leap of faith was certainly guarded by a strong and sturdy safety net. I just had to trust that all would be well.

As we enter 2018, I wish the same for you. That you have the courage to take leaps of faith while following your intuition. As long as you have good intentions and a good heart, you won’t be led astray.

xo

J

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