Saturday 30 April 2016

Prince, A Magic Shop and a Witch

Almost three weeks ago, my husband Jim and I went to hear the author Dr. James Doty speak about his book Into the Magic Shop at the Ottawa Writers Festival. I’ve been thinking about the talk ever since. Jim Doty was a poor and angry 12 year old who walked into a magic shop one day in his California desert hometown. A woman, Ruth, sat behind the cash register and began speaking to him in a way that no adult had ever done before. She offered to teach young Jim Doty secrets and lessons that would change his life forever.  What Ruth taught Jim in their daily conversations over the period of six weeks all those years ago was mindfulness and the connection between the brain and the heart.  Jim was a good student and Ruth’s lessons led him to forgive his alcoholic father and his depressed, disabled mother. He began to imagine a future for himself that was full of possibilities. Doty became a professor of neurosurgery at Stanford University and subsequently founded the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford.  James Doty’s story is a rollercoaster ride between ignorance and knowledge – he has loved and lost many times and with each crash, Ruth’s lessons have shown him the path back to authentic happiness and the balance between aspiration, humility, compassion and confidence.

A week after that book talk, Prince died. I am a fan of Prince’s music – I’ve always had to turn it up and dance when one of his hits came on the radio. But I’m a boomer, not a child of the 80’s who grew up with his songs as markers my personal memory book.  Nevertheless, I have become a little bit obsessed with his life and work over the past couple of weeks. 

Prince was a young boy when he decided to become the best rock musician in the world. He learned to play every instrument and he honed his vocal talent, too.  He wanted to be the best at every aspect of his performing art and he was. One time, someone asked Eric Clapton what it was like to be the best guitarist in the world. “I don’t know”, he answered, “ask Prince.” Why have I been so moved by the passing of this diminutive musical genius? I’ve been asking myself that question and I think it’s because he, like James Doty, reinvented the idea of grand possibility in his life and he dared other artists to follow him in the church of fearlessness.  As one pundit on CBC radio said recently, “Prince understood the power of the profane and the sacred. He knew that ecstasy was part sex, part holy and part excellence. And he believed in God – he knew there was a greater power.” 

Watch Prince blow up the stage at about 3:30 in this tribute to George Harrison in 2004.

And at the SuperBowl half-time show in 2007, organizers were frantic that the monsoon-force rains would make performing impossible for Prince and his dancers. “Can you make it rain harder?” was the artist’s response. Watch this! 

So what does a book about a magic shop and a recently deceased rock and roll performer have to do with caregiving?

First, they are both inspiring, but that answer is too simple. They’ve mastered their craft to such an extent that they can move fearlessly and without boundaries into territory that is 100% grit, joy and despair. That is our caregiver territory of human drama, generosity and hairpin turns of emotion.

Service providers should watch Prince’s performances and think about excellence. They should think about innovation and about bravery.

And what can we caregivers do with these lessons in living out loud other than watch videos and read good books?

Paolo Coehlomight have some answers in his novel, The Witch of Portobello.  The liner notes read: How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are?

That is the central question of international bestselling author Paulo Coelho's profound new work, The Witch of Portobello. It's the story of a mysterious woman named Athena, told by the many who knew her well—or hardly at all.

Coelho’s Athena is a contemporary witch who develops a cult following when she begins to teach people how to live more joyfully and mindfully.  “Use your left hand for a day if you are right-handed”, she advises.  “Dance purposefully off the beat of the music.”  Athena advises her friend: “What do you want? You can't want to be happy, because that's too easy and too boring. You can't want only to love, because that's impossible. What do you want? You want to justify your life, to live it as intensely as possible. That is at once a trap and a source of ecstasy. Try to be alert to that danger and experience the joy and the adventure of being that woman who is beyond the image reflected in the mirror.” 

“How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves – even if we are unsure of who we are?” is an important question for all humans, but it’s especially urgent for caregivers.  Often, we lose sight of who we are as we tend to the needs of loved ones. Can mining around good books and the lives of extraordinary performing artists teach us something about living out loud in the quiet of our homes? I don’t know, but I’m definitely going to practice Ruth-from-the-magic-shop’s lessons to find out and I’m going to put on Prince and turn up the volume.

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