Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.
4 minutes later:
the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk…
6 minutes later:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.
10 minutes later:
A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.
45 minutes later:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.
1 hour later:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities... The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…. How many other things are we missing?
When one’s awareness is in the same place as one’s experience, you get peacefulness, enjoyment of life, happiness, stress prevention. When your awareness is elsewhere besides your current experience, you increase the likelihood for turning on the stress response through thoughts of worry, anger, fear, guilt, etc…past and future thoughts. Stay here and now consciously. Good things will happen.
My senses are packed with information as I tune into them. It’s nearly amazing how the dinner cooking downstairs, the sounds of the computer fans, my son breathing and my wife clanging pots and pans, along with the sights of everything around me are so rich when I tune my attention toward them all. Amazing.
All stress begins with a thought. It isn’t what’s happening “out there” that initiates the stress response. It’s how we interpret what’s happening “out there” that causes us to become stressed or not. We call this a perception of a threat. If we think this situation will lead to some kind of pain (emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical), we turn on the stress response automatically to prepare for the potential pain. The potential pain is what we call a “threat.” Prevention of stress, then, is best done by focusing on our thoughts, by changing how we think about those things we think are threatening.
This first Blog looks directly at our thoughts and some things we can ask ourselves to help us prevent stress:
Is the threat real? What is the perceived threat? What is the likelihood of this perceived threat actually happening? What is the chance of its occurrence? (Almost always the answer to this is that the threat is rarely going to hurt us.)
Can I handle this? (Our past experience tells us that we can always handle things)
Is the perceived threat one which I can do something about? Is it in my circle of concern or my circle of influence? (As one of my wise students once told me, “If you have control over it, there’s no need to worry about it. If you don’t have any control over it, you also don’t need to worry about it. There is nothing else. So why worry?)
Can I think about this differently? There are hundreds of ways to interpret the situation differently. That is the wonderful thing about free will or our innate freedom to choose.
Sometimes we forget these things and the stress response turns on. When that does, we need definite ways of turning it off. This involves relaxation exercises and coping skills.
All of these things will be treated as we explore this exciting field of study that relates directly to you and me.