Human beings are wired to anticipate. We are wired to worry. We are wired to see the worst case scenarios flash before our eyes before we take that first step that may lead us to that place we have always wanted to be. This is a God-given gift for our our safety and self-preservation. Without the fight or flight response, our ancestors would not have survived, and we wouldn’t be here today.
We are also wired to have that desire to find that place where only we fit, the role that only you or I were made to fulfill. We are wired for purpose. We often view our inner tensions in a purely negative light. We pathologize our inner tension as maladaptive and try to push it away. We ignore it. When they become a big enough problem, we may act out or medicate them. We ignore those voices inside of ourselves that are telling us how amazing we can be by surrendering to the fear that we can never be “enough.”
I know I’ve done this. I’ve suffered with clinical anxiety for years; I’ve worn all of its ugly masks, crying, hiding, avoiding, and living in a constant state of panic and fear. I am a musician and have had many performances ruined by my uncontrollable shaky hands and choked-up voice. I’ve run off stage. I’ve cursed myself. Blame myself. Seen myself as less than even good. But, what really is tension? Is it really a devil to be avoided? Is comfort truly good and discomfort truly bad?
After two decades of this, and a lot of emotional and spiritual work, I had the epiphany that the inner tension is not a curse. It is a gift. It is meant to be the fuel to our fire to push each one of us into the unknown. I found that when I began to see tension as a part of life and accept it for what it is, a temporary state. I was able to harness it, to use that adrenaline to focus. In doing so, I am able to actually perform better, not worse. When I accept the tension and allow the music to flow through me, I allow myself to be what God intends, a vessel for lifting up others and telling the stories of those who can not tell their own.
Music is a temporal art; it happens in real-time. Music brings stories, images, and feelings to life by harnessing tension. It is up to me, to each of us, to harness the tensions of our own lives to sing the song only our lives can sing.
Tea is the perfect antidote to a stressful day. Steeping tea is a meditative process. There are many ceremonial ways for serving tea such as the Japanese practice Cha Dao or “The Way of Tea” and Kung Fu or “Hard Work” tea Chinese ceremony. Herbal tea is not tea in the traditional sense, but the process of making it can be approached with the same mindful attitude. Lavender, chamomile, and lemon balm are all known to be naturally calming. Sip them together or blended with your favorite black or green tea.
Lavender Herbal Tea
1 teaspoon culinary lavender flowers
1 teaspoon chamomile flowers
2 tablespoons fresh lemon balm leaves
Bring eight ounces of fresh water to a boil. Let the water cool for two minutes before pouring over the leaves and flowers. Let steep for five to ten minutes. Serve your tea with a teaspoon or two or honey if you like, or make an herbal latte with frothed almond milk.
I encourage you to listen to non-musical sounds as music. Listen to where the tension builds and where the sound reaches resting points. How does that build a story? Tension and release is how music creates concrete images in our mind. As the song builds are mind and body respond. We experience relief after the music reaches its climax and releases the tension. How does this happen? Sometimes the tempo changes; sometimes it’s the notes the composer or songwriter chose. It could be the volume or instrument choices. Listen to the sound of traffic; hear the way the tires interact with the pavement. Listen to the wind through the trees; hear how the movement of the leaves create percussive sounds. Listen to non-musical sounds this way. Hear the symphony around us everyday.
I am grateful for the tense times in my life. I know that I am being molded into who I need to be to live a purpose-filled life through my trials and tribulations. I am thankful that I am able to be here now and use this opportunity to create a better world. Without tension, there is only stasis and that does not lead to change. I may not always respond in the best way during tense periods, but I know that God is on my side and I allow myself grace.
While your tea steeps, take this time to reflect (and not judge) your responses to the tensions you face in your daily life. What are you doing right? What needs to change? Take the time to fairly evaluate where you are.
–Janae Jean Almen