By Ramona M. Wis
Earth and Sky.
Two deeply embedded experiences in our lives, embedded since we took our first breaths. Images, sensibilities, metaphors, and even the gravitational pull of Earth and Sky show up in our everyday life: in our speech, our actions (or lack of action), and our sense of felt wellness, of “being right with the world.” And because our lives include our teaching and our making of art, Earth and Sky show up in our work, as well.
Earth. Where we spent our first year gaining our “grounding,” learning from the energy we feel when we connect directly with the ground as we learn to walk. Earth sensibilities are reflected in everyday language: she is “well-grounded” or they need to “stand on their own two feet;” he is “earthy” (hmm, hopefully that doesn’t mean smelly) or “down to earth.”
Beyond physical stability, Earth gives us a sense of emotional, intellectual, and artistic stability. With a healthy sense of Earth we have the confidence, clarity, and strength to meet life’s challenges, whether large, pandemic-size challenges or those on the daily to-do list. We know who we are; we have direction and are less likely to be swayed by the impulse of the moment—by fears, judgement, or competition (even with ourselves). We are “rooted,” “sturdy,” and calm, with a long, steady exhale and a sense of peace in the midst of the frenetic pace.
But Earth can have a downside (sorry, bad pun). Too deep a sense of Earth can make us, what yogis would call, tamasic: we experience inertia or stubbornness; we avoid trying something new or we may be limited in our thinking. When Earth is too strong, we can be lethargic, even depressed, and professionally uninspired or just plain stuck.
Do you remember, as a kid, laying in the grass or a hammock and idly looking up at the Sky? (I still do this and even take sky pictures when I am not buried in the minutiae of my life.)
Sky is vast. It represents unlimited possibility and the sense that there is something larger than ourselves. Sky is air, wind, atmosphere or “heavens.”
Sky may evoke a sense of God or Universe or Spirit . . . of inspiration, the root of which (inspirare) can be defined as “to breathe or blow into.” Breath, air, spirit, inspiration, prana or life force . . . all are fueled by our awareness of and experience with, Sky.
Sky encourages growth. Trees grow up, reaching toward the Sky, energized by the atmosphere, by the sun. Thinking of Sky can increase our inhale and physical energy and encourage a more lifted posture or optimistic tone of voice or facial expression.
But Sky, like Earth, can lead us off balance. Too much Sky, and our “head is in the clouds;” we can be “flighty” or overwhelmed. We take on too much and have trouble making decisions, suffering from FOBO (Fear of Better Options) because we have to research just a little more before we finalize our virtual concert program for the world to see. Too much Sky can leave us anxious, unfocused, or erratic in thinking or action.
When we feel pulled in one direction, residing too long in Earth or Sky, we feel “off.” We experience a sense of dis-ease that can show up in physical symptoms or just a broader sense of something missing, and we find ourselves searching endlessly for something to unify us towards center, to make us and our work, whole.
Do you tend toward Earth or Sky? Know that your natural inclinations are not bad—you were designed with those characteristics precisely because they—you—are needed in this world. Great teachers, great leaders help ground and stabilize those around them; great teachers, great leaders also catalyze themselves and others to new possibility. But if you are not in balance, you won’t be living your best life.
Too much Earth? Move. Physically move, regularly, and move your thinking, ideas, patterns, and habits to loosen the “stuckness” of your world. Surround yourself with people who move. Deepen your inhale.
Too much Sky? Adopt slower, steady, contemplative movement (a walk that is more meditative than competitive). Limit options, say no, make a decision and stay with it. Stop Googling for more answers (aka “distractions”). Surround yourself with people who are grounding. Extend your exhale.
Know that your singers are just like you, sometimes stuck in Earth or frenetic in Sky. Work from where they are (each day or over a period of time) and gradually move them toward balance, toward sattva. Do singers need security or variety? Do they need more structure, a clearer routine (more Earth) or a fresh perspective and new goals (more Sky)? Evaluate how you spend your time and energy and develop strategies to shift, as needed, towards Earth or Sky. We, as teacher/conductor/leaders, are a balancing agent for our singers, in rehearsal and often, beyond.
The wisdom of Earth and Sky is only understood when we take time away from our devices and the mental chatter and look to nature to help remember who we are. Only then can we bring that wisdom back to our work and to ourselves for a better sense of wholeness, always willing to shift with grace between Earth and Sky for a greater good.
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice.
For further reading:
Or check out Walter Bitner’s blog from last week on inspiration: https://choralnet.org/2020/09/off-the-podium-inspiration-part-1/