# Z-axis or Life Lessons I learned from Math

What I could teach you about math could be fit into a paragraph but what I have learned from math can fill a post. Forgive me, if you are a math major and know more than me on these matters. I am not pretending to be an expert here. Just telling you the understanding I have gained from what I learned.

You see, so often in life we are encouraged to fit living into a two dimensional plane with negative and positive quadrants made up of the variables of what we want to do and what society tells us is the right thing to do. Since a negative times a positive is still a negative this has interesting results.

A negative societal norm that you choose not to accept can put you in the negative quadrants of acceptance. A positive society norm that you choose to buck can put you in the negative quadrants of acceptability. However conversely, living down to a negative stereoptype in society can get you as much positive acceptance as living up to a positive norm. Something seems a bit out of whack there.

You can choose which of those to call the x or y axis but the results becomes fixed and rigid if we take it too far. Oh, there are important things measured on these quadrants like sound waves and light waves.

Even these come into some places where the numbers are amounts called square roots whose results can often go on and on and on without a real ending point — kind of like some of the differences of opinion that go round and round without an end.

Then add the Z plane, a third variable that lets you figure out volume and other 3-dimensional qualities. Some people would call this being hard-wired in the way we deal with life. I have heard this “hard-wiring” called being negative or positive.

Others see this as the emotion expressed in the interactions between life and the way you live it. Whatever you call it, the z-axis takes us into the more fleshed out regions of living. This begins to tell us who we really are. It is here where the more narrow clichés of society break down in helping people grow and find acceptance.

But the number plane that excites me most is the imaginary plane. This understanding came when they needed to use square roots to solve things and yet couldn’t come up with a definitive answer. Mathematicians realized there had to be something beyond the planes we could see and begin calculating that as a number followed by a small letter i.

I wonder if sometimes that is what we need to do with those societal issues that we continue to go around and around on.

What if we adopted the mathematical method enough to realize that simply accepting the unseeable, the difference that divides us from an absolute answer might just give us what we need to come to a workable solution for all? It is worth a thought.

What other planes of thinking could we access if we were willing to add that lower case i to the way we valued our own opinions and ideas about life?

# Y – Not Yet

“I can’t” is one of the most powerful phrases in the English language. In saying it, a person makes a claim on their spirit that they are incapable of doing something. It is a debilitating handicap to achievement as it draws energy from muscles needed and builds blocks in those areas of thinking that need to be applied to tackling a problem or action.

There are many areas in my life where I am tempted to say “I can’t”. It is an on going struggle with the vulnerability of recognizing that I have a responsibility to choose the priorities in my life. There are things I will not learn how to do. Most of those will come because I have chosen other priorities for my efforts. Others might come because I haven’t found the mentors I need to help me a long on the journey. Whatever the reason, I will only take the steps I need if I have a belief that they are possible.

The solution is one that I share with my students on a regular basis as I teach them to sing and to use instruments in ways they have not done before. It is something that takes a few more syllable to say and yet the power of the added words is phenomenal.

” I don’t know how Yet.”

Now you have a choice. Are you willing to put the time and the effort into learning what you need to in order to do it? Are you willing and able to award the small gains as you reach toward that goal without giving up because of the time it may take to reach that goal? In a small change of words, you change the power you have in affecting your life. Is it worth the extra breath?

Instead of “I can’t” …. “I don’t know how YET”.

I found this at The Math’s Magpie. I am sure, with a bit of tweeking you can come up with a similar list on your way to Yet.

http://themathsmagpie.blogspot.ca/2013/07/i-cant-do-it.html

# X Multiplies

We learned it in elementary school. When you want to take one number and multiply it by another number you wrote an X between the two numbers.  X means to multiply.

Later, if you got into algebra x also meant that variable you needed to solve for. The calculations serve to help you find what you are looking for.

Wikipedea also kindly added these as some of the uses of x:

– X is often used to represent unknowns in other circumstances (e.g. Person X, Place X, etc.; see also Malcolm X).
– X-rays are so called because their discoverer did not know what they were.
– X has been used as a namesake for a generation of humans: Generation X, the generation born after the baby boom ended, ranging from 1961 to 1981.
– An X-shaped mark has traditionally been used by the illiterate in lieu of a signature, and is also used to indicate a signature line on forms.
– X marks are used as a substitute for the check mark (most notably on election Ballot papers)
– X is commonly used as a generic mark (selecting an item on a form, indicating a location on a map, etc.).
– The common custom of placing Xs on envelopes, notes and at the bottom of letters to mean kisses.
– The use of X indicates any kind of collaboration between people.
– In cartoons, a dead character’s eyes are often drawn as Xs.
– In mapping by the standards of the USGS, an x-type mark is used to denote the point referred to by an elevation marking on topographical maps.
– Maps leading to hidden treasure often denote the treasure with an X. The expression “X marks the spot” is related to these treasure maps
– (and I would add that X is often used to designate a past relationship with a place or person)

Standing alone, the x seems to have many representations yet, I would like to claim, that in them all, X still multiples. Each of the things above is an experience, an understanding denoted by an X.

If we chose to do nothing with the experiences in our lives, we multiply them by 0 and, as we all know, that leaves us with nothing.

Let the experience stand as it is and we multiply it by 1 leaving us with just what we got.

However, multiply it by looking at the lessons we can learn from the experiences, by letting ourselves grow from the knowledge so that we can use it meaningfully in our lives and we have multiplied that experience into a place of growth in our lives.

I don’t know about you, but I think I would like a life of multiplication. I will allow myself to live mindfully in all that is in each moment so that it can multiply its gains into my future.

# Sand Dollar Doves

This comes from childhood memories of walking on the beaches of the Oregon coast. Many a sand dollar found its way into the treasures of the day. This story is simply fiction. I hope you will enjoy.

The shrill calls of the gulls were white noise blocking out the sounds of others around her. She walked down the seaweed littered shore her sandals in hand feeling the cold damp give of the sand beneath her feet.

A record that I am here she thought. Then laughed at the knowledge of waves that would soon wipe her steps away. The smooth white edge of a sand dollar caught her eye. Reaching down to brush off the gritty sand she didn’t notice the little girl watching nearby.

“Watcha find, lady?” She asked. The woman raised her eyes to see the child, feet turned inward with big toes playing a game of which will be on top. The sand coating her legs up to the edge of her knees told the tale of the little girls treasure hunts. Her hands clutched a lumpy towel giving witness to some level of success.

The woman held the perfect sand dollar out to the girl.

“You know there are birds in there, don’t ya?” offered the girl. “If you open it they can fly away.”

The woman smiled, “Well, would you like me to let them fly away?”

The girl looked at the sand dollar and up at the sky. “Nope. Too many gulls. The birds are so small the gulls would eat em like flies. You keep em. Sometimes we need times to fly away. You never know when yours’ll come.”

The woman took a closer look at the girl. Her one piece suit showed the wear of many washings. The dark patch might just be the shadow of her tangled hair hiding her face from the sun. What was this little girls story? Why hadn’t she noticed her as she walked along the beach, but then, she had been lost in thought after all.

“Are you here alone?” The woman found herself asking. “Shouldn’t you be heading back to your family?”

The little girl smiled. “You are my family. Don’t you remember?”

The woman sat back quickly her eyebrows lifting in surprised. Her children were grown and she had surely not seen this child before.

“I… I am sorry, but you have to be mistaken,” she stammered. “I haven’t seen you before.”

The woman was not above a game with a child so playing along she shut her eyes.

“Feel the sand,” said the child, “Rub the edges of the dollar.”

The woman felt something stir inside as the worn edge of the sand dollar rolled beneath her fingers. There was a time long ago when ….

She opened her eyes with a start and stared at the little girl. She knew that suit. She knew that towel. She knew the darkness wasn’t the shadow of her tangled hair. The child she looked at was herself long ago, the time she had wanted to fly away.

“Sometimes we need times to fly away. You never know when yours’ll come.” Repeated the child as she slowly began to fade. “You’ll never know when yours’ll come.”

The woman sat for a long time rubbing the edge of the dollar and remembering. When she finally stood there was a new light in her eyes. She had remembered and now, it was time to let that learning take flight. There was a time to finally let go.

Clutching the sand dollar in her hands she walked back the way she had come. It was time to let the child in her be free. It was time to find her way to a safe place to be. It was time to stop repeating the past.

In her mind’s eye she opened the sand dollar and watched a 1000 doves fly up into the sky.

# W – Wrinkles and All

When I was young, there were two types of characters I played well. One was a Halloween style witch. I had the cackle down.

When I was in my early twenties, I had the opportunity to play the witch in a haunted house at a camp I worked at. We even had make-up artists that came. My costume and cackle were successful. Several children were terrified. Only, their terror made me feel awful. I told their counselors to bring them to the change room afterwards where I let them help take off my make-up to see that it was only pretend. I have never enjoyed scary costumes since.

So each year when Halloween comes around I choose something that I think is fun and beautiful. I have been a renaissance woman, a Mr., and a clown. Some years it has only been a silly hat or accessory.

This past year I told the children I was going to come as someone I think of as beautiful. And what is best about this image, this person is someone I will someday be. I chose to dress as an elderly woman, comfortable in her own skin, wrinkles and all.

I think a woman I met in my early twenties began showing me the beauty of age. I was staying with a friend from university and went with her to a youth gathering at her church. The young people met at the home of an elderly woman who proudly thought of herself as seventy-some years young. “I don’t plan on growing old”,  was her gentle smiling explanation. Her smile and warmth lit the faces of each young person there. I remember thinking I wanted to be like her when I grew older.

She was the person I thought of that day when I donned the grey hair, the longish straight dress and comfortable shoes. I slowed my walk to an easy step, stooped slightly and spoke with the slightly breathy ease I remembered she used. I even scrunched up my face to find my own someday wrinkles to accentuate with paint that day. I enjoyed the double takes as some didn’t recognize me. More, I enjoyed the hugs of some students who thought I made a sweet elderly lady.

At the end of the day, the costume came off, but the memory of that slower paced, comfortable being that day remains. Yes, I am going to enjoying being an elderly person comfortable in my own skin, wrinkles and all.

Even if one of the students thought I was the witch in Hansel and Gretel.

To the old woman in my dreams
June, 1998

Wise old woman
with craggy cheeks
and scarecrow limbs,
you have been my quiet strength,
honest evaluations
of me,
you have been my sanity.

You have not bowed to the pressure
from outside to
Conform!
Fit our mold!
You have stayed real
and strong
despite my own devaluing,
my own distancing,
my own terror
of you.

It is no wonder
that I do not fear
growing old,
you wait for me there.
You know
that whatever my life is like now,
then I will wear your face
and will not be afraid

Wise old woman,
I did not recognize this
until now.

– L.J. Andres-

# V – Please! Raise Your Voice

I sat stunned at the adjudicator’s comment. With a few thoughtless words she had crushed the feelings of a young girl. I could see it in Shelley’s face. “I can’t give you a high mark on this because there is just something unpleasant in your voice that I find hard listening to.”

I was not Shelley’s teacher. In fact, I was not even a music teacher yet at that time. Her teacher had chosen her as one of the top girls in her school due to her musicianship. She had even won first place at the festival the year before. Yes, she sang with a tightness in her throat, but tell her that so she has something to work on! Don’t take her voice away from her in such an ugly way! There was nothing I could say at that time. My words did not have the clout to undo the damage.

Though I saw that devastation with my own eyes, I hear it often when others learn I am a music teacher. “My teacher told me to just mouth the words in choir.” “I wasn’t even allowed to sing in the choir.” So many adults fear using their voice publically because of supposedly well intentioned but thoughtless judgments that limit instead of giving feedback about how to grow. There are only a few with very specific medical conditions who cannot sing. Otherwise we all have a voice we can raise expressively. The bane of our competitive society is that it has limited those who are called singers to those who can win contests. Prizes don’t make people singers. The goal is enjoyment and fulfillment. Training needs to keep that in mind.

If there is a need to sing together as a choral group, listen to the specific need of the child to help them grow. The important thing is to see the child and balance other musical activities to affirm their musicianship while they are developing their singing voice. Often their greatest struggle is a fear of their voice that causes them to stay in a talking range of notes. And when it comes to matching notes. That has to do with training the ear.

But did Shelley’s story of singing end that day? I watched her with concern as she sat silently Sunday after Sunday in church. She shied away from anything that had to do with singing.

About a year later I was in the position to talk to her about the experience. “Shelley, I noticed you weren’t singing at church and you used to love to sing. Do you sing at all anymore?”

“No,” she answered, head low. “I won’t even sing in my room or in the shower.”

I opened up and talked to her about how I felt about the adjudicator’s words and what I had noticed she could work on. Then I made her a deal. I would work with her on her voice for three months. At the end of that time, she would pay me for the lessons by singing a duet with me.

Shelley began singing again in church and before long helped lead the children’s music.

The last time I saw Shelley, she was coming through the town to sing with her college choir. Her eyes sparkled as she opened her mouth in harmony and joy.

**** While looking up a question on line I came upon this site: Natural Voice Practitioner’s Network, http://naturalvoice.net/ . The quotes in the banner are wonderful.

# U – An Uncomfortable Truth

It is an uncomfortable truth. I shy away from its reality while turning to face it with each new day. I am a judgmental person. There it is said. Perhaps you might understand what I mean.

It may not show in language I use toward others. But take a moment. Listen to the words you use to tell yourself you are worthy or not worthy of someone’s acceptance, of a compliment received. Do you recognize the same words often heard to label others? This week, I began listening and found that I do.

Every time I judge myself I  judge others. By accepting the labels as descriptors of my own failure to be what I expect myself to be I use words that labeled others as not measuring up to that same expectation. By dividing the words into columns of worthy or not worthy, I divide people into the same columns.

It doesn’t matter if I “excuse” others of what I hold against myself. I am far more judgmental then I ever admitted before. Every word I use to label myself stands proof of it. This truth cloaks me like a porcupine skin with the quills facing inward.

I have often told myself it is far easier for me to love others than it is to love myself. To an extent that is true. It is far easier for me to excuse in others what I don’t excuse in myself. It is far easier to act kindly according to my decision of what they needed or would want.  But does this sense of excusing instead of embracing the wholeness of another person the extent of love?

In an earlier post about closing off our dreams I wrote:

“If by chance you accidently shut the child in with the dream, the child will keep banging on the door of your life until you listen. You may not even recognize the things your bring into your life or leave out of your life in your efforts to shut out that sound.”

Can this be true of my self judgments as well? Can they be justifying choices I make toward others that may not for their highest good? Can I be acting in ways  that I am unaware of to discourage their dreams and longings, their ability to live as their fullest selves ?

Can I truly love others if the labels I had learned to identify certain of their characteristics with are ones I was using to put down or justify myself? Can I truly love someone else who doesn’t fit my ideal if I am using them as comparisons of what I think a person should be?

I don’t like these thoughts! I don’t want to face this in myself. It is an uncomfortable truth I would rather not look at!

But wait! Isn’t there a verse that says we will know the truth and it will set us free? If so, can it be that the truths we learn, even the ones that feel as uncomfortable as porcupine quills, have something to teach us to bring us freedom in our lives?

Could it be that by learning to let go of the labels I used to condemn myself, I will also be freer to really listen to who others are? That I might learn that much more how to truly love others?

As I learn to be kinder and gentler in my language toward myself, I will be learning to be kinder and gentler in my thoughts toward others. We love others AS we love ourselves.