Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lessons Learned

Coming back to the United States has been fun and busy for me, and I am putting to use a few lessons I learned in Thailand that I will never forget.

            I was at my third layover in Chicago on my journey home to Georgia. Everything up until then had gone according to plan, but because of thunderstorms in the Atlanta area, my plane was delayed a few hours. I was very tired after having traveling so far and long. The last thing I wanted to happen was to be stuck in an unfamiliar airport with a bunch of unfamiliar people. However, I was able to meet two friendly people nearby who became my friends for the next few hours. We went out for beers and had conversations about our travels and professions. It was so interesting and fun to meet them and share the time together that would otherwise be spent in impatient crankiness. This scenario helped me realize one of the lessons I learned while in Thailand, one that I had intended to learn even before going: Friendship is there if you seek it out. I went to Thailand not knowing anyone ahead of time with the challenge to myself that I would make new friends. It took internal trust and courage to be outgoing and to initiate interaction. It also took open-mindedness to other beliefs and lifestyles. The results of this lesson were rewarding. I made many new friends on the trip and now feel stronger in my ability to connect with others in the future.

            The third layover delay also brought to light another lesson. Living in the moment is something far more valuable than pictures and memories. Life experiences are better when fully experienced with awareness and mindfulness. The delay of our flight pushed our flight back to about a 9 PM take-off, prime time for a Chicago fireworks display on the 4th of July from above. Thankful for a window seat, I gazed down on dozens of private and public fireworks displays all over the city. It was such a moving and meaningful experience because it felt like such a celebration. I was coming home after growing so much on my travels to Thailand! I took no pictures, because I knew they would never be as good as the full experience I was having in that moment. I know that the experiences in which I was consciously present, thus not thinking about past or future, I remember in a positive and meaningful light. When I went to Thailand, I knew I wanted pictures and mementos, but I wanted raw life experiences even more. And with gentle reminders from others in the group and me, I was able to see the world from a more present and therefore more real perspective.

            The third lesson I learned through observing and implementing music therapy. The music works, even without the words. Many of the clients we worked with did not know English, so we used music as a tool of communication. I remember one client I had in the pediatric setting, a young boy of around five years, running around the room waywardly, not engaging in anything we tried. In exasperation, I decided maybe we could change the music to match his energy and see what he did. He stood still for a few seconds, caught off guard by the music, and began to move again. But this time he was responding to the music by dancing; his movements more or less matched the music. With the gradual slowing and softening of the musical qualities, he calmed down just a little bit, all without a single word. The miracle of music as a communication tool was never as clear to me as it was in Thailand.

Hopefully I can bring all of my lessons into play in my life in the United States. My ability to make friends will help in my travels across the country this summer and my internship this coming year. Living mindfully in the moment will allow me to savor life, wherever I am, and also to be open to learning more. Finally, I hope the power of music as communication will continue to be a part of my work as a music therapy intern and a music therapist.

What lessons have you learned in Thailand or while being in a new place?

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