Playing the violin involves both of your arms: the fingers of your left hand are positioned over the strings to press down on them and play the notes, while your right hand controls your bow. Your bow goes up and down – simple enough – leaving you enough brain power to focus on your left hand which needs to play hundreds and hundreds of notes. At least, that’s how I thought for eleven of the twelve years I’ve been playing the instrument.
It wasn’t until last year that I found myself a teacher who interestingly enough was more concerned with my right arm than my left hand. He taught me all the amazing things you can do with your bow. Up and down is how it moves for starters, yes. But he taught me to segregate the components: speed, pressure, and point of contact (are you nearer the fingerboard or the violin’s bridge?). Lower half, middle bow, upper half. Tilted, flat hair. Twist your right arm for leverage. The universe of possibility that exists in the millimeters between your bow hair and the stick. The list goes on and is probably too much jargon for the non-violinist but think of it this way: All my violin playing life, I thought I was writing with a ball pen when in truth, I was holding a calligraphy pen all along. And then I realized: this again is another violin lesson than can be applied to real life. How many times have we stopped pushing ourselves convinced that this all we could do, instead of digging deeper and finding the true limits (if any) of our potential?
My favorite story related to this I heard from Mr. Charlie Harary, who told the story of a football coach who was trying to push one of his players. He told him to carry another one of the team members, and run a certain difficult way – and then put a blindfold on him. The coach said he would cue the player when he had reached the twenty meter line. The player ran and ran and ran and kept almost giving up while the coach just kept egging him on. Finally, the player collapsed and said, “See, coach? What did I tell you? I am no good, I couldn’t even reach the twenty meter line.”
The coach gently told the player to remove his blindfold and to the player’s surprise, he was standing by the fifty meter mark. “Son, why stop at being a twenty when you can be a fifty?” The coach asked.
And the truth is, all of us could be “fifties,” why should anybody stop at twenty? We forget that we are all like G-d in the sense that we have the power to create. We have free will and the power to make higher, better choices each time we face a decision. We have the power to create ourselves, become the people we want to be. We may not have the power to control the circumstances we find ourselves in, but we have the power to control our reactions and to choose to grow constantly. We can choose not to settle for “just enough” but for our highest potential.
But there’s one thing that must be added: We need to learn how to use our “tools.” For eleven years I had my violin bow and but until I was taught what I could do with it, I wasn’t using it to its maximum potential. We also need to take time to learn how to tap into our potential, taking classes, surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, and constantly working at it. But I recently learned something like a shortcut from a class of Mrs. Devorah Stieglitz and it goes like this: Our thoughts transform into our words, and our words transform into our actions. So in short, in order to change our actions, the quickest and most effective way is start at the root – by transforming our thoughts.
The strongest tool we all have, if I understand right, is our minds. How we think about things makes all the difference. This is a very nice story I came across one time that shares this same idea:
“There is a story they tell of two dogs…
Both at separate times walk into the same room.
One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling.
A woman watching this goes into the room to see what could possibly make one dog so happy and the other so mad.
To her surprise she finds a room filled with mirrors.
The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog found a thousand dogs growling back at him.
What you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are.”
If we train our minds to think positively, we will see only positive things all around us, and on its own, that will constantly push us to keep growing. If we remember in our minds that we are so full of potential, if we believe that we are so full of potential, we’ll start not settling for “just enough” and pushing ourselves to do more, because we know we can. Whether it’s about a certain skill like playing an instrument, or about a certain character trait like being kind, the point is, when we know and believe we can do more and decide to stop settling, we’ll start pushing ourselves and achieving more than we originally thought we could do. If we believe the world is on our side and wants us to succeed and that the difficulties we face are not supposed to discourage us but to encourage us to think more creatively and that G-d believes in us too, then there’s simply no limit to where we can reach in both our external and internal successes.
So take that first step: believe you have more potential. Because you do. The rest will simply and surely follow. Why stop at being a twenty when you can be a fifty?