Monday, April 20, 2009

Painting Joy

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can. Danny Kaye
On Saturday, we filmed the video portion of the Stand by Me (words and lyrics by King/Leiber/Stoller) production we are producing for the shelter where I work. About 75 people turned up to be part of the activity -- what a blast.

The objective was to paint a scene that resembled our second floor 'day area'; a large open space with tables and chairs where clients can sit, read, eat, chat, play cards, etc. About 45 clients and a handful of external volunteers turned up to play the role of 'clients'. Their job was to look enthusiastic, to be excited, to be engaged by the music -- to look like they were having the best of times.

About 15 musicians turned up to stand together to perform the song. Their job was to 'lip sync' the music bed we'd previously recorded and to look like they were having the best of times.

Reality was, everyone was having the best of times.

D., my assistant, had spent the previous week convincing clients to participate in the event. As two young guys told her at the end of the day, "We only came because you promised there'd be good food. We stayed because we were having so much fun."

And fun was had by all.

There wasn't a face without a smile. A body that didn't stand just a little bit taller. A spirit that wasn't lifted.

For me, it was a job well done. My objective was to ensure that every single person there had a good time. Liseanne, my youngest daughter, came out to help choreograph the event and to be a cheerleader with me. Our job -- to raise the energy in the room.

Our clients are often very cynical and depressed. They see the world through the skewed perspective of the despair that settles upon them every day.

When we first started playing the music, they were shy and tentative in looking enthusiastic. Attitude is everything in a homeless shelter. For most people, the belief that they have to keep the barriers up to protect themselves from being hurt, ridiculed, ostracised or shunned, limits their ability to experience joy in the moment of living in the rapture of now.

There was a whole lot of 'rapture' going on Saturday. Even those clients who habitually see the negative in everything, were smiling and clapping, singing along and having a good time.

One gentleman told me that he noticed something while 'performing' for the camera. "Acting like I was having a good time, moved me into feeling like I really was having a good time. In the end, I quit acting and just had a great time."

Act your way into a feeling.

If your feelings are getting you down, liven them up with acting happy.

If your mood is sagging, lift it up with action.

As I went around the room thanking people for their active and enthusiastic participation, I stopped by one man who had been particularly enthusiastic, to thank him for his help in keeping the energy up.

"You know," he said, his body still swaying to the beat even though the music had stopped. "It was really cool to just do it and not care what anyone thought about me. At one point, when the music was playing and there was no singing, I sort of let my arms down and quit moving. The energy dropped. When I put lots of energy into it, the energy in the room rose."

"Your energy created more energy around you," I told him. "You 'changed the state' of the room by upping the energy you put into the room."

At one point, I watched one of the client musicians. His face was set in a scowl. A dark cloud seemed to be descending around him. I know him quite well. Know how angry he gets when he feels out of place, or out of sorts with what is going on around him. Like many of our clients, he has an internal dialogue that talks about how he doesn't fit in, doesn't deserve to be 'happy', doesn't deserve the best.

"Don't you just love chaos!" I said, walking up beside him where he sat at the edge of the stage, holding his guitar.

"No," he quickly responded. "Something's gotta change. Fast. I'm ready to blow."

"Then change your state," I told him. "Stand up. Punch the air. Yell. Make a power move with your arm. Get the energy flowing in a positive direction."

He didn't want to do it. He hunkered over his guitar, clinging to his bad temper.

It didn't matter. In the end, the fun and laughter, the energy of the room invaded his spirit and he too was lifted up to join in the joy.

It was a day of standing together. Of making a difference in each other's lives by being the change we want to see in the world.

For the musicians, the volunteers, the film crew, it was a chance to give back -- and to have fun while doing it.

For the clients and staff who came out to support the event, it was a day to be part of something bigger than homelessness, bigger than the tension of being part of a community that is often marginalized by the city around them. It was a day to build bridges, to create understanding and, to stand together and give back to the people who make a difference in their lives every day.

For everyone, it was a day to remember. An event to relive in stories told around dinner tables, no matter which floor they're on; the second floor of the shelter or the dining room of a home somewhere in a suburb of the city.

It was a day to splash paint upon a canvas to create a picture of the hope that lives at the shelter every day. It was a day to paint in bright and vibrant colour, to sing and dance and cheer and laugh and share in creating something remarkable.

It was a wonderful day!

1 comment:

S L M Moss said...

Wow, what a joyful day. It sounds like a delightful experience. It is amazing how music can change the state for so many people in so many ways.

Thanks for sharing this story.