Bobby McFerrin, best known to some of us by his rendition of the song Don’t Worry, Be Happy, is a ten-time Grammy award winner, vocal innovator and improviser, world renowned conductor of classical music, and a vocal teacher. He is also a very spiritual person, who was brought up in the Episcopal church and, as a young man, considered the monastic life and the priesthood.
During an interview today with Krista Tippet on On Being, Bobby said that when he is singing on stage, he tries “to be as close to my genuine self as possible.” He also teaches his vocal students not to perform, but to try to be childlike because we are closer to our real selves, our genuine selves when are like children.
I immediately grabbed a scrap piece of paper to catch his words because to me he was also describing the state of mind that is the opposite of our shadow self, the part of us that can is capable of an intimate relationship with God. Our child-like, genuine self is the one that experiences joy and openness and eagerness to learn. It is the part of us that is willing to be captured by snowflakes or rainbows or kittens (Maria’s “Favorite Things”!). Small children have not yet learned to manipulate or evade or protect or hide or lie or spin. Who they are is right there for everyone to enjoy and love and relate to.
I am reminded of the story in The Good and Beautiful God about a crowded airport full of people who are waiting: waiting to leave, waiting to be picked up, waiting for someone to meet them, waiting to meet somebody, hoping for word on a flight to replace a canceled flight. That world is not a pleasant place to be in. Then the author, James Bryan Smith, notices a group of people smiling. In the center of that group is a baby in a stroller, greeting everyone with a joyful smile. And who cannot smile back at a baby?! Smith reminds us that God is like that smiling baby. God loves us and delights in us and waits for us to respond with that same spontaneous love and delight.
The reward of shadow boxing, I think, is that we can become that child again, our genuine selves, capable of authentic, transparent, and loving relationships