How to “DIE”

Or, how to make sense out of madness.

As we enter into the new year, one of my goals is to "DIE" more often.

That sounds a bit morbid, right? Let me explain.

One evening this past October, I had the great fortune to work with members of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra (TSO), using music to help Miraval guests make sense out of chaos—a daunting task. 

Music is a wonderful forum for experiential learning.

How to “DIE”

When we listen to a musical piece, it immediately changes our focus and feeling.  Our reality changes in an instant. We are then forced to grapple with that reality the moment it manifests.

MORE: Your Mind on Music

Usually, when the music’s enjoyable, we are transported to a wonderful world. But what happens if it takes us to a place we don’t wish to be? 

What do we do then?

That was the task at hand for me and members of the TSO Brass Quintet.

The musicians played a piece called "Quintet for Brass Instruments" to an eager audience that filled the auditorium. Our seminar’s goal was to “learn tools to cope with the difficult or confusing parts of life and react to the world with more grace.”

As a result, the music to be played was supposed to be a challenge to the ears. Somehow we were to find a way to reinterpret the chaos.  Even with that expectation, the melody (if that’s what you called it) was difficult to listen to.

In response to the performance, we received opening comments like: “I tried to like it, but just couldn’t” and “It made me feel uncomfortable.” We even got remarks like: “I considered leaving, but decided not to.” 

To me, the piece felt like the soundtrack of a horror movieIt was marvelously played and amazingly complex but all over the place— choppy and unpredictable. I couldn’t get on top of it nor find any kind of flow to the rhythms.

A colorful New Yorker in the crowd said: “It was just like being on the subway, and I came to Miraval to get away from all of that!”

Shawn Campbell is the Director of Education and Community Engagement for the TSO, and one of the reasons I got the chance to work with these amazing musicians. She and I were monitoring the crowd for comments. Shawn taught a process called DIE, an acronym standing for a three-step method to analyze complex situations:

  • Describe
  • Investigate
  • Evaluate

The first step in the process is to describe the facts of the situation and what sensations come with it. Naming the feeling can often interrupt the emotional ride it takes us on, especially when we do so without judgment. It gives us time to probe further into the situation, especially when we catch ourselves getting lost in reaction.

MORE: Get Rid of That Song on Repeat, In Your Brain

In the case of "Quintet for Brass Instruments," the key starting place was recognizing the difference between the facts regarding the music and our personal feelings about it.

Once the description occurs with its various flavors, we can then proceed to step two. The alternative is just letting the emotions take us away. More often than not, we go for a ride.

Proceeding to the Investigation step makes use of a basic assumption: we don’t have all the information, and we need to get more before responding.

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