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.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 MusicUsually, 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 BrainIn 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.Have you ever found yourself focusing on something you were confident was true, only to find out that it was misinterpreted, and your response was inappropriate based on what you came to discover?We feel badly when we assume.This happens all the time without much conscious thought, but maybe it can stop if we probe further beforehand.We came to find out that the cacophonous music we heard was written by Alvin Etler as an homage to his son, who fought and died in the Korean War.Quintet for Brass Instruments was a monument to his son’s dying before his time. Caught in a battle without glory or heroism in a place far away from home and friends, a boy died and left his father shattered by grief with only the music to give him solace. It was a father’s only tribute.What an amazing act to interpret war in its true guise, not as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” but as chaos, confusion, turbulence, and turmoil.And with that realization, everything changed.Suddenly as the music was replayed, it became beautiful in its commotion, majestic in its unruliness. I could feel war and a father’s despair in an instant, as I found myself fighting through the mine fields of commotion and disarray. Suddenly it all made sense, and that clarity completely changed my perspective. It was a total reversal.How can the same music played only minutes apart make me feel entirely different with just a bit more awareness? It makes me think of all the times I jump to conclusions, convinced that my judgment was true.Maybe it wasn’t.And that takes us to step three: Evaluate. Take the new information and piece it together from a different point of view to see if it may take on new meaning.Maybe next time I’ll separate the facts from the feelings; then maybe I’ll get curious and look for more pieces to the puzzle. Maybe I’ll remember that thoughts are things; that focus equals feeling, but feeling may not be factual. The thoughts in my head, the lump in my throat and the churning in my gut may not be right or even real for that matter.And maybe this year, I might try to free myself from judgment, find a new perspective, ask a fresh set of questions, evaluate what really is real and expand my awareness.With that skill, might I not be able to see the world in a completely different light?Here’s hoping I will.