Daily Grat: The Gift of Playing Guitar

I love playing guitar. I think I’ve loved it from the first moment I picked one up in the seventh grade. Back in what was clearly a less enlightened time (turn on your sarcasm detectors) public schools actually did things like teach guitar. I took guitar at Westwood Junior High for an entire semester.

After that, I took lessons for a few months at a little music store in the Spring Creek Shopping Center that no longer exists, from some guy with long hair in a tiny back closet that they’d set aside for such things. I think that lasted for about three months. Since then, I’ve been on my own, picking it up from friends who are better…watching folks who I admire like hawks…and practicing moves over and over and over.

I’ll never be the world’s best player, and thank God that stopped mattering to me a long long time ago…about the time I realized that I need to play much more than I needed to be perfect.

To me, there is just nothing like playing guitar. So, it’s today’s “Daily Gratitude.”

And a new blessing, as many of you know, is playing with a band. I was well into my forties before I ever played with a band. I’m still mostly a solo guy at heart. But the band thing is fun too. Really, anytime, day or night, alone or in a group, is a good time to play guitar.

My favorite time, though, is by myself, late at night, after everybody else has gone to bed (Sub-Daily Grat: a house big enough that no one else is bothered by this…)

There’s a small bathroom right next to the study here, and I usually play in there; and even playing by myself, I usually stand. Not looking in the mirror, but looking into the corner, so that the sound bounces back all over me. Part of this is being deaf in one ear, and desperately yearning to “hear” the full sound that I miss if the sound is not bouncing right back at me. But the other reason is so that I’m feeling every single note in my belly and chest (those sweet, low reverberations…especially of alternate tunings…) but also all the rest of the sound, just welling all around me in that small, tiled space. Sometimes, I stop singing and just PLAY…just to hear the sweet sounds and vibrations.

I’ve had my Santa Cruz for about three full years now, and just in the past eight or nine months it feels like we are finally getting to know each other. I’m not afraid of her anymore. It feels like I’m playing with more feeling than I used to…and it feels GOOD. I think she’s grateful for my growing confidence too, and is showing it with constantly sweeter sound. At least to my ear.

There is such a good feeling, such a high, that comes from playing. The only thing I know close to it is prayer and meditation. Both clear my head in exactly the same way. Both can take whatever the emotion that I’m full of, and empty it out of me through the act itself…playing or praying….take your pick.

A therapist once told me that, as somebody who loves playing as much as I do, I should definitely do it as much as possible. I was in a period of pretty deep depression at the time, on anti-depressants, and just looking for general ways to feel better.

The way my therapist explained things, there are several basic ways to get more endorphins in the brain. One way would be self-medicating. Not really a good choice. The other basic ones to all of us are: food, sex, exercise, and prayer and meditation.

But then, he added that for a lover of music –for a writer or performer or musician of almost any kind –playing/performing/writing/creating itself can trigger that very same endorphin release too. It can, quite literally, help to lift a person out of depression….to realign those brain chemicals back to a peaceful place.

I had never heard it said quite that way, and from a medical professional. But the moment he said it, I knew instinctively it was true.

I always…always…always feel better when I’m done playing guitar. I sleep better and more soundly afterward. I even dream better too.

Where would I be without it? Who would I be without it?

I shudder to think.

Luckily I don’t have to, and I can just be grateful that it’s an enduring and crucial gift in my life.

(During this year, my goal is to find something new to be thankful for every single day, and to add that thanksgiving as a blog entry, under the title “My Daily Gratitude.” I started this kick back around Thanksgiving, and it’s already resulted in a favorite new song of mine. The goal of this ongoing spiritual exercise is to see if doing such a thing might inspire even more gratitude within me, and to foster general awareness of life on a deeper level.)

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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