I rang the doorbell at Steven’s house. I had driven over the hill to Santa Cruz to play music and hang out. It’s 11 a.m. on a sleepy Sunday. It’s a typical overcast and cool Santa Cruz morning. It’s a good morning for tea. Steven opens the door.
“Hey man!” he says, bleary-eyed.
He looks like he’s still up from the night before. I’m pretty sure he’s wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday, which he may have also worn to work on Friday. He has a huge and silly grin on his face. I blurt out a laugh as we bro-hug.
“Dude. What is happenin’? What have you done?” I asked, laughing. Clearly something was up. He looked like the dog that has just eaten the cupcakes off the dining table.
“Oh maaaaaaan!” He’s shaking his head back and forth, looking to the sky in ecstasy.
“It’s so amazing!” he says very slowly, as if he’s discovered fire. Finally, with holy reverence, he says...
“I found my sound!”
Searching for Your Essence
Steven is an extraordinary blues guitarist. He’s been playing in local bands since he was in high school. He channels Stevie Ray Vaughn. Many years ago, one of his bands opened for Santana. He’s the real deal. We’ve worked at two different companies together and have known each other for over 20 years. Playing the blues is in his veins. It’s fun to play together. He’s kindly tolerant of my singer-songwriter style, patiently waiting for his opportunity to drop in a solo during one of my originals. We ride mountain bikes together. Brothers from another mother.
He gets me.
The day before, Saturday afternoon, he had been cruising around a guitar shop. Guitarists are always on the prowl. When asked by our wives (or husbands), “Just how many guitars do you really need?” the answer is “Oh, just one more,” said with the mischievous smile of a 10-year-old that has taken an extra piece of cake when the aunties weren't looking.
He had found an old 1960’s Fender tube amplifier in the used gear section, which then made its way back to his makeshift studio. That was at 4 p.m. The next time he looked up it was 4 a.m. The 12 hours in between were essentially an out of the body experience. He was in the flow. He’s been searching for his signature sound, the combination of guitars, amps, and effects that represent his style—that represent him. Somewhere that evening he discovered this golden alchemy. Didn’t stop for food. Didn’t take a break. Made a quick and distracted “Ok, g’night” when a family member peeked in to see if he was alive before heading to bed.
He had found his sound, something he’d been looking for 30 years. It had always been inside of him. He knew it was there, could feel its presence. But couldn’t quite manufacture the same thing externally. Until now. Here it was, a living, pulsing thing.
Steven is lucky. He found a vehicle to communicate from this place, this deepest part of ourselves. Our essence. Our True Self.
The Joy of Being Fully Present
We’re each searching for it in our own way. Through our hobbies, through our relationships. It’s in our language. When someone expresses it, we say “she really lit up” as if our True Self is a bright ball of light surrounded by the other pieces that help it get around—the physical body, our emotions, our mind. These are critical, they help express our True Selves. And... they can get in the way. They can take over our awareness, like a rowdy conversation at the family dinner table, sometimes our True Self never gets a word in. Just has to sit there and wait for things to calm down. Sometimes has to wait through entire careers, entire marriages, or even an entire lifetime before speaking with authority. Mostly, it’s there every day, speaking softly and subtly if we listen carefully, like when we’re in the shower or on a walk in the woods and get that special insight we’ve been looking for.
When we’re fully present, our True Self gets to play. I think this is why we love our hobbies so much. When I’m mountain biking, screaming down some sweet single-track in the Santa Cruz Mountains, trying to find the perfect line, you know what I’m not thinking about? I’m not thinking about work. I’m not thinking about getting bullied when I was fifteen. I’m not thinking about the big project I have due in a few weeks or the bills I need to pay.
I’m fully present.
Remember when you first fell in love with someone and you were so into them. Maybe you were at dinner, enjoying pork three ways with a nice drink in your hand. When they spoke, you leaned in and the whole world disappeared.
You were fully present.
Or maybe in college you were at a party and connected with someone new. Pretty soon you were making out on the couch, and the whole world disappeared. Nothing else existed except you and that other person. Fully present.
Turns out being fully present is twice as big of a factor in our happiness as the actual activities in our lives. In other words, I could be doing something I don’t really enjoy, like washing dishes at the sink. If I’m fully present while washing dishes, I’m probably going to be happier than if I’m engaged in one of my hobbies, but while doing the hobby, I’m thinking about something else.
We experience our True Selves when we’re fully present.
Our True Selves are creative, generative, joyful, light. Our minds and bodies—our amygdalae—have been finely tuned, programmed to keep us alive. But happy? That’s an afterthought.
If we want to be happy, deeply fulfilled, whole, we need to learn to live as our True Selves.
We need to find our sound.
Excerpted from The Full Body Yes by Scott Shute. Copyright © 2021 by Page Two Books. Used with permission.