Living With Diabetes: Unusual Teachers

When I was 15 years old, I had my very first music lesson with Art. Art is a jazz pianist who happens to be among the most brilliant minds in the nation, and just resides in my hometown of Boulder, CO. For reasons which are still not entirely known to me, Art isn’t a household name from the jazz listening community. He is, however, a household name in the community of jazz musicians, all of whom revere him to inhabit this earth.

Words didn’t mince. Art would tell you if you didn’t put the type of intention that the music deserved in the event that you got idle if you played with something mindlessly. In fact, his very first words to me were, and I quote, “that was bull****, now play it again and MEAN it this time.” It seems harsh, but here is the thing. I tried to impress him, and playing with something outside of what was inside of me. And it was grabbed by him. He explained exactly the right thing. It knocked me from trying to “impress” him (as if a 15-year-old kid could “impress” a living legend of jazz, anyhow), and brought me back to myself. He had been much nicer after my second effort, though he still had a few pointers about what I might have done much better.

Art’s design was that of a Zen teacher that is skillful. He explained matters right, praise wasn’t offered by him, and he did what any fantastic instructor SHOULD do: He pruned away the things that n’t worked in his students’ playing, and gave us the tools to make ourselves better. And if we didn’t put in the job that the music deserved, well, he’d tell us what he thought about that (and it wasn’t great).

What makes me think about all of this? To begin with, I’ve always regarded diabetes in somewhat the same way: a sometimes harsh Zen teacher who doesn’t mince words and needs into what we’re doing, that we put our focus and intention. Diabetes arrived around precisely the same time as that lesson into my life right. I’ve often talked about how much I was educated by Art . That’s a no-brainer, but I realized something, as I thought about both of these events: Art instructed me the way to live with diabetes.

You see, until I took that lesson with Art, I’d always preferred teachers with a “softer” design, teachers that were prone to pad their views with comforting niceties. I had been fearful of educators such as Art. In the core, I was insecure about my own skill, afraid I’d be “found out” to be a fake, to be less gifted, less skilled, than I’d built myself up to be. I chose to keep blinders on, to protect myself from the regions where I had to improve.

Obviously, there’s an obvious problem with this: there is no way you will EVER improve the deficiencies which are holding you back Should you protect yourself from criticism again. A teacher such as Art understood this, and therefore he attacked those regions head-on. Had I become living with diabetes with that kind of “shielded” mindset, the outcomes might have been life-altering. Imagine if my reaction to a number was supposed to ignore it, sweep it and continue doing just what it is I do this LED to this amount, day after day.

Art showed me the way to face problems to face regions of regions and failure of weakness. He showed me the way to stop being fearful of my failings, and the way to understand from them. And so while Art never said a word about diabetes, and was only dimly aware that I even had it, I learned a huge amount about how to live with it from him. The majority of us who live with diabetes have had educators, people who have affected our connection.

I am amazed how often the deepest lessons in our lives come at us at this sideways type of way. After all, I had a wonderful endocrinologist who educated me and so many different people who taught me. But diabetes is more than the amounts. It is so much more than blood glucose levels, carbohydrates, ratios, and descriptions. It impacts our lives minute-to-minute, and influences our senses, our feelings, and our ideas.

Learning to live with diabetes is learning to live with anguish — I don’t mean that in the “woe is me” type of way, but at the way Buddhists imply it: The everyday challenges of living in a world that so often falls short of our ideal, challenges us when we had rather not be challenged, and forces us to confront weakness and failure. And so Art lives on as one of the great teachers of my entire life, not just as a musician, but as a human being, and most certainly as a person being faced with the challenge of diabetes.

I invite you to reflect to obtain in living with diabetes, the teachers that have directed you. You may be surprised. When you find them, thank them.

Want to learn more about living with diabetes? See “Life Doesn’t Stop for Diabetes” and “Habits Are Tough to Change.”

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