Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 2.21- Growing Mindfulness

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody's individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.
-Yo-Yo Ma

Becoming open and adaptive the what is around us is a goal for every musician. A good word for it is mindfulness. In the ongoing spirit of this blog where tuning ourselves helps us be in tune with our music- and vice versa, I am going to step away from music for most of this post and talk about being mindful. Don’t forget- how you do anything is how you do everything. Therefore if you do anything with mindfulness, you will learn to do everything with mindfulness. The result will be that you are a better musician and a better person.

Let’s start with a reminder of what mindfulness is. The person who has introduced mindfulness to millions is Jon Kabat-Zinn. His classic definition is simple and to the point.
Mindfulness is awareness that arises through
⁃ Paying attention,
⁃ On purpose,
⁃ In the present moment,
⁃ Non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.
How can we learn this? I found a web site called Zen Habits that lists some possible “rituals” that can help develop mindfulness. Here are a few of them that can be important for our developing musician mindfulness.

It’s good to start the day being mindful. Zen Habits suggests two mindful actions. (Original comments in italics; mine within brackets.):
Sit in the morning. When you wake up, in the quiet of the morning, perhaps as your coffee is brewing, get a small cushion and sit on the floor. I will often use this opportunity to stretch, as I am very inflexible. I feel every muscle in my body, and it is like I am slowly awakening to the day. I’ll also just sit, and focus on my breathing going in and out. [I’ll have more on breathing and mindfulness meditation again in a future post.]

Brush your teeth. I assume we all brush our teeth, but often we do it while thinking of other things. Try fully concentrating on the action of brushing, on each stroke of each tooth, going from one side of the mouth to the other. You end up doing a better job, and it helps you realize how much we do on autopilot. [Here is a good example of how we do anything can impact everything. Just being mindful of brushing can train us to focus the mind.]
As you go through your day, take time for these:
Walk slowly. I like to take breaks from work, and go outside for a little walk. Walk slowly, each step a practice in awareness. Pay attention to your breathing, to everything around you, to the sounds and light and texture of objects. [Slow walking is great for feeling the body in motion. It can help us begin to “feel” what our body “feels” like. That is an important part of playing music- knowing what how our body is feeling and responding.]

Read in silence. Find a quiet time (mornings or evenings are great for me), and a quiet spot, and read a good novel. Have no television or computers on nearby, and just immerse yourself in the world of the novel. It might seem contradictory to let your mind move from the present into the time of the novel, but it’s a great practice in focus. [Just an “Amen!” to that! Note, though, that this isn’t studying or reading to learn- it is for enjoyment.]
As you think about your day, Zen Habits suggests practicing your ability to focus. This one might be helpful if you have a significant concert or performance coming and you need to get the feel of it.
Work with focus. Start your workday by choosing one task that will make a big difference in your work, and clearing everything else away. Just do that one task, and don’t switch to other tasks. [Then apply this to your music practice. Simple, yes, but it takes practice.]
Dr. Amit Sood, one of my mentors from Mayo Clinic suggests that we should have a specific “theme” for each day of the week and stay focused on that through the day. His weekly list is
Monday: Gratitude
Tuesday: Compassion
Wednesday: Acceptance
Thursday: Higher Meaning
Friday: Forgiveness
Saturday: Celebration
Sunday: Reflection
If you start each day aware of the theme and learn to work on that for the day, in a few weeks all of the themes will be woven into the fabric of each day. It’s just like highlighting one part for each day. Then, with another few weeks practice you will know which of these is needed on any given day or even part of the day.

The goal of all this is that non-judgmental awareness- mindfulness.

As you develop these skills they will have a positive impact on your musicianship. Your musicality will be more even and not as dependent on “getting in the right mood” since you will have more awareness of how to focus on what is in front of you. It won’t be pulled down by other people as acceptance and compassion will be there. You will find yourself more balanced as you discover the greater meaning in your day and your music, celebrating with gratitude what you are given the chance to do. Reflection on your life and music will help you be more forgiving of others- and most importantly of yourself.

There is a comfort, peace and joy in deepening the ability to mindful. It gives each moment the possibility of new discoveries. It keeps us focused on what is in front of us, and it allows us to build today what will be good for us tomorrow. No judgement. Just start with what is and move from there.

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