Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 3.13- Find Balance in Letting Go

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
If you let go a little, you will have a little peace.
If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.
-Ajahn Chah

Over the past two weeks I have talked about the three Inner Game Skills of

• Awareness
• Will and
• Trust

Together they form the foundation for our Self 1 and Self 2 to work together. That gets us into a balance that allows us to improve our musicianship and have more fun playing.

Unfortunately it is not as easy as just saying, “Okay. I’ll just be aware, exercise my will, and trust will follow.” Trust may be the last thing we can build and it may also be the one we must often work on. You see, at least in my experience, the rational, controlling, worried Self 1 is always on guard, ready to pounce. In order for the balance between Self 1 and Self 2 to work, Self 1 must “Let go!” But Self 1 has a history of fear and uncertainty, often placing barriers in the way in the form of thoughts of those fears and uncertainties.

Some of the most common of these barriers for me (and for most of us) are:

• Worrying about what others think of me
• Being a failure
• Feeling out of control
• Doubting my abilities.
• Performance anxiety

Fortunately these can be dealt with even though “letting go” can feel risky. Barry Green in The Inner Game of Music even says that we should see the feeling of risk as a good sign. It means we are about to let go and allow Self 2 to take over. Green says:

Self 2 deserves to be trusted because it proves how trustworthy it is over and over again….[and] the more you let Self 2 go through its paces, the clearer it become just how trustworthy and talented Self 2 really is…. But… we’re not trusting blindly- we’re trusting the most capable part of ourselves…. Self 2 is the real musician. (Green, p. 87.)

Green then says that letting go is a lot like falling asleep, especially when Self 1 is active and worrying. There are three phases of falling asleep using awareness as a technique.

• First, you notice what Self 1 is doing, for example keeping you worried, thinking, inner talking as you lie there. So you make a decision to shift your awareness somewhere else.
• Second, you focus on something else, hopefully something simple and natural. Some people count sheep, do breathing exercises, repeat a prayer or mantra. Self 1’s thought begin to fade.
• Third, you actually “let go” and Self 2 takes over. You are asleep.

Green points out that we do not remember the moment we fall asleep, or even the moments before. It just happens. We have trusted Self 2 to take us where we need to be. You can’t “make it happen”. You just do it. (Green, p. 89)

Letting go means being willing to allow life to carry you to a new place, even a deeper more true rendition of self. Holding on means trying to push life into the place of your making or be damned. (Psychology Today, March 12, 2016) To put it into our Inner Game words,
  • Letting go is being willing to allow Self 2 to carry you to an even deeper, more true experience of your music and your ability to make music.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of those Self 1 barriers above and see how we might be able to learn to “let go” in spite of what Self 1 thinks. Or, in a better attitude, how can Self 2 show Self 1 that it is competent and knows what to do? (Marked (TB) from Tiny Buddha-

Barrier #1: Worrying about what others think of me
Change your perception (TB)
Look at it from a different view. If you make a mistake, people understand and usually don’t remember anyway. That also can mean look at wondering what others think can be a blessing- it makes us work more efficiently in order to do a better job.

Remember why you are a musician (Green)
One of the reasons many of us are musicians (paid/unpaid/whatever) is because we like what happens when music is played- and heard. Relax. People like music. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed the music will be, the more will like it. If you have done your practicing and preparing, know that Self 2 wants you to be the best musician you can be.

Barrier #2: Fear of being a failure
Allow yourself to be imperfect
A performance musician once told me that they never get through a show without some mistake. I never heard one in any of the times I heard them perform. (That’s back to #1 above). They also told me that they cannot be perfect. It is a highly unlikely place to go. Give yourself permission to be real and imperfect- but work to be the best you can be. Chances are you are better than you think.

Make a list of your accomplishments—even the small ones. (TB)
Let’s get real with ourselves. Let’s be honest about what we can do, what we have accomplished. Humility does not mean ignoring what you have been able to succeed at. Humility is an honest perception of who you are and what you are able to do. Somedays it is a very big success to practice for a whole hour without throwing the horn out the window. Keep a notebook/journal of what you have been able to do. You will be amazed when you look back at it.

Barrier #3: Feeling out of control
Channel your discontent into an immediate positive action (TB)
Go back and play the basics; notice how you play them now. Do you remember when you couldn’t do that Arban’s exercise at half the speed? Or pick something that you need to work on- and work on it. It can be that simple. Channel your energy into getting better. And really, it is Self 1 that wants to be in control, not you. We really want Self 2 to be in control.

Become part of the music (Green)
This is not unlike what an actor does when doing a movie or state role. They must become the character they are portraying so that we, the audience believe who they are and what they are doing. We are the channel for the music. We are taking the character of the music, interpreting it through our (and the conductor’s) understanding of the music and presenting it for the audience or at times just for ourselves. Practice this by listening to the music, singing it, feeling its pulse and life. We all do that when playing. Make it a study of the music so it is no longer you who are performing, but the music moving through you.

Barrier #4: Doubting my abilities.
Make a list of your accomplishments—even the small ones. (TB)
Just a repeat of above. This can be a surefire way to quiet Self 1. Use it whenever you can!

Sharpen your skills by using what you know you can do.
What we tend to forget is that as we continue to improve, that means our skills improve and that we can use the skills we have learned to improve some more. It is cumulative. It is not linear. There are times and places when we make great leaps and other times it moves very slowly. That’s okay. Move at the pace you are moving at. To rush it gets in the way. That’s Self 1 being impatient. Let Self 2 enjoy what’s happening.

Barrier #5: Performance anxiety
Visualization meditation
More to come on this one in a future post, but for now, if we work on the first four, this one will become less a barrier and more a reminder of what we are doing and why. In other words, awareness.

This Inner Game work can actually be a lot of fun. It allows us to get in touch with the playful part of ourselves and tells the judge and critic in Self 1 to keep cool and balanced. Self 2 often will naturally trust Self 1 when something needs to be analyzed and worked on. Self 2 knows that Self 1 is hyper about all these things. The more Self 1 can trust Self 2’s abilities and insights, the better balanced we will be. Self 1 is there all the time. We pay attention when we need to. But, believe it or not, Self 2 is in charge more often that we realize. And that is an insight we have only recently begun to understand through advances in brain studies and neurosciences. More on that next week.

Until then- give Self 2 a chance, let go and let the music play.

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