Sometimes I love it. Sometimes, it feels like absolute torture. I haven't done it for very long, and it took me a long time to decide to start.
Maybe that all sounds crazy to you. Maybe you are thinking, "who has time to meditate?" or, "that sounds awful!" Sometimes I have those thoughts, too. It can still seem crazy to me to spend time getting to know my mind - shouldn't I already know it based on the amount of time we spend together?
But, when you start thinking about the speed of our every day lives, the amount of information we process, the expectations we have for ourselves (we all have at least one constant, nagging self critique....why isn't my waist smaller? why don't I speak up at work? why I am so bad at xyz?). it makes sense that we might not be super in tune with ourselves.
I think we could all benefit from a daily dose of meditation.
There's so much to unpack about understanding the difference between thoughts and facts or how we allow our feelings to run over us repeatedly day in and day out, but one of the concepts that has recently thrown on a hundred lightbulbs for me is what's known as efforting.
This particular idea of effort vs allowance is something I picked up after reading (and re-reading) The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford, and then more recently, from doing a guided meditation also by George Mumford on the Ten Percent App (I would highly recommend both the book and the app).
Sometimes concepts take a few iterations to stick.
As musicians - or anyone in a highly self-driven and competitive field (this absolutely includes being a student!) - we are constantly self-critiquing. It's how we get better, and it's important for continued independent musical growth. However, I know I am not the only musician that has gone so far down the rabbit hole of self-critique that you can't get back out, even (or especially) when you are in the middle of a performance.
So recently, as I was doing this guided meditation, George was talking about pushing yourself through something because you believe you HAVE to do it, even if it's not working. You're pushing through because you want the end result (that you actually don't even believe you will reach) so badly. He calls this frustration and discomfort that we create for ourselves "wrong effort." Wrong effort lacks sensitivity toward yourself - it's when you are just trying too hard.
Here's what he said that completely smacked me over the head: "When your energy is driving you to the point where you are always looking to see how you are doing, you're not present to what you are doing."
All of the performances where I struggled for an entire concert to forget that one note that was a little out of tune, or cracked, or was just wrong came racing back. Times where I couldn't think about the phrase because I was stuck thinking about how that breath I just took wasn't as good as it was in practice, and any experience where I couldn't turn off the thoughts that are meant for the practice room were suddenly vivid in my mind.
You could also just as easily apply this to the way our culture has us comparing ourselves to others constantly.
We are not meant to think about how all the time.
Now, I certainly haven't mastered the application of allowance over efforting, but I do know that the way I can get better at this is by working on my mindset. Creating a right effort is creating spaciousness in my attention and allowing the thoughts of how to flow like water. To allow them to come up, and then also consciously allow and encourage them to move on.
What I'm learning most through meditation right now is the importance of creating space - creating awareness without attachment. I have a long way to go, but in just two or three months of consistent practice, I already see the impact in both performance and every day life.
Have you ever considered effort vs allowance in your own practice and performance? In what ways are you efforting?
- I have been skeptical about technology as applied to teaching music in the past. Not conspiracy theory, totally antiquated levels of skepticism, just regular skepticism. It's mostly that I have been unsure of what role technology should play in the career I am building for myself.
We live in a world where there is a lot of pressure to be online - both from a social and professional standpoint. There is a lot of encouragement out there to create your "brand" and make something that you can sell online no matter what field you are in. Passive income, for example, is a hot topic right now.
This has always rubbed me the wrong way though when it comes to my work. Isn't it kind of backwards to take something that most of us love because it is SO tangible and turn it into something that can be mass produced? And, call me old fashioned, but learning to do a lot of musical things is not a one-size-fits-all process.
Playing an instrument is about as tangible as it gets - the sensation of moving your air, feeling your fingers on the keys, breathing deeply and using your breath to shape a meaningful phrase. Even listening to music falls into this category, I think. The emotions that it brings up, the goosebumps or excitement you feel when you connect with a song, or even just the need to tap your foot or dance when the beat is good. If you've ever sat in the middle of the orchestra and actually felt yourself buzzing from the collective vibrations, you know exactly what I mean.
Don't get me wrong, technology is amazing for connecting to students and audiences when there just isn't another way - say, snow days, those who just can't access live music, or, I don't know, a pandemic.
But beyond the applications to our traditional model of teaching, I have always grappled with what practical use my career as a musician has for social media "networking" and technology.
As you might expect, though, 2020 has made me reconsider all my past musings on this particular topic. I don't ever want to be antiquated about my approach to teaching or performing, but I do want to take on whatever I do in a genuine way and it just so happens that a lot of the things I enjoy in life don't require the use of a screen or keyboard (flute, yoga, hand lettering, cooking, and even reading - although I do love my Kindle).
I always have in the back of my mind that many of the subtleties I think make me a good teacher, musician, and human are things I learned through in-person experiences and careful observation.
So when the pandemic started, I was faced with a problem. How does someone who genuinely loves to stay away from the screen come up with dynamic ways to use the internet and technology to provide quality instruction to the students I can no longer see in person?
The answer so far has been to split the difference a bit - to use technology as a way to fill the void of in-person lessons and performance, but not to try and replace them (If you've streamed a flute lesson or have tried to get students to check in on just one more platform, you might have more ideas about why a lifetime of online teaching could be tedious).
There are positives in everything. I have enjoyed having to be creative about teaching topics that I have done the same way for years, and have also enjoyed the need to create new events or goals for my studio to aim for.
Recently, we moved our annual fall recital (Flutesgiving!) to an adjudication style online event. We used flipgrid and had guest teachers give video feedback, then culminated in a Zoom masterclass. We even had an oboist as one of our guests! Flutesgiving 2020 was something great that my students would have never experienced otherwise.
I've also enjoyed learning a bit about how to make videos I am, well, maybe not proud of but at least not embarrassed by. New skills and continuing to learn are always good, and I am enjoying a new perspective that is sparking different ideas about how and what I want to teach and focus on.
Will I ever have something I can "sell" in a sustainable way online? Maybe. Maybe not. That doesn't matter to me. Going back to the need to be genuine, I want to take what I offer in my performances and teaching - an openness, a plan and path to reach goals or a musical destination, an intuitive sense of what my students or audience need, a direct pathway to music and all it's emotions - and continue to provide it to those who enjoy or benefit from it.
I hope that this new relationship I have with the concept of technology in teaching leads to worthwhile and dynamic offerings that make a difference for even one student....but I also look forward to being in the same room with my students again and feeling the air vibrate when they play something great.
For a little while after I finished grad school I played around with having a blog - I collected little snippets of ideas and things that inspired me in one place. It was fun but didn't feel like it had a greater purpose, so I let it go as I built up my "real career" (freelancing, building and designing my teaching approach through my private studio - the stuff that "pays the bills").
Essentially I was buying in to the idea we learn as music students that anything that distracts us from the work of being a musician is not valuable and limits our ability to be proficient. If we face the reality of the current world, it's no longer enough to just be an amazing flutist or a pretty good orchestral musician. This is the age of the hyphenated career, and musicians aren't (and shouldn't be) an exception!
Getting back to the original direction of this conversation, as I focused only on the "right" aspects of my career, inevitably, I would always end up feeling bored. Bored when the challenge of a new group to play with isn't there, or bored when I've explored my latest idea for a project or event with my students through to completion. Maybe it's a lack of willingness to follow things through to the next much larger iteration of an idea, or it's the absence of feedback on a greater level. Whatever it is, I often create things from ideas that I love and then end up feeling unfulfilled afterwards.
Some of what I've learned is that no one will probably ever get as excited about my crazy teaching ideas as I do. It's up to me to be excited about them. The other thing I've learned is that removing the creative outlets not directly attached to my performance or teaching career limits my creativity in exactly those things. Without somewhere to explore the crazy ideas or outside interests I have there's nowhere to connect the dots, and nothing that leads you to the next "aha" moment.
We need the stimulation of the things that give us enjoyment to give us the energy for our main gig and to be our best creative selves.
Maybe this is relatable to you - have you ever noticed yourself feeling drained when all you are doing is focusing on your instrument and "playing well"? Or maybe you're a student and all you are doing is homework and stressing about your grades.
It probably feels like you can't make time for anything other than the important stuff, when really, if you're willing to give a few more minutes to designing your schedule ahead of time you can create pockets of your time to do whatever you enjoy most - maybe drawing, playing a secondary instrument, doing yoga or going for a run. Whatever it is that frees your mind and allows you to just enjoy the moment.
WIth all of that in mind, and the time I have spent recently exploring some of my other interests, I figured why not give a blog a shot again. Even if no one ever reads this, at least I can explore the far reaches of whatever crazy ideas come to mind.