When There's Work To Do
Did you ever notice that when you think too hard about how much there is to be done it seems completely impossible to do it all in the time you have available?
And yet, every time we have this feeling, if we start putting one foot in front of the other, things get done. Miraculously (with a little perseverance) time after time the work gets done.
None of this is new information - we’ve all heard this before: just getting started, do one thing, the two minute rule (if you can do it in two minutes or less, get it done).
Even though we know it though, don’t we all forget? How many times have you had the rising feeling of panic about getting it all done, or procrastinated because it felt impossible to finish everything you needed to do anyway?
I have that tendency to languish in all the tasks that lay ahead. Not for very long, but I always do. There are studies about how whining makes us feel better, so I’ll chock that tendency up to science. Once I get it out of my system and get started, though, the work is the enjoyable part. It feels good to get things done, make progress on a new piece, or see consistency develop in my playing.
I’m in a busy season, and I’ve definitely had my short-lived whining moments (which feel pretty good, if I’m being honest). But now that I’m getting things done I’m reminded that they enjoyment really comes from knowing that you can.
If you’re feeling stuck right now, this blog is a little nudge to take a step forward, even if it’s a small one. Momentum creates momentum.
Time to go practice.
How Are You Making It Difficult?
“If I’m suffering, there is something I’m not mindful of.”
Dan Harris said this on an episode of the Ten Percent Happier Podcast this week and I actually said “Oh,” out loud when I heard it. One of those moments where it feels like the author or speaker had you in mind when they thought to say this particular thing.
I want to clarify here that Dan Harris was talking about suffering in the Buddhist sense, not the type of human suffering we see in war or medical illness. In Buddhism, suffering (also called dukkha) is thought to exist because of dissatisfaction we create for ourselves - because we crave or desire things we don’t have and look past what is in the present moment. Not being open to change and trying to hold on to the past or an idea of the future can also cause dukkha. (This is paraphrasing, of course, and this is an interesting concept worth exploring more).
I’ve spent this whole week feeling tense and jittery, and also preoccupied with some big performances that are coming up.
All week I kept trying to push those feelings away thinking, I’ve worked SO hard on my mindset and focus for the last two years, why do I still feel like this? I am preparing well and I’m not unhappy with how I’m sounding, I’m meditating and paying attention to my mindset around performance, and I’m doing my best to maintain my sleep hygiene and eating healthy meals.
As I listened to this particular episode of the TPH podcast, it occurred to me that, yes I have done a lot of work, but there were so few demands on me as a performing musician during the early part of the pandemic and it was the least work I’ve had to do I the last, um, almost twenty years. So, although I feel like I’ve sorted a bunch of stuff out, I’m still human.
What was I not being mindful of that was leading to suffering? My suffering this week was coming from the expectation that I would never be frazzled again because I’d done some work (even typing that seems totally ridiculous!).
I wasn’t being mindful of the situation - yes I am applying things I have practiced, but in a completely new set of circumstances.
With a little perspective, it seems appropriate that facing my first concerto performance since the pandemic might feel a little stressful even if I’m mindful and focused.
So now the task at hand is applying the things I’m learning to do better while allowing myself to feel the stress.
It’s not bad to feel nervous or concerned - what matters is my ability to flip the focus around to the right things. To allow the emotions to come up and pass away because they are just emotions - not facts.
Meaning and Relevance
Do you ever feel like you aren’t doing anything meaningful? Even before the internet and the era of social media, artists and musicians led lives saturated with meaning and its creation.
If you pursue an artistic discipline, you look to the masters of that discipline for the ultimate inspiration - those pinnacle composers, performers, painters, etc. who seemed to draw their skill and inspiration from somewhere out of this world. Their incredible ability shows us the potential of human expression.
Once you get into the nitty gritty of your chosen art (or any path in life) there is a period of realizing that for most of us sublime creation is a long way off. There is a lot of stuff to get through before we even begin to scratch the surface of anything remotely sublime.
As you improve, there is a lot of instruction and guidance toward being expressive in your music making, but as a young musician I often found myself thinking “what the heck do I know?” How could I possibly have the depth of context to really perform in a meaningful way?
The reality for me was fortunate - I had great teachers who helped me understand the music I was playing and what my instrument could do. It helped me create a picture of what I wanted to do with the music I performed that, thankfully, continues to develop.
So I was more expressive, maybe playing in a meaningful way for a percentage of the time…that’s cool, but now what?
Was I doing something really meaningful? Was it enough? Could it ever be enough? I mean, I’m honest enough to know I’m not holding a candle to the standards I’ve been idolizing for the last fifteen years.
I think the reality is closer to home. What I do, what you do, is meaningful, even if it’s on a different plane.
The teaching I do every day - interacting one on one with my students and helping them explore expression, knowledge, and art is meaningful.
The performing I do - interacting with my audience, wherever they are and however small, providing something that makes them reflect or think differently, or just relax - is meaningful.
Is it profound? Maybe sometimes. Maybe not.
Does that matter? Same answer - maybe sometimes. Maybe not.
So I’d come to terms with a lot of these realities, and then…..enter social media. YouTube. Instagram.
Now we see all the creations that others make. Sometimes it feels inspiring to see people’s creations grow and change; to see the truly amazing things artists can do.
A lot of times though, I find it stifling. How does that person always look so put together in their daily practice videos? The answer, usually? Special lights, phone stands, video editing, and a lot of time spent, even if the video truly just displays what they sound like practicing.
As artists, we are now investing so much time in the appearance of our creating. Do we have a cool space? Do we look good? Does the video need a little reverb so it doesn’t sound like our tiny, acoustically dead practice space? Did I set this video of my art to a cool enough song? Are we “creating” often enough?
Everyone is different - I have friends who really enjoy sharing in this way. I find it exhausting. I want to spend my practice time getting gritty. I hate the details of video editing. That’s ok - it’s good that we’re all different.
What I find, though, is that I often end up feeling like I’m doing nothing in our digital world. Shouldn’t I be able to make more videos of my playing if it’s worthwhile? Or, at the very least, post snippets of my acrobatic practicing….?
It’s hard for me to reconcile with what has become the norm for many artists now (especially those of us who have these hybrid careers of performing, teaching, writing, etc., and are not on any full time rosters or solo performance schedules) with what feels right for me.
I know how I want to spend my extra time, and anything I chose to take on should fit my priorities even if they don’t match what has become so visible in our culture or careers. It’s easy to lose sight of that.
This is why I still blog when video creation, Instagram reels, and TikTok are so popular. I love to write as a way of figuring out what I’m thinking. I love to find just the right quote to fit a feeling, idea, or sentiment.
At the end of last year I was feeling lost on how to extend the way I could do these things that they might be helpful for others and meaningful to me.
I wanted to connect with others who are navigating how to make being a musician fit our modern lives. I wanted to help other students and musicians be in their bodies and embrace the challenges of what we do. I wanted to do something that would encourage others to care for themselves.
That’s when I had the idea to start a newsletter where I could collect all the things that interest me. Maybe they would also interest others.
I started sitting down each month to collect the blogs I had written, what my students and I are up to, a mindful moment of movement or self-awareness that people could try on their own, and a reflection on my favorite book from that month.
It feels authentic to me because I enjoy writing. It feels meaningful because I’m sharing resources that I found helpful. It feels like an invitation to connect because I’m sharing my ideas about music, life, and teaching.
Do a lot of people read it? No, but I have a small subscriber list. There have been people who write me back about a particular blog or concept and we enjoy a small exchange of ideas.
I love it. It feels purposeful, and it’s one of my favorite things I do right now. (Also, this blog is not a newsletter plug, but I’d love for you to join me. You can always subscribe on the homepage of my website).
Even though it takes time to put together, it feels like well-spent reflection and exploration. In some ways, it frees up other time because I can release myself from doing other things I don’t actually want to do.
One of the most interesting things for me about being in this stage of my career where I am still learning so much, but I am also proficient in many ways is accepting that relevance and meaning have different definitions than I thought they did.
It is great to be inspired by the artists and people we admire - those seemingly unbound creators.
It is healthy to be inspired by those who were influential in our own lives and remember how real they were.
It is good to remember that there is meaning whether we reach one person or a thousand, or maybe we only reach ourselves.
Hi, I'm Morgann! Flutist, teacher, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.