One of the most impactful skills mindfulness meditation can help us develop is a true exploratory mindset, but for many of us, and for a variety of reasons, it can feel challenging to cultivate an approach based in exploration.
Thinking in an exploratory way requires curiosity and an ability to detach from desired outcomes, which might feel unnatural. We grow up in a school system that doesn’t always encourage curiosity and uses testing outcomes to show value. We are performance and outcome driven in our society, and being a musician has the potential to make us even more so.
Even though being a musician at its core requires us to be exploratory in getting to know our instruments and the styles of music we play in, it’s hard not to have an end result or potential accolades in mind. If you’ve ever given a jury in college, that’s the perfect example of where exploration and outcome lock horns.
If we encounter a limit or problem in our practice or daily life, we may immediately start to be hard on ourselves and judgmental. Perhaps we know how to fix the issue in our playing but can’t execute it just yet, or we can identify a conflict but not the solution. It’s easy to become distracted by the “right” or “wrong” way we’re approaching the situation, or by how much we do or don’t know.
When we start to assign quality or judge ourselves, the problem we’ve encountered is no longer a three dimensional issue that includes perspective, experience and prior knowledge, and exploration, but a very one dimensional view of what we’re doing correctly or incorrectly. Getting stuck ruminating on how we’ll get to a successful outcome leads to a shortsighted view of the challenge we’re facing.
Our gut reaction to gauge and label what we are doing wrong can feel so natural we don’t even question it, but it is less instinctual than you think. Our approach to problem solving is directly linked to the way our mind has been shaped by our personal experiences, education, and what the culture around us values.
Our experience and culture based perspective was explained to me once as “conceptual baggage.” I think it’s the perfect way to describe how we unavoidably (and without any fault) bring all the messages we have received, perceptions we have built, and experiences we’ve had into each roadblock we face.
The example that comes to mind so easily for me is when we’re doing something in our playing that no longer creates the desired result and we need to make an important fundamental change (think air use, embouchure, hand position, etc.). It can feel impossible for a time to release our old method, our critiques, our conceptual baggage, and yet slowly through perseverance and building new perspectives we are able to adjust and adapt.
We all have conceptual baggage, and it is also possible for all of us to bring more ease to how we approach challenges.
The next time you encounter a frustrating situation in the practice room (or in life), rather than getting caught up in right or wrong or obsessing over the outcome, try encouraging yourself in an exploratory mindset by keeping the following in mind:
Ascribing meaning to something is an internal value - can you take a step back and notice what you are assigning meaning and value to? How does it make you feel to consider that the meaning and value could be different than what you assumed? What might they also mean to someone looking in from the outside?
Harsh judgements we make about ourselves are not coming from our true self - they come from our judgement of how well we are doing something based on an outside metric and expectations that are often external. Could you view the task at hand without assigning good or bad? Could you see yourself with no judgement at all?
Holding something lightly is just a suggestion - meditation practices will often invite us to hold something lightly, instead of becoming attached to a feeling or outcome. Even this is an invitation, though. You can try it, but maybe just consider what it would mean or how it would feel if you could let go of the outcomes, even just a little.
You don’t have to solve the problem.
The awareness is enough. Knowing what you’d like to change, or even knowing how but not being able to execute it yet is ok - things need time to sink in, percolate, and come to life. What would it be like to sit with your awareness?
Taking a step back and challenging your view, looking at things from a new angle, checking your intentions, and encouraging yourself not to cling are just as valuable as fixing the problem. They create lightness and space around whatever it is we are dealing with, and that’s helpful for all of us.
Hi, I'm Morgann! A flutist, teacher, meditator, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.