Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bringing the "Yes" into the "No"

This concept is so close to my heart that it may be difficult to write about it. It's completely revolutionary for those who get it. If you don't get it, don't worry - you will with time. For those interested in reading more, I would suggest Eckhart Tolle's classic "The Power of Now" - particularly the last chapter called "Surrender".

I'm learning as I get older to welcome my difficulties, my fears, my struggles - whether it be with the guitar or with life. It's completely natural to want to avoid fear, but eventually it keeps coming back until we learn how to deal with it. Fear and limitations are great teachers.

In the practice of an instrument, we can fear fast tempos, difficult repertoire, high positions, certain fingering combinations, understanding harmony, what people think of our playing, etc. etc. Try to notice whatever it is you avoid or hide from. What do you fear? Awareness is key - most people don't know what they fear. Be curious about what you avoid in your playing and for that matter, your life. It's a fascinating study.

When you avoid something, you bring a psychological "NO" to it. It is basically the avoidance of pain. For example, if someone fears playing at fast tempos, they will avoid fast pieces and passages, they will slow down unconsciously when a fast passage appears, they might even look through a collection of music and avoid pieces with too much "black" in them. Ultimately, they are reacting to the fear of playing fast by avoiding the situation in some way. By not dealing with the fear, it is allowed to grow until "I can't play fast" is believed. Once you believe the fear, it becomes part of you.

So how do we deal with the fears and weaknesses we have? As I've learned, we must accept the fear - make friends with it. Say "YES" to what you fear - embrace it completely.

Fear can only stay strong if we keep reacting or fighting against it. If we embrace our fear, it will dissipate. This is bringing the YES into the NO.

For example, if a person fears playing fast, he or she can say "OK, I fear playing fast - that's fine. Let me play fast and I will welcome the fear. I won't complain about missing notes, tensing up, not feeling comfortable, etc. Instead, I'm going to welcome all of that and keep my mind calm. I will allow the fear to come and I will play fast anyway".

So then the person plays fast and gets tense, misses tons of notes, has a bad tone etc. However - unlike before, there is no reaction to any of this. The person keeps the mind calm and allows it all to be as it is. He or she welcomes the fear. As the fear is welcomed, it lessens because it is not strengthened through a negative reaction (the NO). This is the state of mind we want to cultivate for our difficulties. That doesn't mean you don't go back and work on the difficult passages. It doesn't mean that you ignore them. You just work on them without a negative reaction to them. You want to always say YES to your difficulties, to your fears.

With time, the fear lessens and you'll find that you can do what you used to fear. Why? Because only what you resist persists. Keep putting yourself into the situation you fear and say YES to the discomfort. As we do this again and again, the fear and discomfort will go away.

The great Eckhart Tolle talking about this concept.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Sense of Direction

In the book "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Tim Galloway, he mentions the fact that most tennis students are so concerned with hitting the ball properly (with the right swing, footing, etc.), that they actually forget to think about where they want to the ball to go. They are overburdened with directions on how to hit the ball, so they forget about the result - getting the ball over the net. Once they concentrate on where they want the ball to go, many technical problems go away because the body engages the muscles naturally to achieve a visualized result.

I've been noticing this in my students as well. They know the fingering, have good hand positioning, are able to visualize the notes, etc. but they don't actually see clearly where they have to put their fingers. They KNOW the fingering - have it memorized in fact - but often they don't really see clearly where they need to put their fingers. When i say "see clearly" I mean to see it as clearly as you would any object you were reaching out to pick up. This is so fundamental to playing that it can be overlooked easily.

Take a piece of music and play it VERY slowly. As you play each note, see clearly the string and fret of the next note you are about to play. Stay very focused - your mind will probably want to wander because it won't be used to this. See the next note (or notes) exactly where it will be on the fretboard. Try to feel what those next notes will feel like. In other words, you are executing and looking/feeling ahead at the same time for every single note. If you notice that you can do this at a slow tempo, then increase the tempo. Keep going faster until you've reached the tempo you like.

Notice how your body starts to prepare for the next notes naturally. You don't have to "try" to get the body to be more accurate - all you have to do is be clear where you want to put your fingers - and then let the body do what it needs to do to get there. That is exactly what we do when we pick up a pen or some other object. We don't "try" to pick it up - we just move the hand to the pen and pick it up. However, if we don't see the pen clearly, we may not pick it up accurately.

This is Effortless Doing - the mind directs and the body does. There is no "trying". Don't put any stress or strain into this. This is not hard work - it just takes focus and clarity. If you miss a note, just go back and refocus. Focus is the key - stay present in the now and clearly direct where you want to go - then see what happens.