Wednesday, June 25, 2008

From the Mountains

I finally took a vacation and the only place I wanted to be was in the woods. The nature here is stunning. I can't help but to spend hours doing little more than look at the beauty here.

The natural world really is the best teacher. The trees are alive but silent. They do not worry about having more leaves than the next, or being closer to the lake than another tree. They are not concerned if the birds have or have not built nests in their branches.

In looking at them, I also can't help to notice how they don't organize themselves. There is a supreme beauty in the natural chaos. Nothing is totally worked out like in the manicured parks of New York.

It reminds me how in playing music we can fall into the trap of having all our ideas planned - every musical idea, every color, every rhythmic nuance. Our minds want security by knowing exactly what will happen next. This can be helpful as we learn the craft of playing, but eventually we see the Joy in NOT having everything worked out. You let the details come through present inspiration, not through formulaic planning.

At first it may seem hard to let go of the musical control you've fought so hard to attain, but if you consciously let go a little each time, you'll see that it isn't so scary. In fact, it's quite liberating when you are comfortable with not knowing all the details of your interpretation. In this way, a classical guitar performance becomes free and improvisatory in nature.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Practice

We must understand that the practice is a simple game of attention - what you pay attention to will grow in your reality. If you react negatively to your mistakes, you are giving the mistakes more power because you are giving them more attention. Notice them, but don't react to them. Any negative reaction feeds them and gives them more power.

When you are playing well, your attention is on playing and listening. When you don't play as well, your attention is divided - you're paying attention to HOW you are playing the guitar, or how other people think you are playing the guitar, or what just happened in that passage, or what will happen in the upcoming passage, or any number of things. This mind activity takes power away from where the attention needs to be - playing and listening in the now. The zen story of the archer demonstrates this point very well.

When you notice your mind chattering - acknowledge it, and then bring it back to playing and listening. Every time you make a mistake, bring the mind back to playing and listening. Be courageous. Don't let any mistake distract you. The mistakes can only win by allowing them to bother you.

Keep focusing your attention on what you want to grow - not on what you don't want to grow. This is the practice. All else will fall into place with time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Archer

The champion arrived at the competition to prove once and for all that he was the greatest archer in the land. All the other competitors were intimidated by his presence and the audience assumed he would be the clear winner.

Surprisingly, each time the champion took the field, his arrows were inaccurate and his technique clumsy. His performance was no better than a beginning archer.

Perplexed by his performance, an audience member asked the Zen Master what he thought was wrong with the champion.

"His need to win drains him of power" said the Zen Master.

The Tea Cup

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. The professor had studied the concepts of Zen for a long time and was eager to learn more.

While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about his vast knowledge of Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring.

The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself.

"It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted.

"You are like this cup," the master replied, "You are already full of what you know. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

Friday, June 6, 2008


Try to remove yourself from mind-based listening for a few minutes each day. Start to notice when when you are analyzing sounds, but not listening to them. Listening is not analyzing, it is being with a sound fully without the distraction of the mind.

One of the problems we have when hearing a guitarist is that we analyze the performance mentally - the tone, speed, phrasing, technique, etc. There is a lot for the mind to chew on. This has it's place and is important, but even more important is the art of listening without the mind being active.

Walk in the place you live and listen without any judgements. Hear every sound clearly, but without analysis. Be full of the sounds you hear - as if they are coming from inside of you. The world is rich in sound color. Now listen to the spaces between each sound. Listen to how empty the spaces are. Notice how the space feels. Now listen to both sound and silence. If the mind interferes, listen to that as well, and then go back.