Welcome back to Part II of our look into the topic of discipline.
In Part I we saw that our own mind, with its repeating thought patterns and mental projections can quickly become an obstacle to keeping a consistent practice routine.
In this part we will learn to observe our thoughts, diminish inner resistance, and avoid feeling overwhelmed to increase the joy in our guitar practice.
Awareness Of Your Inner Processes
The first task is to build the foundation: awareness of our thoughts.
Most of us are completely unaware of our thoughts; we "are" our thoughts and instantly act them out, until we develop a higher degree of awareness that enables us to witness them as an observer that has a conscious choice.
Notice how the emotion you feel in your body directly relates to your thoughts:
Negative thoughts lead to negative emotions which in turn lead to "negative action" - which mostly manifests as "no action at all".
How then, do we develop awareness of our thoughts?
A music related approach could be the following: Sit down in your practice space and take your guitar. If your amp has "reverb" built in, turn it up all the way. Choose a single note and play it. Listen to it from it's attack to it's complete decay into silence. Do this for a few minutes, take your time listening to each note and really pay attention to it's life cycle. It comes up, rings out and decays. Now put your guitar down and listen to the thoughts that come up in your mind, just like we previously did with the note.
When you observe your thoughts for the first time, you will notice that there's a lot going on in your mind - don't try to push anything away and don't try to control - just witness what happens. Observe how thoughts are quite similar to sounds - they also come up, stay for a moment and fade into silence.
If you play this game right before your practice, witness thoughts ABOUT practice that create resistance within you, like:
"I'm never going to get this down..." or "person xyz is much more talented, I just don't have what it takes..."
Notice that your level of identification with these thoughts equals your feeling of corresponding negative emotion. If you instead observe them as "repeating thought forms", like a neutral observer with no emotional attachment, it takes the emotional energy out of them. They are just an old record. They arise and fade like sounds. They are not you. They appear in your consciousness.
Practicing this for a couple of minutes before you start playing the instrument will greatly increase the awareness of your inner processes over time and make it much easier to not get identified with negative thoughts about the progress of your practice.
Focus on this step
One big challenge we face as practicing musicians is paralyzation due to overwhelm. We're not lazy, and we're passionate about music - still, in many cases just the thought of practice bogs us down...
Here's an important strategy to avoid overwhelm:
Choose a few elements that you like, bring them to the level of mastery and then alter those elements by creating more and more variations from that basic foundation. Try to get as much mileage out of a single idea instead of constantly looking for "new" things to practice. If we switch back and forth between learning flamenco guitar, jazz guitar, classical guitar and various styles of rock guitar at the same time - we'll end up feeling frustrated, because we are not focusing our efforts.
Whenever we feel overwhelmed, it is crucial to first notice our thought patterns. In many cases we might uncover the unconscious idea of WANTING TO FINISH a task as the underlying current that creates the feeling of stress. Remind yourself regularly that music is infinite, that it is nothing that we can ever "get done" or "finish". A single musical system, like the one we use in the western world, is huge in itself, but we don't have to be bogged down by it and know the whole system inside and out before we are able to create music! A system is just a way to categorize infinite combinations of musical elements into a usable framework.
We can see it as a buffett to which we can always come back to get more, but we don't have to devour everything in one evening! If we eat too much food we will feel bloated - so, we choose a delicious dish and really savour the meal!
Think about it:
This wonderful "buffett" called music never ceases to offer new possibilities, tastes and varieties! Isn't that great?
You are as worthy as it gets - there's nothing to add!
Many human beings are probably familiar with sensing a feeling of emptiness at a certain point in their lives. Whatever your thoughts might be on the reason for your own existence; we often have a buried belief that we are here to perform, to pass tests, to attain a "state of worthiness" and that someday, when we reach the end of the rainbow, we will finally feel good about ourselves.
I don't think happiness and inner peace are possible with such a concept as a foundation, because it's basis is a feeling of inadequacy, a feeling of "not being enough" or being "less" than somebody else. There are many examples of how this mind pattern manifests in our lives and the tricky thing is to recognize it, because it's not necessarily the external activity, but the underlying motif and mindset behind it that leads to pain.
If we get into music as a means to add value to ourselves, to be recognized as talented, special, valuable or intelligent - we will always be frustrated, because our feeling of self-worth will always depend on external confirmation.
Let me propose this idea:
There is nothing to add in terms of your value as a being. You are as worthy as it gets! Nothing you will ever learn will change your inherent value!
That doesn't mean that you will cease to learn, grow and expand - No. It simply means that you'll proceed from an understanding of your value and then the journey can be really fun, because now you don't do things to be recognized - You do things, because you love music and the process of developing your inherent potential!
This concludes Part II of this article - in Part III we will continue our exploration of remedies, so stay tuned!
About The Author: Derek Steep is a songwriter, composer, performer and recording artist. In addition to the study of various instruments he has been immersed in different schools of eastern thought and brings this perspective to various aspects of musical practice. You can find his music, articles and blog at www.TheMimicryOfShadows.com.