The Keys to Happy Practice #3: Open to the Moment.

Step off the ‘to do’ treadmill. Open to your senses, to what’s happening in and around us in the moment.

Our creativity is ready and waiting to emerge in the here and now. ***

There’s a certain tunnel-vision I find myself in regularly during my days.

Time itself seems to chasing me, chomping at my heels like a big pac-man figure, driving me forward, rushing me ahead.

From the moment I wake up, it can feel like there are a million things for me to do. I open my eyes and within a few minutes, I’m already making a task-list for the day ahead. And as soon as one task ends, I’m thinking about the next.

On and on and on… until bedtime.

Actually, what’s more accurate is that, very often while I’m in the middle of one task, I’m also typically thinking of the many other tasks I think I need to complete afterwards (or even simultaneously). My mind is crowded with all my ‘to dos’: the should be doing, could be doing, haven’t done, should’ve done, will do…

Luckily, I can forgive myself a little it. I know this isn’t just me. (I hope!).

This ‘doing mind’ is somewhat part of all our mental make-up. It makes sense for that mode to be a necessary component of who we are as human beings. But it’s also greatly amplified by our productivity-obsessed culture.

These days, a lot of us are like runners on a mental treadmill, chasing the hanging carrot in front of us.

When do we actually get off?!

Are we ‘there’ yet?!

***

In the end, a lot of mental energy can be expended in this state. It can become difficult to concentrate even on the task at hand.

There’s also not a great deal of creativity in this mind-set.

Indeed, creativity seems very much swept aside when we’re like this, blinkered-out by the doing thoughts. In general, our whole experience can feel a bit ‘squeezed’, a bit ‘narrow’ or ‘small’. Our bodies have a tightness about them that corresponds with our minds.

It can be really easy for this mode of being to frame our music practice, so that it too becomes a slightly tense, narrowed experience. This not only makes it rather dull (to mind at least), it’s also quite removed from the creative process, as far as I understand it.

What I’ve found through my own music-making and from working with students, is that our creativity - our spontaneity, sense of play and fresh insight - instead comes alive through our being alive in the here and now.

That is, the more we ‘step off the treadmill’ and get in touch with what is happening within and around this alive human being, the more our natural creativity seems to emerge. For me, the key to all this is being in our senses.

They are like gateways or portals to what’s happening in the moment, and access points to our creativity.

I wonder if this might be because being in our senses relaxes us physically. To be receptive to the world inside and outside of us - to see clearly, to listen, to touch, taste, smell and so on - we have to be soft and supple in our bodies.

And as we physically relax, our minds seem to become much more supple in their own way. Our ‘to do’ thinking quietens, and there’s more mental energy available to make new connections, new associations, and find new solutions to problems i.e. to be creative.

***

So I’ve found that it can be really beneficial to include a couple of moments at the beginning of my music practice to ‘get into the senses’: to feel my body and mind open to the moment, to what’s happening right now. As I notice myself relax, I find I’m in a better state to start making music.

I also take a few quick moments throughout my rehearsal session to re-open again, especially if I feel I’ve mentally and physically ‘cramped up’.

What I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t matter if I don’t stay entirely in touch with the senses at all time. The re-opening at various points in the process is very helpful in re-relaxing the body and mind, and re-igniting creativity for longer and longer periods.

In fact, ‘trying to be in my senses’ all the time during my practice seems to get distracting and actually hinder the music-making process. Instead, the brief connections I make with my sensual experience seem to be the most advantageous. It’s like I’m intermittently re-charging my creative-musical mind; like I’m re-fueling through my very being in the here and now.

***

Try it for yourself and see how it works for you.

You can use your visual awareness to look around the space where you are. Look at the colours, shapes, patterns of furniture, the walls, the floor, your clothes, your instrument or equipment. Just observe without judgement, and ignite your natural curiosity and eye for detail.

You can listen to what’s happening right now, both the very close and most distant sounds. Are there people nearby you can hear? Are there birds outside? Or traffic noises? Did a plane just go by? If it’s really quiet and you’re quite alone, what about the sounds of your body breathing or moving around? And of course, when you’re playing or singing, can you bring an open attention to the sounds you’re making with your voice or instrument? Notice the ‘grain’ of the sound, its texture. Each sound has many different components. Can you listen and find all of them?

You can also notice of the feel of the seat on which you’re sitting, your feet on the floor or inside your shoes. Get a sense of the weight of your body and the various pressure points where it makes contact with other objects. Feel the temperature of the room you’re in and the different places of warmth and coolness on your body. And bring a gentle attention to the touch of your instrument, if you’re playing one. Notice all the different sensations that arise when you make contact with it.


Describe to yourself how it feels: metallic, wooden, soft, hard, shiny, slippery, smooth… Can you feel the vibrations of the sounds of your playing through your hands and body?

See what happens when you get in touch with your other senses in this way. Some you may find more energising or useful than others. I personally like to get in touch with sensations inside my body, through my ‘interoception’. It seems to be the easiest for me for some reason.

Whatever you choose, I hope you find that you’re thinking-doing-mind quietens down, that you become more relaxed in your body and mind, and that you feel more free and ready to make music, to be creative, and have fun with your playing or singing.

I wish you a happy practice.