Beware the Big Breakthrough

In meditation they say that one must be wary of ambition. Sitting is not about achieving anything. Sitting is about sitting. Similarly with writing or practicing music, I feel that one must approach the activity with a mind at ease, without any pre-conceived notions of achieving some goal. Only then is there space for the juicy feelings and thoughts to bubble up organically and spill out onto the page. Only then is the mind and body relaxed enough to settle into focused exercise.

Another precaution I've heard in meditation is against mental rejoicing at having achieved some new level of awareness or skill. This is folly because in that moment of patting-myself-on-the-back, not only do I reinforcing my already-inflated ego, but I actually lose concentration and forfeit whatever advanced mental state I was so excited to have achieved. 

Beware the Big Breakthrough. Beware any notion of "NOW, that I've achieved this thing, everything will be different." It's a very exciting thought to have, for sure, and it's one that is a frequent visitor to my practice temple. One morning, I'll be practicing some novel way to accompany myself while I sing. After some time passes, the physical motion becomes easier and my body and mind relax into the groove. I feel elated—as if I'm on the verge of some great discovery. All of a sudden, my conscious, commenting mind, recognizes this feeling and rewards itself: "Yes! I've made a big breakthrough and now I will finally be able to perform that solo piano show I've always dreamed of."

You can see where this is leading. Not only have I still not performed that solo piano show, but also I probably didn't continue to practice whatever exercise I was working on for much longer. I lost that opportunity to connect with a continuity of practice. Lasting progress does not come in giant leaps forward but in steady commitment to doing the same thing over and over again.

This gets to a deeper truth about practicing and brings me back to where I started. Practice that is motivated on achievement of some lofty goal engenders these sorts of dangerous habits. Such is a well-accepted tenet: practice must be done for practice's sake alone. I would add that practice must be enjoyed for practices sake alone. After all, it is our enjoyment or interest in the present moment that constitutes true freedom. 

Creativity Journal

Welcome to my creativity journal! Here you'll find musings on music, meditation, mindfulness, and more. 

We all know how difficult it is to actually follow through on our goals. Often the goals I set for myself can quickly become so numerous, complicated or so weighty that they begin to weigh me down and prevent me from even getting started!

That's why I've decided to make 2017 my year for creativity. That's creativity, period. This effort may include writing as much music as possible, making recordings, and collaborating with as many other artists as possible. But I won't let my mind get bogged down in its furious plans for the future. This year, the practice of creation comes first.

Developing and sustaining a productive creativity practice is obviously not easy—it's something I've struggled with for as long as I can remember. Over the years, my interest in practice, creativity, and improvisation has led me to be interested meditation, mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy. For many, these techniques, which are hundreds or even thousands of years old, have offered personal liberation and spiritual enlightenment. While I don't expect to join a monastery or devote my life to Buddhism, I am curious as to whether its techniques and lessons might be applied or incorporated into my existing practice to help nurture my creativity. 

I'm an experienced musician and composer, but a novice when it comes to meditation. The more I learn, the more parallels I see between mindfulness practice and musical practice. I thought maybe if I started to write down some of these connections as lessons of advice to myself, I might actually begin to follow them!

Maybe you'll be interested in my thoughts and want to start a conversation. Maybe you'll be inspired to start your own creativity journal. Join me in making 2017 the year of creativity. As Leonard Bernstein said, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”