Forewarning: this post is what some might consider 'deep'. I will talk about some eastern philosophies that might seem a little "out there". At times you may need to re-read some passages...I encourage this. I guarantee that you will not understand everything right away. This stuff is intense, but stick with it because I can say without a doubt that these concepts WILL help you become the best drummer you can be.
As you may have already gathered from my past articles on the subject, achieving Mastery requires alignment of many different variables, most of which reside in the mental space. As such, we need to free up our minds so that we can focus 100% of our concentration on realizing Mastery. This is why mental clarity is so important.
Do you think about things all the time? Do you find yourself thinking about more than one thing at a time and getting stressed as a result? Is it a challenge for you to focus on one thing for an extended period of time? Do you feel 'scattered' or 'disorganized'?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you and I have something in common: our minds have a tendency to race and we're constantly thinking too much. What I find interesting is the more I talk to people about this the more I realize that the majority of people in our society suffer from this affliction.
This is no way to live, for our lives happen right now, in the present moment.
Zen Buddhists use the term 'Mindfulness' to describe a way of life that focuses on living in the moment. The Vietnamese monk Tich Knat Hanh is one of the foremost authorities on this philosophy and I like how he explains it:
"Anyone can wash the dishes in a hurry, try this for a change:
While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance this might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that's precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I'm being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There's no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.
There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first way is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second way is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. If while we are washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as they were a nuisance, then we are not 'washing the dishes to wash to wash the dishes.' What's more we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes....If we can't washes the dishes, chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either."
If we're constantly thinking about multiple things while living out lives, we're missing out on life.
How does this affect us as drummers/musicians? I'll explain this by telling you all a little story.
There once was this young, energetic, naive, cocky drummer. He was barely 16 years old and he had been hired to play multiple percussion for a community theater production. This kid had skills and experience for someone his age. He was a great reader and knew his way around the multi-percussion set-up that surrounded him in the pit.
After several rehearsals, he had the gig nailed. Opening night went without a hitch and the show received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd. Life couldn't have been better.
The next day our hero was at school and he had an altercation with one of his classmates. He was sent to the Principal's office where they called his parents and his guidance counselor. Later that day he had to meet with them all and a heated discussion regarding his recent behavior ensued. He was warned several times that if he didn't 'shape up his attitude' his future would suffer severe consequences.
Our hero spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about this meeting AND about his future. He wandered home from school completely preoccupied. The last thing on his mind was the theater gig he had that night. He got home, had a silent dinner with his parents, and then drove to the theater.
Several minutes before the hit, his mind was still far away from the music he was about to play. As the lights dimmed around the sold-out theater, the conductor raised his hands to cue the intro tympani roll that began the Overture. However, our hero wasn't paying attention. His mind was where it had been all day, recounting the tough love he received at school. The conductor waved his hands madly and our hero finally 'awoke' from his mindlessness and began to perform the overture.
Later on during the performance, our hero's mind wandered off yet again and he missed several sound effect cues. He even threw off the lead actor by missing his entrance into a song.
At the end of the night, the conductor AND director was furious at our hero. Some of the actors glared at him while he walked out of the theater. It was a bad scene all around.
This experience compounded our hero's negative and mindless state. For the rest of the production, he continued to make mistakes and his attitude went south. After the closing night he had lost the respect of his conductor and fellow musicians. Needless to say, he didn't get any future gigs from these people!
If you haven't already guessed it, the hero in this story was me. It was a tough experience but I learned a very important lesson: leave your problems at home when playing a gig. Music should be a release from them.
Relating the story to our mindfulness philosophy, I had lost the 'moment' and I was living in the past. My thoughts were consumed with something that had already happened so I couldn't focus on what was happening in the moment. As a result I made mistakes...big ones.
Why think/worry about something that's already happened? It's done, finished, over-with. Get on with life.
The other thing that happened was my mindlessness triggered a downward spiral. I had the gig nailed...Mastered even! However, after the 'unpleasantness' at school, my mind was preoccupied, causing the first bad night. Between what had happened at school and what had happened that night, my mind was overwhelmed and I never recovered. I lost the moment and the mistakes piled-up. By the end of the week-long production my attitude was terrible and everything blew up in my face.
So now that I've exemplified how bad mindlessness can be, let's talk about some techniques I use to maintain mindfulness and subsequent mental clarity. The first step is to understand and incorporate some simple philosophies into life:
1. Focus on the moment. What are you doing right now? Reading this article, right? Are you thinking about anything else? Stop!
2. Eliminate time-based thoughts. In other words, if your thoughts are on past or future events, stop and focus on the moment. This doesn't mean you can never think about something that's happened in the past; I think it's important to analyze experiences and learn from them. Thinking/planning for the future is important too. The point here is not to do this while you're busy performing a task. If you need to think about the past or future, do this, but ONLY this. Don't do it while you're playing a gig!
3. Open your mind and your heart to everything life throws at you. Acceptance is the key to happiness and mental clarity. Resistance causes mental conflict.
I combine these philosophies with 2 daily practices: meditation and exercise.
Exercise is an excellent mind-cleanser, especially highly vigorous exercise. I find that if I'm working my butt off at the gym or on a long run, I can't help but think about one thing and one thing only: getting that last rep or completing that last mile. When I'm grunting under the weight of a barbell or sucking air while in a full sprint, I am truly in the moment. I'm not thinking about my overdue car insurance bill or the bad gig I had last week or the argument I had with a friend last night.
Meditation is based more on mental clarity through relaxation, and it is something that takes time and dedication to learn properly. However, it is EXTREMELY effective and it will change your life in many ways. For more information on meditation, here are some great resources:
"The Miracle of Mindfulness" - meditation manual by Tich Nhat Hanh
Cambridge Insight Meditation Center
In closing, remember that we can never find our true potential towards Mastery without complete mental clarity. Mastery requires every bit of focus and concentration we possess. Embrace the philosophy of mindfulness, exercise regularly and practice meditation. I guarantee you'll find a deeper level of concentration, not to mention inner peace.
Until next time, I mindfully wish you Mastery!