Please use a discerning gaze when reading these claims, which deserve critical examination. This documentation represents a snapshot of my internal landscape at a certain point in time in my life during my collegiate career.
Too Radical of a Change
I noticed today when practicing material – licks that I can hit and nail at half note = 50, I step in gaping holes wen I immediately attempt it at half note = 70.
This is not, by any means, a new trend. Often I use too radical of a change to express myself; sometimes it’s perfect, but in other situations, it may overwhelm other more subtle energies and shut them down. Not every moment calls for a jarring shift; it would be extremely rude to wake one’s lover from a gentle sleep with a screaming guitar solo.
There exists infinitely subtle energies and dimensions of reality that are dismissed by blundering awareness. I am my ability to tune into these layers of increasing subtlety.
Because I am my ability to tune into the infinitely subtle aspects of reality, I guide my creativity to gently shift and unfold with the natural potential of the universe, introducing massive shifts almost beyond perception.
When I first wrote this entry, I was noticing a tendency in my practice of the guitar; I was always gunning for the goal, trying to GO GO GO and GET THE RESULT. I would learn how to play a melody or a line at a fairly pedestrian and accessible speed, and then, I would ratchet up the tempo to THE GOAL TEMPO, which was AS FAST AS I COULD PLAY IT.
Instead of starting with the reality of my current ability level, acknowledging my capacity, working on the edge of my ability to consistently and evenly, building up a foundation that could support my intention, and gradually crushing my goal with tectonic and unshakable force, I instead wanted my results NOW.
I can do it at this slow speed. NOW LET’S BUMP THAT SHIT UP.
It was like I was confidently curling 2 pound weights without a problem, so I decided I was ready for 40 pounds. And I expected that I could probably keep doing 3 or 4 sets of 15 reps each. What could go wrong?
Turns out that adding 38 pounds is pretty heavy if you aren’t used to it.
And based on the false expectation that I was going to be able to perform flawlessly with this new weight, I created quite a bit of suffering for myself.
Because I couldn’t do what I expected. It was way harder than I thought. I messed up and dropped it. And then I would beat myself up for being such a schmo.
“I’m such a failure, I can’t even lift these 40 pound weights 60 times in 5 minutes. I mean, I’ve been practicing with 2 pounds.”
A recipe for a bad time.
Recently I’ve been reading a wonderful book by the author James Clear, called Atomic Habits. The whole premise of the book is built around the idea that small, atom sized shifts in our daily lives can lead to compounding results. I’ve read it through once and I am reading it again, almost like a devotional. It fires me up to touch the inspiration daily – it’s a protein-packed reminder that I can empower myself, set practices in motion that I deeply value, and track and maintain my progress. It’s a wonderful book, and if you are interested in how we, as people, learn, grow, and evolve, I’d recommend it 100 times over.
Small incremental shifts.
It turns out, these little shifts can make a HUGE difference.
This is something I’ve found out of my direct experience of practicing music. Maybe jumping from 50 to 100 on the metronome is hard (especially if you are feeling the beat in cut time or on 2 + 4), but it turns out that crossing the gap between 50 to 100 in small increments doesn’t necessarily have to take forever.
Just as long as we can have some basic information clear, the metronome becomes a powerful tool to deepen, strengthen, stretch, and integrate our experience. It allows us to dig in and increase in manageable chunks without loosing the integrity of what we are doing.
Small incremental shifts. Build on what you have.
There is a wonderful Bill Evans Quote that my teacher had posted in his studio, and that I now have posted in my own studio:
“It’s better to do something simple which is real. It’s something you can build on because you know what you’re doing. Whereas, if you try to approximate something very advanced and you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t build on it.“
“They’re trying to do a thing in a way that is so general they can’t possibly build on that. If they build on that, they’re building on top of confusion and vagueness and they can’t possibly progress. If you try to approximate something that is very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t advance.”
I couldn’t have said it better Bill. Thank you for your wisdom.
For me, at a certain point in my life, I began to recognize that I was barreling through my days, numb to many of the sensations in my body and perceptions of the world. I found myself needing to slow down, wanting to take the time to notice the little things around me that I had been previously taking for granted: The textures in the bark of trees, the smells of plants and how they subtly changed during the heat of a summer’s day versus the cool of night, the way that sounds seemed to play across my eardrums…
I began to wonder “What is the limit of my perception?” and “How deeply can I notice or feel into this moment?” or “What is the most subtle information my senses can register?”
Is there something I am missing by tuning out and zipping from activity to activity, bouncing from pleasure to pleasure, and recoiling away from the pain and discomfort of existence?
When I remember this era of my life, of noticing the reality around and within me, it charges me up and excites me. These questions are still very much alive for me today, if only I take the time to cultivate and notice them.
How do musicians and artists encode emotions into their artwork? How do they take their feelings and pour them into a medium? How is it that I can feel them? How can I pour this feeling into my own art? What is really happening in that process? Am I really taking the time to savor and appreciate the life around me as it happens?
Recently for me, the answer to this last question has sadly been no.
Maybe more than ever before, I find myself compulsively bouncing from task to task, always trying to either GO GO GO, or when a lull happens, trying to tune out and avoid the junk that I’m feeling.
Let’s face it, right now, the world is a painful place. Quarantine and Covid has been hard on everyone, and it seems to be stretching on infinitely.
It can be painful to stop and notice sometimes.
But I don’t think that is a good reason to avoid stopping or slowing down.
How do we meet the circumstances of the moment unfolding before us? And how do we meet it well?