As You Are

 

I was just practicing piano this morning and felt the need to stop and write to you a little bit about my practice journey.  I was practicing Bach’s Prelude in C Major, BWV 846.  You’ve probably heard it, it’s a fairly common, but truly beautiful piece.  In fact, I started learning it in college because I had heard it before and thought it would be easier to pick up because of that.  And here I sit, 16 years later, practicing the same piece.

  

Years ago, that would have set off a cascade of thoughts and feelings.  My inner voice would have started up with, “You should have learned that by now.  You should be better.  You should probably give up if this is all you have to show after all this time.”   

  

But that was years ago.  Now, my inner voice is kind and humorous, if it’s even chatting at all.  

 

It’s taken a long time, but I’ve got a lot of peace around my music these days.  You see, I’m a recovering perfectionist.  The messages I perceived about myself when I was younger led me to believe that I needed to be perfect in order to be acceptable, to be loved.  No - to even be worthy of love.  And I (obviously) wasn’t perfect, so I often didn’t feel deserving of love.  

  

It’s human nature to internalize messages we have heard from the outside.  We all have these tapes running in our heads, sort of on autopilot.  And, unchecked, we tell ourselves what we have heard others say to us, or what we interpreted others as having said.  

  

Judging Myself

So naturally, when I would practice, my internal tape would start up.  My tape was highly critical of me and made practice a painful thing.  I’d hit a wrong note, my tape said, “You’re wrong.”  I’d think a passage could have been better, my tape said, “You could be better.”  I used everything I did during practice was an opportunity to judge the distance between where I was and where I “should” be.

  

Judging Others

And I’m not proud to admit this, but I was judgemental of other musicians too.  Ick!  I would hear someone play a sour note and it would make me feel good to know others weren’t perfect either, or worse, sometimes it just made me feel superior.

 

But here’s the ugly truth about judging.  Brene Brown says, “We judge others in areas where we are vulnerable to shame, especially picking on folks who are doing worse than we’re doing.”  Oooo.  Let that sink in.  I almost hated reading that in her book Daring Greatly because it took all the fun out of judging others, haha!  

   

It was true, though.  I felt shame about my my playing abilities because I mistakenly tied them to my sense of self worth.  So I harshed on others I perceived as doing worse than me!  Ouch, that’s hard to admit!  But there it is and that’s human and “...when we know better, we do better” (Maya Angelou).

 

You Rock!

I have done a lot of work to become more accepting of myself, and that self-acceptance has led me to lift up other musicians instead of putting them down.  Now when I hear great artists play, I am amazed and inspired instead of frustrated at my own abilities.  And when I hear others’ sour notes, I smile at our shared humanity.

  

Because of my painful upbringing, I have been on a somewhat relentless journey of self-discovery.  I can’t even tell you how many self-help books I have read over the years, and almost of them say the same thing.  They say that our inner “tape” is really just repeating either what others have told us, or what we rewrite it to say.  That we can choose what it says with persistence and love, and what we tell ourselves day in day out is powerful!  It is nothing less than the story you tell yourself about your life.  

 

In Kenny Werner’s book Effortless Mastery he says that your place of practice should be the most comfortable place for you in your house.  How marvelous is that?  It’s not a place where you go to brow-beat yourself or judge yourself or measure what you lack.  It’s a place where you go to hone skills that let you tap into your most sacred self and the divine.  I hone my musical skills so that I may be a vessel for spirit, God, the universe, whichever you prefer.

 

Stop the Tape

When I reframed my practice as a way to hone my skills in order to be a vessel, it took my ego (my ‘tape’) out of the equation.  I stopped paying attention to my inner tape because it simply wasn’t useful in my goal.  I saw it for what it was - a distraction - and I refocused my attention.  

 

The truth is I play music as a way to heal myself, heal others, lead the music out of other growing musicians.  I play music to be of service, to express myself, to express the whole range of human emotions.  I play to give others the chance to say, “Me too.  I’ve felt that way too.”  

 

If praying is ‘talking' to God, and meditating is ‘listening,’ then playing music is a sort of conversation.  And the more I practice, the better conversationalist I become.  I don’t practice to be perfect because that will never ever ever happen.  But I can always improve, and now the process of improving is really enjoyable.  Stopping the tape in my head freed up so much energy for me to slow down, pay attention, and make practice an enjoyable experiment.  Instead of saying I “should” be at this or that level, I realize I can only start a journey from exactly where I am right now.  

  
What is your goal when you practice?  What are you doing it for?  Who are you doing it for?  What is your tape saying when you practice?  Is it chatty, quiet, helpful, or hurtful?  What would you like it to say?  Whatever it is, say it out loud before you practice, while you practice.  Say it to yourself anytime that negative voice pops up and starts chittering in your ear.  Because music doesn’t just belong to the professionals or the ‘gifted’ or the young.  It is a fundamental part of being human, and it belongs to you right now, as you are.

  

“‘As you are.’ says the universe.

‘After…’ you answer.

‘As you are.’ says the universe.

‘Before…’ you answer.

‘As you are.’ says the universe.

‘When…’ you answer.

‘As you are.’ says the universe.

‘How…’ you answer.

‘As you are.’ says the universe.

‘Why…’ you answer.

‘Because you are happening now. and your happening

is beautiful. The thing that both keeps me alive and brings me to my knees. You don’t even know how exquisite you are.

As you are.’ says the universe through tears.” —Nayyirah Waheed

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