Meditation and Music.

Meditation and Music.

Warning: This post contains some religious/anti-religious references and may be offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

I began meditating a little over 2 years ago. Since, I’ve learned that meditation is one of the few things in the world that can not be overstated, along with things like staying fully hydrated or having good sleep hygiene. It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for meditation, and the things that I have learned from studying meditation, my music life would not have been as heavily impacted as it has been the last couple of years. I’ll start from the beginning.

One thing that has plagued me my entire life, is the blaring radio of thoughts, noise, and sometimes music; that is my mind. Loud, unceasing, and relentless. Matter of fact, one of the reasons why I loved music so much was because it was the closest to silence I could ever get. Music was my quiet, my peace. And as quiet and peaceful as it was, it was never silence. All of this brain activity devastated my sleep life. Light-sleep, over-dreaming, sleep-paralysis, all-nighters, endless drowsiness, and the constant fear of falling asleep while doing something dangerous. The other very obvious problem I had was my inability to focus. The thoughts and sounds always changing and shifting from one form to the next in some beautifully terrible dance of imaginings. This, along with all the other mess, ruined my education. I wanted to do well in school. I wanted to learn. But I didn’t, and I hated it and considered myself cursed.

It’s a wonder I ever got any music done, but I thought all of this was normal and just tried to deal with it, in which there was some success, but even still much more failure. I pretty much succeeded at most(only most) of the things I liked and had no success at all with things that did not capture my fascination. But throughout my youth and adulthood, I would always hear mention of that word, "meditation". Whether I was learning Tai Chi or Yoga, studying the Bible, or talking to people about my personal battles with drowsiness, sleep, and focus, it would always be brought up. But I was always too religious to try. As you would expect, I began looking more into meditation when I left religion and abandoned all faiths.

I read a few books, listened to a few lectures, talked to people, hung out in forums like this, the works. It turned out, that even though meditation is known to be an esoteric and spiritual experience, it actually has a lot of science to back up its benefits. As it just so happens, it is natural that our minds are always active! "Guess what Mr. Williams! You’re not special! 😀 Everyone has an unstoppable chatterbox in their head because if you stop thinking, you might die! You’re perfectly normal!". And I thought, hmph… Well, that makes sense. Next lesson!

One thing that I feel that EVERY musician should know, is that we have an ever-learning, ever-processing brain. Elastic. Always, always capable of learning. Capable of changing even! And it seems that meditation is one of those invaluable ways of training your brain, if you don’t like the way it functions. Our reactions, feelings, and behaviors come from a series of chemical processes, and those processes come from different areas of the brain. There are chemical processes that deal with your sleep and wake cycle(serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, etc), chemical processes that deal with performance anxiety(adrenaline, cortisol, etc.) and a lot of these processes are affected by the size or capacity of activity in the corresponding area of the brain.

An example of this is focus and concentration. One of my meditation practices is candle gazing. I sit, light a candle, and focus on the flame. Simple enough huh? Well, this practice literally enlarges the area of the brain that deals with focus; the prefrontal cortex; and stimulates more activity within that area. It’s not the candle or the sitting, but it’s the "focusing on a singular point and not averting your attention". It’s like isometric muscle training for your mind! There is another meditation practice called mindfulness. It’s when you train your mind to stop thinking and to instead observe, without judgment. When you engage your mind in this way, you allow it to stop thinking, and simply experience. And this is where the silence is. And silence is… Oh so lovely…

…Within a few weeks of my mindfulness practicing, along with my candle gazing, I began sleeping and not really realizing it. I just remember one day I felt especially tired and thought to myself, "I could go to sleep if I wanted to…". So I went to sleep. And then I wasn’t an insomniac anymore. Back to the note on silence being lovely…

…You know how they say that if you have a hard time motivating yourself to do something, don’t think about, just do it? Well… Umm… There are actually a few dozen reasons why. Cognitive Decision-Making Biases. If you give yourself time to think about doing something you already know you should do, you’re only giving yourself time to talk yourself out of it, for literally whatever reason. Thanks to evolution, we have quite the plethora of ways to decide nearly subconsciously if something is either going to kill us or perpetuate our survival. A lot of these ideas are primal instincts, and though maybe helpful sometimes, they can be extremely counter-productive. Learning this has completely changed the game for me, because whether I’m ambitious, or not; inspired or not; rested or not; I now have the power to decide *that I am going to act. "Oh, you don’t wanna practice today Mr. Williams? Well why the feck’ not?", Lol, admittedly, it’s much more subtle. It’s more like, "Today is a mandatory work day, so I’m working.", "Today is a mandatory practice day, so I’m practicing.", that sort of thing. No if’s, an’s or but’s! This is how it’s gonna be and that’s that. Not even an argument with myself.

As esoteric and spiritual as meditation can indeed be for me, I found it much more surreal that there was something that worked for me, and truly worked. No placebo. I’ve been in many different experiences to assess my behavior when meditating and not meditating. One of those experiences was the death of my younger brother. Around this time last year, I started working as a musician part-time and even just got a job teaching piano at a new music Academy. Things were going well, the first music project was going great, and I was excited to finally be taking my musical career more seriously. It was going to be an exciting next few months. Then, my brother was shot and killed, in broad daylight, while he was at a local gas station bantering with one of our uncles and some of our cousins. He didn’t even make it to the hospital. And even though my brother and I weren’t extremely close, we loved each other, and he was proud of me.

We weren’t close because we had so little in common we couldn’t even be rivals because we weren’t interested in enough of the same things to compete with each other. But my brother was actually pursuing a music career himself that he often invited me to. I would tell him when I got my computer and other technology, quit my job, and started performing I would do some work for him. I ran out of time. Even though he was heavily into sports when we were kids, he grew up to be all about the Music. Even has an album released on iTunes. I waited my entire life for me and him to find some common ground with something, and then when we finally do…

…So I ended up spiraling back into depression. I was never into drugs and things, but having finally learned how to sleep so many months before, it’s what I did. Meditating was the only way to get myself out of bed and out of the house. It was like the depression was there but couldn’t touch me. I didn’t wanna lose, give up, and die. And by this time meditating was easy. It was still hard dealing with everything else though. I didn’t meditate every day and when I did it was torture sometimes. But I was able to continue to fulfill my obligations until I could figure out some kind of way to grieve. I resigned from the Academy, but I also quit my job at the factory a few months later and decided it was time to do music full-time. I was on the path of self-realization and I would not be thrown from that path.

This first year as a full-time musician has been pretty great considering all of the musical and non-musical things that have gone wrong. But I wouldn’t have made it through this year without meditation. Now, no longer being depressed, I hope to use it to my further advantage. Now that I have a taste of desire(=ambition from my previous post) and am learning how to channel it, I can use it in conjunction with meditation to do all of this hard work that needs to be done. I’ve even finished some of it in these last few days since my previous post. But there’s still a lot more to go.

Sorry for the many different subject matters, I tried to make this as relevant as I could while it still being coherent.

Re: Meditation and Music.

Doesn’t meditation give insight into the illusion of ego and self too?

Re: Meditation and Music.

Good on you, Jerone.
Sometimes, in the middle of the music, I can find a stillness and clarity.

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"Doesn’t meditation give insight into the illusion of ego and self too"… No, it gets rid of those things. The ego disappears.

Re: Meditation and Music.

Err. re-reading your question there Steve, I may have misinterpreted it. I didn’t pay attention to the word ‘Illusion".

Re: Meditation and Music.

"Doesn’t meditation give insight into the illusion of ego and self too?"

I guess it depends on what kind of practice you follow because there are many different kinds of meditation based on an individual’s needs. I needed focus and quiet, so that is what I practice for. I wouldn’t be able to say much about "oneness" and "unity", but I will admit that one mindfulness exercise, which is focusing on the breath, does expose the boundaries we create between things. In one of the books I read, there was that talk of how we create boundaries out of fear or for protection, in all kinds of ways. When you realize how you create a boundary, you can gain insight on necessary steps to take to get past that boundary, or why the boundary is necessary to remain there.

In this, you do see how we are all connected and how my actions could influence the lives of the people around me, as well as how their actions can affect mine. But I use the "boundary detection mechanism" to determine when I was being challenged and when I was being forced. There have been many many obstacles for me to overcome learning how to street perform for a living, and all of those things could have stopped me if I allowed them too. Because I was able to determine that they were challenges instead of "enforcements"(for lack of a better word), I was able to move past time. Sometimes even in the moment.

Boundaries, oneness, the illusion of self, it’s a really big conversation…

Re: Meditation and Music.

Yep it’s easy to miss the blindingly obvious amidst the new age psychobabble

Re: Meditation and Music.

good on you, Jerone 🙂 I actually would consider myself buddhist. try to keep up with meditation but it doesn’t always happen. I do jsut need to sit down and do it 🙂 glad you’re making lots of progress. sorry to hear about your brother. :(

Re: Meditation and Music.

Jerone, you are blazing trails. These are not just any trails. Your path is full of care, inspiration, and guidance. You’ve taken some hard blows but your sight is constantly on keeping yourself and the music sure and steady.
I have been working with yoga, meditation and awareness of my breathing for a little bit myself and it has always been beneficial.

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Re: Meditation and Music.

Jerone, thanks for following up on this topic as promised and thanks for your insights and honesty. I take my hat off to you.

My own experiences of meditation began a couple of years ago, as part of my attempts to deal with anxiety and alcohol dependence. And while meditation has helped me enormously with these issues, it is the benefits of meditation upon my music practice and performance that I would like to discuss here.

I practice mindfulness meditation, where (as I understand it) the objective is not so much to still the mind (although it does help you to quieten the mind), but to become aware of the sensations in the body, emotional feelings and activity of the mind. To become aware; but not feel compelled to scratch that itch, not be carried away by that particular feeling nor follow each and every thought. Indeed there is always the opportunity to savour those thoughts, sensations and feelings if you so wish. The important thing is that the choice is yours. If you wish for mental peace or you want to savour the taste of an apple, you choose. So one becomes acutely aware of one’s body, thoughts, emotional state, sensations, surrounding sounds, etc. Rather than automatically react to those events, you can choose whether and how you wish to respond to them.

Carrying that heightened awareness over to my music practice has been a revelation. No longer quite so driven by the myriad doubts that question whether I am good enough, fast enough, in time, in tune, whether I can remember all the notes, and whether I look as nervous as I feel. Instead I am more likely to focus on the feeling of the strings under my fingers, the vibrations coming through the bow, hear the resonance in other strings, hear the timbre and sweet spot of my fiddle. I am more aware of physical tension in my body, and the dance of the bow. And as I said previously, it is almost as if I have more time between the notes, and thus I experience a calmness that enables me to enjoy the melody and shape the sounds as I wish (rather than the hectic attempts to get my fingers in place and the bow moving for the next rattle of notes). I also seem to be able to hear more of the music of those musicians around me and respond to their playing.

Now it is not always as sweet as this, and old habits die hard. But experiencing this focus and awareness just a few times is a huge motivator to strive to repeat those experiences.

So I feel my practice is now more focussed and productive. And my performance is less undermined by anxiety and self-generated stress. It is less rushed, and a little more assured.

I would like to hear the thoughts of others on this topic.

Re: Meditation and Music.

I’d take my hat off to Jerone as well, but because of some of my comments on this site I’ve had to eat them all.

Re: Meditation and Music.

Another impressive post from you Jerone! I guess you have had to cut through, or ignore, a lot of ‘new age psychobabble’ (Steve T) in studying that.

I have a niggling worry about your "today is a mandatory practice day, so I’m practicing" paragraph. As I think you indicate, that approach could have an evolutionary advantage in a marginal environment ("need to fish, weather bad, family starving, just do it"), but it can also be used to keep people in an exploitative environment (in the widest sense) - no thinking "do I really need to do this". Being able to think "maybe there is an alternative or smarter way" also has an evolutionary advantage. Don’t you have to review the "boundary detection mechanism" every now and again?

Re: Meditation and Music.

David50, the "boundary detection mechanism", which I will call my intuition, is under constant review. What I mean by that is, my intuition will give me an idea if I have the right, or the wrong idea about something. Like, "you have all of this information, so you can hypothesize that ‘this’ will be the outcome", and "you don’t have enough information, you should experiment/study to get more information before hypothesizing". So it changes based off of new information. If I don’t know something at all, or know very little, I shouldn’t make assumptions at all.

For example, I assumed that it was impossible to make money on a Sunday busking. I don’t know why I guess I just had this subconscious idea that people didn’t leave their homes on Sunday. Also, for an assessment I did for one of my locations, Sunday was a dead day. My intuition said, "You can’t judge an entire day based off of one assessment. You should assess more locations and more times of day.". So I did. Sunday ended up becoming a normal work day because in one location it was consistently the busiest day of the week, rivaled only by Saturday. Not only that, Sunday is the day I set the record for the most amount of money made in a single day. So I was pretty much wrong, and I felt deeply that I was wrong. And instead of ignoring it, I respected it and learned what I needed to from the experience. The 1st location was busy throughout the week because it is a Town Square with various shops and markets. It’s dead on Sunday because all of those shops and markets are closed. The 2nd location is so busy on Sunday because it’s in a prime area for people who typically have Sundays off, which is more people than I remember from when I worked! Those things didn’t register with me upfront, but my subconscious already had them pinned down.

But sometimes, we don’t think things through, and this is on your point about "there being a better way". Of all of the problems I’ve had street performing, one of the most frustrating ones was figuring out how to deal with all of my necessary equipment in the most convenient way. I ended up buying a dolly. It fit the keyboard and it’s stand fine, but not my stool, speaker, or bucket. One day, I couldn’t find my stool and ended up carrying out a 15+ pound chair with me over my shoulder. After that… very very bad night, I realized, "Dude… you could just get a fold up chair?". And then the stars aligned, well… most of them… The chair didn’t balance well on the dolly and would cause me to crash… Yea… I know right!? Well someone sat down with me for a few minutes and figured out the best way to put everything on the dolly to balance everything and minimize crashes. My speaker had wheels and a handle, so my bucket fit on it, both handles in my hand. It took several weeks to get from point A to point C, but it got dealt with. And thank goodness it did. It wasn’t the first or last situation of its nature, but it’s definitely one of the more memorable ones.

I’ve come to trust my intuition and my body as a whole. If I need rest, I’ll be sure to get rest. If it’s time to work, then I put my nose to the grindstone. But I also avoid compromising situations. If I feel that I’m overworking or over-resting, I make sure changes. I won’t do anything potentially damaging that is more trouble than it’s worth. My fear is passiveness and complacency because it’s not long that it’s been gone.

Thanks for your question!

Re: Meditation and Music.

I’ll post more replies tomorrow. It’s gotten late and I better get to sleep.

Re: Meditation and Music.

Same here.
A good night’s sleep can do wonders, such as:
No need left to post more replies.