May 26, 2015
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
In this series, Getting What You Want: Directing The Mind To Desired Ends, we will examine applying meditation techniques to train the mind and get better results. For this discussion to make sense, there should be a number of assumptions at the outset:
- Our mental and emotional states affect our playing deeply.
- It is possible, with practice, to direct our mental and emotional states.
- Rules that apply to physical technique can be used for mental and emotional technique too.
- These rules can often appear illogical, contradictory, or counterintuitive. In each case, there will be ample anecdotal evidence that said technique does actually work.
What IS Meditation?
What, exactly, is meditation? Well, one could define it as the progressive refinement of conscious awareness. Its’ progression moves from merely calming the mind to improving focus, eventually developing one-pointed concentration, and ultimately, a state of such stillness, clarity, and bliss that it is sometimes called Nirvana. It is reportedly a state in which the meditator fully realizes the interconnectedness of all things.
While these lofty goals require a prodigious amount of effort and discipline, even the beginning stages of meditation practice can yield beneficial results you can use, and that’s what we’ll focus on here. Not to mention, let’s face it, my meditation practice is by these standards quite un-advanced, and some of these advanced practices I’m just not qualified to discuss (or instruct).
Where to start?
Okay, this I can help with. As we do this, remember: just as many techniques in drumming require slow diligent practice for an extended time before they become useful in performance, the same holds true for meditation.
10 Minutes For Ten Days
Controlling the breath is a very useful and practical tool for connecting the mind with the body; it’s pretty autonomous, yet also under our conscious control. In this practice, we’ll simply try to pay attention to the breath for 40 repetitions or ten minutes, whichever comes first.
To begin, find a quiet place to sit comfortably that you won’t be disturbed for ten minutes. Don’t lie down, as the temptation to fall asleep will increase as you begin to relax. Use a timer so you don’t have to watch the clock; with an iPhone, you can simply tell Siri: “Set a timer for ten minutes.” and it will set and start the countdown. Done.
Start with your eyes closed. If the eyes won’t stay still, shoot me an email, and I can show you what I did to overcome this, it’s very simple. Breathing through the nose, inhale slowly and deeply, trying to track the path of the breath through the body with the mind. Exhale slowly, again following the path of the breath through the lungs and out the nose. When the lungs are empty, you’ve completed one repetition.
So far so good. Now you’ll simply repeat this process 40 times, counting each breath, backwards from 40. (40, 39, 38, etc..). Your goal is to stay focused enough to not lose count as you count backwards from 40. If you do lose your place, start over. If you lose your place again, make a best guess as to where you were and continue. Don’t use this practice as a method to beat yourself up; you’ll get better as you get more sessions under your belt. The main thing is to spend 10 minutes each day attempting the exercise.
What You’re Aiming For
When you first experience any results from this exercise, it should be pretty obvious; you’ll feel calmer, with a bit of reluctance to stop. Pay attention to this feeling and cultivate it, this is the beginnings of the calm that you are trying to consistently produce. You’re trying to slow the racing of the mind, and let your emotions wash past as you become a “silent witness” to your own reactions and states of mind. By gently distancing yourself from disruptive emotion, you can improve concentration and focus. You can always come back to being pissed or excited. Treat the everyday “monkey mind” as a child; it cannot be forced, its petty nature must be ignored and gently redirected, using positive reinforcement to bring out its natural calm, intuitive state.
Setting Goals For This Exercise
Try to practice at the same time each day; if you have time set aside to practice your instrument, do this at the beginning of your practice, before anything else. This will help to define a habit of calming the mind before you play. Otherwise, first thing when you wake in the morning seems to work best. If none of the above conditions are possible, just get it in where you can. If you have ten minutes to facebook or watch tv, do this instead!
If you forget, or just don’t have a chance to practice on a given day, don’t freak out. One of the most important skills this will teach is Getting Back On The Wagon as I call it. Just start again the next day.
- Try to work towards counting back from 40 without losing your place. If you have time, extend your practice so you don’t feel rushed. Breath show be slow and smooth.
- Shoot for a minimum of five days in a row.
- With each repetition of the 10-day practice, try to improve your numbers by any amount. So on round two, shoot for 6 days out of 10, and so on. Set yourself up to win, with small, almost comically easy goals. Don’t worry, it’ll get difficult soon enough.
The repetitiveness of this exercise is one of its greatest gifts; just as you need to put in thousands of reps on a particular technique before it becomes useful, you’ll need to put some time in before results become consistent. As with your musical technique, fundamentals like this take time to get into muscle memory, so try to release your attachment to progressing at any given rate. This will work, so just keep at it, knowing you’ll see results. That said, you’ll probably feel something in your first try or first few tries. It’s the consistency that’s trickier.
Lastly, we’re gonna do this together. Anything like this is much easier in a group, so we can support each other and share results. I’m really looking forward to hearing your results and feedback. We’ll use the awareness developed with this exercise as a base and a context to apply to practice, performance, flow, and other areas where observing and controlling the mind can be useful. Trust me, you can use these skills to improve nearly every aspect of anything you do, and top performers from Rick Rubin to Tiger Woods to Tim Ferriss meditate every day.
Let’s do this! We’ll start together on June 1, and our final day for this phase will be June 10. You can email me anytime with questions and I’ll try to get back to you ASAP. If you’ve come to the newsletter after June 1, just start whenever and let us know how your schedule is progressing. We’re here to help each other!
Ganesh Giri Jaya