First of all, what IS your “whole self”? Who are you? Who do you believe you are right now, and who are you really? What are you made up of? What are your parts? How do they connect?
Many great philosophers and spiritual teachers have asked this question, as we all have from time to time. I will not attempt to give a comprehensive answer here (!), but I tend to think of myself as:
I was recently asked in a workshop what I mean by the word “Spirit”. There are other words that could help clarify this:
There are many other words, of course, but these are the ones I use the most often. But, really, YOU are the one who must ask the question, “Who am I?” and answer it for yourself, because you are the only one who knows what is best and true for you.
And sometimes that means being aware that you do not know. I call that dawning awareness “living in The Land of I-Don’t-Know”. It’s a wonderful place to be, once you get over the initial, natural fear of the Unknown.
“So what does this have to do with the blogpost title?”, you might wonder.
Because… how could you begin to play with your “whole self” if you have no idea what that means? And what I mean may very well be different from what you mean. So I can only offer you some suggestions for your own exploration while playing your instrument.
- Do not split yourself into parts. The mind and body are inseparable. Thoughts are REAL ENTITIES, not just abstract – they are neurons firing into a physical/chemical/energetic sequences. Everything you think, therefore, is connected to your body.
- You need to practice expanding your awareness, not narrowing it to concentrate. Having “focus” and “undivided attention” is great, but what does it mean? To me, it means having a focal point within concentric circles, which are not divided into “this” and “that”.
- However, parts exist. “This” and “that” exist. We pay attention to notes, meter, rhythm, phrases, intonation, etc. But these are NOT isolated “things”. They are things within and part of a WHOLE. So, by all means go ahead and analyze things – you must do that in order to learn how to shape and create what you want out of the musical elements. But don’t see them as something in themselves, disconnected from everything else.
- Those details are even connected to your body. When you look at the music, how do you see it? With your EYES!! So knowing how to best use your eyes is very important to those notes. In fact, you may see and feel them quite differently depending on how you look at them. Do you see how those little notes fit into a whole phrase? If your vision is narrow and overfocused and you forget about your head-neck-body and the space around you and where your feet are and who your audience is, etc., you will not see those notes in their proper place, and your timing will be less perfect than it could be, because space and time are not separate, either.
- This does not need to be difficult. It will only be difficult if you become perfectionistic about it and think there’s only one way to do things. It’s impossible to be aware of everything at once (well, maybe! I don’t know! 😉 so let’s be content with having our most comprehensive and intelligent intentions, and doing our best to follow through on them.
- Learn about how your mind-body-self coordinates by learning the Alexander Technique from a great teacher. Then learn how YOU coordinate with the music, by learning how the elements of the music coordinate with each other as you watch and observe it, with a desire to shape and create it the way you see and hear and feel it.
- It’s all up to you. Your music will reflect you. Therefore, it will always be exactly as it “should” be. When you are sincere, your intention is good, and the result will always be good enough! Don’t compare. Explore and enjoy!
This post was written in response to a lovely question put by my former student, Linda Duan, who is now a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music, after having studied Alexander Technique at the University College-Conservatory of Music with me. Linda always has great questions and insights – thank you, Linda! You can chat with her about all things related to music and the Art of Freedom if you join our Art of Freedom Village for Musicians closed facebook group. Membership is free, but open only to those who are sincerely interested in learning about The Art of Freedom together.
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