Making Life Practice my B****


As a musician, much of my life revolves around the idea of practice. Most kids will tell you that practicing sucks. My friends with kids bitch about practice logs they need to (forge) sign and turn in to music teachers fighting for priority with the other hours of assigned homework each night.

I’ve given lots of advice about practice mindset, practice strategy, and practice goal-setting. Practicing music is a joy for me, not a chore. When it comes to music, practice isn’t a bitch, it’s my bitch.

Most people will say that practicing is repeating something over and over again in order to achieve some goal. I don’t like this definition. It reminds me too much of those days locked in my room playing the same phrase over and over again, often worse off at the end than when I started.

Practice is no more than the real world application of theoretical principles. Simply put, stop thinking about how to do it and do it. Practice is not about getting it right. Practice is about getting it wrong, mindfully.

When it comes down to it, is practicing music is any different than practicing anything, be it yoga, healthful eating, or writing? What about being a better listener, or a more patient parent, or putting down the IPhone and taking in the moment? Why don’t I practice life like I practice music?

My yoga teacher talked about practice yesterday, and how it’s a daily commitment–a choice. To grow, we have to embrace the discomfort,and let go of the ego enough to explore. I am too often focused on accomplishing some end state. Wrong goal.

The goal of practice is integrity. The alignment of idea and action.When one achieves alignment, energy travels without interruption . That’s the goal, right? For the words to flow like water, to run without touching ground, to savor every bite of life until your soul is full?

If you want to align something you don’t jam it into place and bingo, you’re done. You have to fuss with it, explore the boundaries, experiment to see how different actions give a different result. You have to practice.

You also have to get some humility.

Sometimes, I’ve worked a difficult passage until I have it down cold, but then blow it when I have to play it outside of my practice room. Is it that my fingers don’t know the shapes, the placement, the correct bow tension to produce a sound? Not really. It’s that I get close to the passage and that little voice says “Hey Heifitz, here comes that passage. Don’t fuck it up.”

Why don’t we accept that our nature is to err, and embrace it? After all, that’s all practice is. Instead of saying “I effed up” I can say “I’m out of alignment.” Not because I can’t deal with screwing up and need some sort of feel-good double-speak. It’s because mistakes aren’t the end of the world. They are the world. It’s because it’s often my fear of failure, or the fear of feeling like a failure that keeps me from practicing in the first place.

I know it sounds all new-agey of me, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Practice takes time. It takes commitment. It takes patience. It takes a sense of humor and more than a little forgiveness. Practice takes love.

So what is it you want to practice?

Fearlessness and Freeing the Anvil

fly

When I was a child, I was sure that I knew how to fly. I flew in my dreams all of the time. It was so effortless, so vivid, it had to be real. It was like swimming through air–as if I was so buoyant I couldn’t stay tethered by gravity. Something simple kept me bound to the earth. Once I figured it out, I’d undo the knot and head for the skies. If I could fly, surely I could do almost anything.

The almost got me. I learned about power and politics and started to see the limits of possibility. I learned time wasn’t infinite and that I could be lost and broken. I learned how to fear.

Every so often, I’d still dream of flying. When I’d wake up, I’d feel like I was missing a limb; some essential part of me had been replaced by an anvil that had “I can’t do that” etched in its side. I ached for weightlessness.

I have friends that choose a theme for the year, like hopeful, or gratitude or present. I suppose it’s like setting an intention after meditation. If you set a course for where you want to go, you’re more likely to get there. As I’ve said before, I’m a goal junkie. So I’ve chosen a theme for this year.

Fearlessness.

Embarking on any career in the shadow of turning 50 isn’t easy. Embarking on a writing career is lunacy. Doing both at once is a swan dive off a steep cliff. To write is to open up your soul every day, lay it out on a table and call the world over and ask for their opinion. Writing isn’t the only vocation with that property, but for me, writing exposes my vulnerabilities more than consulting or research did.

Yet, I feel more at peace.

I could be sensible. I’m an experienced business professional. I have connections, a solid resume, a history to draw from. Being sensible is the last thing I want. I’m tired of dragging that anvil around everywhere I go.  I will have the audacity to be fearless.

Eating a box of chocolates is my usual way to tell the world “screw you, I’ll do what I want.”  We all have a personal box of chocolates, that self-defeating, self-limiting thing we do to try to convince the world we aren’t afraid of what it was throwing our way. Instead, I vow to un-learn the lessons that hold me down, to remove the anvil of can’t and fly.

It’s a big sky out there. Join me.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Ken Bosma © 2008 Creative Commons