Monday, June 13, 2011

Love It or Hate It

The lighting strike is so close that it coincides exactly with thunder that shakes the house.

We look at each other and without a word each turn to unplug our gear. Best to delay rehearsal until the storm passes.

Sitting around the kitchen island, we do what comes naturally. If we can't play music, we can talk about it.

Sometimes we share what we've been listening to or our latest musical discoveries. Sometimes we talk about gear. Sometimes method. Tonight we talk about process.

How does one learn to play so tightly in the pocket that she can replace a clock as a timer? How does one become so relaxed with his instrument that playing is effortless?

I love these discussions because each time you think you've uncovered the foundation, you discover a trap door that leads to yet another level, another question that leads to an entire series of questions.

To play a groove as constant as the rotation of the planets around the sun, you have to be totally relaxed.

What's it mean to be totally relaxed? How do you achieve that?

Hmmm... to be relaxed is to be completely present with whatever it is you're doing. Not distracted by the past or future. Not concerned with how well you're doing. Just there.

No, that's not it. To be relaxed requires you to be keenly aware of your body. How's your left shoulder feeling? Is it tight? Is it loose? What about your right wrist?

No, that's not it. It's about being totally aware of the music and forgetting about your body.

We play with ideas and methods and states of being. We try them on. What would that mean for me? How would I do things differently?

Invariably a single theme emerges: it all comes down to rudiments. The high-level abstractions of being present or focused or relaxed are concepts that we apply to people who appear to be embodying them. They are not methods. They are not even goals. They're just characterizations of people who are doing what we want to do. The question still comes down to: how do I learn to embody those abstractions? And the answer always comes down to: increased frequency.

If you want to do something well, do it every day.

It's an obvious answer that many of us will go to great lengths to avoid. There must be some other answer, some magic potion, some trick, but there's not. Or at least, there's none as effective.

Doing something every day is the absolute best way to become good at something. However, there are caveats.

If you don't love what you're doing. Doing something every day won't work. In fact, unless you take delight in what you do every day, you will eventually come to hate it. It can be reduced to a simple algebraic expression:

H = d * f

Hatred (H) equals the amount of dislike or disdain (d) times the frequency (f) at which it is encountered. If you have great disdain for something, then you need only encounter it once to hate it. If you have even the smallest amount of disdain for something, if you repeat it frequently enough, you will come to hate it.

Alternatively, if you enjoy something, even just a bit, and you do it frequently enough, you will come to love it. The greater the delight you take in it, the greater the love (and passion).

Pretty simple and, if you're honest with yourself, unavoidable.

So, by extension, if you want to have a day filled with activities that you love, you can one of two things:
  1. Decide to enjoy the activities that you must do every day and make no room for not enjoying them.
  2. Begin to daily do the things you most enjoy.
A byproduct of either is that you can't help but become skilled.

If you do things repeatedly and take delight in the activity (whether it be washing dishes or collecting tolls or playing music or writing or running or cooking), you can't help but to become great. If you find yourself reluctant to do things every day, then the issue isn't about frequency, it's about enjoyment (or the lack thereof).

Happy Monday,

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