Monday, November 28, 2011

Directed Thinking

River Thinking.

Thinking is the key.

                    Thinking is the problem.           The solution. 
                                                 Thinking is over rated ...

The past two nights when I have awakened during the night, my mind was 'thinking" about the musical idea known as Corvus.  I love when I can rest and the mind takes over and processes information for me.  Of course much of the time,  I am on automatic thinking.  Tending to routine tasks and behaviors that make up the course of my daily activities.  When I bring my attention to these routine tasks is when I become alive.

The Alexander Technique brings my thinking into my bodily movements.  This awareness of how I use myself generates a form of mindful energy, as well as being an efficient way to execute simple and complex tasks.  Edward de Bono has written many books on the subject of thinking.  He has developed and taught a variety of techniques called Lateral Thinking to stimulate our brains and open up our thinking.  I recently listened to a book of his on CD and one exercise that I have been experimenting with is the septien.  In this exercise you come up with a list of 7 words or short phrase related to the subject you are thinking about.  Repeating these words, stimulates the brain in a manner not tied to our habitual thinking

The end of the month deadline is looming for the three pieces I need to complete, so tonight I decided to develop a septien for each piece. Then during my AT lie down, after directing the body to release, lengthen, and widen I would use the septien for the piece I would work with next.  My initial idea was to do a lie down, work on a piece for 20 minutes, lie down, etc.  Thus looking at all three pieces in a little over an hour.  Then I reasoned that I would move from there.

After 10 minutes of my lie down in  a traditional manner, I began to recite the septien for Corvus.  After a few minutes of this I tuned my guitar, and before playing I revisited the septien.  I then began to play through what I had so far.  After 15 minutes, I was improvising and the form came together.  One run through with the tape running and I was going to move onto my lie down and the next piece.

Yet I did not.  Instead I decided to bring order to the parts scratched on different pieces of manuscript paper and notate them with the changes that had just arrived.  After this was done I wanted to play through the piece.  But my body and mind needed a break.  So instead of end gaining, I did another lie down.  Reciting the septien at the end of the lie down I played and taped Corvus.  More work may be needed, but there was a shift today. I attribute this shift to the combination of Alexander's and de Bono's work.  Now if only I did not need to get up so early tomorrow.  Excuses. I need to look at another piece.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Outcomes or Efforts?

Is it the outcome or the effort, I just found myself questioning?  This morning began with me playing with the idea titled Corvus, and before I left my home I thought something had moved forward and actually something had.  During my work on Corvus, I found myself concentrating hard at some point, when I noticed how my body was scrunching in and around the guitar.  Pausing and connecting with my body, I found space within and around me.  As I began to play again, I immediately heard how my tone had improved.  Then the notes began to connect with the melody I had so far.  As I connected with the space and lightness of the piece, my body mirrored this further. 

After taping and notating I had to leave for a meeting.  During my drive, I thought that working to complete these three ideas had a higher probability of being realized if I had to perform them.  Checking with my wife, we decided to invite friends over next Saturday.  Returning to work on Corvus tonight, the ideas did not all fall into place.  Now I'm wondering if this will come together.  And there are still the other two pieces.  Oh my, self doubt and negativity can arise so quickly.  Let the fun begin; the efforts provide the opportunities, the answers, and occasionally - music.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Challenge


When I returned home from work today, I thought that I wanted to focus my guitar work on something new this evening.  Digging into my notebook of musical ideas I took out three scores of works in progress.  After working with one of the ideas for close to 40 minutes, I took a break by doing an Alexander Technique lie down.  I was grateful as my back let go of unneeded tension.  The idea Remember Quiet Evenings, did reveal some new notes and a different feel tonight.

When I returned to the guitar I moved onto the next idea, titled Corvus. There is a haunting quality to this, that I have yet to move forward. But just playing around with it, rekindled my interest in the idea.  I then looked at Danse Vivante, which I had not touched since this summer.  Moving to my desk to make a note to myself, I found my November Goals, one of which was to write three new pieces.  Gosh, I was optimistic at the beginning of this month.  But now as I sit here, I want to honor this to the best I am able.

I suspect that part of my motivation in writing this goal originally was that I know my professional life gets much busier at this time of the year.  New works always keep me eagerly coming back to the guitar regardless of my tiredness.  So with five days to go, I'll work to complete these three ideas.

Guess I better get back to the guitar.

Photo by Barry Stock.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Privilege

30 Days of Gratitude- Day 29

Tonight my heart is warm and my spirit content because I was able to play music for a lovely group of people in a very special persons home.  In this life we all want to be listened to, we all need to be listened to.  Truly touching to play in such an intimate space, and to have an audience purely and actively listening.  Music is meant to be heard, music comes alive when others are listening.

As I was preparing to leave my home, I stepped into the back yard and saw the first evening star through the top of a neighbors tree.  Weather it was Venus, Mars, or the North Star I am uncertain, but I did make a wish.   Later the Universe responded clearly through the hearts and spirits of the people I played for tonight. I'll never know why this music has come through me; but I do know I'll continue to practice, continue to learn, and be grateful for what is offered.  Happy Birthday Mama, while I know that you are still within me, you really are missed.

Raking the Mind

Fall mosaic

Out in the crisp early morning fall air.  The temperature is close to freezing, the sun shining, and hardly a sound in the urban forest known as my neighborhood.  The occasional tweet or chirp from the birds that winter in the DC metro greet me.  Gone are the beautiful natural symphonies of spring and summer, now just the quiet of a community still mostly at rest.  Time to rake leaves once again; so many leaves, so deep.  Can I approach this task as a practice?  Or merely get it done? Or as a beloved young person in my life pleaded last night - why don't you just hire someone.

As the rake stirs the first leaves beneath its tines, I listen to the scrunch of decaying life as I pull the leaves across the grass.  Hurrying a bit, how much can I get done before breakfast?  Before others in my family want my attention?  Enjoying just being outside in the sun.  With the shorter days and my professional life this is a luxury for me.  Breathing in and smiling as I watch the sunlight, dance in the tall oaks still tenaciously holdng onto their leaves.  As I dump the second tarp load by the curbside, I decide I could practice walking meditation as I return to the back yard.

As I bend to pick up my rake, I think of the Alexander Technique and how might I apply this here and now.  I do have a gig tonight, so I don't want to exert myself in a way that I am sore later.  Inviting in the AT directions as I rake, my movements take on more of a dance feel, fluid, light, and free.  Pausing before I take hold of the tarp, I pay attention to how I bend to grasp the tarp.  As I walk to the curb following my breath, I feel joy begin to grow in my mind.

A bit later, I find my mind wandering about.  Loosing the sense of the moment, I am merely raking again.  Thoughts of I could be doing better things with my time; am I too cheap to hire some one; too important for this task.  Laughing at my crazy wandering mind that is blocking me from the joy I had experienced minutes earlier, I pause again and finding my breath I begin to rake.  Noticing the frost is melting now and the grass is such a vibrant green.  The wind stirs the leaves still clinging to the oaks and offers me a brief song.   Dumping another load, I marvel at the simple act of walking back to the yard.  I continue to rake with care and attention, getting lost and then remembering to return to the present moment.  As my mind quiets I see once again that anytime I can be present with what I am doing, I am practicing music, practicing life.

I aim to be present with the guitar, with music, when I play.  But the mind has its own habits, and anytime I can practice turning my mind to the task at hand is precious.  Finding silence in raking, allows me to find silence in playing.  And then it is gone again.  Directing my thinking via AT, I notice the area of lawn that has now been raked.  I realize that a part of my mind has also been raked, building my practice of mindfulness and the Alexander Technique.  A bit clearer now, I smile again, grateful for the trees that help to sustain our planet, provide us shade, and home to the lovely songbirds.  No hurry in me now, I pause for coffee and writing.  Whatever I do today - may I be mindful, may I be free.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back to the Middle

The curve in the middle of the path .... its gone what do you think???

From high to low in 24 hours, and through the actions of reflection, writing, and minding my thinking, I veer again towards the middle.  After blogging last night, I did some personal writing, followed by an Alexander Technique lie down and then returned to court music.

Beginning my playing with the first piece that ever came to me, A Journeyman's Way Home, allowed me to approach beginners mind.  Touching the joy and wonder of the Creative Act, I abandoned the notion of playing the set and moved on to playing Lost Balloon.  There is a section in the piece which is still uncertain in my left hand with my new guitar.  Accessing the 15th and 17th positions to play this part is not fluid.

After playing the part in the 15th position I noticed my right hand tensing as my left hand made the leap to the 17th position.  A good place to focus my work with the Alexander Technique.  Using inhibition and direction, I slowly introduced a continued length and freedom in my right hand in place of the tightening that had been happening.  I've always enjoyed working on the mechanics of playing, and this work nourished the joy and wonder within.  A thought arrived - this is a beautiful section and I am free to  play it well.

I continued to work slowly, praising my playing. and pausing before moving between sections and directing with AT.  I noticed my awareness deepening and that I was using myself more efficiently.  And then the thought that had arrived earlier morphed into - I am free to play beautifully.

Tonight I began with this thought in mind.  During my lie down, I held this sense of freedom in my entire body.  Cultivating this with thoughts of lengthening and widening my body, I  let go of the unneeded tensions accumulated during my day.  Working with this section of Lost Balloon again, I prompted my awareness to take in more of the room.  Directing upward to the trees outside, wider to the ocean far away.  Playing with the Alexander Technique, lightening up myself, including especially my spirit.  A gentle and loving practice ensued.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Descending Clouds of Negativity

Shrouded Abyss  

We begin again constantly is a Guitar Craft aphorism frequently mentioned i n this blog. For good reason I might add, as I find myself lost over and over, and need to reboot my awareness once again.  I have just began my practice session over two times, after my initial attempt.  Here I am now, looking to expunge the thinking matters that are clouding my mind, and embrace the simple act of playing.  Thoughts are similar to clouds in many respects.  Some are light and fluffy, moving through our minds offering happiness and joy.  Others dense, dark, and ominous; bringing storms of disruption and havoc to our being.  Depending on my condition at any time, when the various clouds of thoughts arrived, they may be supported, nurtured, or distorted.  The good news is - they all come to pass. 

While journaling this morning, I was still basking in the energy generated by my playing last night.  A couple constructive thoughts arrived.  One was to shorten the set to better fit my energy stamina.  Another to allow myself a bit more space within to breath, if I again sense my energy diminishing towards the end of the set.  I recall a bit of judgement arising with the thought of shortening the set.  Negative thinking creeping into an otherwise great experience.  I moved onto Qi Gong and meditation and then departed for work.

During my commute, I found myself thinking "don't play the set tonight, you know it will not be as good as last night."  The negative seed within me that judges myself and others was breaking through the soil of my mind and beginning to grow.  I tried to laugh this off, and thought of just working on the rough spots in my playing tonight and allowing the spark from last night to live a bit longer.  Then my thinking moved to "why not get the inevitable over with, have the bad practice and move on."  Fortunately I arrived at work and the demands of my professional responsibilities took over.

Before playing tonight, I sat for twenty minutes.  Letting my body relax, following my breath, and working to quiet the mind.  I needed this tonight, knowing from experience that I was scattered enough that my playing would suffer if I just dove in.  Reminding myself of my intention, I tuned my guitar.  As soon as I began to play the clouds of negative thought erupted.  I wanted to just play through them, but the thoughts impacted my playing which generated more thoughts, generally of a negative bent and so forth.   I let go, brought order to some papers and returned to the guitar.

More negative thoughts erupted as I began playing, this time my thinking going back to work today and judging what I failed to accomplish.  Walking away again, I returned to begin a third time to no avail.  Deciding that getting these thoughts out here and out of my magic magnifying mind, might offer the freedom I need to begin again and move forward with one more effort.  Time for a lie down and a new beginning. Trusting and knowing that this is all part of the process, I smile.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Practicing Awareness

As for this sparkling awareness, which is called "mind,"

My awareness was strong until the ninth piece when I began to waver.Expect the unexpected.  Tonight my wife was supposed to be out of the house for the evening.  I created a set list for a house concert this coming Saturday night and was preparing to run it.  My intention for this performance is to be aware and to connect positively with the audience.  I continue to work with the 16 exercises of Mindful Breathing from the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing.  Thich Nhat Hahn's masterful commentary on this Sutra is the subject of his book Breathe! You Are Alive.  These practices have been deepening my relationships with my body and mind, establishing mindfulness throughout my day.

Tonight as I was sitting on my stool, aware of my body and mind, quietly preparing to play, I heard the door open. My wife was home early.  I invited her, my number one audient, to listen to the set.  She graciously accepted.

After tuning, I reminded myself of my intention, and began to play.  The set consists of 10 pieces.  I was able to maintain the energy of a piece when a mistake occurred a few times, and not get lost nor distracted.  My awareness was strong until the ninth piece when I began to waver. During this piece as I was getting tired, I noticed I was beginning to slump towards the guitar and my legs began to "grasp" at the floor.  Holding on, better if I could have invited in the 16th exercise and concentrated on letting go.  Always so good to have such a loving supportive presence available to music in the form of my wife.  She is an active listener and her support is palpable.  Any night that I would play as well as I did tonight is a success.  I sense that something may be coming together, after years of practice.  The sensitivity of my new guitar also is a contributing factor.  I am a fortunate man to have much love and music in my life.

Friday, November 11, 2011

And So It Goes


Today is Kurt Vonnegut's birthday - November 11, 1922.  A writer who informed and influenced me in my youth.  During my freshman year of college, the afternoon before  my Calculus final in December, a friend gave me a copy of Slaughterhouse Five.  Knowing that my grade in Calculus was already moot, I dug into Vonnegut.  The personal rates of change I was undergoing at this time were not measured by the mighty Calculus, and though lost in many ways Vonnegut shone a bright light on my world.

If I had known any practicioners of Bokononism, I would have joined them or at least that's what I told myself.  I had discovered chanting and practiced for a while, but was not ready to embrace their path.  Finding more solace with the Existentialists, I wandered and wondered, strayed and dismayed.  But Kurt through his writing gave me hope, a retreat from the confusion and chaos of life in the 70's.

As I was practicing tonight, thinking through the Alexander Technique, I recalled one of my favorite lines from The Sirens of Titan, uttered by Sir Winston Niles Rumford: "Let the people take care of themselves and God Almighty will take care of Himself." Chuckling at this pure Vonnegut wit, I sensed the tips of my fingers lengthening from my back. 

I worked with this with David at our AT class this week.  "The grip" that is known as my left hand, finding release and freedom in the moment.  My chuckle was because I was taking care of myself.  The musical inspiration comes from the Beyond, but I must take care of the instrument.  Meditation, the Alexander Technique, and Qi Gong form the basis of the practice that sustains me today.

Breathing in I know that I am alive; breathing out I smile. And so it goes.

God Bless You Mr. Vonnegut.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Is How What?

A new piece is emerging.  My work is to be open and allow the potential to be realized.  How to do this?  Actually the question I just asked may mean - what do I do?  One answer - return to the first practice I learned in Guitar Craft - Do Nothing.  Even after 22 years this remains difficult at the times that I most need to practice this?  Why? Attachment perhaps. Doubt.  Entrenched Habits.  Experiences from youth and beyond.

The working title is Remembrance. The Polish translation is Pamiętać.  What am I remembering?  Is this a form of honoring my actual and spiritual ancestors? Am I remembering to Do Nothing, as much as possible?   Oh my, I better get back to my guitar.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Awake at 5:10 am today.  Not an uncommon hour to me, I was rested and ready to begin my day.  The vestiges from a difficult emotional afternoon yesterday still resounding beneath the surface. After journaling, I began my meditation, but quickly realized I had a physical component that needed to be discharged or transformed.  I was waiting to do Qi Gong in case my wife awakened, but I knew I needed what this practice provides.  After 15 minutes of Qi Gong, I began my meditation again, eventually letting go of the negativity built up by my habit energies and finding peace and joy.

After a long professional day, I arrived home tired.  The week was done and after dinner and resting I would turn to my guitar.  But I found the tiredness was deeper than I realized and the desire to play was difficult to muster.  Yet I also knew I needed to play; to feel the vibrations; to listen to the notes.  Besides this coming Sunday I am to play a piece for an Evening of Remembrance with the Washington Mindfulness Community, and I have not decided what I'll play.

To the basement telling myself I only needed to play through the three pieces I am considering and perhaps determine which I'll play.  After playing one piece, I began improvising with an idea that surfaced last night. The spark was there and I began to follow.  My body and my spirits revived as music whispered as.  Finding two stretches for my left hand to be difficult as I was not warmed up, I paused and directed via AT.  Finding my shoulders and my back, releasing my neck and simply breathing with the memory of what I had played.  Proceeding slowly in this manner, holding the energy of excitement with what I was playing and inhibiting the desire to end gain by pushing my left hand.  Wondering what this piece was about - someone from my past?  A sense of loss was present in the notes.  Playing and pausing; breathing and inhibiting, I noticed I was coming alive again.  I sensed that perhaps what was coming out was related to my lost youth. The young man who wanted to play music but became lost and dispersed.

Should I notate, record or do a lie down I found myself thinking.  Then I moved to the floor, my body grateful for the rest.  Enjoying the release that the lie down offers, I knew could go to bed right then and there if I allowed myself.  I also knew that music was courting me, and if I took care of myself when I returned to the guitar something might arrive.

Noticing how beautiful my guitar as I paused before picking her up.  Gently playing the introduction, and venturing forth,  I found a loud chord resounding beneath my fingers.  Following with my heart and ears a beautiful section arrived.  Taking in the room, smiling to days gone by, I continued to explore and to pause and come back home.  Trusting that the music is in my ear enough to return to tomorrow, I decided to tend to the blog. My perceptions of events skews easily as time passes.  Happy that I picked up my guitar and made myself available.  Now it is time to rest.

Photo by Barry Stock.