Sunday, January 29, 2012


Hellish hallway.

Unwind and then don't rewind.  How might I state this positively.  Unwind and then stay present with my use.  That was easy, at least the wording.   "Staying present" is an ongoing aspiration, that is fortunately supported with practices and the loving support of others.  The actuality of Being present remains elusive.

Today I did unwind at last.  The stresses and strains of the past months melting under the loving and skillful hands of Robert True.  Come November as the holiday season begins, my professional duties ramp up in response to the season, as well as the ongoing family celebrations and preparations.  We also enter the "survey window" where I work.   Our annual licensure inspection becomes due, and this is a time when all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed.  The anticipation mounts within each department and individual, and with this anticipation, anxiety builds in otherwise good people.  Toss in the added reports to wrap up our fiscal year on December 31st and I am in over my head.

The days and weeks become long.  The end of year paperwork was filed and then the state arrived the last Monday.   Rising early to practice Qi Gong and my sitting kept my emotions pretty much at bay, and allowed for a calm and centered demeanor.  But I was eating lots of sugar and holding in and onto certain reactions.  All of which is fine for the short term, but is not the way I wish to live my life.  When the state left on Friday, the relief was palpable.  However my body was wound up. Yesterday I phone Robert and set an appointment for today.

At one point during the massage Robert asked me if I was stubborn.  An emphatic yes was my reply.  Then I attempted to soften this and restate that I am persistent.  Both are true.  Not only did he release my muscles, but offered me an area to explore.  Always something.   I came home and napped, waking to the wonderful aroma of an eggplant and potato curry my wife had made.  After lunch I read and dozed off again.  As I thought of moving to my guitar, I reflected on the opportunity I had in front of me.  My body, mind, and emotions were all relatively calm and neutral.  Obviously this has not been the case for some time.  How to allow this neutrality to generate new information on how I use myself when I play?  In a sense to remain unwound.

I began with an "exercise" or practice taught to me by Pedro de Alcantara of using my hands on my hips to generate a simultaneous downward release of my legs and an upward release of my torso.  After putting on my guitar, I worked with the Alexander Technique directions to invite in length and width.  Playing Gathered Hearts, I thought " I am free," when the music came to a rest.  From here I moved onto working with Kinnara, a piece with many rests and alternating slow and faster sections.  Again giving the directions and thinking " I am free."  While looking at a photo of the Zen Master Thich Naht Hahn, I thought " I am free when in motion," then " I am free when I play."  The latter a bit loaded perhaps as a striving and non-accepting of where I am.

As I played I allowed the rests to be longer than usual and worked with my thinking.  At times removing my hands from the guitar and giving the AT directions again.  No hurry, now where to go, just be with the guitar.  I began working with inhibition during the first fast section and arrived at a wonderful place where I was affectionately holding the guitar as a dear friend.  I played the fast section slower than usual, pausing to direct, and then faster than required.  Observing a slight tensing of my neck, I paused for a lie down.  An area that Robert worked on extensively in my back earlier today,  releasing into the floor. 

Resuming my playing I moved onto Stepping Stones.  How would Thich Naht Hahn play this piece I wondered?  Listening to the notes, releasing my arms, neck and legs.  Returning to Pedro's "exercise" again to invite in opposition.  Noticing the occasional pull of my neck, I would pause.  Direct, release, inhibit and begin again.  Just enjoying the act of playing, I found the tone sweetening.  That elusive moment when the guitar sings beneath my fingers, is what keeps me coming back.  I realized that in the fifty minutes I had been practicing that a lot fewer notes than normal had been played.  My presence with the notes, the sections, and perhaps with music was greater than usual. Now that is I think is "good use of the self."

How are you using your self in your practice?  Why?


  1. Ahhhhh, Patrick. [sighing emerges] When I've worked with guitarists in the past, I've found myself asking: 'what would your guitar want from you now?'---much as a lover might ask something of us.

    But only now, after taking in your writing, does it occur to ask: 'what would this music want from me now?'

    And, by "music" I guess I mean both the sound as well as the silences.
    The Silence in me bows to The Silence in you.

  2. Both questions are equally valid Lynn. At times developing or deepening our relationship with the instrument is primary. Then as this deepens the "what would this music want," maybe even what would this music need from me now.

    That being said, my experience has shown that the question shifts between instrument and music; and in serving the needs of the instrument we are serving the needs of music.

    A very deep bow to you, may Silence envelop you and yours.