Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The First Note

                                            The first note.

What would be the first note I would play in 2015?  Prudent to begin the New Year with an intentional note.  My mind went to Eb, perhaps the first note I choose to fall in love with.  An A was the actual first note that took me into her confidence, showed me the beauty and power of a single note.  But early on in my work in Guitar Craft when I was directed to find my own voice, I fell for an Eb;  eighth fret on the fifth string.  She showed me wonder and possibility; showed me how to find the next note and which notes would increase her beauty, intrigue, mystery or horror.  Yes, Eb has been very good to me.  I decided that this would be the first note I'd play this year.

After settling in with myself and my guitar, I tuned.  Then with attention I played my first note.  I played her and played with her.  First with a gentle crescendo, then a decrescendo.  Then a bit faster, then slower; savoring the sound coming from this one note.  I varied the attack by my thumb and the first three fingers of my left hand.  Can I make the note the same volume regardless of which finger invites her to sound?  I played with various fingering combinations of the left hand; again building crescendos and decrescendos.  Just enjoying this single note.

I decided to play a chromatic scale playing each note with the thumb and each finger of the of the left
hand, building a crescendo across the 12 notes and then a decrescendo.  Then various combinations of sequential notes and intensity.  Then the surprise, I noticed I was on the fourth string and had begun with a Bb. A miscalibration of the mind and hands or a hidden intention of the Universe.  Smiling wondering where this might take me this year.  A brief improvisation in Bb major followed.  Then I wondered what was the last note I played yesterday, the last day of the year?  I do not know.  Will I ever wake up?

An Ongoing Journey

Thinking about what to tell an aspiring musician looking to take lessons in the New Year.

Fall in love with a note.

Fall in love with Silence.


Photo by Staffan Scherz

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Structure of Practice


Photo by Steve Jurvestan

Sunday, December 28, 2014

An Octave of Questions

Am I bound more by my knowledge or the lack thereof? 
Am I caught by my beliefs about knowledge? 

Are my habits useful? 

Am I bound by my thinking? 

Do I seek liberation in my thinking and thus my habits?

 Can I assume innocence? 

Am I aware?

Am I bound by my past or my expectations?

Photo by Sunica Markovic

Friday, December 26, 2014

Water Sounds

Music is made of sounds; the sea is made of water.  Both are comprised of a variety of source material.  Throughout history man has turned to both for sustenance. Waves of sound wash over and heal our souls and urge are bodies to move.  Waves of water inspire our souls  and provide nourishment for our bodies. Both calm our minds.  Healing, beauty, wonder and inspiration vibrates from and within them.  In the beginning there was the word, the sound.  Waves urging life forth to explore and change, to transform.

Looking at the sea from a hilltop, one notices subtle & dramatic shades blending like harmonies.  Like notes, each drop of water assumes different characteristic based on intensity, timing and the conductor.  Residual froth from breaking waves float like staccato notes over the sea's bass drones, melodies, and counter melodies.  The sea's improvised symphony contains no wrong notes, flowing towards and informing the ever changing coda signaling the impermanence of the Universe.

Dare I play like the sea?  With no wrong notes and faith that I will reach the end in the manner needed in this ever changing moment of time?  With harmony within and about me?  Without concern - to just be the playing?  Let me look to the sea for answers while I pay attention to the inspiration of my breath; to my arms, hands and voice doing only what is necessary to invite the sounds.  May I open to the momentous now, with a spirit so wide the Divine may pass through, giving evidence of the whole, giving voice to what is needed.  Without boundaries.  Without form.  Empty.

Photo by NASA

Friday, December 19, 2014

Listen Listen

Listen, Listen.  The sound of the bell brings me back to my true home.  Thich Naht Hahn

Listening, one of the most important senses a musician employs and develops.  The same might be true for all of us as we strive to bring harmony into our world.  While reflecting on how to begin my practice today, dynamics arose as an area to begin and focus on.  I always love to play with dynamics and the fourth primary from Guitar Craft.  This simple and beautiful arpeggio, not only returns me to moments of innocence, but provides an ongoing challenge to the independence of the thumb and fingers of my right hand.  I can simply alter the dynamics as I play the arpeggio.  Building a crescendo or decrescendo or use a loud and soft combination of any fingers.

The sea in front of me provides an example of effortless change in dynamics with the breaking waves.  As I begin to tune my guitar, I invite the low C string to sound.  I am immediately captivated by a richness and heretofore unknown intensity of the Ovation Guitar I have with me.  Suddenly I smile as I realize that this new found power is the result of an ocean going vessel heading out to sea and sounding it's fog horn.  A glimpse of what a master might sound like, I return to tuning.

My listening sharpened by this experience, I begin with a simple piece that has been unveiling herself to me recently.  Inspired by the Muslim call to prayer, I intone these notes with respect and awareness.  Reflecting on this now I realize that  my aspiration is that all notes should be invited in this way; better yet - all the words that I say to another.  A distance wider than the four oceans, awaits me on this particular journey of sound.  So be it.  Like music, the journey will unfold in time; either I will be present to the journey or not.   Knowing this, I cultivate my practice of awareness and insight daily, as often as I remember,  when a bell of mindfulness invites me back or when Nature in all her Glory simply demands that I pay attention to truth and beauty before me.

Playing through a piece, Senseless Loss, the fog horn which is close to  a C sounds again.  Harmonizing with the low E, I am playing, another smile blooms.  Two more times over the course of 30 minutes the fog horn resounds & blends with my joy and with the sea around us.  What a gift this life is, what a gift that music bestows upon me, on all of us.  Wake up, wake up now; listen!  On my own I need help, and the Universe continues to provide this help.  All I need do is to welcome the invitation and practice with what is offered.

As I return to the guitar,  I decide to address the primary with attention to dynamics that I had originally intended to begin my practice with.  While playing these notes, sensitive to the use of my right hand fingers, I notice a flock of small birds joyfully flying by.  Their flight hampered, bolstered, and guided by the wind.  Smiles returning as the birds and I practice taking flight together.   Smiling again as I recall this day is still quite young and many more opportunities await me.

Photo by Yazir Yacob

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Practicing With a View

I am ever so fortunate to have this as a practice space this morning.  A view of awe & splendor, the beauty of our planet reminding me, urging me to be present with the notes echoing the Divine.  The mountain before me so solid, yet shrouded in the mystery of the clouds.  Impermanence on display as the water undulates to the rhythm of the universe and the clouds dance ever so gently about the mountain and the sky.

This view also provides an illustration of the Alexander Technique.  Long in my spine and limbs is reflected by the height of the mountain.  Wide in my back & shoulders enhanced by the horizon and the breadth of the sea. Freedom in my pelvis shown me by the swaying clouds at the base of the mountain.  The sea, the light, and the clouds are all flowing, not assuming a fixed position.  Freedom in movement inspired & nourished as the fishing boats are poised for their task. I am reminded that the Earth is rotating at 1600 kilometers per hour and that I have absolutely no sense of this motion.

I come back to myself.  Finding my breath, sensing my body, and touching my wish.  I begin playing Forget Me Knot and think of my brother and his family.  Love is awakened by the notes and a wave of feeling washes through me.  Letting the feelings come through me, through the notes, but not overwhelming either.  Breathing in the fresh sea air and fishing for the depths that music offers.  The melodies merge with the breaking surf while my heart seeks to meld with what is greater.  More views surface now, those that are within.

The sea reflects to me questions about views.  Do I hold fast to my views or work to be free of them?  Though the answer is clouded on this day, this particular glimpse of our world gives me hope.  All is possible.  Freedom may be as near as my thinking.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Finding the Question

Before one can follow the question in an unfolding piece of music; the question, while possibly hazy must form.  Like an islands’ mountain rising above the dark sea, this question may be laced in clouds of unknowing, yet still be sprinkled through with hope.  With curiosity, trace the path of the question.  Cross the bridges it may form.  Open wide to what is possible. Be quiet; listen; listen,    and then open some more.

Walk away or look to another question from another time.  Listen if they are related.  Listen to a single note.  Listen to a single note played in  myriad of ways.  Listen to the heart’s whisper.  Listen then some more. Trust the notes that arrive, though they may not have found their form.  Play with them, play for them. And of course listen some more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Learning in The Field

A learning experience at The Field DC last night.  Fieldwork is a 10 week process where we show our works to the other participants and receive feedback.  This particular session has been very juicy for myself.  Consisting of twelve artists, primarily dance, but also three writers,  all of whom are committed to developing their work.  Besides the value of the feedback offered along guidelines that sidestep like and dislike and address what the piece(s) elicited in the audience, just being within a creative community brings an energy to each of us.

Last night I planned to show two works.  The first piece I have shown there twice now, and generally can play through.  The second piece came out four weeks ago; has been shown three times and continues to challenge both my left hand and my ability to sustain the rhythm.  My executions of this piece has increased dramatically  but still needs work.  Arriving at The Field to a smallish group last night I learned that I'd be able to show twice if desired.  Why not, I knew that a good learning experience would unfold.

The first piece began well, and as I approached the middle I became fascinated with the shape of my left hand on the fretboard. Wondering does it all look like that when I play this piece.  Then I noticed an old habit had arrived in my right hand. Two much attention was being pulled into my use of the hands and I lost my place in the most challenging section of the piece.  Somehow I made it through, but the piece was disrupted in it's build of intensity and notes were flubbed.  At one point my playing fell apart, but I dove back in.  Not a good sign as this was the piece that I "knew."

Early on in Turning the Wheel, I transitioned to a section and began playing the wrong melody.  What to do - improvise.  I did  and somehow negotiated my way back to the piece.  I'm not sure if the audience noticed this, and I forgot about it until I returned home.  This act of improvisation within a "serious mistake" was a vital learning experience.  As I recalled this, what I had been describing to myself as a rough night, turned into a good night. 

Others showed their work and then we moved to the actual performing theater of Dance Place where our works in progress showing will be next month.  I took the opportunity to "walk" onto the stage in this setting.  Again I got overly concerned about what my hands were doing and faltered in performing both pieces.  Fortunately this is exactly what The Field is for.  A time and space to work and discover what is and what is not working in a new piece, in myself,  and in performance.  Valuable, oh so very valuable. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

What Does It Take?

This morning before my session with David Jernigan to work with the Alexander Technique,  I decided to listen to John Nicholls A New View of the Alexander Technique, a podcast from Body Learning.  Early in the talk, while introducing the concept of "automatic postural responses,"  he stated "our nervous system is continually learning even at the level of how much muscle tone needs to be distributed throughout the body for whatever action we wish to perform."

At this point I paused the podcast to play with my own continuous learning.  I did a lie down and wondered what is required of my neuromuscular system to play the guitar?  Over the years I have learned that considerably less effort is required than I thought.  How and what might I learn about this system I inhabit on this day?

After the lie down I moved to my practice room and began asking myself questions. What does it take for me to stand?  Holding this question for a bit, a slight release occurred in my feet and my legs shifted. Had I been merely standing in a habitual way that required more of me than is needed?  What does it take for me to lift the guitar from the stand was the next question.  My awareness growing as I picked up my guitar.  What does it take to stand with the guitar on?  With this question I noticed a bit of tension in the upper part of my right arm and around the right elbow.  Why?  Decades of improper use of myself while playing.  And yet I was not playing.  I worked with my breath and my thinking to release the tension in these areas.

Next I queried - what does it take to bring my hands to the guitar?  Barely anything is required for this action.  Very very little.  Enjoying this process I played with bringing both hands or one at a time to the guitar.  Relishing this moment of increased awareness of my motion. Perhaps a bit of freedom was introduced into my system.  This is subtle investigation, not guaraunteed to do anything.

Finally - what does it take to play the guitar.  I brought my hands to the guitar, without thinking or directing, and began playing Turning the Wheel.  The tone was sweet for the minute or so that I
 played.  The time had come for me to leave for my AT session.

I reviewed these questions again with David observing and sometimes directing my body with his hands as only an AT Teacher can.  Awareness and focus were free and open.  Two trouble spots within the piece were there, but did not derail the playing nor take too much of my attention away from the what and the how of my doing. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Walls

                                             The Wall

Tomorrow is the 25th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down.  Change is possible.  But what does it take to manifest the desire to take down the walls I build around myself; let alone to let those walls come down?  I just caught myself doing maintenance on one of my walls.

Thinking of someone I am likely to encounter today, my story of them begins to flow in my mind.  Then I queried - “Who is talking.”  The building chatter dissipated, evaporating as quickly and quietly as it arose.  Instead I now chose to send this person loving and healing thoughts.  Looking at their positive attributes, their love.  A crack forms and a few bricks loosen.

I have two small pieces of “The Wall” my friend Hernan brought me back from Berlin that year.  Two nondescript pieces of rock, formed with fear, maybe even hate, into a large solid obstruction of the flow of life.  I grew up hearing about “The Wall” and fear was instilled about “those people” who were behind it.  Yet now I see that perhaps we were all behind it; under it; smothered in it. 

I keep those tiny pieces of Berlin to remind me of what is possible in the lives of men - the good and the bad.  What is possible in my life?  Today?  Now?  May I and all of us find the people, the reasons, the hope and the love to begin to tear down our walls - to open what is truly possible for us and for everyone. Let us build tiny walls within gardens; walls that shelter the homeless; and walls that protect the fragile.

Let us begin right now.

Photo by Paul Downey

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Seeming Disadvantage

Monday in a moment of inattention in my kitchen, I nicked the top of my first finger on the left hand slicing a bagel.  What to do?   I had intended to perform at least one piece at The Field on Tuesday night, maybe two.  I was fairly certain the moment this happened that was out of the question.

Instead of returning to practice Monday afternoon, I addressed some piles of paper.  I found a poem A Measure of Time I wrote in late October.  In Guitar Craft we have an aphorism - Turn a seeming disadvantage into an advantage.  I could work on my performance skills, by undertaking the reciting of this poem.  Reading it again, I warmed to the idea of reading it on Tuesday.  The recitation was close to 3 minutes so I knew I'd learn something in the process.  As I rehearsed the reading my confidence grew and I made some minor edits to the poem.  While driving on Tuesday I suddenly heard a new twist and pulled over to jot it down.  Working with this later I decided the changes enhanced the poem. 

Arriving at The Field with no guitar, I did state that I was showing.  A brief bit of nervousness fluttered - me reading a ---- poem.  I did.   Easier than playing a musical work in progress or a finished piece for that matter.  Received encouraging feedback. 

This morning I picked up the guitar to see if it was possible to play yet.  I loved hearing and feeling the vibrations.  Soon the finger began to ache and I did not want to reopen the wound so I let go.

Besides allowing my hands, arms and back to rest from playing guitar, I've also practiced more Qi Gong than usual.  This can only have good returns long term.  Appointments made and kept; and yes the piles are growing a little bit smaller.  I do miss my guitar though.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Day's Journey


Friday, October 17, 2014

Commitment - A New Twist

In Guitar we have an aphorism - With commitment all the rules change.

I've experienced this on various levels and used this to motivate myself over the years.  Last night I had an interesting experience that was new to me.  I've been participating in The Field DC for the past month with seven sessions remaining. In the past The Field has been a very fruitful process for me and I usually set goals for myself.  This time I did not.  I just took an open view about the possibilities and having more time available than in the past did not want to limit myself.

Yesterday I  decided to write a goal for our next showing.  An idea or nugget arose while practicing Monday and continued to corral my attention on Tuesday past.  This idea is hard on my left hand as two notes must be held down for long periods of time as the other two dance around a bass line.  The stress of having my second and fourth fingers anchored builds rather quickly.  When the transition arrives to move those two finger from a fourth to a sixth on the fretboard arrives, I can not execute the move.  Thus I have looked at this separately.

Last night after writing my goal to show this piece on our next session, I then forwarded my intent to show to the facilitator.  Moving to my guitar I was then amazed as I visited this work in progress called Turning the Wheel.  My left hand had a relaxed presence that was dramatically different from the session before.  Still surprised at how my body is helping me to now honor this commitment.  Now if I can only find an ending to the piece.

Photo by Kevin Dooley.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


I've been taking a course at our local Takoma Park Library on Modern Poetry.  We follow the outline and discussions on Coursera and I've been enjoying the mental stimulation.  A link was posted to a Dada poem generator which we were invited to play with.  A chose a paragraph from an interview with Brian Eno, and then decided to edit what was generated.

Somebody joins   move  both                                                completely.

Take two unstructured instruments -- start the person.

Two playing somebody is you I 

photo by Derrick Tyson

Friday, September 26, 2014

Today's Questions

Another day of opportunity lies before us.  Can I meet this day with courage, grace and gratitude?  Can I deepen my understanding of myself and transform the negative which arises?  Will I be gentle with others?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How to Work With the Unseen Patterns?

Walk.  Walk amongst the patterns of the mind.  Is there a pattern?  Walk more.

Play with the notion.  Let go,    play some more.

Trust the nudges; knowing they may only be a path to learning, but not the end result.

Play with someone else.

Trust the intelligence of the body.


Don't trust the intelligence of the body.

Listen, probe, look, and prepare.

Consult your heart, but ...

Walk with someone else.

Read something on a different topic.

Listen to new music.

Ponder visual art, perhaps abstract art.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Digging in the Dark



w/o a key
just a?


digging in

digging deep
                          in the dark

notes flutter
too close for -         comfort
why?  avoid the dark?

when we avoid the?
w/o a key
we're in the dark


digging in


photo by xJorgiimx

Saturday, September 20, 2014


            Today's circumstances and guitar work yielded this:

      Practice patient trust and trust your patience will bear fruit.

Photo by Robb North.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Questioning Without

Without shadows where is form?

Without an eraser would I ever compose a sentence?  A melody?  Without intent would I ever complete one?

Without mistakes when do I learn?  How do I learn?  What do I learn?

Without longing would I ever ever change?

Without love who would I be?  Why would I be?  How would I be?

                      Without questions ...

Photo by Daniel Q-DJah.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

True Blue Lake

  It's all very puzzling, but I am not a puzzle.  Willem de Kooning

Last night I had the opportunity to play music in a very beautiful and inspiring setting.  In the home of my friend Annie.  The setting was music, dinner, and a talk by a Tibetan Buddhist Teacher.  I'm always inspired in this lovely home, with walls adorned with contemporary art, open spaces, and just an overall loving feel.

In the afternoon while still in my home, an idea arose as I was playing.  I toyed with this a bit, jotted down some notes, and then it was time to pack up and head out.  While warming up later, in the living room of my friend, another idea arrived.  I felt this was related to the first idea but had no time to explore.   Today I returned to the first idea and liked what I heard.  Unsure of how to proceed I took a break.

My thoughts wandered to last night.  I remembered a book I have of the late paintings of Willem de Kooning.  Years ago these paintings inspired some very interesting ideas, while I was working with solo guitar and effects.  I found this book in a shop, sometime after seeing these works in the East Building of The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  Beautiful freely flowing lines which I lack the words to describe, yet they somehow spoke to me of a similar energy in my friend.  Suddenly I remembered the second idea that had arrived at the gig.  At the same time the working title arrived, True Blue Lake, which captures a good sense of Annie - deep, reflective, and beautiful.

There is a relationship between the two ideas and while I developed the each a bit more, I currently lack the connection between the two main parts.  I did find a way in the development of the second part to transition to another place that works back on itself and connects with the opening idea.  Dare I say publicly, that I'll complete this piece?  

A part of me was afraid to say I was undertaking this.  So be it.  All fear ever does is hold one back. 

Photograph on UNTITLED XVII, 1984 by Christie's.

Monday, September 8, 2014


Perhaps the most important lesson I received related to guitar practice was to just play as part of each session.  Play without concern of technique, just play and see what was available.  Doing this an occasional snippet flew out of my hands that attracted my attention.  Most of the time, I could do nothing with these phrases, but through the act of working to develop these ideas, I learned about composition and about myself.  Over time these ideas developed into pieces.  To this day, I have no idea why these pieces arrive.  When one does, I recognize that a gift has been offered to me.

The gift arrives over the bridge of discipline - my daily pursuit of practice and moving from the known towards the unknown.  Discipline allows me to travel to the edge of what I know and glimpse a tiny bit of the beyond.  Attention to what I am doing allows me to listen and discern when a gift is being offered.  Practice readies the piece to be heard by others.

Moving into the unknown space of performing is a journey to another edge.  Another gift, one which brings a new level to the creative act.  I have learned first from the experience of my teacher, now through my own practice that music changes when people listen.  Sometimes the audience also changes; sometimes the musician also.  To effect this change the musician must be available to the gift of music he has been given, to the audience, and to himself.  Nearly impossible for this musician, yet the aspiration remains, so the path to the edge is followed. 

Tonight I wonder, what might be possible, if I offer music to an audience rather than perform music?  Might the innocence of the moment the muse has whispered be enlivened again? Sounding impossible again, yet with a bit more hope.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Composing Free From Desire

Does composing a piece of music differ from composing my life?  I want integrity and truth in my notes as I do in my life.  Variety in pieces as I do in my days.  Logic and coherence, efficiency and color, mystery and clarity, are all important in both music and life.  Perhaps this is why when listening to a group of people sharing about their lives today, Eno's Oblique Strategy Disconnect From Desire arose again in my mind.

I am a musician, not a conductor.  Certainly I have enough difficulties conducting my own life, so why do I frequently "know" how others should be conducting theirs?  As a musician I have my part to play, same as in life.  I may know how I'd play another's part, but alas it is theirs to play.  Of course I have my opinions, some knowledge, and always hope for a situation.  But how do I know when my "desire" is in the best interest of a piece of music, let alone in the life of another, or for humanity in general?

Disconnect From Desire became a guiding light while listening. Connect with the now and leave the mental noise.  Connect with the now and increase the signal I'm hearing.  I saw where this can guide my practice for the next few days as I prepare for my next gig.  Disconnect From Desire for the outcome of my practice and just play the notes.  Be there now with the notes; no where else, ever.  Rise above my desires.  When I care for the head, the heart, and the hands; music just might be available.  At the very least I'll be available.

Photo:  What the Eye Sees by Jack Mallon.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Disconnect From Desire

Last night was the works-in-progress showing with The Field/DC.  Having this opportunity to perform meant a lot to me and even though I understand that it is about works-in-progress,  it still carries the weight of a performance.  In a black box setting no less.

 My performance began poorly.  This permeated the set, keeping the music tethered.  Why?  Certainly the inspiration from the muse is in the notes and several members of the audience heard this. I could offer reasons and have to myself in my journal.  I've also seen how I can be more effective in the next opportunity.  No matter how I practice getting ready for performance, there is no other situation I can manufacture that provides that additional edge to be navigated.  As the aphorism states - we begin again constantly, so I will, always do. 

A bit of a funk was about me this morning as I rose.  I did practice my morning routine, but it was clouded by this negative impression from last night.   I knew it would pass, everything does.  Rather than work with music, I did some practical work and then went to an afternoon showing of A Most Wanted Man with my wife, followed by a late lunch.  Arriving home I picked up the guitar and played the opening phrase from last night beautifully.  Ahhh, a bit of teeth grinding.  Can I live with the uncertainty of live performance?   Sensing it was not yet time to practice as I was tired and the mood could tip back, I read and had a short nap.

Upon awakening, I picked up the guitar again.  I re-familiarized myself with a piece that I've not played in a while and decided I could keep this one in my pocket for a longer performance this coming Tuesday night.  I then allowed my fingers to find an arpeggio and played this in five.  Another one appeared and then another.  The whisper of the muse, urging me to follow, to connect.  I worked with this a bit, and then a break to eat.   Returning to the spark, more notes arrived.  Happy with the guitar now, knowing why I devote myself to this each day.  A darker twist in the music arrived and I'm smiling.

Since I was not certain where to go next with this idea, I notate what is there.  I title it Study in Five. Then returning to the guitar, the darker phase lengthens a bit.  Stuck again, I consult the web version of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies.  The oracle offers - Disconnect From Desire.  As I ponder how this relates to the evenings work, I sense a larger offering is being made.  What desires did I hold regarding last night?  About performing music in general?  My head, my heart, and my hands are fallible, yet still the muse invites me back.  If tonight's idea is only a way to soften my heart and to kindle my head with a musical challenge,  my hands were ready to create the sounds.

After pondering the strategy, I returned to the guitar.  Playing what I had so far, I listened for what was next.  More notes arrived, leading up to a possible ending.  My spirit is ready for a new beginning.

Photo by Tankawho

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Walking With Alexander

This morning I practiced meditation with the Still water Mindfulness Practice Center.  A wonderful way to begin my day, especially on a gig day.  The extra added support and energy provided by a group of practicioners is nourishing.  When the period of sitting meditation ends there is always a brief period for people to unfold their legs and stretch before we stand and begin walking meditation.  I sit in a chair due to vein issues I developed years back.  As I saw the bell inviter reach for the walking bell, I thought how am I going to get out of this chair?  An opportunity to practice the Alexander Technique from a calm and clear state of mind and body.

I directed my head forward and up and continued to practice this simple act along the directions we have worked with in class and lessons over the years.  Smiling as I faced the community, the thought arrived that I could incorporate AT into my walking meditation this morning.  The practice of walking meditation is a practice where each step is taken mindfully.  One step on the in breath and one on the out breath.  During each breath one is invited be aware of the breath, the step and a thought such as peace, love, or joy.  I usually use this practice to manifest positive attributes in myself.  Today I worked with walking meditation and AT in this manner.

Breathing in - I know I am breathing in ( or simply "in)
Breathing out - I know I am breathing out ( or simply "out")

Breathing in - Forward
Breathing out - Up

Breathing in - Long
Breathing out - wide.

I walked for about 5 minutes in this manner, repeating the triplet of directions while maintaining awareness of my steps.  Thinking-in-activity would be the Alexandrian concept behind this.  For me this was easy as the practice of walking meditation is deeply rooted in me.  Due to the slowness of the steps, this is possible for anyone wishing to experiment with AT directing while walking.  I kept this somewhat alive as we sat again and had a reading and brief discussion.  As I left the building and saw the beautiful day unfolding, while my steps were now 3-4 to each breath, I again kept the directions alive.  This is a way to practice walking meditation outside in public view.  Still slower than many pedestrians hustling to school and work, but not drawing attention to oneself.

Now if only I could keep the AT directions alive while typing.  Progress not perfection I suppose.

Photo By Paul Davis.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Exercising Freedom Part II

Since my intent was to explore my freedom in this practice session, I began with an Alexander Technique lie down as  this simple yet powerful process opens my body and mind. From there I moved onto a little vocal improvisation, a bit goofy & scat-like by my untrained voice. From there onto a guitar improvisation, not as free as the vocal one, but exploratory, even fun.

I sat down and began working with some of Balk’s Facial Mode Exercises.  Playing the opening sections to the three pieces I’ll be performing at The Field, I worked with taking in the room with my eyes, then eyes closed,  and eyes and mouth wide open.  I also played with a couple facial expressions.  Though I’m not sure I’d ever perform with any of these, certainly the eyes and mouth wide open, it is the freedom to do so, while playing them I am looking for. Next I moved to standing and repeated this sequence.

Moving onto exercising the kinesthetic mode things got a bit playful. I was playing while standing on one leg and then shifting to the other one, when the Alexander Technique  arrived uninvited by myself into my thinking.  I wondered was my neck free?  From here I began to direct my use actively while still playing with standing on one leg. When both legs were on the floor I would direct myself forward & up, long and wide; then lift the opposite leg for a few seconds and repeat.  An energetic shift and a new sense of freedom arrived.

From here I began to work with playing each piece in a different order than the set.  While also working with exercising the three modes as Balk describes them - the facial, the kinesthetic, and the emotional in a manner that would support the individual piece.  Moving about my practice space, sometimes gracefully, sometimes with detachment, other times  seductively, I explored these choices.  Activating the face and emotions to support the movements continued to add to this energetic shift. 

While playing through Forget-Me-Knot I turned towards the dining room and saw the flowers on our table.  Such pure and simple beauty penetrating me as I played.  My motion stopped as the notes flowed.  I completed the piece and gently took in the process.

Soon the thought arrived to play through the set.  Instead I decided that I was free to choose to not do this, not just yet.  I could continue to explore and expand my freedom of choices while being in no hurry to measure their success or not.  This felt very right.

Moving onto a new idea that recently arrived I explored the theme with some new twists.  Seated without concern for Balk’s exercises just  playing with the notes.  Satisfied I moved onto a piece I’ll be performing next week that has a  very thorny section in it.

I took on this new piece of work in a seated position and played a bit with the facial exercises seeing if this might disrupt my habitual playing of this section.  I focused solely on this section and slowed my playing way down.  Randomly moving  through the section I would play a few bars and then apply AT inhibition. A few times, even at this slow pace, I found myself flinching and or tightening my neck.  Then I slowed the playing even more, looking for smooth and fluid execution from a free body and mind.  Then I stood and began to slowly move as I played with random measures, sometime recombining ideas, oftentimes inhibiting my next action.  A freshness arrived as this came alive.  Similar to the shift that had occurred earlier I wanted to play through this piece and measure the results  Instead I choose to do an AT lie down and let the changes settle in.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Exercising Freedom

In 19  , Robert suggested to our group of local crafties a book - The Radiant Performer, by H. Wesley Balk, which is an approach to exercising different parts of a performer, particularly as  demanded by singing-acting.  I dutifully found a copy and for years maybe even over a decade, could not really make heads nor tails of how to apply this to myself.  Yet I am persistent and would investigate the work at different periods.  First I had to work through my severe entanglement wrought by fear during the lead up to and through the act of performance.

The past few years I periodically work with applying some of Balk's exercises with the intent of freeing myself to the act of performing music.  Approaching freedom comes in various ways - meditation, the Alexander Technique,  and a disciplined approach to learning a piece.  Balk's approach uses exercises that deal with the physical and emotional centers of the performer and provides ways to access and develop these. My interpretation of some of his exercises is my own, as I have never  worked with anyone versed in his approach.

Recently I've been reading parts of this book again and was captivated by these words:

  The performer can develop a freedom of performance choice that will give his every action a different quality than if he did not know that freedom of choice.  This is a somewhat mystical but down-to-earth principle that one of my very bright students christened "the synergy of the known but unused."  It means that each individual choice has power in proportion to the number of other choices that could have been made even if these choices have not been actually practiced.

One choice I move between is do I perform seated or standing?  In a relatively short performance of 10 minutes as I am facing with The Field/DC this week, there is little difference to me.  Overall I tend towards more freedom in my body and perhaps my emotions when standing, but over a longer time period of performing my focus holds up better when seated.  Having spent much more time both practicing and performing seated than standing I may also have developed more habits, both useful and not, that have built up over time.

Today I choose to exercise myself both seated and standing and tossed in some playing while moving for good measure. An interesting energetic shift occurred which I lack the time to detail now.  More coming very soon.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Widening My Practice

I begin my practice in an empty room within an old wood home.  As I noticed yesterday the window frames are so wide, a beautifully carved brown frame opening out into our world.  My case lies on the floor next to a chair.  I pause and inhibit my urge to open the case.  Where am I, I ask myself?  How wide are my feet on the floor?  Smiling as I think of Missy Vineyard, I use her take on the Alexander Technique with the negative direction - I am not holding onto my width.  Never good to get fixated on a notion of how to use myself nor how to direct my thinking.

As I bend to my case I direct my spine to be long as David Jernigan has urged me so many times in lessons.  My next thought - I am not holding onto my neck ... then I am not holding onto my desires.  Finally I open my case.  The good news is that I am much more present and aware of myself; the space I am in; and the intent of my practice than if I had not inhibited my act of opening the case.

As I begin to improvise I surprise myself with the direction the improv takes.  The thought how wide can I flow in my improvisation arises?  As I continue the improv, the habitual asserts itself, but now I see an opportunity to explore.  How wide can I stretch my knowledge of music theory?  How might I incrementally work on this?   I pause to jot down these questions.

As the day moves on and interactions with people accumulate I find myself asking - How wide is my acceptance of others?  Which led to how wide is my acceptance of myself?  Is there a difference?  Smiling as I notice that this path through "wide" is also deep.

Photo by Xubayr Mayo

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

AT Lessons From My Surroundings

I've been practicing in different physical spaces the last few days and am finding the spaces or objects within them speaking to me of "wide." This thought of wide has not been from my actively directing my thinking via Alexander Technique but just arising from the environment in which I am playing.

In El's Hermitage, I notice a Buddha  carved from wood on the shelf, in a seated position with shoulders that were just wide.  Not stretched, not out of proportion just wide.  I paused to observe this, allowing this statue to inform me.  The space itself was adequate; not large by any means, just enough.  As I noticed this Buddha again,  I saw the "forward & up" of his being.  Perhaps my first AT lesson from a statue.

In the home of another friend I was provided with an empty room to practice within.  A carpet covering most of the wood floor and two windows with shades.  At one point, I noticed how wide the window was that I was facing.  Another piece of wood inviting me to allow my shoulders to be wide; which spread to my feet and  my right hand.  No need to fix nor hold any of the muscles in my body.   Allow the neck to be free, and all of me to be long & wide.   As I worked with a slow melodic phrase, I noticed how I could allow the rests between the notes to also "be wide."  No need to rush the next note, allow the space between notes to be as wide as needed, just as I can allow my back and shoulders to be wide.

The seeds of AT have been planted, nourished and arise in various ways.  Where will the next noticing arrive from?  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Be Wide

Practicing a difficult section this morning, I was proceeding slowly.  Noticing just what my hands are doing, or not.  As I continued this gentle exploration, I realized that I needed to widen my attention to what was my shoulders doing; what was my neck doing? How am I using myself?  A bit of hunkering down and in to tackle this "problem" - or in other words an illustration of "end gaining" manifesting in Patrick's body & mind.  I have seen this drawing down & in before thanks to the Alexander Techniques in a variety of situations.  Usually ones of difficulty, time pressure, or emotional upheaval.   Now thanks to noticing, I was able to pause, direct, & inhibit this hunkering down.

As I was playing the few bars leading up to this section, my thought was "go wide."  A succinct and distilled expression of AT inviting in a few precious moments of freedom from the mule of habits.  I need to be alive within this animal that I am, open to freedom in the moment of doing, directing how I use myself to play my instrument.  Certainly habits are useful, but awareness more so.  And new more efficient habits can be created, directed, and put in place.  But more important than any individual habit, is the need to continue to grow in awareness of how I am doing anything.  As I have known for years, how I do one thing, is how I do everything.  While new habits can manifest, this is not easy - practice, ongoing practice is the key.

Photo by Uncorrected Proofs.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Morning's Practice With the Alexander Technique

As I woke today, I noticed I was a bit scrunched up.  The urge and action to stretch while still in bed, was just about automatic.  As I stretched, I directed my thinking.  As I thought about length, I noticed something let go in the upper part of my neck and spine.  Alive I moved to sit on the the side of my bed.  Again I directed my thinking, first in the Alexandrian way and then in the directions pertaining to my life's aim's and aspirations.  Finding my breath I smiled.  A brief act to harmonize my body, thinking, and spirit.  Now truly alive I took my first step into the new day.

My morning practice awaits me, but this clear and certain awakening act of direction defines the day with clarity and certainty of my intentions.  This brief awakening, invites all of me and the world to move through this day with good directed use.  I will forget. I will need to begin again.  I will forget again.  With each remembering, a new pattern of habit emerges.  One based on principles and intentions.

Moments of opportunity await my awakening.  Waiting for my coffee to heat, can I return to myself and direct my use long and wide.  Moving from the dining room to the kitchen to retrieve my toast, I realize I am in motion without awareness.  I pause, breath, and direct my use.  Now I butter my toast with ease and awareness.  Moving back to the table encouraging my use along principles rather than habit.  As I type these lines I notice I am scrunching, so I pause again.  My wife awakes but before I leave to greet her, I will release myself from my stool with direction.  Slowly these early morning actions take on new life and form a foundation for how I will use myself today.

While driving to Sligo Creek for our Qi Gong class, I remember that even sitting in a car driving, I can direct my use.  Paused at a red light, I direct my thoughts of forward & up, long & wide.  Am I gripping the wheel or directing the motion of the car?  Several times during the class, where the movements we are working with are concerned with freeing our spines; it is easy to remember to direct my use between and during the movements.   Our teacher Master Li, reminds us to take care of our use as we sit at computers and other activities.  Again during this act of typing I pause to direct.  Gently, but persistently,  cultivating the relationship of my head, neck, and spine for freedom in motion and the long term health of myself.

Our nervous systems pass through our spines.  Unneeded stress on the spine will not only hamper our effectiveness in our motion, but also impact how our organs function.  We are beings designed to move, but most of us never receive proper education in how to move.  We imitate others who have poor use, use unnecessary force,  and corrupt our systems into harmful habits.  If fortunate we stumble upon the Alexander Technique and begin to reeducate ourselves.  If persistent and disciplined in out application we learn to be mindful of our thinking about moving, which cultivates effortlessness in our motion.  This awareness spreads throughout our day, throughout our lives.  Are you paying attention?  Pausing and inhibiting habitual activities?  Are you waking up?

Photo by Daniel Zedda.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Matka Boska

Seems like only yesterday since the phone call in the middle of the night from my Father.  He did not know how to say it, nor did I know how to hear him.  Yet he said it, and I heard him ever so deeply.  I'll never forget my Mother.  Later today, my wife & I will gather, light a candle, sit quietly.  I'll play Matka Boska, Blessed Mother, for Mom, for me, and for all Mother's and children.  I am ever so grateful for this life and the gift of Music that enlivens us all.  Mom bought me my first guitar, one much better than I deserved, but she could never say no to me.  What a gift she gave me - life and how to live with love.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Mutiple Practices Supporting One Another

We had a wonderful Qi Gong session with Master Nianzu Li on the banks of Sligo Creek this morning.  The gentle energizing movements inviting me to be long & wide from a different perspective.  Between movements in Qi Gong there is a pause, an opportunity to practice what Master Li refers as Triple Regulation.  During this time we check in with our body, mind and breath and relax or engage what is needed.  Frequently I use this pause as an opportunity to direct my thinking via the Alexander Technique.  Allowing the directions to release my neck, back and limbs.  This correlates with me with an ancient Chinese aphorism Ei Dao, Qi Dao - where the mind goes, the Qi goes.

After breakfast I did 30 minutes of organizing and then began my guitar practice.  I love the opportunity to practice in the early morning, especially after such an energizing Qi practice.  I began improvising simple melodies and playing with where they took me.  After this I decided to play through a piece I know well as a warm up, but to play it louder than I normally would.  The twist here being that I wanted to pay attention to my use as I played loud.  Pausing to direct via the Alexander Technique,  I began to play loud.  Why did my right elbow tense as I played loud?  Then I noticed unnecessary tension in my right shoulder, most likely arising from within my neck.  All because of playing loud?  Does loud really require that much force?  Was part of this some type of emotional blockage arising?

When the piece was over, I thought it was good to direct via the Alexander Technique again and let go.  Moving onto working with a tremolo piece - Senseless Loss.  I worked up to where I can play this at a tempo of 76 accurately.  I played through it once and then moved the metronome up to 80 and just played the  last few bars.  Then I put the metronome at 84 and played the same few bars without success.  I back off to a setting of 82 and then recalled an exercise from Pedro de Alcantara's wonderful book  Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique (Clarendon Paperbacks).  On the second beat of each measure you insert a rest.  I began working with the ending in this manner for the next 20 minutes until I could successfully play the ending.  I took a break and then resumed this work but added in a few more bars.  When this was successful I went back to a tempo of 80 and played the entire piece.  I smiled at how easy this happened.  By tackling the ending first the rest fell in place effortlessly.

After this I did a 15 minute Alexander Technique lie down.  I noticed just a little bit of tension around the middle of my spine and back.  Slowly the muscles released as did this discomfort.  Back to the guitar.  I turned on the tape machine to play through 3 pieces I've been working with.  Midway through the second piece I lost my focus and turned off the recorder.  Pausing and directing once again, I again turned on the machine.  Does turning on the tape machine turn on my internal chatter or do I just notice the chatter more?  Though not flawless I did make it through this time. 

I am grateful that I have these wonderful practices of music, Qi Gong, Meditation, and the Alexander Technique that all support one another and me.  Life is very very good.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Doing What I Ought

When I was ready to practice this evening, I sat first to reflect on what to practice.  I knew what I wanted to do, just play through a few pieces as I did this morning.  But part of me knew I needed more than this.  What would be the most valuable use of my time so that I would improve my musical abilities?  As I sat quietly, the word "ought" arose from an earlier conversation.  I seldom hear "ought" used in speech these days, but am certain I did hear this word in my youth.

Something about the feel of the word, got me going.  What ought I practice rather than what do I want to do.  As I sat with this a phrase from the piece Enclosing came to mind.  I was working on this phrase last night, and recalled that while it was improving, the phrase could still be played better; needs to be played better.  Now I had something to work on. 

After 25 minutes I took a short break.  The phrase and the ending which follows were improving.  During the break I looked up the word "ought" and found this: used to indicate obligation or duty.  Yes, as a musician I have a duty to work on my technical abilities so that music can come through.  An obligation to myself and to music to address my weaknesses.  I did a few minutes of Qi Gong to relax my arms and hands and then resumed practicing.  Now the phrase was beginning to sing, almost effortlessly coming through my hands, my head, and my heart.  I worked on it a bit more.

Confident that enough attention had been devoted to this phrase tonight, I began to just play.  A simple, but beautiful phrase fell from the skies.  I played it again, then again.  The third time sensing the change that was needed and viola, the change appeared.  Playing a bit more and another section followed.  I began recording as I played with this newest section to capture what might arise.  I continued to explore what was offered, happy and grateful for the gift.  Perhaps I ought to do similar practice again tomorrow.  What ought thou be doin'? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Freedom Restored

Today I began exploring a way of organizing the material within this blog, especially in how these writings pertain to the Alexander Technique.  Extracting themes within the technique as I have used and interpreted them seems to be a logical place to begin this organizing.  I allotted three hours to this task today so that I had enough time to really dig in and begin.  From 10 am until 2 pm with a couple brief conversations and lunch I did work at this. One short break consisted of refining two Qi Gong moves that I have been studying.  Good to relax and use the body for a few minutes and let go of the computer.

Having satisfied my commitment, I decided another break was in order before I resumed working on this project. A slightly longer break this time consisting of an AT lie down.  Seemed especially prudent to avail myself of this simple, yet powerful AT practice as I was beginning to notice I was using myself poorly, or end-gaining in pursuit of this project.  Refreshed, I rose from the floor and worked with two more Qi Gong exercises.  Free, long and wide in my body with a cleared mind,  I was ready to sit down and resume my work.  Still noticing a bit of "driven-ness," I decided to allow myself a bit more nourishment.  I removed my guitar from the case.  Gently holding her neck as I walked to my practice space, I was delighted by the freedom restored to my body, thinking, and now to my heart.

As the notes rang out, my spirit soared.  Paying attention to my use, I directed my thinking during my playing and in between pieces. Now I am adding to my body of work of learning about and applying AT.  What a difference 45 minutes can make.  How are you restoring your freedom today?

photo by Jennifer Boyer

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What Would Eno Do?

Yesterday I decided it was time to revisit a musical idea that began a while back.  I listened to the rough takes, and found the score which had the parts sketched out.  Today as I prepared to practice, I recalled what I knew of the piece and reflected on possibilities.  I found myself thinking what would Eno do?  Certainly Eno's Oblique Strategies, other writings, and his music have impacted me tremendously.  Countless times I have invoked his guidance.

As I paused before I opened my guitar case, again I thought what would Eno do?   Then I thought what would Bartok do?  A wonderful set of opposing creative forces to guide me.  I played the first piece that ever came through me to begin my practice.  A way of Blessing my space and invoking the muse.  Moving to the work in progress,  I played with the opening chords.  There is something there, yet I sense that more is possible.  Again "what would Eno do" arose in my mind but right behind this was "what would Patrick do?"  So I did nothing.  Just sat.  Open to possibilities.

After a while, smiling I explored and played around with the idea.  Turning to the end of the incomplete score, I played through the ending.  Simple, yet powerful.  Yes, this is a good ending, and I have a beginning, and there are possibilities for the middle.  But still, I yearn for that little bit of magic to bring this together.  Playing with the end some more, I know there's a piece in here.

After 30 minutes I take a break for an AT lie down.  Rising I visit Flipper, the fish we inherited from our granddaughters move this week.  Flipper is a Beta, a beautiful blue fish.  Today I really saw him for the first time.  Flipper was still.  And he communicated this to me, just be still. So I was.  From this space, I know that all is possible.  I just need to remember this.  The playing resumed ...

Thursday, June 19, 2014



                                       Halfway to never
                                      the Delphi Oracle dispersed.
                                                  StaRs drop over, then rise through;
                                       understandIng remains challenged.
                                        Zero-sum balances skew,
                                             while Obliques views approach
                                        Nothing and beyond ...

Today I was reading and came upon the word horizon.  How many times have I used this word, how many times have I looked off from the shore, a mountain ridge, or a plane and contemplated the seen and the unseen.  Today was the first time I reflected on horizon from my black leather reclining chair.  What would horizon sound like on a guitar?  Wondering and wandering with this thought I heard nothing and drifted off to sleep.  Waking thoughts still revolved about horizon, and as I went to the basement to put the clothes in the dryer, I heard something; then something else...

Sipping my coffee the above poem came out.  Could these words guide my hearing?  Unlock a musical response from within and without?  Halfway to never   arrived in a musical phrase inmy mind composed of major & minor seconds! We were underway.  In a little over an hour a rough sketch had arrived.  The final outcome not as important as the process of listening, probing and allowing the notes to arrive. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Meeting a Stimulus With Ease

When I arrived at my Alexander Technique class with David Jernigan, I noticed he had an iPhone with him.  As he was talking with the other student, I thought of F. M. Alexander's quote:

 You are not  here to do exercises, or to learn to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it.
 I knew that I had something to work with tonight.  I think of myself as not being a photogenic person and can feel uncomfortable when my photo is being taken.  I suspected that to invite in the taking of photos during the act of playing a piece of music would provide me with a challenging stimulus. Then I would have an opportunity to see if I could respond with awareness rather than manifest a habitual pulling away.

I played Forget-Me-Knot and some photo's were taken.  Overall this did not bother me.  David did help to ground me by working with my legs.  Due to old basketball injuries that have compounded as I age, I tend to favor my right leg when I stand. By putting more of my weight on the right leg to support this keeps my left heel bone spur from bothering me.  Yet when David invited both feet to be supported by the planet, there was a greater sense of up and certainly a greater ease as I played.

Next came a video of me playing.  As the shooting began I did remember to find my hands and know that they were alive, to find my breath, and to hold my wish before I moved my hands to the guitar.  I've not seen the video, but know that the playing began poorly, David was too close to me, which is fine for an AT teacher, but with the video on, this was a bit much for to process.  I did continue to play and something shifted.  I was able to connect with David and the other student and the camera with eye contact which can be problematic when I play.  I sensed there good will and was able to allow this to support the act of music making, to come a little bit more alive and present.  This is huge progress and I look forward to continuing the process.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

An Ocean of Directions

Playing guitar in our hotel room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  The Ocean so long and wide, gentle but strong, the entire rhythm of the Universe being played out before my eyes.  Drawing inspiration from the width of the Ocean I ponder the Alexander Technique direction of wide.  During this pondering I notice I slight shift in my torso of "up."  Another example of interdependence; of how one thought influences all.  This shift up then reinforcing the direction of wide as freedom arises in my torso.  Suddenly I sense the legs releasing long from the pelvis.  One thought releasing all.

Watching the undulation of the surf, I find my breath and direct the thought of freedom.  Again a sense of 'up' arrives. The area about my ribs releasing 'up and wide.'  Something appears right about this and though not a sensation that I usually observe, I make no effort to "fix this as the way the rib cage should be,"  I just allow this to be so for this moment.

Playing "Opening" watching the sun rays play on the breaking surf.  Can I just ride the waves of vibrations coming from the guitar?  Can I be free to let the vibrations lead my being?  Will I surf the notes with joy and allow my body to just be?   I notice my legs releasing up and out of my ankles, a sense of length arising from the earth that I am seated upon.

Reflecting on Easter Sunday, I think of those family members who have passed on.  I decide to play for them.  To hold them while releasing them.  To remember their love and joy and to hope that I can pass this on - with notes; with my actions; with freedom.  Freedom of the mind allows me to direct and explore how I use myself in an Alexandrian sense and beyond.  But first the one thought. 

As I begin to play Forget-Me-Knot, the piece that was born in remembrance of my Brother, I notice a stirring in my chest.  Can I allow my heart to swell with these notes while allowing my neck to be free?  Can I allow this swelling to free the knots of relationships as easily as the ocean waves are released to the shore of understanding?  Will I perhaps is the larger question.  Will I return to the source of my thinking and direct my thoughts to freedom?  Knowing that just as the earlier thought of wide led to subsequent AT  thoughts, that any thought positive or negative influences all thoughts.  The crash of this wave of seeing, inviting my to take care of my thinking; to direct my thoughts as much as possible to freedom, to love, to life.  Pausing to listen to the surf, to listen to the tide of my thinking, to just be here now.

My chest stirs again, the rib cage gently allowing a glimmer more of freedom.  This stirring resembling the roiling surf, offering a momentary glimpse of the possible.  A momentary assurance to continue to plumb the waves of thoughts, feelings and habits to their depths.  Knowing nothing remains the same, but is a manifestation of what has come before and of what needs to come.  Thus I begin again.

Photo by Mehul Antani

Monday, April 7, 2014


Yesterday while practicing Qi Gong in the park with Master Li and others, I was amazed at the relative ease of remaining focused within the movements while standing on my feet for an hour.  I know this is the result of several things.  First we were in the presence of a Master.  Second, there were nine other practitioners besides myself, several of whom have practiced for many years.  The movements themselves are not only familiar to me, but are graceful and gentle.  Qi Gong movements are organized to stimulate our energy systems which has an innate pull to unite our body and mind.

Still we are consistently urged to bring our attention to the physical actions we are performing, else this only becomes a physical exercise.  The use of the mind must be active for the exercises to be effective.  I did find my mind wandering at times, but then I bring my attention back to my hands moving through space or back to my dan tian or energy centers.  And of course the energy of the group supports any of us who has wandered and invites us back to the present moment.

Our practice together lasts at least an hour and frequently goes beyond.  During our teacher training sessions we would go for two plus hours.  Always I walk away refreshed and nourished.  So why does 90 minutes with a guitar and standing on my feet become such a challenge?

The movements in the act of playing are precise and the range of motion with the arms is limited.  Energy blockages form.  While there are repetitive motions, the changes in notes and rhythms place a demand on the brain to recall and execute complicated coordinated movements.  I react to miscues and mistakes, fortunately not to the degree I did at one time, but the mind does get derailed.  Plus there is nothing innate about assuming an asymmetric position to play a guitar nor most instruments.  Finally I am alone so the energy must be generated and maintained from within.

But the good news, though I practice alone in preparation,  I will be joining the Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists for these performances.  The energy of the group will be alive, nourishing and supportive.  And we will be in the presence of a Master. 

For more on the Orchestra of Crafty Guitarist Performances.

Photo by Artondra Hall.