5 Things I've Learned About Meditation and Music

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Edward Simon-3 copy 2

Meditation is a 2,500 year-old plus practice that can have tremendous benefits in all aspects of one's life. I believe it is especially beneficial to those who maintain a creative practice, whatever that may be. I have been practicing meditation in the Theravada tradition for about 15 years now and would say that it has complemented and deepened my playing in a number of ways.

1. Learn to Relax

I once read somewhere that "a relaxed mind is a creative mind". I believe this to be true. When the mind is settled, a certain kind of space opens up in you that allows for new, fresh ideas and perspectives to emerge. Playing music requires us to be fully receptive. When the mind is agitated it is not possible to create - there is too much interference blocking our receptivity. Learn to relax your mind and body and you will set the stage for creativity. I maintain a daily sitting practice, but if you're not ready to take that step, try spending a few minutes breathing mindfully before you begin your practice session and notice what happens. Transition into your practice session slowly and notice when your focus shifts away.

2. Seek Clarity

With a settled mind comes the ability to see things more clearly, and with clarity comes understanding. If I get stuck when composing a piece of music, instead of pushing ahead, I find that often the best thing to do is to step away and give it some time. When I come back to it a day or two later (with a clear-receptive mind), I often find that the tune was already complete, that the solution was contained within it or perhaps a new section comes to me. The same principle applies to playing. When there is confusion or a lack of direction in the music, it is often best to leave space and allow for the smoke to clear, and at other times the best thing to do is to "jump in".

3. Learn to Let Go

All musicians have experienced a great night - a performance where you or everyone on stage is in the "flow" of things. When this happens, our tendency is to seek that experience the next night, only to find that it doesn't happen. The venue might be a different one, the sound system is not the same, the audience is different. The fact is that everything changes from night to night and indeed from moment to moment. That is impermanence, on of the tenets of Buddhism. The very effort we put into recreating that "great" performance undermines our experience of tonight's performance. Life is a continual lesson in letting go and music making is no different. During a performance we can get attached to either the high moments or bogged down by our mistakes." Letting go of both of these is something we must learn to do as performing artists. In meditation practice, we train our minds to see the continual change of our experience from moment to moment, our tendency to attach or push away from them, and to let go.

4. Find Equanimity

Have you ever experienced getting thrown off balance by a powerful emotion when playing music? Or perhaps by the cheering of the audience or by your own self-criticism? Performing artists are sensitive people and playing music requires us to open up to a full range of emotions. Therefore, we must work to develop the container (mindfulness) in which to hold these often powerful emotions and the even-mindedness, or equanimity -one of four mental qualities (Brahma Viharas) we are taught to cultivate in the Buddhist tradition- in order not to get overtaken by them. I sometimes find it helpful to remind myself that in the greater scope of things music is not all that important. If you have what may be considered a "bad" performance, no one dies!

5. Strive For Connection and Joy

We play music because we want to connect with others, those on and off the stage. People listen to music because they want to be uplifted, moved, inspired and, even if for a brief moment, freed from their troubles. If you want others to enjoy listening to you play, you must being by enjoying playing yourself. I have found the Buddhist practice of Metta - the development of feelings of loving-kindness towards yourself and others- to be very powerful. Reminding yourself of the fact that all beings wish to be happy allows you to connect with everyone on a very basic, human level and music making is one of the best ways to manifest that. 

I wish you happy music making.

Edward Simon, a native of Venezuela, has made a name for himself over decades in America as a jazz improviser, composer, arranger and bandleader, with his profile heightening in recent years as he has explored the commonalities jazz can have with the folkloric sounds of Latin America. Simon's new album "Sorrows and Triumphs" was just released on Sunnyside Records. Find-out more at https://www.edwardsimon.com