Music, Mindset & Meditation
Music has always had a deeply profound effect on me. Since I was as young as I can remember. It moved me to tears, to chills, to dance, to act, to joy, to truth, and to sing. And being an only child who moved around constantly to different cities and schools, and felt alone quite often, music made me feel like I had an infallible companion who understood me and filled my soul no matter where I was. I would sing along with all of these companions without even thinking about it. I was magnetically drawn to music and singing. So I can't really remember exactly when the moment came that I decided I wanted to pursue singing seriously, it was just always something I did. Like it was a natural part of me. An unconscious extension of me. And so I found myself on the journey of being a musician and singer before ever really formally deciding to be.
And while there is something palpably transformative about diving deeply into a piece of music and letting it consume you, there is absolutely nothing like connecting with other people soul to soul through song. I felt a life-affirming connection to my musical companions and my desire to connect with others, in the same way, has been undeniably what keeps me on the path of music. But the road doesn't come without its challenges. Not only is the craft of singing a constant challenge that I try to improve upon every day, but touring and the actual act of performing singing in front of an audience can bring a number of challenges of their own.
I have found that my mindset when performing is as important as the details of the music itself. The extraneous situations and circumstances I often enter in order to perform my singing can affect that mindset drastically. They can be stressful, overwhelming, overstimulating, disruptive, difficult, challenging and rattling. I've also realized in my travels that I'm highly sensitive to the subtle and not so subtle nuances of many people, situations and surroundings. All of these factors can work together to absolutely hijack my mindset and throw me into a tailspin.
I can often experience kind of "input overwhelm," especially in performance situations. The overload can rattle me and then knock me off of my game. I realize that I've spent my whole life working on managing those elements so that I can make these moments about the music, the song, and connecting with the audience rather than thrown off by overthinking, overstimulation, worry, distress, distraction, and discomfort. I've adopted and folded in different techniques in my life journey to help my mindset in these situations. To help me stay on my game. Stay clear, focused, anchored and grounded in these challenging situations. Meditation, moments of solitude, and daily mindfulness have been invaluable tools for this.
Prioritizing little breaks and stepping out of any particularly nervous, busy or noisy environment for even just a few moments can do wonders for a reset. Especially when on tour. But I also find a daily meditation practice can keep me anchored and centered when things get crazy or chaotic. Meditation...agh..the big mystery word. The word that when it comes up, there is always a subtle but pronounced pause in the room while everyone's mind starts to search for the image or definition that will finally make it understandable.
I've had many moments just like that but I've also had many little golden moments where someone says a phrase or relates an insight and the concept of meditation clicks with me in a new and deeper way. I find the simpler the better. To simply "sit in stillness" to "return to my breath" to "observe, note and label" the chatter in my mind without getting swept up in it, to "stop" to just simply "stop" and be where I am, to "listen" to the silence around me and sink into this present moment. All of these reminders and practices have worked for me and have helped me to stay on the path of meditation for years.
I think a big frustration is having the expectation that meditation is supposed to be some big mysterious euphoric ascend into a magical wonderland. It might be that for some at times, but I find it's mostly just about detaching and disconnecting from the noise, yanks and pulls that come from my thoughts and the world around me. And then I can sink into a "stillness" and "inner calm" in the middle of whatever chaos might be going on around me. And when I can settle into that calm, that is where the most powerful, clear guidance and ease arises.
I like to use the analogy of a garden. As if my mind is the garden and my thoughts are the plants growing in the garden. So when my mind is full of clutter, intrusive thoughts, and chaos, it's like trying to grow a rose or better yet FIND a rose in a patch of weeds. I have to first clear the weeds out to really see the rose and then maybe also see the other flowers and plants that I didn't even know were there because there were so many weeds. So meditation is not so much about "creating something new" as much as it is about disconnecting, detaching from, and quieting the elements that are in the way.
With mindful awareness and attention to this, I can practice"observing and noting" the thoughts and stories in my mind rather than getting swept up in them and driven by them. Hijacked by them, swirled in them, dancing with them so intensely that I'm no longer even present and aware of what is going around me. When I'm swept up in thoughts, I'm removed from the simple energy and physicality of this moment. I'm not sinking into stillness or present moment awareness because I'm swept up in the "story in my mind" as if I was watching a movie. Or IN the movie. Or somehow hijacked out of being present of the moment and my surroundings. I'm lost in that fantasy land. And the fantasy is just that, a FANTASY land. And it is usually based on one of two things: 1) Ruminating about my past, or 2) Ruminating about my future. Neither of them is paying attention to what is going on in the here and now at this moment.
This "monkey mind," as it's commonly referred to, loves to create its own stories and thoughts about everything. And these stories are often embellished to their own fictional state. Now if there is really something to tend to like the stove is on or I forgot to get my microphones out of the van, of course, I tend to those real things. But my monkey mind loves to make up extreme exaggerated outcomes, assumptions, what-ifs and guessed conclusions about the happenings in my daily life. It's like my monkey mind wants to be the center of attention all the time and it fights hard to do that. So it keeps escalating stories so I'll pay attention to it. Sometimes I see it as a bully that keeps intruding and bossing me around claiming to be SO IMPORTANT. Sometimes I see it as a spoiled child that throws temper tantrums when it can't run the show, shouting "PAY ATTENTION TO ME, PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!" Sometimes I see it as the arrogant critic who has to find flaws in EVERYTHING I do. Sometimes I see it as the wounded soul who can't stop aching over past wrongs that have been done to me. And so much of the time, the stories of my monkey mind have simply created a reality all their own.
I've explored many different kinds of meditations and mindfulness practices and they have all benefitted me immensely. They've helped me become much more aware of the present moment able to navigate moments with more clarity and more purpose. Currently, I have a daily practice of Transcendental Meditation or TM as it's often referred to. This meditation involves a mantra. It is a bit of a specialized technique for which you take a short guidance course. In this course, you are taught the technique of TM and then given your own individual mantra to use in your TM practice. But I also use mindfulness techniques throughout the day as much as I can. Just remembering to do it can be half the battle.
So when I find myself in a chaotic situation and I'm feeling "input overwhelm" I try to remember any one of these techniques to try to center myself and find that inner calm within. If I can remember to take a moment to myself, go back to my breath, pay attention to the act of breathing, or label or notice the thoughts or stories that are going on, I can more effectively bring myself back to the action and details of this present moment in a calmer way.
And then when performance time comes, I can stay present in the music, in the gift of connecting with an audience, and in the story of the song. And then tap into how deeply grateful I am to be able to do this and share this with others, and just enjoy the ride...
Here are just a few of the books that have been instrumental in helping me understand these practices in continually deeper ways.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Probably the top one for me. I go back to this book all the time.
Journey of Awakening by Ram Daas
The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
photo by Bradley Cook