My 12-year-old student came out of his audition. “I’m rather pleased with that,” he said to me. I wanted to yank the smug expression off his cute chubby face. In my opinion there was MUCH that could be improved. I wanted him to take what was good and make it great.
His contentment limited his progress.
An older student broke into tears after what seemed a perfectly fine performance, unable to find contentment in even the simplest of notes. She spiraled down into misery.
Her lack of contentment limited her progress.
So is contentment good or bad?
I’ve heard that contentment is the supreme virtue. It means living to the fullest the good of every passing moment. Without contentment, we can never find peace.
But complacency is a different matter. This passive contentment leaves things good enough. Passive contentment is the death of aspiration. It emasculates ambition and defuses passion. “I am okay just the way I am—I don’t need to change—I don’t want to put out the energy to improve.”
Active contentment takes our inner peace out into the battlefield of life. It allows us to intensely focus on what is before us with a wellspring of calm, centered energy. Without the bedrock of active contentment, striving for excellence brings tension. Discontent affects the breath, the body, the mind, and of course the music.
Even peaceful music created without contentment feels restless, unable to express inner harmony.
So here is what you can do to cultivate active contentment:
- Take a few minutes to meditate. Accept the supreme challenge of becoming completely content in the moment. Courageously set aside all the demands of the day.
- Take a few minutes in your warmups to practice active contentment with your sound. Create the positive feedback loop of joy. To avoid becoming narcissistic, offer your own enjoyment upward and into an even more beautiful sound for the audience to enjoy. Feel your breath deepen, improving the sound and feel of your notes.
- As you stretch into more difficult challenges, keep coming back into your bedrock of active contentment.
- Observe the undeniable fact of WHERE YOU ARE in your development without fear, without judgment. Use the fulcrum of your active contentment to move yourself towards greater excellence in whatever you do.
Contentment is the surest way of drawing the very best out of every circumstance.