When I entered Eastman as a Freshman in the fall of 1985, I needed a tool to survive being plunged into an intimidating sea of talent. In the first few weeks I was lifted up high by a wave (Principal Cello for the first orchestra concert!)  and then dragged under by a scathing conductor’s remark (“Next time, play it in tune!”).

Then at dinner one night, I sat with a young French Horn player who seemed to have an answer – BASHING.

As I sat there listening to her rant about all the inadequacies of the conductor and the players around her, I marveled at how cool she seemed.

I grabbed onto this seemingly seaworthy technique. Using the onboard searchlight of scrutiny for the tiniest of flaws in others, I listened for the slightest mistake in the performance of others. I rarely wished them the best. My ego rejoiced in the slightest errs, for if they weren’t perfect, then my ego still had a chance of survival.

But while I was so busy trying to knock them down to make myself feel taller, my own playing never really took off. My focus was not on improving myself, but rather defending my own self-imposed delusion of supremacy. It was all based on this fallacy:

If I wasn’t the best, I wouldn’t survive.

Every frustration, every failure for the next 5 years sparked a search for someone to pick on.

Then my life began to fall apart. A professional colleague reamed me out severely after hearing through a common friend of what I thought of his rhythm. Then my own inner critic, fed by the practice of looking for faults, started eating me alive during solo performances. Inner tensions led to physical knots as I grew tighter and tighter. Then this happened.

I felt washed up on the shore, insecure and exhausted. I began the search for solutions, not only for music but for the practice and performance of life. Soon I found the teachings of Patanjali’s Yoga. Not just the physical postures (asanas), but the meaty inner work that incorporated introspection and meditation.

The first step of Patanjali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga was just what I needed: Ahimsa, or Non-Violence.

When I began practicing this attitude, I made amazing musical progress. All the time and energy that went into looking for mistakes in others could be retasked for my own improvement.

I soon began winning jobs and opportunities not by viewing others as opponents or enemies, but as future collaborators. I learned the delicate balance of being strongly centered while remaining compassionate and loving.

Once my focus relaxed away from the faults of others, I found a growing inner sense of quiet. Inner tensions caused by unkind attitudes began to fall away, revealing the underlying nature of soul kindness, compassion, and love.

I found that if I walked out on stage with these qualities intact, it was much easier to enter into a state of inspired performance, where all that existed was the connection to the music, the ensemble, the audience, and my own Self.

Interestingly enough, as I relaxed away from subconscious antagonistic attitudes, my physical playing began to soften as well, completely for the better. My practice became a process of self-exploration rather than a grim punishment.

But as musicians, we often find ourselves onstage with conductors or people we don’t like. What do we do with inner grumblings without regressing ourselves into naive pollyannas?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Send out a wave of blessing to everyone, especially those who bother you the most. If possible, send them impersonal, unconditional love.
  2. Avoid venting frustrations with like minded people. Instead, share your thoughts with someone who might be able to offer solutions out of the sinkhole of negativity.
  3. Dive even more deeply into the music. Search for the Truth within the great masterworks. Great music changes consciousness. Use it.

I’ll leave you with some tips on practicing Non-Violence in competition:

  1. Avoid listening to other competitors and the comparison that arises.
  2. Radiate your own success from the center of your being.
  3. Fuel your powerful focus with the joy that you bring to the table.

next on the Eightfold Path: Truthfulness

photo credit KentWilliamsPhotograpy.com


Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Competition, and Inspired Performance

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