Fear. Egoic pride. Insecurity. Competition. Judgment. You may face these “heart compactors” daily while pursuing excellence in rehearsals, performances, and lessons. How do you prevent them from compounding the stress you already feel?
Do you try to become impervious, protect your heart, and run the risk of becoming distant, cold and unfeeling? Or do you let your heart be open to run with the tides of exhausting emotions?
As a young man, I did both, without any satisfaction. I finally found that the solution isn’t in running away from fear, ego, insecurity, or competition, but rather by strengthening and empowering my heart to rise above those compactors that try to tighten it like a vise.
Here are 3 practices that have enabled me to bring calm centeredness in harsh intensity that comes so often with artistic drive:
- Broaden the heart to relate meaningfully to the realities of others, and to cultivate compassion, love, kindness, peace, and joy.
- Strengthen the heart by the practices of acceptance and perseverance.
- Lift the energy of the heart upward to the higher centers of our mind and awareness.
Is it possible to train the musician’s heart in the same way we train their ear?
Heart is so crucial to success in music. I even go so far as to say that live music directly conveys the energy of the musician’s heart. It baffles me why we haven’t established methods of developing the heart as well as the ear.
For it is possible to train the heart to be strong, kind, fearless and giving even in the midst of adverse conditions. So often, instead of expanding outward to relate meaningfully to the realities of others, our hearts shrink in the presence of unkind conductors, teachers and colleagues. Below are the first few steps of heart training for musicians.
First, recognize what naturally disarms and broadens the heart:
- Physical Relaxation—any activity that dissolves excess tension from your body and expands your breath. Explore and develop an active relaxation practice such as yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi with an emphasis on working with the body and breath.
- Beauty—a quiet walk in the woods, watching the waves at the beach, a most exquisite musical experience. Increase your awareness of beauty in your own sound. Play/sing simple pieces with utmost simplicity of beauty in addition to your challenging repertoire.
- Connection—friendship, love, chamber music. Try this simple practice: have a friend start a very long note. Immediately join to match their pitch, sound, and tone, following their lead. Feel like you are creating from inside of their sound. Then switch—you lead. Then, both of you lead and follow at the same time, creating something completely new.
- Service—share the joy of music, give of yourself to help others. Practice service by taking your music to where it is needed. Hospitals are great places to start (In Portland, try Randall Children’s Hospital). The healing power of music works both ways.
- Kindness—simple acts which mean much more than we realize. Practice kindness wherever and whenever you can, inside and outside of your musical life. Does this take more energy? Absolutely, but it’s worth it.
Next, strengthen your heart by practicing what doesn’t often come naturally:
- Acceptance—we can’t change the unkind conductors, teachers or colleagues. We can’t change the notes we’ve already played. But we can choose to put out more energy to improve, rise above, and find clarity. Breathe deeply. Develop your willpower.
- Perseverance—push back with calm kindness in the face of adversity. We can become the conductors, teachers, and colleagues to change old patterns of intimidation, condescension and cynicism into a new normal of our own making. Again, breathe deeply. Develop your willpower and your won’t-power.
Finally, learn how to lift the heart.
- Utilize the inner tools of your spiritual practice or religious tradition to lift your heart. Love God, Source, the Divine, or infinite Spirit.
- Sing daily. Even if you think you have a horrible voice. Here’s why.
- Strive to keep your awareness centered at the prefrontal lobes of the brain. Here’s an easy meditation practice.
- Find a meditation practice that bring the focus of awareness to the higher centers and increase awareness of the flow of energy in your spine. Here’s one that I practice daily.
By broadening, strengthening, and lifting the heart, you create incredible strength of heart to express clearly that which we need in our world. Inspire not only your listeners, your students, but yourself as well.