Friday, September 20, 2013

Total presence

When I first returned to playing from memory, I became increasingly concerned with the Inner Game. I wasn't so much worried about its role in making me nervous--after all, I had been playing in public, albeit with music, for a long time, so I was quite used to dealing with the Inner Game. But I was concerned with a different type of inner game: daydreaming.

In the past, I'm sure that I had already been daydreaming while reading music. The act of memorization, however, made the symptoms of the problem more acute, and I would become very angry at myself because I had just played through a piece without much degree of consciousness. If the Inner Game is that overly self-conscious voice that gets in the way of playing, then I was experiencing the complete opposite through daydreamt practice!

I remembered the Buddhist concept of "total presence." This state, often achieved through meditation, puts one in the moment, without distraction or divided attention. Once I realized my problem, I knew that lack of total presence was affecting me either with Inner Game-type distraction or non-attention. Either way, I knew I needed to work on this if I was going to practice and perform effectively.

(The fact of the matter is that most of us lack total presence in general. Think about how we use smartphones. We're in the middle of a conversation, and we look at our phones. Or think about taking a phone call when you're at the computer. How often are you browsing while you're on the phone? I'm reminded of a couple I observed while on a Caribbean vacation. They were both out for a romantic dinner, but each kept checking their smartphones throughout the meal. Even though I've used technology examples, our lack of total presence reaches back to a time before microchips. If it didn't, the Buddha would have been out of a job!)

I began working on my problem by going through some basic meditation techniques I had learned over the years. I downloaded a meditation timer app for my phone, and I eventually worked my way up to about 15 minutes of pre-practice meditation each day. At one point, I felt that my meditation skills weren't good enough, so I attended a few open meditation sessions at a local Buddhist temple. 

Not only does meditation have a direct impact on my practice attention, it also gives me something really good to do backstage. Instead of reviewing my scores or nervously pacing, I am now able to calm myself and focus my mind before going onstage. What a wonderful gift!

I haven't been actively meditating for some time now, but I do call upon my basic meditation skills every time I have a recital to pull together and, especially, when I'm backstage. I don't think I'll ever be a great meditator, and I don't think I'll ever achieve total presence in every aspect of my life. But if I can achieve even a fraction of it in my performing life, then I and, hopefully, my audience will be all the better for it.