Recitals. Every year, we invite our relatives and friends to help celebrate our development as a musician. The feelings that go with these events are good reflections of how we feel about our lives too. It’s like the song we play is our year played out in quick time.
Despite the fact that in the first recital we are clunky and awkward, no one cares because our mistakes are so cute. Later, it’s our enthusiasm others are attracted to. Over time, we improve and others are impressed with our development. By the end of our studies we are so good as to amaze.
Despite others impressions of their development, often times on the inside the musicians themselves feel a lot like they did as that clunky little ham-fisted kid. As their standards raise their playing appears to recede.
This happens because at each step were are attempting to master a group of brand new skills involved in playing music. This reflects how we perpetually face new situations in life and how we are always stumbling, yet we all grow wiser and more capable through the year whether our experience is good or bad.
At the start of life we are emotionally clumsy but authentic, near the end we become smoother but struggle to find the unselfconsciousness that used to come so naturally. The difference is our impedance. We hold ourselves back be worrying too much about the performance part of our playing.
Music teachers will often tell students to play as though the audience isn’t there. This is like the ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ phrase‘ that gets used about people’s emotional lives. The song simply won’t become the most beautiful version of itself if it is merely a performance. The song is not for the recital audience, it exists in its own right. People are just allowed to watch it be.
Likewise, our lives are ours to live. Life is not a recital or performance, it is more like a song itself, and it can only be made better by us singing it more fully –by breathing more life into it. And the way we open up that opportunity is by forgetting the audience. We sing for our sake. For the joy of it.
This doesn’t mean we stop loving everyone in our audience. Quite the opposite: we start. We free them from our expectations as we free ourselves from theirs. That’s the unconditional part of unconditional love.
If we love people then they are allowed to be them. And if they deserve love so do we, so that means we can also be ourselves. What the other egos think will depend too much on how their day went anyway. We all know when we’ve played well and when we haven’t, whether we get praise or blame. We should trust that. That’s us.
Don’t perform your life. We can work well with others and find joy in many strange places with a great attitude, but we don’t need to stifle our being. Sometimes endurance is required in life, but whenever possible, it is up to us to consciously shift our lives toward ever-less stifling circumstances so that we can find the beautiful music that lives within us.
If we play unselfconsciously often enough, it will soon meld with a form of creativity that allows us to go beyond the composition and into improvisation. We become the song in every sense. This is the height of skill both in music and in life. When we are that free, we stand on a constant precipice of the unknown, and the beauty there is a marvel to behold.
Don’t perform. Sing. The songs might sound similar to a listener, but a performance versus soul singing can be so different for the singer that, in the latter case, the people listening can see the singer glow.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.