I’ve been doing quite a lot of pondering lately on the topic of mindfulness.
Y’know, mindfulness… “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment” (quoth the dictionary) or also known as a way of steadying the flutter of an overly active brain.
Some people perceive mindfulness as a kind of spirituality-light, or an offshoot of meditation. Many people who do yoga, for example, I’ve been given to understand practice the stretching exercises because it has the parallel benefit of relaxation and mindfulness mashed into a physical kind of sport. A number of years ago I tried Tai Chi, which became a kind of slow motion yoga meets Kung Fu thing.
Other folks seem to skip the whole effort and just douse their grey matter in chemicals, like ethanol or tetrahydrocannabinol …which having only really dabbled in the former and feeling like I understand how these might act as an easy-quick fix for a too-busy mind, I personally think they lack the long term payoff of actually earning inner peace. It’s a cheat.
I think mindfulness could probably benefit many people, but then I also think there are likely those of us with busier brains than others, or at least some minds are more apt to flutter from the parasympathetic conditions of the real world. Some people are just enough out of sync with the vibe of the norm that a good balance is trickier to find. The crazy universe bothers us more. The stupidity pokes parts of our brains that don’t get poked in other more aligned heads.
So I frequently seek some balance and clarity in various thought-out methods of my own.
I’ve been writing for years about the benefits of running and mindfulness. I love running with friends, but when I go out for a solo dash around the neighbourhood there is a meditative benefit that I perceive despite being difficult to quantify in any meaningful way. I just… feel… more balanced after six klicks through the streets. It’s not sitting on the floor cross-legged and ohhhhming buddhist-like chants, but it is a kind of vacated awareness, the mind given a half hour’s break from anything besides moving legs and avoiding obstacles. There is a quasi-zen quality to a peaceful run.
I’ve been doing quite a lot of pondering lately on the topic of mindfulness because I’ve been having fleeting moments of mindfulness-like clarity that are emerging from something new in my life: playing the violin. As I write this I’ve logged nearly a hundred hours of focused practice on the instrument, which is enough for me to say that I’m starting to feel a certain level of confidence on the instrument. I’m not ready to do any major public performances, no, but I am acutely aware that my practice time has become divided into two distinct forms: the times when I am focused on learning and the times when I am focused on playing.
To be clear, there is a big, thick fuzzy line blurring any obvious distinction between the two kinds of practice time… but there is now a line where there had once just been a blur. So, when I am playing to learn I focus on technique, hone my time on repeating short segments to get them as close to perfect as my beginner violining skill will allow, and devoting the mental cycles of my brain to improving my playing. But, when I am playing to play I focus on the music, ignore minor mistakes and start to lose myself in the flow of notes and the feeling of the sounds I’m creating, and my mind is freer to drift into those meditative spaces.
When I just play to play, and it is still a fleeting and rare experience, I’ve started to taste the fringes of that same kind of mindfulness that I’ve been able to find in a solo run. That is obviously very cool, and I’m sure I’m not the first to notice this (though I never felt that way about the saxophone because it was always a bit of effort to play either for school or when I dabbled as an adult for fun.) In fact, I’m pretty sure there is probably epic literature on the subject of music and mindfulness somewhere. It must be a thing that musicians achieve, maybe even consistently, after picking up an instrument and playing for hours. Why else would music be such a integrated aspect of our culture?
The other night I played for an hour. Just played. I ignored the stuff I was supposed to be practicing (hopefully my teacher isn’t reading this and judging me right now) and I just played some of the “fun” sheet music I’ve collected over the last five months. Just played. Lost myself. Let my brain wander. Then looked at my watch and realized an hour had gone by and the storm between my eyes had calmed a little bit.
If that’s not mindfulness I don’t know what is.