Meditation, Mindfulness, and Musicians

How do you react to these words?

Notice this reaction in the body and…”

Okay, even if you hate the idea of meditation and the above cheesiness made you cringe, just hear me out. As someone who has long held the idea of meditation being a boring and uncomfortable exercise of torture for people with brains wired much differently than mine, I get it.

But I was wrong.

And it might be time for you to give it another look too. Over the next few months, I’ll be publishing a series of articles and interviews on the topic of mindfulness and meditation as it relates to musicians and how you can (and should!) use meditation to help prepare for auditions, performances, and whatever else you have coming up in life.

Throughout this series, I want to hear from you. Leave comments below or send me an email here. I want to hear your stories, questions, ideas, revelations, etc. Let’s explore this together.

One more thing… please take a moment to fill out my Google Survey on meditation!

This will help get the right questions asked and answered — your questions — in the articles to come.

“Mindfulness” and “Meditation”:
buzzwords to enlightenment

So, what do they actually mean? Are they the same thing? What is “mindfulness meditation” and how does it differ from regular old meditation or regular old mindfulness?

It is definitely confusing, and the answer isn’t cut-and-dry. Today, many people use “mindfulness” and “meditation” interchangeably.

One way to describe the two is this:

Mindfulness is the quality of mind of being consciously and intentionally aware. It’s being aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, surroundings, and anything else. Jon Kabbat-Zin says it is “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

Meditation is an activity — the formal, usually seated, practice that focuses on being mindful of something.

You can practice mindfulness while you practice the oboe—or while you brush your teeth, call your mom, resist the fifth Oreo, or anything else. You can practice mindfulness without having to sit for a meditation. But you cannot meditate without being mindful.

This is all a bit slippery and vague, I know. And there are many different types of meditation, from breath awareness to Loving-Kindness to Transcendental to… it goes on and on… The basic common thread in all meditations, however, is mindfulness. (Still confused? Maybe this will help).

One thing is for certain though… you hear these words a lot more often than you used to.

Meditation is the fastest growing health trend in the United States, growing three-fold in the past five years alone. People today are increasingly more interested in the various components of health that aren’t achieved on the treadmill or in the gym. Once taboo, mental and emotional health are finally being talked about openly and honestly. (It’s what I am most proud of in millennials!) And, in general, people are steadily moving towards a more holistic idea of health — mind, body, and spirit, interconnected as one.

If that’s too woo-woo-holistic-buzz-word for you, I understand. So, some science.

Meditation as a field of research is growing rapidly. There is now a great deal of scientific evidence for the plethora of health benefits and actual physical changes to the brain regular mindfulness practice creates. While a relatively new field of research, studies are showing that regular practice can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increases focus and attention, and can seriously help with sleep issues, memory loss, addiction, pain, anxiety and depression.

For many skeptics — myself included — the scientifically measurable benefits of meditation are the “cold hard facts” that finally open the door to exploration. The science shows us also that meditation is both accessible and remarkably beneficial to all — it’s not just for the monks on the mountaintop or the aspiring actresses in Echo Park anymore.

As a skeptic and long-time stubborn person, meditation was suggested to me many times over the years, especially throughout my undergrad, as a way to help what many would describe as debilitating performance anxiety. But it was in one ear and out the other. I would try to sit still, clear the mind, and just follow the breath without controlling it. Impossible. So boring, so uncomfortable, and sooooo many thoughts. I could not breathe without interfering and I could not stop the constant train of thoughts, so I gave up. No one really explained to me that the goal wasn’t to stop the thoughts or clear the mind at all — the goal was to just sit and be. Be with the thoughts, be aware of the thoughts, and watch them come and go, pointing a flashlight at them without judgment. (To be fair, even if you did explain that to me, that thought-train would have steamed-rolled through the station with a thousand reasons this was stupid and not for me).

Beginning again…

A few years later though, a book by Dan Harris came out called 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story.

Interesting enough of a title, I bought it and loved it. Meditation was introduced to me slowly and clearly, through the eyes of a fellow skeptic and long-time stubborn person and with all of the science to prove it. I practiced on and off over the past four or five years since I first read the book. I saw great benefits to meditating when I was stressed or going through tough times and I clung to it as a coping mechanism. But that was it. I only did it when I was stressed or sad or angry. Still stubborn, I saw it as a tool, but a tool only for when I “needed it.”

…and beginning again…

At some point this past year, I got curious again and decided to explore meditation as a more regular practice. For a while I used the Buddhify app, but I knew I needed a little more help understanding. Finally ready to shed one layer of my stubbornness-sheath, I again turned to Dan Harris, King of Stubborn Skeptics.

After his book became a #1 New York Times bestseller, he launched an amazing podcast and an even more incredible app, both also called 10% Happier. I cannot recommend either enough. Whether you’re someone who has never even heard the word “meditation” before this post or you’re an enlightened Buddhist monk, you’ll get something from 10% Happier. The app offers a series of courses, with discussion videos and guided meditations led by top meditation teachers around the world; the podcast interviews many of these same gurus, as well as a slough of other famous people you probably had no clue were meditators. There is truly something for everyone.

A future post will give beginner resources, but this is a great jumping-off point for anyone interested in starting or further exploring a meditation practice. I recommend downloading the app and starting with the Basics course.

What does any of this have to do with auditions?

Well, a lot. We play how we are. And we are a whole lot more than the Don Juan machines many people think they will miraculously turn into on audition day.

We examine our sleep, nutrition, and exercises patterns as big performances approach — but that’s just one slice of the total picture of our health and well-being. (Just as auditions are one slice of the pie that is you as a musician, and how being a musician is just one slice of the pie that is you as a person!) Stepping back and viewing our well-being from a more holistic (as in “whole!”) perspective might be exactly what you need.

The mental, physical, and emotional health benefits of mindfulness and meditation are real — whether you are a performer or not.

Give it a try.

What is next?

Guest interviews on mindfulness as it relates to musicians are coming this summer. Resources and basic guides will come too. Please be patient. If you are interested in sharing your experiences (anonymously if you wish!) with meditation and mindfulness—no matter what stage you’re at—please email me. If you have questions or ideas or requests for topics to be covered in this series, please email me. Please don’t forget the Google survey form below.

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