The Discovery Approach to Music Practice (part 3): Simple meditations

Part 1 of this series is available here and part 2 is available here. Please make sure to read those first if you haven’t yet. To recap, this approach is essentially a “hidden in plain sight” simple way of practicing music slowly, that allows for both enjoyment and results in music practice. In part 1 and 2, we covered what the Discovery Approach is, why we might want to use it and how it might be effective and helpful.

This approach assumes you have something somewhat specific that you want to practice, like a line or piece of music, raga, chord progression etc. as a music student or practitioner. If you want to utilize music to realize your real nature itself (Enlightenment, Self Realization etc), please see Naada Yoga for Total Liberation (multi-post series in progress.) It’s all the same in the end, but the focus is a bit different.

Now let’s dive into some simple meditations or visualizations to help enter or access this natural approach for practicing music.

1. Turn off the lights, turn off the mind, awaken natural attention

Relax. Breathe. Visualize sitting in a classroom or lecture hall or perhaps a large sports stadium at your favorite match. Or maybe a concert with your favorite artist. Choose whatever appeals to you. You are engaged in whatever is taking place and there appears to be quite a bit of activity.

Now, suddenly, all the lights are switched off at once. Notice and watch carefully what happens. Immediately, pure wakeful attention comes forward and distractedness and thoughts fade into the background. If fear arises, simply notice it and allow it to subside as it is not necessary right now.

Rest in silence briefly or as long as you like. Begin to feel the sensations of holding your instrument again or, if you are a vocalist, just notice the body itself and its sensations. Slowly begin your warmup for your practice session. You will notice the intensity of your awareness and attention will be many times more than what it was before this. With practice, dropping into this space will be quicker, easier and deeper.

2. When this step is all there is, you go beyond time and enjoy vivid awareness

Relax. Breathe. Visualize that you are standing alone on top of a very tall tower. It is dark and you cannot see anything. However, you can sense that there are no protective rails or anything to prevent you from falling. From the tower is a walkway leading back down. You begin try to move in that direction but you have no idea which way it is. How will you walk?  First, relax again. Set aside any fear, knowing that there is no external factor that could interrupt you. You would move extremely slowly, feeling with the sensations of your feet touching the floor and perhaps reaching around you to see what is in front of you. Move too quickly and you may fall. Relax. The moment you notice your feet touching the edge, you would naturally pull back and proceed in a different direction, unhurriedly. Simply go as SLOW as needed. This recognition is liberating as you know that with this kind of undisturbed attention and plenty of time, there will be no “fatal” mistakes.

Relaxing into this state of natural focus and vivid awareness, come back to your instrument (or body itself for vocals) and begin playing. This works especially well for working on a piece or phrase line by line. You move through the line the same way you would feel with your feet and senses in this example… Unhurried, going way slower than you normally would, and thus noticing and digesting more than you ever normally would about the music and about what you are doing. Even a few minutes of practice this way is very beneficial.

Just enjoy…

Once you slide into the natural attention through either of these two techniques, simply enjoy the music here and now. Enjoy the sound, the entire experience of playing music. Your awareness is now ALIVE and simply noticing all that happens. Playing is easier and more fun this way. This is the flow and this is the natural way. Mistakes are both less in number and less frustrating. “Mistakes” become a friend that points the way. Simply keep returning to whatever you are doing again and again.

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Transcript of a brief Sangeetha Satsang talk

The following is a transcript of a brief 5 minute intro talk given during a Sangeetha Satsang (Music Satsang or music meditation). You can use this to guide you into meditating with any of Prasant’s saxophone meditation tracks on this website or youtube.

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I would like to invite you to join me in this meditation. It’s not really a separate meditation. My understanding, my feeling is that your natural state is meditation.

What we’re going to do now is not something I’m asking you to do differently than you are already doing. So just be the same way that you already are. Part of your feeling that you can explore… So now we’re sitting basically in silence. And from the feeling that you have in silence you hear the sound arising from that. So what you could try… as you hear the sound, first relax into just being how you already are. Just relax.

Then as you hear the sound, just feel the sound. Initially, when you hear the sound it sounds like a sound coming from a separate external source, from somewhere else, right? When you hear the sound you first think I’m playing the sound and sending you the sound…yes? [Audience: Yes] So that’s mostly how people feel regularly.

But in this I’d like to invite you to forget about the idea that there’s a sound coming separately from some other source. Initially, even if you feel that the sound is coming from another place, just forget about that and let the sound come into your awareness. Forget about any feeling you have in the body, just notice the sensations. The sound will start to wash over you and it will take over the awareness. So relaxing in that sound, you become comfortable feeling only the sound so there is nothing else except the sound. And alternating that with silence, you go deeper and deeper into the pure sound. Underneath that sound, as you get comfortable in that sound, you can let go more and more. Just basically relax is all. You’ll go deeper into the Silence that’s beneath the sound. So if there’s sound, there has to be Silence supporting the sound, right? So that Silence is your natural, real nature.

So whenever we wake up in the morning, as soon as you wake up before anything arises, you have this perfect Silence. There’s this perfect Being. That doesn’t have anything in it. And, it has everything in it, of course. If there’s nothing in it, there’s everything in it.

For just this moment, you can always pick it back up later, forget about any and all ideas and definitions you have…what something is, what something is not, what your name is, what your family is, what you’re doing here, what you are going to meditate on, how am I going to meditate, all of that just forget it. Completely drop it, right now, right this instant.

So whatever you’re trying to attain is already here. There’s nothing else to get. That’s your inherent nature. The moment you try to leave, attain something, you’ve left your real nature. This idea is just an opportunity to return back to your real nature. And it’s already here, it’s not that you have to return back to it. It’s already here, but you think it’s somewhere else. So for the time being, maybe you can adopt my idea that everything you need is already here, not anywhere else outside. And just let the music, the sound current of the music…You’ve all heard the sound “Om.” Everyone’s heard of Om. So they say that’s the sound of the entire manifestation. So feel this sound as the Om arising within you. And not only within you, everywhere. Not within, not without. Forget about within and without. Just be exactly as you are right now. Not something else…or a body or anything. Just relax into that sound and eventually relax into the Silence, that’s all. So there’s nothing really to do, just enjoy. Thank you.

Please enter into silence for a few minutes. If you would like you can sit with one of Prasant’s tracks by utilizing the players below. For more about Satsangs, visit the Satsang page.

 

YouTube (subscribe free to Prasant’s channel)

The Discovery Approach to Music Practice (part 2): What you want is already here when you SEE.

Part 1 of this series is available here. In part 1, there is an overview of what this approach is about.

The Discovery Approach to practice essentially comes from the realization that what IS is inherently complete and perfect. That perfection can grow and change, but it is inherently full as it is. The practice is then to discover that. This can be successfully utilized in music…or anything.

Let us look into the first analogy: uncovering a fossil or perhaps a lost city. Paleontology, archaeology, etc. Remember, all analogies break down. This is just to convey a perspective-essence that you can utilize in your practice.

If you were going to uncover a large dinosaur or perhaps an ancient city, what would be your approach? Everyone has seen a clip or photo of paleontologists in action. If you come at it roughly, the precious treasure will be damaged. Notice the delicate tools being used, crouched on the earth.

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What will you find? (photo courtesy kenosha.org)

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The goal is already here, so there’s no hurry. (photo courtesy answersingenesis.org)

The approach is wide open seeing, gently pressing onward to uncover that which you want to find. There is no hurry, no clock. There is a great deal of sensitivity in the work. The team or worker will take as long as it needs to properly expose the dinosaur’s remains. Days, months or years. There is a touch of reverence for what may be discovered. The goal is available right at the fingertips to the point that it can even be touched, yet such care is taken. It is already complete and finished and does not need to be created. It simply awaits discovery. (I will go into how this relates to composing and improvising music another time…this still applies.)

Looking at a phrase, line, piece of music or even a single note in this way might change your entire relationship to it. It ceases to be an item to be completed or scale to get through. You are no longer marking off checklists of completing a number of krithis, scales or compositions. You are not buying groceries here or taking a standardized test or collecting accomplishments.

You become aware of what you are doing in a natural way. You are noticing everything about your experience. You return to just being, which is quite similar to vividly aware FEELing. You notice the entire symphony of body sensations. For example, how does the body posture feel? How do your hands feel on the instrument? Or if you are a vocalist, explore the feeling of the body itself, particularly the chest, head, belly and throat. Now when you go to play, it is not an unconscious “get this done” experience. It is very different. And this is where the analogy ends, because the line of music that initially was like a dinosaur bone, is now ALIVE. Every note comes alive, every breath comes alive. The entire experience reverberates with the sound and feeling of the music. Whatever arises is full and complete in itself. This allows you to actually PLAY music and not do music.

You do not need to wait to enjoy playing music until you have mastered it or even become reasonably good at it. You don’t need to hobble through the initial learning stage or struggle through the advanced and/or professional stages where you run on a treadmill to get infinitely “better,” more skilled and more amazing or impressive as a musician. I’m not saying not to do that. That is a real path. But look at it. The total bliss and enjoyment of music is available now for all. It is THIS note, THIS song that has it. Even a cracked note, HAS it. Most of us cannot see this. But when you approach music with this wide open seeing, the same way a child approaches a flower, you will definitely see.

What happens then, is the hidden fear aspect associated with failing or playing something wrong is either completely destroyed or significantly subdued. This frees up incredible amounts of clarity and vital energy for doing what you really need to do. There is a relaxation as well. Free of the concept of “mistakes,” you end up making less of them.

In the next posts, I will introduce a few more analogy/scenarios that apply to the actual practice process itself. They can be used as brief visualizations or meditations. Feel free to contemplate these first posts, try them out and let me know if it helps.

 

 

The Discovery Approach to Music Practice (part 1)

I’m glad to share a simple approach to practicing music with you that arose while working with some of my Carnatic saxophone students. It is nothing new, but rather a subtle shift in the perspective of the approach that allows for a fresh, relaxed and clear way of practicing whatever it might be that you are working on in your  musical journey. It also may incidentally lead to spiritual insights and/or deeper peace.

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The Discovery Approach to practice essentially comes from the realization that what IS is inherently complete and perfect. That perfection can grow and change, but it is inherently full as it is. The practice is then to discover that. This can be successfully utilized in music…or anything.

The most common approach most people take is the “try, try again” approach. There is nothing wrong with it, and can be quite useful. You will basically have a line or phrase you want to play and you continuously do it over and over. Each time there are various mistakes that need to be ironed out. With a grunt or worse, you try again and again. Sometimes there will be more mistakes with each repeat. With much hard work, eventually the line is played as desired. However, there is the danger that without rigorous review and weeding out of the undesired aspects, these mistake can show up as a surprise later during another practice or a performance. Sometimes, the mistakes will go unnoticed and actually multiply, leaving you baffled.

With much practice, eventually everything is ironed out and you are happy. It is something like putting rough stones in a tumbler where they are turned around, crashing into each other until they finally come out as precious gems. Or punching repeatedly through a wall until you break through. It works eventually, but it may be frustrating and tiring.

The main missing ingredient in the previous method is usually awareness. In the Discovery method, we focus on cultivating the necessary awareness to listen and really FEEL what is happening. When awareness is turned on at full power, practice is really a completely different ball game. It feels more like you are simply discovering the fully perfect line or phrase with the practice rather then forcefully executing it.

The next ingredient, though it may seem obvious, is to go through the music very very SLOWLY. Many are familiar with the slow aspect. But usually slow playing is used on its own with the side effect that eventually the person playing becomes more aware. Here, we start with vivid awareness and attention and then begin the practice at slower tempos.

How do we get “into” this vivid awareness? Well, your natural state that you are in already  has it. It has the characteristics of both wakefulness and deep rest. But most of us are heavily distracted constantly and find it difficult to see it. What arose to assist here is a set of simple visualizations or extremely brief (just about 10 seconds to a minute or two) meditations with some simple instructions. You can walk yourself through them to awaken the clarity and set the right atmosphere for the practice.

Many of my students have found this approach illuminating and felt their practice was much easier, more relaxing. They felt more absorbed in the music and where able to taste the enjoyment of music itself. This is fundamentally important to playing or practicing music in a time when there are a million different ways to spend your time just on your phone.

In sharing this approach, I am not saying that one approach is better than another. All are useful and good. I see the Discovery Approach and the “try, try again” approach as two ends of a spectrum. But I did feel that this approach I am describing has not been explored enough and could greatly help balance things out. If awareness is cultivated enough through practicing Discovery method, then the “keep trying” method will automatically become the discovery method. They no longer will appear separate.

I will share the pointers and simple visualizations for the Discovery Approach in the coming posts in this series. Feel free to try them with your own practice or with your own students.

For an approach to spiritual liberation (enlightenment, Self Realization etc.) through music, please see the series: Naada Yoga For Total Liberation.

 

New VidyA Album release 9/27/2016!

Dear Friends,

I’m happy to announce that the new VidyA album is officially out. It has been a long time coming. It looks like it is finally time to release it. You can preview and purchase the album digitally below directly from us. Shortly it will also be available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and other outlets as well. There will likely be a small run of physical CD’s in the near future.

Wishing you total enjoyment, peace and fulfillment listening to the album and beyond…

Here You Are

Wake up in the morning, lying in bed. Here you are.

Making breakfast and enjoying some coffee. Here you are.

A quick grocery run. Here you are.

Sitting in traffic. Here you are.

Out having a picnic. Here you are.

Gazing at the sky. Here you are.

Responding to emails. Here you are.

The latest calamity in the news. Here you are.

Before anything and everything. Here you are.

Just being you. Here you are.

After everything and nothing goes. Here you are.

Just enjoy.

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What you cannot find must be found

Have you ever picked up a cable or cord from an electronic device and couldn’t find where it’s plugged in or even what device it came from? It is tangled up in so many other cables and cords that it seems an almost impossible task to untangle it, get behind the desk and then find where it’s actually plugged in! Move even a tiny amount and there are other cables blocking the way. Often times, you might just shrug your shoulders and forget about it. But if it is really important, you will need to sit down and look and sort it out. If your child wants to watch her favorite show and the internet stops working you’ll have to sit down and look. Or you have a term paper or major work project due and the printer isn’t connected. Is the cable I’m looking for even in this mess? Maybe it’s not even here.

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“This is too messy, I’ll just figure it out later…”

This is a bit like attempting to find the root of the mind. Just when you notice that everything is just a thought, a whole group of other thoughts distract you from this seeing. You attempt to look for the mind but you can’t find it. It hides behind so many other thoughts, experiences and temporary states. Yet there is still the feeling of having a mind that often gives you a hard time. Sorting out all of these thoughts, memories and concepts can feel tedious and painful. “This is just too messy,” you might say.

But when you finally get to the point that you absolutely must find out what is happening, something changes. You see that you have to get to the bottom of this. This cannot go on any longer. You slow down and become patient as the task becomes very important. You realize you need all your attention for this task. It’s like the lion on the hunt. Like the person who diffuses a dangerous bomb. Like the tightrope walker. You become totally still and just LOOK. All these thoughts and experiences come back to you. Notice each experience arising. Who is watching? What is the same and what is different? Keep looking and seeing where it comes from, setting aside whatever thoughts arise to interrupt your task. You cannot ignore these thoughts. Similar to sorting the cables, you cannot ignore the tangled cables, you will have to carefully inspect each one using full awareness.

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The mind keeps you identified with the whole mess, but actually it is just a bunch of separate strings that happen to be bundled together.

When a thought arises, something catches hold of it and claims it. Keep going, keep going, keep tracing back every single thought to its source. Follow the trail. Don’t lose the scent. See where it goes.

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The tree branch is like an experience or thought. The monkey is the I-thought, the root of the mind. Catch him when he tries to grab the next experience! Catch him in the act or he will hide in those branches again.

Don’t sleep! LOOK. Suddenly, you catch it. I had this experience, I had this thought. This feeling I is arising in you as well. It is not the real you. Now the real lion, Awareness, is on the hunt and has identified the prey. Now it is only a matter of time until everything gets sorted out. The mind is becoming clear and transparent. The cables are getting untangled and loosening up.

At last you find the main cable and strip away all the other cables. You go to plug it in and realize that it’s already plugged in! It always was. This is like exposing the I-thought and watching it dissolve in the Self, or pure Awareness with nothing to cling to. Similarly, you already are free and always were. Awareness has always been free. But you had to sort everything out to see it.

Now you feel it.


Download Prasant’s meditation music and visit his YouTube Channel.

This a response to the wordpress prompt: Elusive