Posts Tagged ‘musician’


A newborn is completely dependent on the people around him or her.  The behavior patterns of the people around him gradually imprint themselves on his behavior.  At a certain age he begins to exert his independence to break free from the control others have over him.

As an adult we must balance our connection to our surroundings with our creative individuality.  The skill of creating this balance is key to our power and fulfillment in life. 

A musician in a band, for example, must have skill both in playing his instrument and in allowing the other band members to connect with his playing, thus playing his instrument through him.  In this way there is a balance between synchronizing his playing with the others and creatively leading the music.

Each musician “gives life” to his or her instrument and feels that his fingers, his breath (depending on the instrument) and even the instrument itself have a life of their own.  He feels that the instrument is playing itself and interacting with the “aliveness” of the other instruments.

In this way playing in a band is similar to raising a child.  There is a struggle between the feeling of control and the desire to let the instrument or child have a consciousness of its own.  At a certain point you feel that you can just sit back and let the instrument play itself.  At a certain point you can allow the child to control his own life (maybe when he is in his thirties).

When you get involved in any relationship you go through this same process.  Each person has issues of controlling or letting the other person control and they hopefully learn to blend together.  You reproduce your early childhood with each relationship.

So how well you learn to balance the effect of external influence with your own internal creative control as a child will greatly affect all future relationships.

It may be difficult to remember how you developed as a child.  Children’s memories are recorded as “states of being” not as events in time.  Accessing each type of memory requires a different mechanism of your attention.

There is an exercise you can do that shows you how to use your attention to access childhood and even fetal memories.  I use this exercise to prove to my students that there are indeed dynamics to their attention.  In order to perform a specific conscious act you must use a specific dynamic of attention.  These dynamics are the “secrets” that ancient teachers taught to their advanced students.  It is a large part of Zookinesis training.

To do this exercise requires that you have some basic awareness of the feeling of attention itself and its movements.  It may take years of training to get even to that point.

So here is the exercise.  First remember a specific event in your life that happened at least two years ago.  Spend one minute remembering the event and when it happened.

Next remember a state of the body.  It can be sad, happy, surprised, relaxed, agitated, warm, cold – any specific state.  It must NOT be related to any specific event or time.  Feel that state for about a minute. 

Next do each again but this time notice if your attention moves up or down and if it relaxes and opens up or if it compresses.  Use the same event and body state as you did before.  Write down what your attention does for remembering the event and for remembering the state of the body. The results should be the same for everyone as long as you are familiar with what attention is.  You can read many of the lessons on this site to learn about attention.

I will not tell you what those dynamics are for this exercise so I don’t prejudice you (but you can email me and I’ll let you know).

If we can become aware of these dynamics we can develop skill in their use.  We can use this skill to become much more aware of the world around us and how to interact with it.  We will see aspects of our everyday world we were not aware of before.

Infant and fetal memory can be accessed easily so we understand how we tried to make sense of this world and fit into it.  Some of the solutions we came up with were useful and some ineffective.  To what degree do we shut out the world around us and how does that affect us?  To what degree are we too vulnerable and how does that harm us?

Once we gain awareness of these mechanisms, the awareness itself is the solution to the problems.  It is as if someone’s eyes were shut and he kept walking into things.  He spent his life remembering where everything was so he wouldn’t bump into them.  But the best solution is to just open his eyes.

Learning about the dynamics of attention is like opening your eyes.  Then you can easily balance the interplay of letting influence in (Yin) and exerting creative influence out (Yang).

There are exercises to develop each of these two parts of the balance.  When you practice your Tai-chi form, initiate each movement from the center of the body – the hip area.  Then let the movement flow outward through the legs, the torso, arms and head.  This will develop the outward flow of creative energy (Yang).  Imagine that you are in a pond and someone drops various sized and shaped rocks into the center of the pond.  The dropping of each rock is like an initiation of movement because it creates ripples in the water that flow outward.  Each movement of the form ripples out from your center (your tan-tien).

For the Yin aspect of this dynamic, allow the legs, torso, arms and head to yield to the initiated movement and reproduce its quality of energy.  You will be like the water itself that yields to the force of the falling rock.

The water on the surface of the lake is completely smooth at first as the water is relaxed.  It is like a musician who stays in the proper stance to play his instrument.  He is not grabbing the instrument with tension as if to protect it from the influence of his band members.  He does not feel territorial about his instrument but holds it in a relaxed and open way.

On the other hand, his stance is not sloppy.  That would interfere with transferring his creative energy to the instrument.  He is open and connected to the other players influence but also connected to his instrument so that it is receptive to his influence.

He is open and receptive to his entire history of development as a human being because he knows how to remember.  So the quality of his music is expressive of his entire life.

He can see how his life can really be described as a quest to learn about this balance of the dynamics of attention.  It is about the development of his soul.

When you know your soul the audience knows it, whether you are a musician or just a regular person interacting with another person.

Your soul is really the musician playing you and it plays all day and night.  For that reason it would be very helpful it if played well.


American Indians use the drum as a form of meditation and as a metaphorical representation of the development of consciousness. Imagine a hand-held drum made out of a six-inch wide ring of wood. An animal skin forms the head of the drum. A long strip of leather winds in and out of holes drilled into the ring of wood. The leather strip crosses the inside of the drum at many points, weaving through the holes on the other side of the ring. The result is that on the inside of the drum, you have many strips of leather across the center. The drummer holds the place where the strips cross.
Imagine that the ring represents the world and that each strip across the inside of the drum represents one aspect of our being (one “element”). One may represent the body, another the thinking mind, emotions, will, memories, the senses, creativity, attention, etc. When you hold the drum at the center, you are “balancing the elements”. This means that you are controlling the relationship among all these aspects of your being.
The beating of the drum represents time. The sound that results represents how your individual spirit (individual Tao) creates the quality of your life, as you live your life through time. The drummer varies the tightness or looseness of the various leather strips as he or she drums, to vary the sound. This represents the way we can be creative with our spirit in the way we interact with the world (the wood ring of the drum).
Drumming then becomes a beautiful way to understand how we form our lives by creating a cohesive feeling of who we are (represented by the center of the strips that the drummer holds) based on the relationship of the elements. Each person usually emphasizes one element more than the others and uses that element as the center around which the others are balanced. For some, the thinking mind may be the most important element. For others, it is the emotions. The skill in balancing the elements in all ancient cultures is to keep all the elements balanced.
Yet I have found that in all the cultures I have studied, one element is considered the best to use as the balance point. Those of you who have followed these weekly lessons will not be surprised to read that this element is, attention. It is consciousness itself. Balancing the elements really means paying attention equally to all the aspects of our being. We need to pay attention to our physical health as well as our mental development as well as our emotional balance, etc. Within the body, we need to pay attention to all those muscles, joints and other parts, making sure that each is relaxed or flexible or whatever quality that part needs to have to function well. We too often neglect our bodies in general or, even if we exercise, we may not practice an exercise that works all parts of the body and relaxes as well as strengthens.
The drum analogy also points out another aspect of training that is important in Zookinesis and Tai-chi. Those strips across the back of the drum are constantly varying in their tightness and looseness. The drum wobbles back and forth to create interesting sounds. Too often we get stuck in one dynamic of how those elements behind the “drum” (behind our everyday lives) blend and play with each other. We become rigid in our thinking, in our emotional state and other qualities and loose our creativity. The “sound” that comes from our lives becomes a dreary beat of time leading to our sad deaths.
The alternative is to live our lives as if we were creating joyful music with each day. What can you do this day to be creative with your life? It may be something small, such as eating a different breakfast than usual. But if you get used to asking yourself how you can be creative each day, that will gradually bring creativity into your life. It will bring your attention to how you can use the elements to live a creative life. That hand that grabs the center of the leather strips and plays creatively with them, is you. It is the interaction of attention and creativity, the interaction of yin and yang. Attention centers. Creativity varies.
We may complain that the everyday problems of life make it hard to stay with our practice. We just don’t have the time or energy. Let’s go back to the drum. We have the drum and the hand holding the drum. Yet can it make a sound without being hit? The stick hitting the drum is the everyday problems and activities of life. The resulting sound comes from the interaction of how we “hold” our spirit and how the everyday activities of life resound on that spirit. In this way, drumming represents life itself. When you listen to a drummer or to any musician, you can tell whether he is playing from his spirit or if his music is just technical. He may be technically proficient but that alone will not stir an audience. You may have another musician who is not all that great technically but his spirit shines through the music. We can forgive the lack of technical proficiency. The lack of spirit is harder to forgive.
In the same way there are people who are very proficient at certain elements. They may be good at acquiring wealth or have great knowledge. But what is the quality of their spirit? Each of us has a great wealth. We have the wealth of our attention and creativity that is given to every person in the world. We can stay centered (not give in to anger, greed or jealousy) and be creative (love the challenge of doing the most with what we have). We can make every day of our lives an act of balancing the elements, of facing the problems of life with creativity. That stick will continue to hit our drum but we can determine what sound it will make.
When we practice our Tai-chi form or Zookinesis exercises, remember the interweaving strips that meet at the center behind the mechanics of the movements. Bring your attention to the center and from this center, be creative. At one moment your mind may kick in, the next moment, your emotions or your will or a memory. Allow this interplay with the elements but don’t shift your attention from the center.
The interplay of the elements should not be suppressed as long as your attention does not get pulled by any one of them. Sometimes an element may try to steal the attention from the center. A thought, for example, may try to convince you that you need to pay full attention to it and abandon the center. You can develop the ability to quietly be aware of the “antics” of the thinking mind without getting caught up in them. You are like the parent, watching the antics of a child and the thinking mind is usually very much like a child. It wants all of your attention and does anything it can to get that attention. It is jealous of any attention you give to any other part of you.
For many people, the elements of their being are very much like jealous children and there is chaos inside of them. The practices of Tai-chi, Zookinesis and drumming are designed to create harmony where there was chaos by keeping the attention centered and creativity active. I love studying how other cultures try to achieve the same results as the Taoist culture. The teaching techniques may vary but the goal is obviously the same. The external harmony of music not only reflects the internal harmony of the musician but also resonates a harmony in the listener. When you see a Tai-chi practitioner doing a Tai-chi form, that also resonates in the viewer. Harmony is the interplay of centeredness and creativity. If everyone in the world had such a practice in their lives, how the world could change for the better!