I am fortunate to have spent much of my life giving concerts as a singer and also directing theatre plays. I love doing both, not only for the opportunity to be creative and express myself, but also for the way these activities keep me in the present. This is particularly so when performing a concert. If I do not sing something very well, I have to instantly let go of critical thoughts or they will stop me giving myself fully to what I am singing at the time. Similarly, when I catch myself anticipating something that is to come, either with pleasure or nervousness, I need to let go of such imaginings. I cannot give a good performance if I dwell on the past or future. Both performing and directing keep me practised at bringing myself back to the present when my mind wanders.
Performing live music invites the performer to engage with the audience and the music at every moment, and this is even more so when improvising live jazz. I was discussing what mindfulness means with my cousin recently, Tony Woods, a professional saxophonist. Maybe performing is so uplifting and therapeutic because it keeps us in the present. I find it much harder to stay in the present when I am in an audience and listening to live music, to hear the sound as it is in each moment and not be totally taken off by my thoughts. Much easier when I am the one onstage!
Mindful listening to music, or any sounds, is a delightful way of meditating. And to relax and enjoy yourself too. Seeing if I can simply hear the sound and notice textures, rhythms, pitch, tone, harmonies as they are, just as vibrations coming and going. Some might be pleasant and some unpleasant. Can I let them arise in my awareness without the automatic tendency to label, to give opinions, or to let them carry my mind far away from any sense of what I am hearing? The constant bringing ourselves back to the present, whether we are creating the music or absorbing it, is the heart of mindfulness practice.
We are pleased to offer you a range of recorded guided meditations, which include one on Sounds and Thoughts. Awareness of sounds coming and going is a helpful way to lead into a practice where we notice our thoughts coming and going, just as mental events that arise in the mind. Seeing our thoughts as just thoughts can give us perspective and also some respite when we get caught up in over thinking. This is also one of the hearts of mindfulness practice and something we explore in the MBSR stress reduction course.