Out of Bed
by Mark Heinemann
2001 Mark Heinemann. All rights reserved.
There could be a
lot of reasons to jump out of bed when you think about the new day. I don't mean
literally to jump out of bed, but more that there are things that I look forward
to doing. Things I have done for years now and I can feel some sense of solidity
forming in me as a result of staying with it.
Sitting or meditating
first thing, then a run. They are part of my daily ritual. Along with this is
also practicing music and that is something I have felt excited about for the
last twentyfive years. Another day means another opportunity to learn something
new on my instrument and to take one step closer to that achievable and at the
same time difficult goal of mastering the guitar. It might take another forty
years but down the road I hope to have advanced enough that I can express myself
fully and completely, with all my thoughts and feelings pouring out in music.
I have listened and watched musicians for years and always
felt that maybe they had some secret that made them so good as players. Maybe
it was a magic formula or potion that they drank. Well the reality is that they
have all spent a lot of time in the woodshed practicing. Day after day, for years.
I wish it wasn't so but that's the truth. So then the thing to do is to develop
a relationship to praticing so you can honor and accept it as a natural part of
your daily life.
Most people recognize that if they want to
achieve anything in this life it takes some degree of work, organization, desire,
inspiration, stick-to-it-ive-ness and the willingness to persist and endure times
where there seems to be no progress at all.
First there is
the desire to achieve something which seems tangible enough and then there is
the means to do it which is conscious, focussed and regular practice. So what
happens? What gets in the way of people practicing and moving towards their destination.
Some people are afraid of practicing because it might take away their spontaneity
and creativity. It's boring, dead. Or some people just have a hard time getting
started doing it. Once they actually get started it's not a problem for them.
They find that they enjoy practicing. The problem is getting themselves over to
the music stand.
Lack of patience is another issue. A lot
of times the result is not immediately forthcoming and people are too quick to
give up. Often it is just when they are on the verge of breaking through to another
level in their playing and can't see the progress they are making. This happened
recently with one of my students who came to class feeling pretty down in the
dumps. He hadn't been able to practice his lesson that week and instead had spent
a lot of time "diddling around". For that week we changed the focus
and tried some different material than the lesson plan and it was evident to both
of us that he had gone to another level by hearing his ability to handle the material.
It was an exciting breakthrough for him, especially when he thought that he wasn't
All great masterpieces come out of discipline
and incredible dedication to the artists craft. This is what has given the great
artists their mastery. It is their willingness to sit down and practice. If you
read the Agony and the Ecstacy by Irving Stone it will give you a good glimpse
of the life of Michaelangelo. At one point in his quest to become an artist he
snuck into a monastery where cadavers were kept and dissected so he could study
the physiology of human beings. If he had been caught he would have been sentenced
to death, but his hunger for knowledge and the the ability to represent the body
and it's anatomy was so strong that it was a risk he was willing to take. As a
result his painting and drawing totally changed the art of his time and in a flash
what was previously current was outdated overnight. He was able to render the
body with it's muscles and contours with more accuracy than had ever been done
In his autobiography, the Dalai Lama said that he
practices meditation and studies scriptures a minimum of five hours a day. His
life is centered around his practice. In meditation they call the act of sitting
Arthur Rubinstein who was a reknowned pianist
was quoted as saying that if he missed a day of practice it took him three days
to get back to his original level. If he missed two days of practice, it took
him a week to recover. And if he missed three days then it took him a month to
get back to his original ability level.
Any artistic endeavour
involves creative energy. Creative energy is a life giving force. We have the
ability to imagine a piece in our mind and then sculpt, compose, paint or any
of the disciplines that a person could have. It's a raw and powerful and beautiful
energy. But it is an energy that needs to be grounded into something so that it
can come forth. It needs to have some kind of home or container; and that container
needs to be solid. For the people I just mentioned they all have or had solid
foundations which were made out of their commitment to practicing. The practicing
that they did day after day and year after year formed a place where their creative
energy could then come through.
There have been many great
artists whose lives have been filled with pain and trouble. Sadly there have been
many people who have gone down the drug road in order to emulate the lives of
the masters. But having a rough life is not a prerequisite for becoming accomplished.
Practicing is though. Charlie Parker redefined the role of the saxophone. His
life was a mess except when it came to practicing and playing music, at times
up to thirteen hours a day. Van Gogh had a very strong work ethic. I'm sure Kurt
Cobain spent many hours working on his music. They all had troubled lives but
their practice and commitment to working was the fabric that kept their lives
together. At least for a period of time.
For us more normal
people there are a lot of benefits to practicing. One is that it teaches you to
work with your mind in a focussed manner. Once you learn how to work with your
mind you can then apply that technique to improving other areas of your life.
It could be attending to your business or exercise or even how you relate to people.
When you practice you can learn how to organize your thoughts and approach learning
anything in a thoughtful and conscious manner.
can help you develop self esteem. When I practice anything, whether it is running
or music I like to think that I am building a substance that is being added on
to who I am as a person. One grain of sand added on to another eventually with
enough pressure can become a mighty granite wall.
my life was in shambles. I had very little self esteem. Both my parents were artists
so of course I had to become an artist. (Back then I didn't realize that there
was a whole lot more to life than just being a musician or a painter). I knew
I had to become something, anything. So I began to play guitar when I was seventeen.
From that point on, somehow I knew that becoming myself was going to require a
lot of dedication and persistence. There have been a lot of twists and turns and
a lot of distortions along the way. But the positive side of it was that I was
able to learn how to become disciplined even when I wasn't in all the other areas
of my life. That practice was the one thread that kept me moving forward. Back
then it gave me something that I could feel good about. I was working on building
something that would bear fruit in the future. Now I have taken that experience
and try to apply it with the same quality of energy when I am working on other
projects in my life.
For people who haven't grown up with
discipline around them. That small taste of practicing can feel really good. It
brings a regularity to your life. The whole world is eager to move in a mad rush.
Everything is moving in a clockwise weather. Practicing can be a way for you to
move in counter clockwise motion to the madness and to create a little island
of calm that you can return to over and over.
You could think
of your life as a symphony with different movements. The week has a repetetiveness
and hopefully a predictability to it. It would be hard to live if each day you
had to struggle to survive and you never knew where your next meal was coming
from. The week has a certain flow and rhythm like a symphony. Like the opening
movement of a symphony, Monday could start with an Allegro or fast section and
then around Thursday it slows down a little and is more Andante. A mellow walking
pace. Then the weekend comes around and it might be more up paced. Allegro non
Troppo. Sunday comes and we are a little slowed down from all of our weekend excesses.
This could be an Adagio.
Practicing can help give you a rhythm
and regularity to your week. Our minds and bodies and beings are starved for some
kind of regularity. A center from which it can grow. Another way to look at this
is to pretend that we have the potential to become trees and we are constantly
sending out shoots and branches and not having any trunk underneath us. This can
undermine the quality of whatever we are manifesting in. When we practice it is
a way of sending a seed down into the earth and paving the way for a solid tree
to come forth. Then our branches and foliage are growing as a result of having
a solid trunk beneath us.
How do you begin? The best thing to do is
to begin with something that is realistic and achievable. I recommend 20 minutes
twice a week. It doesn't seem like a lot but when I began running I ran a quarter
mile two or three times a week. After three weeks I added another quarter mile.
This went on step by step and very gradually until after eight years I built up
to where I run 120 miles a week, year in and year out.
regular consistent steps are what's called for. One step at a time. Also quantity
doesn't necessarily mean quality. Years ago I practiced 3 to four hours a day
and the quality wasn't that good because what I was effectively doing was avoiding
the troubles of my life. Now I practice 3 to four hours a week and the quality
of the practice is a lot more potent. I have learned to focus my attention and
because I know I have limited time to practice I want to make every minute count
and learn as much as possible.
For some people the problem
is not the desire to learn but getting started. This may sound very basic but
if you can just walk over to the guitar physically and sit down and get started
the rest will follow. Once you begin to have experiences of what practice can
give you then that walk over to the Guitar will become less strenuous.
of the best things to stay in touch with through all of this is what it means
to learn. To learn is one of the greatest gifts that we were given. There is so
much to learn and to be excited about. Music is a world in itself that you could
enter and spend your whole life exploring and never exhaust the possibilities
of learning something new. When we learn something new then we grow as people.
What else is there for us to do with our time then to grow and change?
a certain point practicing no longer becomes a chore and a discipline and then
it becomes part of the fabric of your every day life. It's there and you don't
have to question it's presence. It becomes something that gives each day quality
and substance. So although I don't literally jump out of bed. When I wake up I
look forward to the practices that I will be doing that day because I know they
represent the opportunity to learn something new and to feel good in the process.
My wish for everyone is that practicing will become a welcome
part of your life and take hold. Who knows, maybe one day when you wake up you
will be so excited about the prospect of learning something new that you will
jump out of bed and yell, BRING IT ON BABY!
2001 Mark Heinemann. All rights reserved.