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Jumping Out of Bed

by Mark Heinemann

©Copyright 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 getting anywhere.

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 before.

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 a practice.

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.

Discipline 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.

Years ago 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.

So 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.

One 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?

At 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!

©Copyright 2001 Mark Heinemann. All rights reserved.