Good resolutions… 5 months later…
How are you doing with the good resolutions you decided to take in January? Did you manage to implement them in your life, are you still trying to do so of did you give up and postpone them for next year? My good resolutions were inspired by 12 zen rules. I can apply some of them regularly in my shakuhachi practice (see post) but for others, I’m still trying to find ways to apply them in my daily life too. Since I’m back from Japan, I’m particularly working on “#4 – Do less“, with the help of “#11 – Think about what is necessary“. Shakuhachi speaking, they are also very interesting.
#4 – Do less
I’m quite convinced that the key in general to actually apply our good resolutions is to follow “#4 – do less”. Have you noticed that we tend to add things to an already busy life? “I’ll start doing this or that” whereas our time is not extensible and we cannot continuously add things to our agenda. How can we start new occupations, habits, hobbies without first make space for them?
The Not-to-do list
I recently read an article about the “Not-to-do-list”. The principle is simple and radical and the steps are easy:
- Write down your top 25 goals
- Circle your top 5 goals
- Avoid working on any goal that is NOT circled at all costs
Once you have your two lists, focus all your efforts on dominating your top 5 goals and ruthlessly eliminate the 20 less important goals. It couldn’t be simpler than that.
Like lots of people I think, I have the tendency to make a hierarchy: what to do first, and what to do in second if I have any extra time. It doesn’t really work. I sometimes have the feeling of jumping too much from things to things, with a little bit of frustration about the limited time I can spend on one project or activity. Making a “Not-to-do-list” is hard, because it is not about things you don’t care of, but quite the opposite: it represents things you also are interested in. Or things you’re good at. Letting go of something you’re good at makes you ask yourself what really matters (#11). This step is a challenging one but can lead you much further.
#11 – Think about what is necessary“
Like cleaning up your house, what are the things which used to be important in your life which are not anymore? What can you let go to make space for new things which matter more?
Last year, I made the decision to stop playing the transverse flute completely. After 40 years of this flute being in my life, this was quite a big step. And at the same time, it made so many things become much easier because it matches the reality much better. It gives me more time and freedom in my head, it allows me to focus all my efforts and training on the shakuhachi. It solves the frustration of choosing which flute should go first. This choice I already made a long time ago, I just needed to acknowledge it.
Zen rules #4 and #11 applied to shakuhachi.
Shakuhachi speaking, both these rules deserve some attention.
#4 – “Less is more”
- Make time: If you’re starting a shakuhachi journey, ask yourself if you can make time for it. Maybe you’ll have to drop something else and replace it with your new practice. The shakuhachi is a challenging instrument, don’t expect mastering it (or any other music instrument) in a few lessons or a few weeks. Make space in your life for it. When are you going to practice? Try to set up a routine. As a beginner, you need to build up your facial muscles, train your breathing, etc. Music playing is physical, like a sport, it needs a regular training.
- Have short but regular practice sessions: If you’re a beginner, no need for one hour a day. 10-15 minutes are already good enough and much better than one hour in the weekend or just before the next lesson. Start little, but consistent. Make a habit of it. If you don’t have much time to play or practice, focus on one piece, one point, or even one tone. You will go further with small regular steps rather than a big (try to) jump from time to time. If you’re more advanced, take breaks regularly after 45-60 minutes. Relax your body, relax your mind and concentration, in order to be fresh for the next session.
#11 – “Think about what is necessary”
- Learn to dose your effort: Sometimes things don’t work the way you want because you don’t use enough of something (air pressure for example), but sometimes it’s the other way around. It doesn’t work because you’re using too much of something: making too big head or lips movements, using too much air, control or will or analysis. Actually, doing too much is as inefficient as doing too little. One example is the high tones: no need to blow harder or to tighten your lips much more to play them. If you do that, try to find out what happens if you use less of those, and what you really need to do to play high tones. You might be surprised to discover you can play high tones with relaxed lips and very little air quantity ! Use exactly what is needed to make these tones, no more.
- Release excess tension: be aware of your body. Do you feel any tension which is not needed for what you’re playing? Relax. Use your energy to reach your goal, don’t waste it in vain.
- Be focused: concentrating on your breath, on the music, listening to what you’re playing instead of letting your mind wander while you’re practicing, will improve the quality of your practice. You will need less time to improve your practice and learn new pieces.
Keep your practice active and fresh! Enjoy your shakuhachi journey!