This is my first post of 2020, so I am way too late to wish you a Happy New Year, even the lunar one! But I do wish you health and happiness for every day in your life.
I did want to write a “Happy New Year & Good Resolutions” post, but it didn’t work. The main reason for it, I think, is that I was in “winter mode”. Not only the actual season for the Northern Hemisphere where I live, but actually this part of a cycle when you gather and restore your energy, preparing for the rest of the year, when you are not in “production mode” but in “silent mode”. It is definitely a necessary period for creativity and growth. Even if you have the feeling that you are not making any progress and you are not getting anywhere, you actually do.
Take a look at Nature.
Winter is a period where not much visible seems to happen, yet the nature is not dead. It has slowed down and has been resting, restoring, rebooting, and preparing for the next phase. Depending on where we live on the Earth, the cycles of seasons are different, but there is always a time to produce and a time to rest. But for most of us in our modern societies, we are being asked to always be productive, always be doing, pushing, more more more. If we don’t pay attention and make space for it, there isn’t any moment of nothing, there is no silence.
Although this is quite a challenge for me, I realise more and more that I need winter periods, periods of no production but thinking, sitting in meditation, reading, resting, slowing down, making choices.
It has been a great moment to look at energy cycles as well, particularly periods of low energy and to accept them instead of fighting or pushing myself.
In each energy cycle, there are low and high periods, and they are both necessary. To be aware of it helps me not to get (too much) frustrated when I am in a low energy period and to see it as a moment to restore my energy. Of course, my first reflex is always that it is not the right moment and I would prefer to postpone it. But you don’t choose, your body tells you, and it is better to listen to it before it gets worse. It is obvious for me that my body and my mind have different tempi and I am doing my best to bring them in balance. When it works, it feels really good.
But also, I give a better attention to the high energy periods. How can I use my energy best then, without pushing myself too far? It can be tricky, but I find it fascinating. In any case, energy cycles are variable and personal. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Just connect with yourself.
Take a break…
Winter Mode is often related with low energy and there is nothing wrong about it. Maybe you will not achieve what you want right now, maybe you will need more time than what you (your mind) estimate you need.
Maybe you really need to take a break. It doesn’t always need to be long: a 15-minute nap can do miracles!
Each year, I take a moment of total break during the Christmas period and another one in the Summer (a Winter period doesn’t happen only during winter!). At least one week, sometimes more. After the break, even though I need a little more time to warm up the muscles again at the beginning, I always notice the benefit of it: more energy, less tension.
And eventually, I notice I can more easily go a step further.
…And look at the shakuhachi mirror
In the shakuhachi practice, we all notice better and lesser moments.
The “why was it working yesterday so well and today not anymore?”.
We look for technical issues, get frustrated about ourselves, about the flute. But the flute is just a mirror, a gauge. It is not responsible for what we breathe into it. Instead of becoming mad at it and at ourselves, why not just listen to what it is telling us: how am I feeling today? Physically, Emotionally, Spiritually, Energetically? How high is my energy? There is no good of bad answer. Whatever the answer is, you have to deal with it and work from this awareness.
And don’t forget to notice the “why is it working today so well whereas yesterday not at all!?”. These moments do exist too, enjoy them fully!
Practice Tip for Beginners: Blow Ro Kan (ro-buki).
Kan-no-Ro is a very interesting sound (definitely don’t open the thumb hole to play it!) It gives a good feedback of your energy: is the sound stable? low? high? going in all directions? Can you control it with your breath without tensing your lips? Can you relax? Can you enjoy it?
Keeping an eye on your energy level will definitely helps you to play honkyoku. If your energy is low, you have to adapt the way you play. If you force it, you will only make it worse. If you force it too much, you can even injure yourself.
If your energy is high, gather it and direct it to serve your purpose. Don’t let it control or overwhelm you.
Listen to yourself and play with your energy, not against it. Enjoy the alternance of low and high, of breath cycles, in and out. Enjoy the silence between the phrases, between the tones. Silence contains preparation, inspiration, rest. Silence is not empty. Silence is like winter, necessary.
A good balance between energy and silence is key to play honkyoku.
Maturation & Patience
A learning process is not a straight line up. It goes with ups and downs. The efforts you put in your practice need to mature before paying off. Sometimes it goes so fast that it looks like instantaneous, sometimes it goes so slow that you feel you are not progressing at all, or even going backwards: this is also a “winter period”. In this case, check with your teacher that you are going in the good direction and don’t give up. One day you will surprise yourself! Your progresses will be like small buds, leaves or flowers after a (sometimes long) winter. Be grateful for the efforts you put in your practice before, it wasn’t for nothing.
Good resolutions: Share & Gratitude
To come back to my first intention, to write a “good resolutions” post, my goal of this year is to share more of my music. Since January, I have been busy setting up performances, audio & video recordings, and also composing new pieces. I hope to have more to tell about it in a future post.
And my guideline for 2020 is the feeling of Gratitude. Gratitude for what is and what is to come, even if different from expectations. Gratitude for playing shakuhachi, even when it doesn’t sound the way I want. Gratitude for my efforts. Gratitude for every sound coming out of the flute.
To express this intention, I wrote a piece about it, inspired by a 2.8 Jinashi made by Thomas Goulpeau (Atelier Chikudo). It took me a long time to get used to this flute (and the Kyotaku workshop actually helped a lot) and I am happy to have found a way to connect with it. Here is the piece (the flute on the picture is not the one I play on the recording though)
When we have gratitude, we naturally want to share, we naturally want to give. (David Gandelman)
To be part of my 2020-Gratitude-project and support my work as a full-time free-lance artist, you can subscribe to my gratitude plan below. You can choose the amount of your donation and you will get a private link in return, as well with my deep gratitude.