Monday, January 17, 2011

12. Getting disciplined about being free

Today, after much generalized anxiety followed by an hour-long yoga flow that was a semi-successful attempt to calm myself down, I was lying on the floor in shavasana (final corpse pose) when I felt, so intensely, the need to make music. So I sat down at my old piano, opened the cover, and put my fingers on the keys.

Only trouble is, I haven't seriously played the piano in years. I was decent, when I was a regular practitioner, but at thist point most of my abilities have been relegated to the sub-conscious storage compartment, and even though I think I still have the right key for the lock it didn't do me much good-- as I seem to have forgotten where said compartment is.

But I decided to forge on, regardless. I started out slow: running through chord progressions and warming up my fingers with fast runs over the keys. Then I began (fairly successfully) to play some well-known songs by ear. Gradually I became a bit more daring, and I started composing some simple melodies. As usual, I found my stride in the minor keys, and it was pretty and it was good.

But it was still so... restrained. And this, quite simply, is because I'm not good enough to make music that's really wild and really free.

Now, one could argue that this appraisal isn't entirely accurate. I mean, I did try to get wild. I started pounding keys at random, spastically slamming my fingers at high speeds and irregular intervals all over the board. I waved my arms and I hit hard and fast, like a little wild child.

Arguably, this is in its own right a way of being free. But this is being free in a different medium than the one I'd originally intended: I was letting my body get wild and free (flailing can do that for a person), but it was no longer music that was taking me to that place. And I was really, really wanting, this evening, to find freedom through music-- and music of my own creation, at that.

But this was not a possibility for me, and it's for one simple reason: Because I am no longer a practiced piano player. I'm  therefore not good enough to really let go, to let the music and my fingers and my muscle memory carry me away.

Realizing this made me realize further: If you want to free yourself*, you first have to (brace yourself for the paradox) cultivate discipline.

This is true, I would argue, for any medium: art, music, writing, acting, athleticism, dancing, spiritual practice, what have you. It's sort of a "gotta know the rules before you can break 'em" situation: You have to be good enough at something (which requires a whole lot of commitment, practice-- discipline) that your mind no longer has to be in control of everything-- which means that you are therefore able to let go into the current (or what a lot of creativity psychologists refer to as "flow"-- interesting, yes?), and let it carry you away, somewhere above and beyond, somewhere that inspires and moves and transports and, yes, liberates-- you.

*I just realized that the concept of what it is to "free one's self" should probably be broken down at some point. Perhaps this will be the subject of another post.

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