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thoughts on a Sunday afternoon

February 20, 2011

I lay in bed awake for awhile like usual, but unlike usual, I leaned over, reached down, picked up my mandolin in its gig bag, got it out, laid back down, and practiced for a little while.

I did not enjoy practicing.

My brother, last month, made a very good, simple, and insightful comment to me. (Sometimes.. perhaps often, it is the simple things that are also the most profound and insightful). He said something that I knew unconsciously, but was not willing to accept with my conscious mind.

My brother told me a very simple fact. He said.. “Well.. practicing isn’t really supposed to be fun. It’s difficult.”

He’s not a musician, but my brother sometimes thinks very clearly about a great many things, including the struggle to become a musician.

I think his statement is brilliant. It reminded me of something I had forgotten. In the band room of the community college I attended in California, there was a plaque high on the front wall that said something like this.. “practicing : working to learn an instrument while sweating, swearing, and cursing.”

Every musician any of us have listened to and ever will listen to has gone through this initial very very challenging stage; each musician still faces challenges and still needs to practice. And the pros – they practice everyday… for a really long time.

One concert cellist I read about (or maybe he was a concert pianist… you know, one of those hardcore classical musicians) said if he skips one day of practice, he notices his playing is worse. If he skips two days, his teachers, conductor and fellow musicians in the orchestra notice. And, if he misses three days, the audience notices.

Music is a discipline.

If it were not at least somewhat difficult, everyone would be a professional-level musician.

That is how it is. So.. I will not feel bad about being irritable while practicing. I will do my best to slow myself down and do what I can. If I can only practice for a short amount of time on some days, that is good enough.

That is my thought on music for today.

Something else I just started thinking of about a half hour ago:

I still want a spiritual life.

I still believe in some basic dharma (Buddhist) teachings. I still believe in a few Taoist teachings, and even still agree with some pagans that Nature should be reverenced – that the seasons should be celebrated.

Unlike most Buddhists, I do not have much faith in or need to believe in karma, reincarnation, and past lives. I see absolutely no point in any sort of life after death. And, unlike most pagans, I do not agree with the practice of deifying nature. Nature is special enough as it is.

Nature is nature. It is not a goddess or a god, and there is no need to believe there are faeries or magical spirits living in trees and rivers and so forth. Nature is good enough on its own and worth being celebrated for itself. No need to make things more supernatural and complicated.

Same goes for Buddhism. I don’t need mysticism. I need practical teachings and techniques to improve my mind. I’m not concerned about achieving nirvana and escaping the wheel of rebirth.

You know what? I can still be Buddhist without believing in past lives, karma, etc. One of the Zen priests I met back in California said he didn’t pay any attention to that stuff. He was interested in how applying the teachings and practicing Zen meditation could help him in this life. And he was helped tremendously by applying the teachings and practicing Zen. He helped himself.

Maybe there are sanghas out here with a similar approach, and maybe this is worth checking out. Maybe some Buddhist groups (especially Zen groups, I am guessing) have enough Taoism in their teachings to make me happy.

And.. maybe I can celebrate the seasons with some pagans who are more rational than most, if I can find any.

I have absolutely no need for tarot cards, runes, astrology, crystals, spells, praying to deities, or anything else most pagans would care to offer me. No thank you, I just want to celebrate the earth, and its plants, mountains, bodies of water and its creatures.

That’s more than good enough for me.

The need for a spiritual life keeps recurring. That means it is something I still need to work on, work through, and eventually take part in some way.

And music..I really just need to be patient.

In a book on writing, a Zen priest told a very impatient, frustrated writer that writing could be her character-developing Zen practice, and that was totally ok. Maybe for me it is music. Just need to take it easy, use my practice time as a way to actually mellow out some and be kind to myself. When I rush my practicing and get irritated and angry with the instrument (which is really just me being irritated and angry with myself) I am being unkind to myself. I need to turn it into something far different, take my time, let it be my character-building spiritual practice.

These are my thoughts on a Sunday afternoon.

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