A few years ago, I went to see my acupuncturist who I hadn’t seen in awhile. He started by asking, “You’re the flamenco guitarist, right? How’s that going?”
With him, small talk is never just small talk, it usually has some kind of underlying point, and today his intuition was bang on, as I’ve come to expect. I mentioned that I had just been playing in the Flamenco Festival. “And how was that?”
It was super fun, but so taxing! I love pushing the envelop, but all the new material I was learning and practicing had been coming back to haunt me at 3 am.
Every. Single. Night.
By the end of 10 days, I was a cranky, stressed out mess with my 4th cold in 6 months – all because those crazy rhythms would get stuck my brain and wouldn’t leave me to sleep in peace. As I write this, I can still remember exactly what I was working on, which I’m pushing away because I don’t want to start that nasty hamster wheel again.
My acupuncturist told me that he’d read Wayne Gretzky’s biography; that every time Wayne went back to the bench during a game, he’d practice intentionally dropping his heart rate as quickly as possible so he could get into a resting state. This was how he conserved his energy.
My instruction was to do the same thing, except with my mind. I was to play with full focus, but when I was done, to stop. No more allowing my mind to continue practicing and running the music after I’ve put the guitar down. Discipline my mind to drop it!
At first, I hardly played or listened to flamenco music at all. It was amazing to me how strong the habit of just thinking about music could be. The irony was, years earlier I had trained myself to practice mentally as a way of saving my hands from the strain of long hours on the instrument that could be so taxing. The difference is, it was never meant to be done mindlessly.
Now, I needed to adjust again. I would go to dance class and instead of letting the material we had been playing all night turn into ear worms the way it normally did, I practiced dropping it at the end of class. It was really hard, but I was committed; my very sanity depended on learning the skill of choosing what I would think about. Slowly, my ability to sleep through the night returned and I stopped getting sick all the time.
Even though I mastered this at the time, I still have to work on it constantly or it slips away. As for many artistic people, my mind will create incessantly if left to its own devices. I normally have more ideas than I can act on in 10 lifetimes, so the key is choosing the good ones and seeing them through to completion. Dreaming up ideas isn’t the same as creating something in the material world.
It’s hard to believe that thinking can be the biggest expense of energy there is, but I’ve found this to be true. I’ve learned that the sages who invested so much energy in accomplishing the impossible, controlling the mind, I’ve gained access to all the creative energy I have.
Today, I’m able to be productive when I need to be and the rest of the time, I get to be an ordinary human being. Especially where flamenco is concerned, I’m able to enjoy and appreciate it without it having to also feel cursed by it.