A working artist’s guide to staying grounded in the grind.
Our world changes so fast, you have to be superhuman in order to stay ahead of the curve. Keeping up with trends is exhausting, especially if your livelihood depends on it.
As musicians, my wife, Julia, and I try to strike a balance between being grounded and soaring. Accordingly, each morning we take time to activate our bodies, read books that soothe us, and we sit in silence to connect with non-duality and taste timelessness. Then, we get on Facebook, make phone calls and promote the heck out of ourselves.
Aye, there’s the rub, me hearties! Musicians must eat and pay the rent. Even if it is our intention to play music that helps others slow down so they recognize the beauty within and without, we are part of the fast-paced world and must sing for our supper. Self-promotion does not come naturally to either one of us. While we are grateful to have an agent, there is always more work to be done. We have learned to step up to the plate.
It is fair to say that we dance with our ambition, which provokes the actions that secure gigs. Then, there is our mind’s daily “To Do” lists, along with the ego’s assertion that there is always an image to project, to brand, to define, to deliver, to uphold.
Fear pipes in and says that we’re not getting any younger. It paints anxious, detailed murals of the future trying to get us to be proactive.
While our minds, egos, and fears all vie for control of our vessel, we are aware there is another part of us that is merely observing, watching it all happen from moment to moment.
I remember having a lovely conversation with my father one night. As we were talking about getting older, he remarked that inside he didn’t feel any different in his later years than he did when he was a child. His wonder at this observation left a lingering impression.
When my dad said he didn’t feel different inside, he wasn’t addressing the physicality or realities of growing older. It wasn’t about the aches and pains that start to appear, the life knowledge he has acquired or even the wisdom he exudes. I marveled that without labeling it, he was recognizing and acknowledging his conscious awareness; the part of him that is observing unconditionally. His body is not the same, his cells are not the same, his thoughts and desires are not the same, but his inner awareness has been untouched, despite all of his experiences, good and bad.
Pondering this further, I recognize that while our minds are constantly busy, labeling, judging and classifying every little thing, there is always a part of us that is silently witnessing.
While we are going through the rise and fall of one cycle after the next, our being regards us. It watches us react, reminisce, regret and reach out for more, or in some cases, less. It behooves us not to identify ourselves with any of these things, (e.g., pain, regret or even success.) This thought was reinforced at a conference recently when I heard an esteemed musician say that “if we can’t handle a standing ovation or if we need the standing ovation, we are in trouble.”
It is with the slightest shift of perception that we can identify with our observing presence. This presence offers peace, a freedom that opens us up to understanding, even gratitude for everything that comes in.
So, even though I carry on with my goals and my daily practices, I don’t have to postpone expanding into the calm and stillness streaming through me.
I remember seeing the group Beirut at the Treasure Island Music Festival.
Their lead singer, Zach Condon, blew me away, not for his master showmanship or for his incredible prowess. It was his openness. It was as if the music was streaming through him.
His happiness was like a tranquil breeze. Something that reached us without effort. He was fully content and radiating a quiet bliss without attachment.
I say he blew me away and that is accurate. I was swept into the music; there was a merging, not a ‘me’ confining and codifying the experience.
In the midst of our daily dance, the slightest shift of perspective can transform the rat race into smooth sailing. So, if you are tied up in the riggings of your mind, quietly start connecting to your inner awareness and know that you are the boat, the sea and beyond. It makes the journey much more interesting and the treasures easier to find.