Here was a Tweet from Martha Beck today, on her Sonoran STAR retreat: “Next time I need peace, remind me 2 head for the wilderness, close my pie-hole, and open my senses.”

This is the feeling I get whenever I descend into the place of deep listening. I do it each morning as my delicious wake-up ritual, and I do it in a richly connecting way each time I play improvised music. The differences between “learned” and improvised music are so vast that they are almost separate art forms in my mind. After a lifetime of learning to translate written notes into sounds on an instrument – or more like “maneuvers” in on an instrument – and training my eye-hand coordination by sight-reading in orchestras, I now play almost exclusively by ear. It’s not that I don’t value all that classical training. I’m just done with it for now. I’ve moved on to a different mode of playing, where I get to drop all notions of how things should be, stop thinking, and just listen. That’s my only job. My hands are trained sufficiently that I don’t have to think about where to go on my instrument. I can just play.

I keep practicing, because it wasn’t always pleasant to play this way. I’m just now getting used to the idea of “no wrong notes” and just to keep going, staying in the music versus judging and critiquing myself at every moment. I no longer need to get wrapped up in how good the other musicians are, or whether I “know” the piece they are playing, or whether we are doing it “right”. I just play. And I flow with whatever is happening in the moment, and I deal with whatever comes up for me. I notice the commentary in my head, which lately is getting quieter and less frequent. I’m also less dependent on comments from real people, although I graciously try to accept them (even though part of my mind doesn’t believe compliments).

It’s a beautiful thing to open your senses, and shut down the needless thinking. Martha’s tweet reminded me that it takes something more than just a brain to create and ingest all the beauty of the desert sky. Just like it takes more than thinking – it takes real listening – to hear the music within us.

Photo credit (used under a Creative Commons License): LASZLO ILYES

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