This article is part of the Psychology section.
Playing music is a lesson for life. It brings us into the “Now”, focusing our concentration and energy on the present moment, which we try to make as wonderful as possible. When we achieve this extraordinary focus, we discover the origin and meaning of the word “momentous”! This is “flow”, this is being “in the groove”, this is “when time stands still”. So many of the activities that humans love have this in common. From chess, meditation and crossword puzzles, to extreme sports, soap operas, hunting and wars, we love activities that focus the mind.
Much of the rapid development of western society has come from our basic state of permanent dissatisfaction, which serves as a driving force for constant improvement. We could perhaps summarise this with the following motto: “learn from your errors in order to do it better next time”. This is however not always the best recipe for enjoying the present moment. Too much of a “good idea” (the productive lack of satisfaction with the present moment) can easily become destructive and counterproductive. Too much dissatisfaction with the present leads us to focus away from the present, on the past and on the future.
Dwelling excessively on the past – especially on past errors – can lead ultimately to depression and low self-esteem, while thinking too much about the future can quickly lead to worry and anxiety. Is it then surprising that anxiety and depression are epidemic in western society but relatively rare in the more primitive societies, where people are more accepting of (and more occupied with) their “present”? They are living more in “The Now”.
While playing music, even positive thoughts about the immediate past or future such as “that passage went really well” or “I’m really looking forward to the next phrase”, can distract our attention from (and consequently detract from) what we are playing at the present moment. But the same thoughts in negative, such as “I played that passage like ****” or “here comes that really difficult bit”, can not only distract our attention but also literally demolish our present moment!
A concert is the ultimate musical “Now” experience. But we need to get ourselves used to feeling this absolute focus on the present moment “off-stage” also, and not exclusively when other people are listening. Being in “The Now” while playing, practising, rehearsing and living, is a good and necessary preparation for being able to find that state when we really need it (in a concert). Happiness is in the now. Music also. To be able to give ourselves over entirely to the moment, we need to let go of many things, past and future included.
The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle is a fine book to read about this, as is also “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey.