There is this misguided idea in the world that, once someone becomes a Zen Master, they’ve reached a destination where they no longer have to work at anything. It should all be relatively easy.
When I say “Zen Master,” I’m talking about becoming your best at whatever it is that you might do, and then being at peace with yourself and your own abilities.
Too often, we may compare ourselves to others. They have nicer gear, or they can play something faster, or they’ve sold more records, or whatever the case may be.
Coming to terms with who and where you are should not be a Pollyanna perspective, where maybe you really are not all that good, but you want to convince yourself that you are. Instead, this is about coming to terms with it all while working to improve.
This is often necessary because of your own self-perspective.
For example, I have been studying guitar for a while now. Compared to how I was when I started playing, I have never been a better guitar player. However, in my own mind, I have also never been a worse guitar player.
The more I learn, the more I realize I do not know.
There is no destination where I will sit back and declare that I’ve “made it.”
My guitar mentor seems to be in the same position. He has been studying and playing for over 50 years. I honestly love everything that he’s ever recorded. And yet, he does not like ANYTHING that he has ever recorded.
This is because he writes a piece, records it, and continues to improve. By the time it’s mixed and released, he’s advanced beyond the point where he was when he wrote and recorded the piece. It’s old news, and it’s his old self.
This could be the person who thinks your guitar sucks, which is hilarious. But it could also be that person who asserts that you are no good at what you do because you can’t do X, with “X” being a parlor trick on the instrument.
For guitar, it could be playing fast, sweep picking, or general “shredding.”
All of it sounds stupid. But do not underestimate the power of it when someone says something like this, either to you or to someone else. It seeps into the subconscious. People who talk this way, or who treat music like a “who is the best” contest should be avoided.
FALSE SUMMITS OF ACHIEVEMENT
I used to think this way, and it became a disappointment. The idea here is that, once I can play that new riff, or once I can do X on my instrument, then I will have arrived. I will be a better player.
So I sit with the riff, the rudiment, the passage, or whatever the case may be, and I work on it until I achieve. Suddenly, I can now play this magical thing that I had once only dreamed of playing.
After that, I feel no better. The riff or rudiment has lots all of its magic. I can play it, so it’s no longer special. Lots of people can play it.
This issue can manifest in other ways. Once I get THIS guitar, or THOSE drums, or THAT setup, then I will suddenly have arrived. Once again, as the story goes, the gear is acquired, and nothing has changed.
Once my band gets signed, we’ll have made it!
Same thought, same outcome. Same false summit of achievement.
Yea, but once I sell one million copies of my album, I’ll…
…save it. Same issue, same idea. Same outcome.
OTHER FALSE MEASURES OF SUCCESS
But if shredding, and big record sales, and being a rock star, and expensive gear are not measures of success, then what are real measures of success?
In order to understand this, one must first understand why these measures will fail you.
I’ve already covered shredding and acquiring new skills, and why that does not work. Still, it has something in common with the other things noted above.
Record sales are nice, and it’s cool to have a number one. Much like being a rock star, it is fleeting. The more time passes by, the less people are impressed with it.
Money is also something that comes and goes. It’s an artificial concept, where a dollar is worth a dollar simply because we all agree that it’s worth a dollar, as the government asserts that it is worth a dollar.
REAL MEASURES OF SUCCESS
These measures are going to sound simple and unimpressive, because they are just that. These measures are not meant to impress anyone, and only serve as a tool for your own psychological health and safety.
Taking Steps: Are you taking steps in the right direction? Are you practicing every day? Have you noticed some results here and there? Include everything that is about your music-related goals. If you are moving forward, then you are succeeding.
Learning: Are you learning something new today? It can be a rudiment, a riff, a scale, or other music tools. It can also be learning more about your instrument, or listening to someone else and getting a spark of an idea of your own. If you are learning, then you are succeeding.
Positivity: Are you remaining positive about your lessons, your music, and your life’s ventures? This can be the most difficult, because people and circumstances can bring us down easily.
HOW TO FIND YOUR ZEN CENTER
It’s all about inventory. My music goals for today are to practice my guitar lessons, perform some luthier work on a few of my guitars, and record some new ideas.
At the end of the day, I can perform an inventory check. Did I do all of these things? If so, then I am making progress.
Of course, you may sometimes have to make allowances. Last Thursday, I had lots of music-related goals, and yet I could not achieve any of them because I had to get a tooth extracted. Sometimes life happens, and you have to give yourself a break. It also meant that I had to work just a little bit harder the next day.
Remember that this must be a daily occurrence. You should be practicing every day. At the end of every day, do your inventory.
IN THE END
Sometimes, the words of others can be positive and encouraging. Other times, they can be negative and cause harm. Daily work, with daily practice and daily inventories, is essential to maintain your Zen Center.
More important than what others say to you, is what you say to yourself. Be kind, be positive, and be honest. If you really are bad at your instrument, then figure out why and fix it. Either that, or you can quit and move on to other things. It depends on how important music is to you.
But if your self-perception gets skewed, then it’s best to acknowledge your behaviors and make adjustments, if necessary.
If adjustments are not necessary, and you’re doing fine, then be happy that you’ve found your Zen Center. You can sleep with the confidence that you will find this center tomorrow, by working on your goals and making a note of it.