For classical musicians, music making is often fraught with pain and anxiety. The ethereal character of music – you can’t see it, taste it or touch it, only hear it – ought to make it as close to a spiritual experience as anything in the panorama of human possibilities. But for many musicians, trained in this rigorous and venerable tradition, a shell of anguish and ego-driven suffering surrounds the experience, masking its purity.
Practicing zazen (zen-style seated meditation) can help ‘cut through’ these layers of anxiety, and can gradually and gently lead to a rediscovery of the simple but profound experience of music.
Questions like “Am I talented enough? Is my music sufficiently recognized and appreciated? Why them and not me?” these and others like them drop away. Such thoughts begin to be seen for what they are: manifestations of an ego grasping at the wind, trying to make sound – by its very nature impermanent – a permanent thing. This is like trying to capture the wind with our hand. It creates a trap: the ego constantly trying to assert control of that which can’t be controlled.
With regular sitting, a childlike wonder at the beauty of sound returns. Letting go of the perpetual striving – for recognition, celebrity, success, prizes, applause, the next big performance – can return music making to a mysterious and profound truth.
Here is zazen as liberation. Through regular, committed sitting, I am able to be the musician I truly am, and to make music with an authentic voice, freer and freer from the tangled web of ego. I can simply create beautiful sound in the moment, and give that sound, just as it is, to my listeners. I can let go of expectations of rewards and applause, I can let go of the harsh self-lacerating judgments of the mistakes I may have made during a performance. I can just BE, freely and fully, the musician I am now.