Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Effortless Mastery

Spring-cleaning is about renewal. During my cleaning spree last week, I came across Kenny Werner’s “Effortless Mastery” hidden amongst many a book.

Juanito Pascal, my truly inspiring guitar teacher, introduced me to the book years ago. Though Werner’s book is largely touted as a text for musicians looking to play without fear and negativity, his words go much deeper than that.

The back cover explains:

“While Mr. Werner happens to be a musician, the concepts presented here are applicable to every profession, aspiration or life-style where there is a need for free flowing, effortless thinking”

I agree.

Students looking to master any skill would benefit from his thoughts. His main point being that all skill comes from practice in a relaxed state. This relaxation promotes us to be appreciative of what we are doing instead of being harshly judgmental. We perceive excellence through each moment that we fully give to our activity. Through this excellence we love what we engage, building on positive associations.

I would call this profuse moment, mindfulness.

I see my students struggle with this as they criticize themselves for what they have yet to learn -- especially writing. They have so many ideas about what a writer is and should be that it blocks their ability to try. Negative thoughts of “I’m bad at writing” are often heard during the first session.

Often times, students are trying to build a bridge without the supports in place. To break way from these habits of negativity, I bring a student to what they can do. Feeling comfortable here, I can slowly help them to build on their existing skills.

I often recommend for parents to end any signs of frustration before they start, even if it means stopping the activity altogether. It is always better to start from a tabula rasa than a mind imprinted by negative experiences.

Though I struggle with mindfulness daily, I experience it teaching. Part of why I love my work is that it requires a relaxed focus with my student and myself. I have to be very present to optimally teach them in just the right way. Hardly ever do I find my mind racing to other ideas or inquiries that will not benefit our interaction.

And now that I am thinking of positive interactions, play comes to mind. The idea of play is so important to my work. I realize now that during play it is easiest to be mindful. We’re in an activity that we love, so we appreciate and indulge in it. This loving indulgence is the way to mastery.