I recently listened to the best podcast I've ever heard, with Tim Ferriss interviewing Tony Robbins. You can check it out HERE.
In the podcast, Robbins talks about human suffering, and how it is inevitable during our mortal experience. However, choice plays into every situation in life, no matter the circumstances. This is easy to see in Nazi Germany, where certain prisoners basically gave up on life and died shortly thereafter, while others fought and persevered, through deathly and horrific circumstances, and ultimately prevailed, stronger than ever. Robbins discusses the choice we face in every situation - to live in a beautiful mindset, or a suffering mindset. Even in beautiful circumstances, people can choose a suffering mindset, and vice versa.
The highlight of the show was when he asked each listener to place both hands over their heart, and breathe deeply, feeling the power of their heart, feeling the strength of it, the care for it, the beauty of it. Do this for two minutes. While doing this, think of three distinct situations, people, or things in life you are most grateful for. At the end of two minutes, I was amazed at the results I had achieved. I like meditation, but something about the focus on the heart made it so much more meaningful than a normal meditation. It had power...it was more vivid.
"As long as this heart is beating, you have the gift of life, and you live." - Tony Robbins
"Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight." - Marcus Aurelius
Our lives are a constant equilibrium of gain and loss. Some gains are good, some are bad. The same applies for loss. However, when we come to accept our situation unconditionally, peace can distill upon even the most heartbreaking situations. It is maddening when people say to "move on", "be tough", or "get over it" when we are at the height of emotion after having lost a loved one, a beautiful situation in life, had to move, or even lost an item of great sentimental worth. Rather, "I accept this", "I will make this situation beautiful", or "I am the change that will make this situation great" are elegant mantras that can ease the sting of loss or change. In this respect, loss is not really loss at all, just a change that is defined by our attitude. We and the world may label it as heart-rending, terrible, wonderful, or refreshing, depending on the situation. Each situation in life is an opportunity for us to grow or die a little more, no matter how bitter the pain may be, depending on how we perceive the present circumstances.
"Too many rules is legalistic, but too much grace is enabling." - Rachel Cruze
This quote is from Rachel Cruze's book, Smart Money, Smart Kids, and it can apply to many situations in life. When we endeavor to be successful, we often set up so many "rules" - a perfect schedule, habits that can't be broken, an ideal working environment, an inspired mindset, etc. - that it can seem impossible to live up to our own standards. On the flip side, some people are free spirits, and figure that it will all work out, somehow. Proper planning must be in place in order to achieve goals, but we must always be willing to "adjust in battle," something a wise leader once told me on several different occasions.
So many self-help books and motivational speakers say to stop comparing yourself to others. In a society where everyone gets a trophy, it's easy to push aside the health of good competition. Others' actions can push us to be better. Look at the Lochte/Phelps or Raisman/Biles combos in the 2016 Olympics. Can people honestly say that the absence of one would help the other?
Is competition good or bad? Most would say it's good. Is comparing yourself to others good or bad? Most people would say it's bad. Doesn't that seem ironic? We must realize this truth: the key to competition, or any challenging pursuit in life, is to allow others to motivate, inspire, drive, and encourage you, but to never let others define you. Only you can define yourself, and you must choose to define yourself in a light absent of others. This way, competition always remains positive, no matter the outcome.
"In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
These wise words from Emerson break down barriers we've created in our minds. As humans it is so easy to think our way is the best way, and sometimes (which is even worse), the only way. By adopting an attitude of constant learning, life becomes ever richer, because each conversation and interaction with others becomes a pathway to self-improvement. Additionally, life becomes more interesting, for this attitude brings about a fresh bout of motivation with each passing hour, trying to gather as much information as possible, as if gathering building materials to construct a beautiful home, and building yourself into the person you wish to become.
Yesterday I listened to a truly excellent commencement speech by acclaimed author, Neil Gaiman. I highly recommend that everyone listen to it, especially if you have a career in the arts. Here's a LINK.
There were so many incredible elements to the speech, but one of the more simple lessons was relayed when he was discussing his successes. He said he had the opportunity to talk to Stephen King. At the time, Mr. Gaiman was having a lot of publicity and book signings. Mr. King told him, "This is really great. You should enjoy it." Mr. Gaiman goes on to say, with a noticeable tone of sadness, "And I didn't. Best advice I ever got that I ignored. Instead, I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn't a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn't writing something in my head, or wondering about it, and I didn't stop and look around and go, "This is really fun!" I wish I'd enjoyed it more. It's been an amazing ride, but there were parts of the ride that I missed because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit that I was on. That was the hardest bit for me, to let go, and enjoy the ride that I was on. That was the hardest lesson for me, to let go and enjoy the ride, because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places."
I have to stop myself right there. I could sit and transcribe the whole speech because it is so amazing. But that, right there, that simple lesson - I wish I'd enjoyed it more - seemed to stick out more than anything in the entire speech. Each of us will have unique opportunities in life. Some people are more talented than you, more beautiful, more privileged, more accomplished, more sophisticated, more (fill in the blank). Regardless of where you're at, enjoy the ride. One of my greatest fears, and therefore one of my greatest motivators, is that if I'm lucky enough, blessed enough, to look back on a life full of accomplishment and success, that I won't have enjoyed it. It gives me reason, each day, to observe some small beauty, some tidbit of inspiration or revelation, and marvel at the miracle that I am blessed to still be living, breathing, loving, existing.
One of the greatest teachers in history was a Soviet pianist and pedagogue by the name of Heinrich Neuhaus. He wrote one of the most authoritative books in his realm of study, entitled The Art of Piano Playing. I recommend it to all musicians, regardless of their instrument of study.
In the book, Neuhaus gives an analogy that can be applied to everyday living. He talks about boiling water. Piano practice, or any endeavor in life worth pursuing, can be likened to the act of boiling a pot of water. When we first put the water on to boil, it begins to heat up slowly. This is like the initial stages of practicing a particular musical passage. The water then heats more quickly - the practicing intensifies. However, many people become satisfied with sub-perfection, content with something that isn't completely mastered. The heat is removed from the water, and it starts to cool. This process is repeated as many times as the student can handle, until he or she becomes so frustrated and discontent that they finally stick with it until it's perfected. The water finally boils, becoming pure.
In life, we often stretch ourselves so thin that we are only able to raise the temperature of a particular pot of water by a few degrees per day. We are attending to so many pots, that the "heating progress" on each is almost unnoticeable. When possible, get rid of all unnecessary pots, and you'll be left with boiling pots of the most important water.
How much would you pay to play basketball like Michael Jordan, to sing like Luciano Pavarotti, to hit a baseball like Babe Ruth, to play chess like Bobby Fisher, to compose like J.S. Bach, to act like Audrey Hepburn, or to swim like Michael Phelps?
Talent is something that cannot be purchased or stolen. It is organically grown, and it cannot be given to someone or taken away. Through toiling away endless hours, one acquires something much more precious than a sum of money in exchange for their labor. They have something that is beyond price and of extreme value.
I vaguely remember a quote from a speech I heard at a conference that went something like this, "How lucky we are to live in a time of such great technological advancement. The richest pharaohs in Egypt would have traded all the riches of their kingdoms to spend even twenty minutes in an airplane, soaring above the clouds."
As we refine, treasure, develop, and polish talent, it can only grow in its effectiveness and beauty. We are able to soar to the greatest heights of human emotion. We are richer than the pharaohs. We become the envy we once sought. The owner of the most refined talent is indispensable, irreplaceable. Rich and poor seek out the talented and ask them to impart even a tiny portion of their gift. Others imitate the most talented, while the most talented imitate no one. They are free, completely unrestricted. They forge new paths, explore unchartered territory, and find places that few people in history have ever seen.
I love the scripture found in the third chapter of Malachi, verse two, from the New Testament which states, "But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap". Whether you are religious or not, I think there are some great lessons presented with this verse. It has always been easy for me to see the correlation of everyday living to the refiner's fire. In movies we can often see blacksmiths beating metal, thrusting it into the fire until it's white hot, beating it some more, thrusting it back into the fire, and so forth. But what about fuller's soap?
After a bit of digging, I found that a fuller was the individual who would take the raw, filthy wool from sheep and purify it using a variety of techniques, including an extremely harsh soap that would ultimately help to make it clean. It was an undesirable job. It was dirty work. It took a great deal of effort to make it white.
Trials in our lives require us to use fuller's soap. Fuller's soap can be an apology. It can be healing from a physical affliction. It can be mending a broken relationship. It can mean paying whatever price needs to be paid to make something right. Sometimes, we carry fuller's soap with us daily, continually. Its abrasiveness is painful, horrible, tough, and gut-wrenching. It is also desirable, stimulating, empowering, and necessary. Don't be afraid to use fuller's soap, for in it you will find healing.
About a year ago, my family took a trip to McCall, Idaho, a charming little town situated around a lake. My wife and I drove up with my cousin, Cole, and his wife, Timbrel. We had great discussions about many things in life. Much of the drive was extremely gorgeous and picturesque, but the highlight was when the sun started setting and the sky turned neon pink. Cole looked out the window and said, "I love magic hour." I'd never heard that term before, but I've thought a lot about it ever since.
Yesterday I was teaching one of my adult piano students, Steve. We've had a great four years of lessons together thus far, and he's overcome a great deal of technical and musical hurdles during our time together. Because of some personal and family hardships, he has to take a few months off from lessons. He asked if we could reflect on the things we'd accomplished together and the things he'd improved on over the last four years. He told me it was very beneficial to focus on these things at such a trying time in his life. In many ways, this was my and Steve's "magic hour".
So often we get wrapped up in so many tasks, some mundane and some meaningful. It's a good idea to take some time to reflect each day. Seasons in life have darkness and brightness, but there's always a magic hour. We create the magic hour. We can stay inside and miss it. Or, we can seek it out, study it, review it. Not every magic hour is filled with happiness and joy. Some magic hours are filled with pain, some with regret. But, every one of them means something. Every one of them is beautiful.
About the Blog
The musings of a (crazy) concert pianist
Remember to download Josh's free piano technique training here, showing his #1 tip to fix tricky spots in your pieces!