No inner; No outer
I once saw Yo-Yo Ma play the Dvorak Cello Concerto. At that time in my life I had very little money and arrived at the concert hall to buy a last-minute, standing-room-only ticket just before the concert began. But apparently, someone with a very good seat had returned it for resale, allowing me to buy their ticket at a reduced price at the very the last moment.
And that is how I found myself sitting front row, center when Yo-Yo Ma entered the stage. I was quite young, but old enough to know how lucky I was: This was an incredible opportunity to hear a master from a very close proximity, and I relished the thought as the music began. I could see so many things taking place all at once: the interior calm, the intense facial expressions, the focused eyes, the controlled bow arm, the immaculate finger positions, the soloist’s posture moving with the music, the seeming effortlessness of it all.
Of course, it wasn’t effortless. It was mastery.
What I had just witnessed was something that had balanced everything in such a way that all the parts disappeared into each other. The audience was there, the instrument was there, the bow was there, the musician was there, the orchestra was there, the conductor was there, but everything was simply about the unfolding meaning of the music being lived out during the concert. All of those separate things were no more than tools whose combined purpose was to participate in the expression of the evolving moment.
Since you perform, you already know what’s involved in making something look effortless. I don’t need to explain that to you. You spend hours each day building your skills, developing artistry, deepening your expressive capacities. What now looks easy was once hard. What now seems so natural was once quite uncomfortable. As performing artists, we work through phases of development at increasingly high levels as we travel on a life-long journey toward excellence. And please note the word I chose: Not perfection, but excellence!
What does that mean?
It means that there is no longer an exterior aspect, and no longer an interior aspect to what we’re doing.
There is no boundary between the fingertip and the piano key, between the breath and the note, between the bow and the string. No longer is there an interior voice commenting on the happenings around us.
There is this moment, and everything realizes it.
Even the ideal of beauty has been extinguished in favor of the reality of truth. Content and style have become one. All the parts function together in such a way that they disappear into the singular "now".
There is “no outer; no inner.” The battle is over. Not won, but over. It is selfless. Any concept of a struggle between “what the music wants to say” and “what I want to convey” has become simply irrelevant. Intention becomes result. The gap between before and after drops away. Nothing is added. Nothing more is needed.
This has already been eloquently described 800 years ago. The founder of Soto Zen, Dogen Zenji, once wrote a phrase, “Isshiki ino bendo”, which translates, “To practice the Way with whole-heartedness,” or, as it was described by Taizan Maezumi in his book ON ZEN PRACTICE, “to become one with whatever you do.”
“Isshiki ino bendo” is why there are phrases like, “When you are drinking tea, just drink tea.” We could just as easily say, “When you are playing Dvorak, just play Dvorak.”
When there is no outer; when there is no inner, there is only the doing.
This understanding is the endpoint toward which each of us has been journeying.
Or we could just as easily say – in a way that is both mature and childlike - this is the beginning-point for what lies ahead.
Mindfulness for Performers
Expressing the Unfolding Now
One of the most significant features we notice in the practice of archery, and in fact of all the arts as they are studied in Japan and probably also in other Far Eastern countries, is that they are not intended for utilitarian purposes only or for purely aesthetic enjoyments, but are meant to train the mind; indeed, to bring it into contact with the ultimate reality.
Archery is, therefore, not practiced solely for hitting the target; the swordsman does not wield the sword just for the sake of outdoing his opponent; the dancer does not dance just to perform certain rhythmical movements of the body. The mind has first to be attuned to the Unconscious.
D.T. Suzuki: Introduction to Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel
Has any performing arts teacher ever told you that their primary goal was to train the mind? Or to bring you into contact with Ultimate Reality? Or to attune your mind to the Unconscious?
We usually teach the arts through the creation of solid technique, the refinement of taste and the development of expressive capacity. We teach partly through imitation, and we encourage the growth of individuality too. We expose students to traditions and repertoire and the history and canon of their field. We create occasions for students to perform, to be judged by their professors, to establish portfolios and credentials and to be prepared to audition to find their unique place in the professional world. We mentor them and write letters of recommendation for them and, like a nesting bird, we send them out to fly on their own.
We trust that their wings have become strong enough and we wish them the best. We know that the odds of success are as varied as the qualities of each person, but that reality is beyond our control. We accept the fact of artistic Darwinism and of the truth that there are many unknown qualities of the “fittest” that may have changed over time as the world of the arts continues to evolve. We know that yesterday’s fitness may have become obsolete in today’s environment, and we accept the fact that we are powerless in the face of the many quirks of fate that will lead our students toward careers or away from them.
This is how we survive the conflicting emotions of teaching the arts to a new generation. We accept the end of our responsibility at the edge of the nest. Ultimately, we reason, it is up to each one of our students to survive on their own.
I have begun to wonder if that is enough. I have begun to wonder if we have actually completed the educational program we promised before we sent our students away from the nest.
According to D.T. Suzuki’s quote above, I would have to say that the answer is no. We may have missed the central point of educating any artist, and this may account for many a failed audition, for many anxieties and fears, for truncated careers, for years of unnecessary suffering.
I can’t say we have done much to bring the mind into contact with ultimate reality. I can’t say we spend a lot of time attuning to the unconscious.
Yet I know many musicians who have fallen apart in auditions. I know of blocked writers who haven’t yet written their long-planned novel. I know artists who repeat themselves in work after work and haven’t truly developed into what their artistic creations imply that they could actually become. I know actors who spend more time waiting tables than learning lines. I know dancers who carry around ingrained physical habits that hold them back from crossing over into greatness. I’ve seen stage-fright paralyze performers, memory slips end musicians’ careers, bad reviews become barriers to risk-taking in the face of potential failure. I know of addictions that distract us from what we are really here to do.
There are a lot of ways for an artist to fall out of a nest and never get back up.
I’d like to see you actualize your highest potential – the truest expression of you in this moment and your intersection with everything that is in front of you. I would like to see you be equal to the challenge of your calling to be an artist.
We'll look at the mind and the body. We'll look at our habits and the obstacles we create to block the way.
We'll train ourselves in mindfulness, specifically as it applies to performers, and I believe we'll gradually develop the practice of "no outer and no inner". Perhaps someday, we will have arrived at that masterful place of "just doing",
Welcome! There is work to be done. Let's begin!
John Thomas Dodson
USING THIS SITE
Mindfulness for Performers
This program is designed to help you establish yourself in a mindfulness practice that supports your life as a performer.
Inevitably, that practice will end up looking more like the needs of the user then like the intentions of the designer. Each person who tries this approach will find certain practices that match where they are in their own life and those materials will probably be used more often by the user when certain situations arise. Conversely some of these practices will not prove as useful at this point on the journey. Those will surely be discarded, at least for the time being. In the long run, what works best is what you find that works for you. In the short run, please participate in the program as it is designed. Keep what sticks and let go of the rest.
Every week you'll have access to a video that introduces you to the theme of the next five days. Watch it first, as it directs your mind toward the topic, before you use any of the subject matter. Even though you will be going about your daily life in your normal ways the week's theme will be operating within you, but below consciousness. For instance, by thinking about focusing during the first video, you'll be directing your Unconscious mind to notice those moments when you are focusing well and when your mind is wandering away. You don't have to try to "perform" the subject of the week's theme. No extra effort is necessary. Instead, just watch the video and let your mind do the rest without additional assistance from your conscious mind. Let go of your need to succeed, and Just let your deeper mind do its work.
As you scroll through each day's audios, you'll notice that they will always be preceded by a quote for the day. Sometimes the quotes relate to particular audio files you'll be hearing, and on other days they are simply there to help awaken you to what is happening as you go about your day. The whole point of mindfulness is to be present to life as it is unfolding, and these quotes remind you to notice what is arising around you and within you in the moment. Please read the quote before you listen to the daily audio.
I encourage you to listen to the daily audios in sequence and at the appropriate point in the day. As you go through them, you might take note of which audios help you most and then return to them any time you wish. Each audio file is under two minutes in duration - created to be usable even if you find yourself in a very busy schedule. It is my belief that anyone can find two minutes for mindfulness if they truly wish to do so. Believe me when I say that I know how much this daily process will help you in your practice sessions, in your performances, and in your personal life. You'll quickly see just how valuable these two-minute investments in mindfulness can be!
Each morning, when you rise, begin your routine by participating in the first audio of the day. The first daily audios are introductions to mindfulness practices, so in the first five days of the first week, you will have been exposed to five different ways to meditate using the breath.
Later in the day, before your daily practice begins, devote two minutes to mindfulness by listening to the second audio. Those audios are devoted to adopting states of mind that can be useful to you in your practice sessions. Each one is designed to place your mind in a certain state before you begin your work and then to encourage you to maintain that mental condition throughout your session.
Finally, just before you go to sleep at night, listen to the final audio of the day. You'll notice that these mini-talks place your life-work in a larger context. They help you to establish a healthy approach to living by remembering that, as artists, we are devoting our lives to a noble purpose lived with intention. They help you to close your day in a healthy mental state.
Habituating Mindfulness: If you miss a day
If you miss a day, don't self-attack. Just skip the content you missed, and move on to the next day's work. It's far more important that you establish yourself in practicing mindfulness a little bit each day than it is for you to try to "catch up" in a single, longer session. Don't give up on yourself or get stuck because you missed a session or a day. Just move on to the next appropriate audio file and continue your work.
Small Segments/Big Changes
The total time you'll devote to this program is just six minutes a day, divided into three segments of two minutes each. You can give yourself the gift of two minutes of mindfulness regardless of how busy you are! Let this practice help you raise your performance levels, just two minutes at a time. Experiment with this mindfulness program, and find out how you develop as a performer and as a person as it progresses.
On the nature of change:
The seed precedes the tree.
If you look for immediate, dramatic change when you are embarking on any new program, you're already doomed to fail. It isn't that change won't be happening, it is that the initial transformations will be largely internal and therefore unnoticeable to the conscious mind. Like a seed under the ground, you don't see anything taking place. But, with time, a plant will grow into being.
In the same way, by the time you see the changes externalized in your life, a lot will have already happened within you.
Because of that reality, you'll have to invest your time and effort before you are able to see change, and you'll have to just trust in the potential of this practice. If you can do that - and the program is designed in such a way that this is entirely possible for you do to so (even with your busy life) - you'll begin to see remarkable results.
We are both planting a acorn, and planning to reap an oak tree. No amount of impatience or desire for a quick result can influence this process. All you can do is water the seed - and you'll do that in the two-minute sessions.
It will help you if you don't judge yourself harshly during these weeks. Try to just accept what is happening to you on each day without expecting anything else. That may not be easy for you, but it will remove a lot of resistance to the process. Try to drop any tendency toward creating self-deprecating drama and instead do your daily work without turbulence.
For this period of time, resolve to be kind to yourself and not to engage with the inner voices of self-doubt.
Be patient with yourself and let the program do what it does naturally.
JOHN THOMAS DODSON
Author, Mindfulness for Performers
John Thomas Dodson is Music Director of the Lexington Bach Festival, Principal Conductor of the Cleveland Women's Orchestra and Artistic Director of Conciertos de la Villa de Santo Domingo, a music festival in the Dominican Republic’s Colonial City, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
He has conducted in major venues including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Hungarian State Opera House, Megaron Concert Hall, Boettcher Concert Hall, Eastman Theatre, Hill Auditorium, Maltz Performing Arts Center and Severance Hall. He has served as Music Director for Birmingham-Bloomfield Symphony Orchestra, Adrian Symphony Orchestra, Bryan Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra New York, Coronado Music Festival and the Philharmonia Orchestra of Tucson.
As a guest conductor Dodson has led concerts with the Athens State Orchestra, Budapest Philharmonic, National Philharmonic of Russia, National Symphony Orchestra of Bashkortostan, National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic, Irkutzk Symphony Orchestra, Omsk State Academic Symphony Orchestra, Bialystok Philharmonic, Rochester Philharmonic, New Haven Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra UANL in Monterrey, Mexico. In the field of opera he has collaborated with Yale Opera and Cleveland Opera, and his ballet credits include serving as the Principal Conductor of Ballet Theatre of Toledo. Dodson's performances have been featured on Public Radio International and National Public Radio stations as well as radio and television stations in Europe, Russia and North America.
In addition to his work as a musician, John Thomas Dodson teaches Mindfulness for Performers. He was selected to participate in a National Endowment for the Humanities program studying Buddhism in the Himalayas at the College of the Holy Cross with faculty from Holy Cross and Harvard University. He has taken Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses at UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center and UMass Memorial Center for Mindfulness. Dodson founded Blue Heron Mindfulness Living and now leads mindfulness retreats, seminars, and workshops internationally in colleges, schools, conservatories, wellness centers and international conferences, including sessions at Washington College, Oberlin College-Conservatory, the Dominican Republic's National Conservatory of Music and University of Pennsylvania Kutztown Summer Music Festival. He is the creator of Mindfulness for Performers, a program specifically designed to use mindfulness practices to raise performance levels while maintaining a calm and balanced mind.
A graduate of Tennessee Technological University and Johns Hopkins University, Dodson holds a Master of Music degree in Instrumental Conducting from the Peabody Conservatory of Music where he studied under Frederik Prausnitz. He continued his conducting training with Paul Vermel at the Aspen Music School. Dodson is a recipient of the Lenawee Arts Award from the Croswell Opera House and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from Siena Heights University.