Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it FLOW, and I have already mentioned in an earlier post that in Tai Chi we call it relaxed concentration. Sometimes I tell a student not to try that hard. “I concentrate hard on what I need to play” he tells me. “Are these the results you want”, I ask? “If not, maybe we should try another kind of concentration. A kind of concentration that is not associated with tension.” How do we learn relaxed concentration? Can we practice it? In the introduction to my article Exploring Related Areas of Learning, the editor, Virginia Dixon, mentions an exercise I did in a master class where I asked a student to read an unrelated text while playing. It might have been the same had I asked the student to concentrate on the door knob. What I basically did was the same thing people do at meditation. In meditation people are given either a QUAN (kind of a riddle that has no solution), or they are asked to repeat a MANTRA (a word or a combination of sounds), over and over again. This gives the mind something to think about. When we concentrate either on the quan or on the mantra we keep out all the distracting thoughts, such as, ‘what will my teacher say’ and ‘will the audience like me or not’, ‘will I make enough money to pay the rent’ or the thoughts about the last fight I had with my partner. It is fascinating to watch young children perform. They are completely absorbed in their performance and I assure you that none of the above questions comes up in their minds. Recently I did a Juggling workshop in my Teaching is an Art Seminar. We learned how to juggle and we discussed the process. At one point I suggested that we actually say aloud what we need to do. For example, when we practiced throwing two balls, we said: “throw – throw – catch – catch”. In music I suggest that we sing along while we play (usually naming the notes). This keeps the mind closed and protected from any intrusion. This is also good practice for performance: In performance we can do the same thing but we do not sing out loud. All this is based on the fact that our body knows what to do. If we train slowly and correctly, when performing, our body will do what it needs to do, because it has done it so many times before. To really concentrate, all we need to do is trust our body and keep our brain and our ego out of the way.
Concentrating is not about doing, it is about being.
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