Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Listening without the lens

Over the last two weeks I have been reading an extensive amount of political press coverage in a variety of media presenting radically different points of view, from the New York Times, to the Washington Times, to the Huffington Post, the Drudge report, to the NJ Star Ledger, to the Daily News. It's interesting to see how differently pundits frame issues - sometimes using what seems like outright deception, and other times just using effective advocacy - and this is on both sides of the aisle.

How does one really listen to all that is being said with objectivity and fairness? I find this extremely difficult in many ways, as it relates not only to politics, but also to music.

Part of what we do as conductors is to rehearse what we hear in live time - to really listen to what is being played in a given moment, and not just react to what we expect to hear. In other words, if I am listening only through the lens of my own experience, chances are I'll either miss an opportunity to incoporate an excellent idea, or I'll miss something that really needs help, or I'll go about fixing a problem in a manner that is not economical or on point (musicians hate when their time is wasted!).

So I am constantly trying to ask myself - am I really listening? I must confess that I am guilty of not doing as good a job as I should, with my excuse being the amount of work in front of me. This is not a great excuse honestly!

The question becomes how does one really get away from filtering material? How many times have you had a conversation with someone where they totally missed your point and visa versa?

I think it starts from taking moments during a busy day to calm one's mind. We have so much on our plates constantly that breathing deeply becomes difficult - are you breathing deeply now? Unless your body is in a position that is not clenched, then it is impossible for the mind to follow suit - who do you know that has an open mind and physical tension at the same time? Before I conduct a performance I always spend a little time by myself doing excercises called mentastics, developed by Joseph Traeger and taught to me by Joseph Gifford. This usually takes away a lot of my angst and puts me in a more open place to receive as a musician. I can tell when I'm not doing this in all parts of my life - I take things more personally, I am more volatle, more rigid. Do you find this in your case as well?

I am going to try to make a committment over the next two weeks to do some more meditation, to take conscious time aside to breathe deeply for a minute regularly throughout the day, and to do some more exercises that I hope will keep things more open and aligned, even if a performance isn't an hour away. I'll be curious to see how this shapes my experience in the short term and am interested in your experience as well!

1 comment:

Jeff Little said...

I think you've definitely hit on an important point, and I think it's also important to be aware of the extent to which it's inevitable that you'll be perceiving life through the lens of the experiences you've had up to this point. You'll never get away from it totally but you can root out a lot of fallacies if you get into the habit of making a constant effort to question your automatic, subconscious reactions to things and ask yourself where they come from.

Seeing things from our own point of view is the most natural thing in the world, and it definitely requires constant attention to our subconscious impulses in order to keep them from distorting our perception of things. That's why I think it's really important not to be too attached to any idea or point of view, because as soon as we settle on one our automatic, subconscious reaction from that point on will be to defend it whenever anything we experience seems like it might threaten it. The moment when those idea-defense mechanisms kick in is the very moment when 'the lens,' as you describe it, distorts what we experience. It's also the moment when, if you're in the habit of doing so, you can catch yourself, by taking a second to ask yourself "this guy seems to have a good why do I feel like I need to find some way to prove him wrong? Maybe I can actually learn something by considering his point of view as possibly having at least some degree of validity."

Politics is probably the perfect example; I really dislike the concept of identifying a particular candidate or even a country as "good" or "bad," because then you'll automatically twist your understanding of every subsequent event to fit that mold that you've made for yourself, and I think that once you've done that you've abandoned logic in favor of joining a club.