I did a yoga DVD this afternoon. The instructor said at the end, of savasana (corpse pose), that it was one of the most challenging asanas. That's the kind of statement that's practically begging you to roll your eyes - I mean, how hard could it be to lay down on your back and relax, especially after a tough workout? But I know she's right.
As a music teacher, I see that my students have the same challenge. "You're trying too hard," I say. "Let it be as easy as playing one note [I got that from Kenny Werner]."
But to try not to try - you can't. You just have to let go, and then you're not holding on to anything so you panic and grab tighter. But if you keep coming back to it, you'll make progress.
And where will all this careful, easy, mindful practice get you? Perhaps nowhere anyone else will ever be able to see. Perhaps you will literally have nothing to show for it.
A slightly stronger pinky finger. A throat that clenches almost imperceptibly less on the high notes. The ability to play a cadenza with just a bit more surefootedness than you had last year.
Of course, meanwhile, your brother/friend/teacher/enemy can do it all and more, and better, while hungover on two hours of sleep.
It's almost enough to make you give up. For some, it is enough.
I've been thinking about writing an ebook about piano - like, Seven Ways to Be More Awesomer At Piano or something - so I googled a few "learn piano"-related phrases.
Yikes! It was like being solicited by a prostitute when you're looking for true love. Promises of "100s of times faster than other courses" and blinking ads and long-form sales letters. Not the right marketplace for my message of slow and systematic and taking a year to learn to uncurl your left pinky.
The worst part was the realization that those websites with their comprehensive courses in two easy payments of $39 are better than anything I've ever come up with, and it's possible that I will never create anything to rival them in scope, marketability, or even quality. But after a few minutes of feeling like a character in a Sofia Coppola film, I got my shit together and felt okay about just being me again.
Just being me: as in, I don't actually need to accomplish anything visible in order to be myself. I can make all kinds of little changes that you'll never see and never value, and that's okay.
The reason I was doing yoga in the first place is because I hurt my foot during a run on Christmas Day, and I can't run. I love the way running feels, but I especially love the way I can measure things - how many miles away from home I can get, how fast I go, how much better I did than last week. Now that I'm not running, I have nothing to measure except my perception of how much strength, speed, and conditioning I am losing.
Yoga is the opposite and the antidote: don't measure, don't analyze, don't compare - just keep breathing and observe. It's just you and your body and your breath - and you are whole and complete as you'll ever be.
Today, for a moment, in savasana, I got it - just for a second, I felt the way it would feel to surrender completely and dissolve into the earth, like the actual corpse I will someday become. The knowledge moved me to tears: I don't need anything else but what I have, and I don't need to be anything else but what I am, ever.