Miss Music Nerd’s Musical Monkey Mind!

A mind is a terrible thing.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the concept of Monkey Mind. Even if you didn’t already know the term, I’m sure you’re familiar with the experience it refers to. It’s a very human thing, to have all manner of thoughts scurry through one’s head while trying to focus on a task or otherwise keep the mind still. The mind doesn’t want to keep still!

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Sometimes it seems that the more crucial it is to quiet the chattering and concentrate on an important task, the noisier and more obnoxious the Monkey Mind becomes. I’ve noticed this while getting ready for my recital. I need all the focus I can muster right now, but my monkey has been kicking up quite a ruckus!

One issue is what goes through my mind while I’m actually playing the piano. You’d think my mind has enough to do just looking at notes and sending the signals to my fingers to play them, but random thoughts do creep in, from whether it’s too hot or cold in the room, to that thing that guy said the other day that annoyed me. Or, if I feel I’m playing well, I’ll start thinking, “This is going really well!” or, “Dang, I’m good!” which basically guarantees that I’m about to go splat. Chiding myself doesn’t work any better — no point in thinking, “That bit didn’t go quite how I wanted” when that bit is in the rearview mirror.

Performing music is a very Zen activity. The only thing that really works is just to take it moment by moment, not worrying about what just happened or what’s going to happen in a few minutes. And if something goes less than perfectly, you have to instantly forgive yourself and move on.

I find myself having to keep an eye on my thoughts while away from the piano as well. I can feel myself starting to freak out, but I know that there’s no cheese at the end of that maze, so I tell myself to knock it off. And I’ll tell you what, I’m in favor of all manner of new-age, woo-woo, power of positive thinking techniques right around now! I don’t know whether there are atheists in foxholes or not, but I’m quite sure that the Green Room is no place for Debbie Downer!

Oh, and here’s a funny thing I noticed: I’ve started having the urge to tie up any and all loose ends in my life. To return anything I’ve borrowed, to spring-clean the house to within an inch of its life, to make sure I’m good with all my friends and family. Geez, it almost sounds like I’m stepping in front of a firing squad instead of onto a stage! 😉 But it’s just so I can be free of little nagging thoughts that like to come up while I’m doing something difficult that requires deep focus.

I imagine that high-level athletes training for big events have similar experiences. I think if I were preparing to run a marathon, I would be wrestling with my mind this way, too. (I’ll probably never know for sure – I’ll take my runner friends at their word!)

When I shared these thoughts with McDoc, he reiterated that I should give recitals more often. Evidently, there’s nothing like assigning yourself a huge task to get yourself whipped into shape right quick!

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2 Responses

  1. I can relate to this, so now I’m married to Dr. Monkey Brain Slicer, a scientist who does research in neurosurgery.

  2. […] I found that practicing the less technically demanding pieces is very similar to doing Zen meditation. The basic task is so simple: just sit, focus on your breathing, let your thoughts go by without getting caught up in them. What could be hard about that? So you do it for a minute or so, and then your attention wanders, and before long you catch yourself writing angry letters to the editor in your head, or maybe just making a grocery list, but either way, totally at the mercy of the monkey mind. […]

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