I write, and talk, a lot about mindfulness. Mindfulness, essentially, is just being in the moment and not being distracted by other things. When you read books like "Savor" about mindfulness they often talk about things like when you eat, you should eat mindfully and enjoy the food, without watching television or listening to music and such. Another example is when you walk mindfully, it's a good idea to not listen to an iPod the whole time, but to enjoy the sites and sounds around you and live in that moment as well.
These things are all certainly true and helpful. I've done them. I used to use an iPod in the airport, when walking, while waiting in lines. I have stopped that, and thus have stopped a lot of music listening as well. This has been a bitter-sweet thing for me. While the quality of my mindfulness has exponentially improved, my time spent listening to music - a thing that I derive tremendous joy from - has greatly been reduced.
At least, that's how it seems at first.
However, when you really get in to mindfulness and improve your practice of it, you may find that when you take time to listen to music mindfully then that is greatly enhanced as well. See, I guess the point the teachers are making is that when you are walking AND listening to music, you are not necessarily doing either one fully or fully enjoying either one.
So, since I started my mindful walking and other mindful activities, I had been missing music a lot. I'm a life-long music lover, and I get tremendous enjoyment from almost all forms of music. So the purpose of this post is to talk about the moment I had recently (and the many times since then) when I realized what they mean by that whole thing about not doing either thing fully when you do both.
I was really wanting to listen to some jazz recently (again, I like all music for the most part, but I was raised on jazz and it's the first music I ever knew). I fired up the 'ol iPhone 4 and Pandora to get my Jack Sheldon Station going.
Jack Sheldon is a living legend. The guy's is a true genius when it comes to music and entertainment. Whether you like Jazz music or not, you are probably already a Jack Sheldon fan, even if you've never heard of him. He's been making incredible music for several decades and is still going strong. Most of us, especially those who were kids in the 70's, will remember Mr. Sheldon as the voice of "Bill" in the Schoolhouse Rock song "I'm just a Bill". Also, he was the voice in Conjunction Junction". He was frequently playing and performing on Merv Griffin, was a semi-regular actor on Dragnet, parodied himself as "Bill" on an episode of the Simpsons. He's played on Tom Waits albums, performed with countless others, and has run several of his own bands as well. Jack has also been an actor, made soundtracks, performed with many other famous artists, and more. The guy is simply incredible. To this day, he still plays live a few days a week in Los Angeles.
Anyhow, I had the Pandora Station playing and was simply sitting and listening to music, while doing nothing else. My only purpose was to enjoy the music. This Pandora Station I created played 1997's "Jack's Blues" from the "Live at Don Mupo's Gold Nugget" record and then some of his trumpet virtuoso work on other songs, and then moved on to other artists such as "Stan Getz meets Chet Baker" and more.
Listening MINDFULLY to this music, I not only liked it, not only enjoyed it, but I lived it! It was FANTASTIC! When you listen that intently to these songs (or any) you hear things you don't normally notice, you get the feelings the music is trying to put across and you are transported - as if by magic - to the place the artist wanted you to go. Ultimately, this is what most musicians want more than anything. They want their music to be heard and felt and understood in this magical way that expresses what they felt when they created it for us. It's something that you can't get when you're doing other things and listening to music as background filler.
This is nothing new, and I am not claiming to have uncovered a great mystery. I just realized that this is something that I haven't done in years...probably since when I first became a hard core fan of music in the first place! For me - a married man, with a kid and a full time job and all the life responsibilities that come along with that - it's easy to forget. It's so easy to listen to music while driving, to listen when working, but to never REALLY listen.
So whether it's Reggie Watts special brand of comedy/music, or Jack Sheldon's virtuoso jazz Trumpet, or Johnny Cash, or Nirvana, or Ben Harper, or Eminem or WHATEVER type of music you love...take some time in your busy day to listen to it only for the sake of enjoying strictly that music.
Then, furthermore, apply that same complete mindful attention to the other things in your life that you like to do but don't ever do without multi-tasking. When you read a book, don't have the TV going in the background. Breathe in, and out, clearing your mind before you settle in to read and marvel at how deeply immersed you get in the world of your book. If you ride a bike for enjoyment, put all your concerns out of your mind before your next ride, and revel in the feel of the wind on your face, and the ground flying beneath your feet.
You get the idea, and it sounds like such an obvious and simple idea. But you'll probably notice when you perform these favorite things of yours, that you will realize how long it's been since you've done these things to the exclusion of all else. I hope it will be as refreshing and enjoyable for you as it was for me.
When poor old "Bill" was lamenting that he was "Just a Bill, sittin on Capitol Hill" he was sad because he was focused on becoming a law. There's a powerful lesson there, one that perhaps wasn't even intended. But I would suggest that you learn that lesson from Bill as well. The lesson that you should enjoy being "just" a Bill. Enjoy every moment IN the moment.
Who knew Schoolhouse Rock was teaching us Buddhist lessons!?