Thursday, September 16, 2010

Taking Each Chord and Playing The Possibilities

I just heard a wonderful interview with jazz musician Herbie Hancock in which he eloquently explained a basic principle of my yoga practice. He was answering questions about his new project, and talked about his interest in all sorts of music making. He spoke of jazz and described that vulnerable place where he could respond fully to what was possible in the music, listening to what the other musicians were doing, and really being present. The interviewer referred back to Hancock's early training and the formative experiences he had working with mentor Miles Davis.

It was at that moment Hancock said, and I'm paraphrasing, that he was performing in Europe with Davis and everything was going so well, when in the middle of a performance, Hancock played a chord (he was on piano) that was glaringly awful and wrong. As his heart was sinking, Miles Davis took a breath, and then played notes that fit into the chord pattern, making that chord work in the piece. Asked about the importance of that moment, Hancock said that it was at that moment when he realized Miles Davis did not think the chord was wrong. He did not judge the chord. He simply took that as something new, an opening of possibilities. He went on to say that if, in playing jazz and in life, you can leave the judgment out of it, you make room for that vulnerable honesty that gives you access to the music (and the truth). He said in that space, you learn to trust the other musicians, and to trust your self, in essence being authentic. Being present. It helps him connect with people all over the world, and play all kinds of music.

In truth there is freedom, in letting go of judgment, the limitations are loosened. Imagine yourself on the yoga mat, with all your usual thoughts about what you can and cannot do. In the middle of a lunge, the teacher asks you to lean over your thigh. Stretching your spine, you lean over your thigh and then you're asked to hook your elbow and twist over your thigh bringing your hands to your heart in Anjoli Mudra. You've never done this before and yet you find yourself twisted, hands moving towards your heart, feet grounded in a lunge, gazing over your shoulder to the back of the room. If you had been thinking about this shape, or how hard it is to stay in lunge or how you twist better to this side than that, you would not be where you now find yourself. Is that all there is to it? No, just step forward keeping your knees bent and you will be twisting in Utkatasana. Is that hard or easy? Is that the right way to "come into" Utkatasana? Let it go. Perhaps being open, not judging, authentically in the inquiry, you will find out more about who you really are, and how to play with the chords you find in you.

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