Practice Room

Or….Making Room For Practice

practice room for piano

What do you visualize when you hear the words practice room? I immediately see a small windowless room with a piano, bench, metronome, pencil, and a pile of music. The walls are a dull industrial greenish grey. In reality I never practiced piano in a room like this, but that is what pops into my mind.

What happens if you visualize a practice field? I see a football field that is only half-scale in size and in poor condition. What about practice time? Is it a clock ticking loudly? How do things change for you if you say room to practice? I see my brain with its attitudes, thoughts, and processes. More on that later.

Practice can be defined as:

  1. Perform an activity or skill repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency
  2. Carry out a particular activity, method, or custom habitually or regularly, or
  3. To train by repeated exercises

To practice something requires a certain attitude. Practice is NOT a performance, so there needs to be a willingness, or even an expectation, to make mistakes. As noted in the definitions above, it also includes an expectation for repetition. We’ve all probably heard, and lived, the phrase “use it or lose it.” That’s where the idea of practice being regular or habitual fits in. Did you take Spanish in high school? How much do you still remember if you don’t use it every day. I remember a few words and phrases, but have lost most of it. The same happened with Japanese.

practice soccer

Historically, I’ve not been a fan of practice. I was fearful of mistakes, treated practice like a performance, and didn’t particularly like drills or repetition. This was true for sports and piano. I wasn’t very good at waiting, and practice felt like waiting. I didn’t embrace the idea that something could be happening while I was practicing.

Recently (very recently) my attitude about practice has shifted. Now when I think of practice it is less about the room, field, or venue and more about making room in my brain and life. It is helpful to take a few extra minutes to set an intention for the practice. I ask myself, “what do I want to accomplish right now?” I also think through different strategies to reach the goal.

practice with metronome

Practice can be summed up by trying to do one thing better than I did it before. I wish I could give credit for that wisdom since I didn’t come up with in on my own, but I don’t know where I heard it. I recently found it scrawled on a piece of paper when I cleaned off my desk. That one line changed a very old attitude for me. Wow, am I thankful! Today….I am working on page turns. That will be my practice plan.

Unsolicited Advice

Stop Sign indicating stop giving unsolicited advice

I could write a very short article on unsolicited advice; one declarative sentence. Stop, Don’t Do It! It is rarely a good plan in any relationship. Why?

  1. It doesn’t work, at least not often, and it can strain relationships
  2. It makes you responsible if your advice turns out poorly.

There are some key words to define. Lets start with the word advice. Oxford Languages defines it as guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as a suggestion about what someone should do or how they should act. That doesn’t seem too ominous. Then there is the word unsolicited. Merriam-Webster defines unsolicited as not asked for or requested. This is where the problem lies. You were not asked for it. As a result, it then runs the risk of triggering defensiveness in the receiver of that advice.

I know that watching someone struggle is difficult. That is particularly true if you believe that you have the answer to their problem. If you are really honest, how often do you welcome unsolicited advice? If it is task-based or work-related it can be helpful in some situations, but you also run the danger of conveying that you don’t believe the other person is capable of figuring things out.

conversation without unsolicited advice

Perhaps a better approach is to just say something general about your willingness to help if the other person needs it. Then, you can expect that they will ask if they are uncertain or unsure of something. If it isn’t procedural, and is in the realm of opinion, sharing is even less desirable. If someone wants to know your thoughts and opinions they will ask.

Exercise vs Movement

Exercise vs movement

There is something about the word exercise that causes an emotional reaction for many people. I find it interesting that the word movement rarely elicits the same emotional response. Go ahead, say the words exercise and movement aloud and then notice what you feel. Try “I’m going to exercise” vs “I’m going to move.”

Although the literature suggests that exercise is beneficial for both physical and mental health, I believe many people are avoidant due to the negative connotation the word exercise has developed. Perhaps you were picked last for teams in gym class. Maybe you were teased about your level of coordination in the past. Maybe you have an internal dialogue about not being athletic.

Here are some steps you can use to get moving in the right direction.

walking on beach for movement vs exercise
  1. What forms of movement do you enjoy? Do you hate sit-ups but love to dance? List as many pleasurable ways to move that you can think of. My list would include swimming, dancing, and walking in the mountains or on a beach.
  2. What forms of movement can you tolerate, even if you don’t love them? I can tolerate an elliptical machine and stationary bike.
  3. What forms of movement do you really dislike? I dislike stair climbing, core strength training, and running.
  4. What forms of movement have you been curious about? My curiosity list includes kayaking, paddleboarding, yoga, rowing, and zumba.
  5. What holds you back? Some obstacles for me are physical limitations, availability, and not wanting to feel foolish, embarrassed, or “stupid” if I’m not good at something.
Possibility List

Once you have the answers to these questions you can start to create a Possibility List. Then you can use the list to increase the amount of movement you do each day. It’s ok to start small with types of movement you really enjoy.

How much different would it feel to say “I get to walk in the mountains” instead of “I have to exercise?” I have said it before, words have power. Deliberately choose the word that helps you live your values in a comfortable way.


Do I Still Do Reiki?

People have asked, “Do you still do Reiki?” The anwer is Yes. I do continue to use Reiki. However, much like tapping, I don’t use it as intentionally or as frequently as in the past. That realization makes me feel sad.

I find that the absence of a local Reiki Community is a factor. My Reiki Community in Ohio was robust. I loved being around other people, doing, sharing, and talking about Reiki. I really miss that. I also miss those people that were in my life then.

I deliberately use Reiki in two ways now. When I am enjoying time in nautre I often send Reiki energy out to the tress and animals. Combining Reiki with tapping is also something I do fairly frequently. I focus the Reiki energy in my fingertips while I am tapping on the meridians and it seems to enhance my experience.

Someday I would like to re-engage in a more intentional program of Reiki study, practice, and instruction. Teaching Reiki has always been greatly satisfying. Now does not feel like the right season for me, but I remain open for it when it appears

Mindfulness

Lea standing at Grand Canyon

I am sure you have heard the word mindfulness. In my lifetime it has evolved from a “hippie” word to a mainstream buzzword. I think that is for good reason. It can be helpful to think about mindfulness as both a group of techniques and a lifestyle. For me, mindfulness as a lifestyle is more aspirational, but I do believe that frequent practice of the techniques can lead in that direction. I define mindfulness as the practice of actively engaging the full mind in the present moment without simultaneously carving out space for reviewing the past or planning the future.

Mindfulness is often associated with meditation. They can can go together, but I prefer to see them as separate. I consider meditation as one technique or one method to engage in mindfuless. It can also be practiced in other ways that don’t seem particularly meditative or spiritual.

Two examples that come to mind include mindful toothbrushing and mindful eating. Toothbrushing and eating are often done without any mental focus or effort. If you switch your toothbrush or fork to your nondominant hand, you have to come into the present moment and focus on the mechanics. There is no mental space for reflection on the past or projecting into the future unless you want to make a mess.

Mindfulness meditation is also beneficial, but can be strenuous. Most people think they are terrible at it and have unrealistic expectations. My first real experience of this was at a 2-day meditation retreat. That’s right! I started with 2 days! This is something I do NOT recommend. I had the expectation that my mind should be clear of all thoughts and I would avoid all distractions if I was doing it right.

What I experienced was almost instant and continuous monkey mind. Sitting in silence felt painful, and I didn’t do much better with walking meditation. I noticed everything around me and started mentally describing everything I saw. It took real effort to return my thoughts to the present moment over and over again.

I thought I was getting the hang of things on the second day…until the bird flew into the window. At that point I started worrying about whether or not it was dead. That storyline continued all the way to wondering whether cats eat dead birds. If that wasn’t enough, my brain engaged in comparing myself to the others at the retreat. They all looked like they were doing it right.

Yes, it is hard. It makes one wonder, “why try?” There are so many reasons.

  1. Mind mastery. If you can repeatedly return to the present moment in meditation practice (or while brushing your teeth), you will be more likely to be able to do it in real life situations.
  2. Greater joy in the moment. Being fully present while eating that fragrant, visually beautiful, and incredibly tasty pizza will bring so much more pleasure than worrying about whether they will find something awful when you have your colonoscopy 20 years from now and how you will handle that.
  3. Decreased anxiety. If you consider anxiety as unproductive thinking about a future possibility that has not yet happened, mindfulness or being in the present moment does not allow space or energy for anxious thinking.

There are many books and references about mindfulness. I recommend Good Morning I Love You, by Shauna Shapiro as a good introduction. Easy to read, well-written, and gentle, it includes practical exercises for readers at all levels of mindfulness and meditation practice.

Accept that it will not come naturally at first. That’s ok. Mindfulness is not a destination. It is simply a practice.

“I Can’t” – A short rant

“I can’t”
“I don’t want to”
“I won’t”
“I shouldn’t have to”

I’m sure you have seen or heard me say this before, words have power. Many people use the above statements interchangeably and I believe it is to their own detriment. The statement, “I can’t” is particularly problematic. When I call people out on this they often dismiss their use of I can’t as trivial. Your brain stores this and over time it becomes true just by repetition. More accurate labeling of your emotion leads to better solutions and avoids the repetitive mislabeling.

Consider this, “I can’t take it any more.” What does that actually mean? Is there something that is implied but not stated? I often hear people using that statement when they are really meaning that they think they shouldn’t really have to do something or when they don’t want to experience something.

Not everyone will agree with me, but I think using I can’t instead of the other terms is a subconscious way, in many instances, to reject taking responsibility for whatever happens next. If I can’t do, tolerate, or handle something then I have more license to get mad, melt down, or avoid.

This isn’t always the case. There are times when I can’t is accurate. I really can’t bend my knee all the way. Multiple injuries and surgeries have rendered that an impossibility. I can’t handle scary movies is less true. More accurate for me would be I don’t want to watch scary movies because they make me uncomfortable and ruin my sleep.

The repeated use of I can’t can reinforce a victim mentality and disempower the user. What you practice will grow stronger. If you repeat something often enough, that belief will grow stronger. Perhaps it would be better to remember the Little Engine That Could. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Or in some cases, I choose not to….I choose not to….I choose not to.

Attraversiamo

Attraversiamo literally means “let’s cross over.” I learned this word while reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was captured by it with the first reading and it has continued to sit in the back of my mind ever since. Attraversiamo. This is actually pretty amusing since I am generally averse to change of most any kind. Changing sides of the road doesn’t hold any special appeal, but the thought of crossing over in a larger sense is strangely alluring. I think of crossing a bridge, changing life priorities, and pursuing new passions. This leads to my alternate title – What did you do during the pandemic? I chose to pursue some new attitudes and develop some new passions.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

I want to say a few more words about the book Eat Pray Love. Everytime I read or listen to it I recognize something new. It speaks to me in a new way. There are several books that offer a similar chance at new discovery. Perhaps it is because I blinked out for a moment when reading it the first time and missed something, but I think it is really because each time I read it I am different. I have changed. I have crossed over. Attraversiamo.

As I have mentioned in other posts, I seem to be in a season of change. Perhaps it is age, perhaps it is societal influences, or maybe I’m just ready. Simplifying things has become a priority. My life has generally been fairly complicated, with many irons in the fire. I previously liked it that way most of the time. But particularly since the pandemic, I have enjoyed the slower pace of life. In that way it was a blessing in disguise. Some people have really struggled with the isolation from other people. For the most part, I have savored the quietness. I’m packing up things I no longer need or want so that I can donate them and I’m only keeping things that still bring me joy. Attraversiamo.

I’ve started a practice of letter writing to keep in touch with my dearest friends. Admittedly, waiting for a response has been challenging since I’ve been used to almost instant gratification from my previous social media days. I’ve found that I enjoy choosing what paper I’m going to use as well as sharing the events of my life. Attraversiamo.

Many people have complained of boredom. I instead have had so many things that I truly love to do that it is often difficult to choose between them. And…..I have collected instruments. My passion for music has reignited. Not only have I continued playing piano and hammered dulcimer, I am now the proud owner of a mandolin, kalimba, steel tongue drum, and a bagpipe practice chanter (more on bagpipes in another post).

I took a class in choral composition, embarked on a self study of music theory, and I attended the Estill Voice Level I Training in July. The choral composition class with Elaine Hagenberg was pure joy and I have continued to compose almost daily since it finished. The Estill Voice training kicked my butt but was still wonderful.

You might not immediately see this as a change for me. How is this crossing over? In the past I was focused on the end product, but now I am taking pleasure in the process. Attraversiamo.

What changes are you ready to make in your life? Are you open to noticing opportunities? I haven’t always been open to the possibilities ahead, but now…Attraversiamo.

Talk About Yourself

Talk About Yourself

The new wisdom is: don’t talk TO yourself, talk ABOUT yourself. I grew up hearing that if you talked to yourself it was bad. It was even worse if you referred to yourself in third person. According to Science Daily, researchers at Michigan State University found that talking about yourself in third person can help to reduce stress.

The rationale for this is very similar to something I have been saying for a long time. We need to shift perspective and get emotional distance when we are in a stressful situation. What these researchers are saying is that by talking about ourselves and the situation in third person it creates the change in perspective and allows the emotional distance that is otherwise very difficult to accomplish. Otherwise, we tend to get stuck in seeing things from inside our emotions.

So, instead of saying OMG, OMG, OMG over and over again, it might be better to ask “Why is Lea so upset?” or “What is Lea seeing that is causing her to be frightened?” Another example, “I am angry.” or “I am noticing some tension in my shoulders that I interpret as anger.”

This might take some practice but seems very reasonable. I think I might just try to think the thoughts rather than speaking out loud. Whoever is listening might have grown up like I did and would worry about me.


No Thanks, I Want to Keep My Anxiety

“No thanks, I want to keep my anxiety.” Can you imagine saying that? Or perhaps you might say, I’m too busy to take the time to meditate. Unfortunately those two statements are the same. Researchers in Michigan have found that anxiety (and cardiovascular disease) can be decreased with only ONE mindfulness meditation session.

Confession time: Although meditation is on my daily to-do list EVERY SINGLE DAY, I rarely do it. I always think I’m either too busy, too tired, or will get to it tomorrow. Reading about the study in Science Daily was a fantastic reminder.

The thought of meditation can be daunting. Although a topic for another post, there are many different ways to do mindfulness meditation. There are many free apps to download for your phone. There are youtube videos. And, there are lots of books on the topic. You can be silent, you can stand, you can sit, you can use a mantra. Which one you choose isn’t the important part. What is important is that you simply try one.

It sure is a good thing I know tapping. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to do a series of tapping exercises to help clarify my resistance to meditating regularly. At this point I have no idea what the problem is, but I’m sure that I don’t want to keep my anxiety! Don’t worry, I intend to share my tapping.

Experimental Biology 2018. “Even a single mindfulness meditation session can reduce anxiety: People with anxiety show reduced stress on the arteries after 1-hour introductory session.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2018.

Mise en place

Are you impressed with my French?  Don’t be. Not only do I not speak French, I stink at mise en place.  I watch many cooking shows.  In fact, I’m somewhat addicted to them.  I’ve heard Alton Brown and others preach mise en place.  But do I practice it? NO!!! For example, one day I started putting together a great Tuscan Bean Soup but dumped the onions in the oil to saute long before I had even retrieved the garlic from the cupboard or the carrots from the refrigerator.

I’ve been pondering this personal deficit for a while now and it truly baffles me. I’m a person who makes lists.  My daily schedule in on an Excel spreadsheet and I dutifully remove things as they are completed. Usually the tasks are even recorded in order. The list might include thawing meat for tomorrow’s dinner, or staging the items I plan to take to the office the next day.  So my mise en place failure isn’t an inability to plan ahead.

I’m not a terribly patient person though. I can look patient, but on the inside I’m usually quite the opposite. I do find it hard to wait for the things I want or the activities I want to do. I’ve learned to cope with it though, so I can generally stay within a financial or time budget.

After reading an article about mise en place I think I may have found the answer. Mise en place can also be about attitude. If I fail to prepare my attitude or thoughts, the behavior is more erratic. I think this could be a lesson that far transcends the kitchen.

If you have a pre-cooking attitude adjuster that works for you…..please share.