January 17, 2020

mark twain on guitar practice

"Life is one damn thing after another!"...........................Mark Twain

Mark Twain, being a humorist, often put profound insights into humorous form. One can find the inner meaning of the above quote in the writings of great philosophers, mystics, and saints. This saying is pointing to an understanding that has been recognized as an attitude whose attainment is essential to proper functioning as a human being, and also to another real nice thing to have in your life: PEACE.

Let's look at this saying, in general, and then how to use it as a guitar player in particular. "Life is one damn thing after another". As soon as I heard this, I said "you know, he's right, it is". It is "one DAMN thing after another".

Get Interested, Not Upset

What is a "damn" thing? It is something we don't like! It is something we want to get rid of, which is what "damning" something means. It is something we almost always try to avoid. It is probably something we didn't expect, and probably something that is going to create that thing we humans hate most: CHANGE! And these "damn things" just keep coming at us, day after day, year after year.

But the wise person is not seduced by the temptation to avoid all the unpleasant things that come his way. The wise person has matured to a certain awareness, and because of that awareness, as the years go by, his or her life takes on a deeper quality than most, because they have learned to USE the changes life inevitably delivers, in a way that those whose lives are full of "damned things" they want to avoid cannot.

The wise person has become aware of three things.

First: the new, the unexpected, change, is inevitable, it is in the nature of life itself. Resist it, and you will miss the whole show.

Second: life is a school. The way new lessons are introduced is by what we call "change". Change, which is all those "damn thing" are, simply means we are in a new classroom. It always feels weird to be in a new classroom. New sights, new people, new smells, a new YOU. Now that is scary. But without allowing ourselves to stay in the new classroom, and see what is being taught there, and letting it change who "we" are, we stay the same, which is another way of saying we are not actually alive, we have stopped growing (one of the signs of life), we have become "dead".

Third: change is exciting. Once we are no longer trying to avoid the "happenings" in our life, once we allow ourselves to flow with changes, and learn each new lesson as it comes, we discover that our lives take on a quality of aliveness that makes the life of "change avoiders" quite dull by comparison. After awhile, our first response to a change that comes along in our lives is to find it interesting, not disturbing.

Be A Master From The Beginning

Mastery is an attitude, it is not a state. It is something we do, not something we have. When one is a master, it does not mean you have necessarily achieved this state or that state. A master is one in whom there is no obstruction between the flow from "outside" to "inside", and from "inside" to "outside".

The impulse to avoid what we don't like, the impulse to pretend it doesn't exist, is constantly overcome by a master. He or she is much more interested in what they can learn from some new, unexpected occurrence, than in avoiding it or hiding from it. When you live your life this way, over time, you will become very different than the people around you, because most people spend all their time trying to avoid every "damn thing" that comes their way.

If you want to bring out the fullness of mastery within you as a guitarist, you must have this attitude of mastery. And you can have it, right from the beginning. The sooner the better. And like anything else, the more you practice this attitude, the better you get at it.
Many guitar players, when something goes wrong in playing, filter out the mistake from their conscious awareness. They do not want to hear it, so they don't! Hearing a recording of their playing would be torture for them, because it would be full of "damn things" they are trying to avoid. These guitarists will never improve their playing until they embrace, rather than avoid their experience.

Maintain The Position Of Mastery

Here is an inspiring example from the great master Bruce Lee, and you can see it in his movie "Enter the Dragon". He is in the big fight with the big bad guy, when all of a sudden, the bad guy, in true bad guy fashion, plays a dirty trick, and a trap door opens, trapping Bruce in a narrow hole.

Now if that were me, I would have spent at least ten minutes swearing, stomping and beating the wall, all definite signs of resistance! But Bruce, being a master, does not waste a second in resistance, because he knows he will only be weakening himself by doing so. He stays totally in his present moment, which is where our power is. He immediately sits down cross legged on the floor, to center himself, and deal with the situation. Now that is the attitude of mastery!

I may not be much of a master when it comes to life and death fighting,  but when it comes to practicing the guitar, I must say I am at my best! You always hear about guitarists getting so frustrated in practicing, and saying things like "I wanted to throw my guitar out the window". I have never felt like that in all my years of playing, and when I have been tempted to, I immediately step back in to my power, and make the necessary effort to remain centered, aware and conscious.

I recognize that every mistake is not evidence that I am not really very talented, but is instead a result that had causes, and I must discover those causes. When there are problems in playing, even though a part of me might be tempted to feel like I just got a letter from the Guitar Association of the Universe, (where all the great players sit together, watching me constantly) saying "Dear Jamie, give up, you stink", this is not really the case!

I realize that each "problem" is really a lesson, a puzzle, for me to devote my fullest energies and abilities to solve. As years have gone by, and I have solved puzzle after puzzle, well, I have gotten pretty good.

It is paradoxical. I have not always been a great guitarist, but I have always felt like a great guitarist. What that really means is that no matter what level my ability to play the guitar has been developed to right now, I have always been in touch with my ability to bring out more. And I have always been able to pour myself fully into whatever is here right now. I always try to get my students to feel like this too. When you have this feeling, you are on the path of your own mastery.

Okay, time to pick up the guitar, and see which damn thing is waiting for me now...........

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  1. Hi Jamie, once again, thanks to the philosophy that you give through your lyrics, I will take back my guitar by looking at it differently.
    Many thanks.

  2. It's all good Jamie and speaks the reality of learning anything regardless of what is your learning, Thanks for all the philosophical wisdom you pass to us on a daily basis.
    Thanks Jay

  3. You sound like a INTJ personality who happens to play guitar! Your observations are pretty good concerning the approach to the instrument. If you add a dash of Deliberate practice and Rage to Master…"Art begins where technique ends" L. Auer Thanks for your insights.

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