Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mentors (part 1)....

Not long ago a friend and I were talking about American Idol:

I will reveal with trepidation that I have watched on and off during the show's run. What appeals to me about it is not the music but the human drama. They put these people, who are basically green - sometimes totally so - through a horrendous hazing. I'm sure these newbees are working exhausting non-stop 12 hour days, trying to wring out as good as possible a presentation in the short time they have. Then they are put through a harrowing gauntlet as they are critiqued on live television after basically baring all - singing in a situation with virtually no safety net. It's brutal.

How do they even handle it? When I'm slightly behind on a work deadline my heart starts pounding like I'm going to go into cardiac arrest!

One can certainly argue vociferously against certain aspects of the show, and I would join you happily in that viewpoint. For example, imagine a young Bob Dylan, or Jimi Hendrix, or Patti Smith, or David Byrne, or John Lennon trying out for Simon Cowell? The artistry that those people created would be totally lost on him. So the show's viewpoint is very narrow -- painfully, painfully narrow.

And that brings me to the point of this...

Watch out for what your mentors say. It's not the truth:

You read that right - it's not the truth. Think about that for a minute...

The other night as I was doing some sidework in the studio, I had a show on the TV in the background called "American Idol Rewind". That's where they rehash the trajectory of the show's events from a previous season. I usually hate the rehashes, but I was struck by this particular show. It was devoted to a contestant named Chris Daughtry, who was eliminated in a previous season in the 4th spot, but who has gone on to a very successful career (more successful than some winners). In my opinion, he's one of the more authentic performers to have come from the show.

To start off with, Simon voted thumbs down at his audition, saying he could hear his singing in any two-bit bar in the country (paraphrasing). In my opinion that's hubris, pure and simple. It wasn't because it was in any way cringworthy, he just didn't like it because of the bee in his bonnet, which was masquerading as the "truth".

All along the way - condensed in the rewind show - Simon had similar kinds of comments about Daughtry.

It started dawning on me that the narrative that exists out there about Cowell "telling the truth" is incorrect. Simon Cowell is decidedly UN-shy in giving his opinion, but his opinion should NOT be construed as the truth.

In fact, looking back on this particular case, I perceived Cowell spoiled snob who's unable to recognize another reality might simultaneously exist. Yes, Simon's been able to have success guiding people's careers, and that's an admirable accomplishment, but it's an act of creation, not reduction. Put another way, there's not right, and there's not wrong. It's all possibility. Maybe his 'make or break' credentials in the industry lead him to believe he's looking through some special "truth lens", but what he's really doing is deciding on a personal preference and then mobilizing to make that possibility (one of many) a reality.

My guess is one of two things - 1) that he's not emotionally awake enough to have that distinction...either that - or 2) he's an actor playing a very piss-y part.

Enough said, I don't mean to pick on him for not being a spiritual guru. I'm no Bodhisattva myself.

But what I mean to say is this: Be very, very careful when you listen to those voices that tell you you're not doing it right, or that you're not good enough - even from high places. Learn to recognize when the harsh voices in your head are yours (hint: if they're overly harsh that's unlikely) or someone else's. Also watch as to whether they resonate truthfulness, or instead prey on insecurity.

Here is a key distinction taught to me by a kind and mindful spiritual teacher I know: If you find yourself internally judging yourself rudely or harshly, it's not your voice doing the talking.....it's the voice of others - strangers, friends or family - who have judged you unkindly in the past. In fact, if you think hard enough, you can usually identify the speaker (as in, my mother used to say "x", my high school teacher told me "y".).

Although it may be sometimes hard to believe, you love yourself unconditionally.

Here's the kicker: those voices are not going anywhere - and don't expect that they will. Sometimes they will be made manifest in your head, by people on the periphery, or by people actually in your life, and they will undoubtedly litter your path throughout your journey.

But if you play your cards right, and work to keep them in perspective, they will be a small residual refuse of something great that you create....

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ego and "the watcher"......

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of 'ego' as it relates to myself, and how my ego can hold me back....

Now if you're thinking to yourselves that you never thought of Reed as a person with an enormous ego, I can say that until recently I would have agreed.

Many of us think of persons with a big ego as generally being rude, or angry, or overly demonstrative, or having difficult personalities, but I've recently come to the realization - both through my own experiences and the wisdom of friends - that ego also has a flip side. Ego can cause one to be passive as well. Ego can be the enemy of self expression. If that expression manifests in making a contribution, then it can actually prevent you from giving of yourself. It holds you back from writing your music, reaching out to your friend...expressing yourself.

This ties into the buddhist concept of 'the watcher'.

In all of us, there is an ability for self awareness outside ourselves. We can stand outside of ourselves - almost as if we were watching a play or TV show - and judge our performance. Often harshly. On the positive side, this is what keeps us safe in certain circumstances when we choose to not act on an impulse. On the negative side though, the watcher is also prone to be judgmental. Unfortunately, this can severely limit our ability to acheive peak performance. A simple example: imagine if you were to think about every little motion with analytical focus and judgement as you were driving your car...some things are best done in automatic mode.

Ever tried to sing or play a musical instrument while simultaneously thinking to yourself "that note as flat", "that phrase dragged", "I wish I was better" or even "I suck"? It's not helpful! I know that situation all too well.

I experience my lovely little dog Tito as a case study in minimizing the role of the watcher. When he sees someone he likes, he whines embarrassingly, he approaches with no compunction, and he demonstrates affection fiercely. I am often moderately embarrassed, and in revealing that, I'm often made aware that the person who's the object of Tito's affection doesn't understand or connect with what I'm saying. "Why would you be embarrassed?"

In my own personal life, I am far more likely to be aloof - to pretend to be nonplussed. This is the action of my ego. I have to pretend that I don't care to avoid embarrassment.

The ego is not to be confused with 'the self'. Ever caught yourself not laughing because you feared someone's (or your own internal) judgement? Ever wanted to call someone and didn't do it because you thought they'd be bothered? Ever wanted to dance but not allowed yourself -- to sing? What you were doing was letting your ego take charge of the self. Sometimes the ego doesn't like it when the creature it inhabits is self-expressed. The self threatens the survival of the ego. The ego lives in fear.

For me, my fear of embarrassment is sadly almost pathological. I'm sure a lot of people have a similar experience. That's my ego doing the fearing.

Here's a trick, realize that often 'the watcher' is the voice of other people - bullies, critics, unhappy people (or people manifesting their unhappiness in your direction) - that is present in your memory. For example an abusive parent could be the voice you're hearing, the unhappy ex-spouse, people from childhood, old teachers...whoever.

The self unconditionally loves you. The ego judges you.

I was recently reminded of Oblique Strategies, which were first released as a set of 'playing' cards by musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schimdt as an aid for productivity in their art. Each card has a single sentence or phrase on it that is there to jog your mind somehow. Example: "Is there something missing?".

There is a card in there that says "what wouldn't you do?". That's my favorite one.

That's my task, think of what that is and then do it, regardless of the discomfort.

-- what wouldn't I do?

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