Struggle #2

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Writing that title, I just imagined myself writing a blog post entitled “Struggle #46”, which is in fact just about the most positive thought I’ve had all day. You see if I make it to “Struggle #46”, I’ll have pushed through, for probably three months or more, and dealt with each point of struggle as it arises.

Today has been hard.

Yesterday the little anxiety knot was sitting just over my stomach. Today it was a heavy wash all through the front of my torso, pulling my shoulders forward – no longer nervousness, just the sads.

Identifying the thought pattern that leads me to this kind of depression is difficult – the sads don’t like me thinking about why I’ve got the sads, and they intensify the feeling if I try. The feeling screams at me to NOT PRACTISE and when it reaches fever pitch I’m all fetal position and cranky and hating on the world but mostly on myself.

The thoughts I did identify were still anxious in nature, but with a depressive undertow. All the things I need to do swirling around in my brain (I’m applying for some funding for my second-masters-in-Europe plan and the application is due Monday – I’ve made a good start, getting reference letters and the like, but there’s still recordings to edit and a CV to be updated and why-this-is-such-a-great-thing-for-both-me-and-my-community to be written and and and). I tried to clear my head, to stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand. I planned a practise session out and cleared the rest of my schedule so that I had nothing else on today except two measley hours of practise before my student arrives at 4. (But of course I didn’t let myself off the hook, and did some more emailing and drafting support letters because, hey, I don’t want to be putting anyone else out or pushing my luck asking for things too late in the piece.)

The idea of ‘getting on a roll’ is in itself oppressive. Today is the fifth day of my schedule, and despite all the chiding myself, I’ve done pretty damn well (I mean, what am I comparing to? If the past two months, then this is a goddamn revolution). Now the pressure to CONTINUE is building. My mind anticipates the inevitable ‘falling off’ and subsequent fall out, which has in the past lasted anywhere from a few days through to (more commonly, especially of late) several months, and freaks out, although subtly, in such a way that I notice the physical sensations before my mental notes.

I did do a solid hour this morning, and in thinking about how to make such practise less intimidating Liam and I came up with what I think will be quite a useful method.

Generally, I am the sort of person that only counts one hour of practise as ONE SOLID HOUR OF SIXTY MINUTES OF NOTES COMING OUT OF MY INSTRUMENT AND BRAIN VERY FOCUSSED ON SAID NOTES. Liam finds that funny, because when he was practising guitar he would do 45 minutes and count it as an hour. I find I practise most productively in 10 minute ‘sprints’, on a pre-ordained task, such as “10m Wye RH dig ex” or “10m Karg-Elert in dotted rhythms” or “10m clocking Hurel mvt 1” (all actual entries from my practise notebook). I set a timer for these blocks, so don’t ever do less. With the occasional breather in between (or sometimes a significant break because I can’t right at that moment face the three further blocks I’ve planned for myself), 60 minutes generally becomes something more like 75 … or 90. But I only ever count it as 60.

As I am spending much time working with and reading the information made available on the Bulletproof Musician blog (in the past I’ve been way sus on sport-psychology-for-musicians, but I’m coming around), I was forced to question this thinking when it was said that there is a limit to the amount of time we can be truly productive when practising in a very focussed manner, and that limit is probably around 45 minutes.

So, the idea is thus: I do 50 minutes of 10 min blocks, and intersperse them with 2 minutes of down time. This makes the whole thing that little less intimidating, and is also protecting my physical wellbeing, edging me closer towards sustainability (not something I am good at). Some of my down time ideas:

  • Bettina’s arm stretch
  • green dooby trigger point massage
  • breathing exercises (such as Riley Lee’s)
  • neck and pec stretches
  • Ernie cuddle
  • walk to the back stairs and look at something green (tree) or blue (sky)
  • handstand or shoulder stand
  • centering practise

Of course the rule is most definitely still no internet/phone (I’ve been flight-moding my practise sessions lately, which is most helpful). But these things are enough of a different focus to my practise to give my brain a break, and many give my body some help too.

So practise hour #1 I got through eventually (there was a danger point, which was heavily exacerbated by low blood sugar – scheduled snacks are so vital for me), but practise hour #2 did not happen. The sads reached such a point that I wanted to just stand and scream rather than practise. Instead I decided to write this and to also do some centering practise maybe after my student. Tonight we are going to have a night off the schedule, seeing a movie with old friends, and then tomorrow is, once again, a new day.

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