On Tour with Obi Wan Kenobi, Mindfulness for Musicians

Mindfulness. Some misconstrue it for meditation or something where you sit quietly for an hour. Well yes, but no. Mindfulness means being present in the moment. We are more un-mindful now than any other time in human history. We have technology to thank for that. One might think this is leading into an article all about how bad millennials are because of constant connection and social media inundation, but I assure you it is not. However, we cannot ignore the fact that smartphones have changed the game when it comes to being present. When we sit down on a bus, wait in line, go to meetings, sit through class, and even in places of worship we rarely interact with those around us or take in our environment as we are constantly distracted, typically by our phones.

Now, being mindful as an artist in the music industry takes this to a new level. First, in addition to what was mentioned above, artists live a fast-paced lifestyle. They move from place to place, and people to people, making it difficult to find a sense of awareness as the scenery is always changing. Second, often times mental health issues such as depression and anxiety lead artists to want to escape the pain as opposed to experiencing it.  Back to this in a bit, but before we continue, let’s talk a little more about what mindfulness is.

Obi Wan Kenobi, smart he was.

In the opening of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, QuiGon Ginn tells Obi Wan to keep his thoughts here and now where they belong, and never lose sight of the present moment.  Later on, before the pod race, he tells Anakin that his focus determines his reality, that focus comes directly from the present moment. We can practice mindfulness in the ways that some people think of meditation. But it is more than that. It is about being present in the here and now and fully experiencing the moment. If we are trying to get through the day simply to get a few minutes of peace and quiet at the end of it, well, that is the opposite of mindfulness (more on this in the next article on self-care).  When we fully experience something, we typically manage our emotional well-being better, and can often enjoy it more. You may be saying, “Well, you wouldn’t enjoy my job/life/spouse/kids/etc”. The beauty of mindfulness is that even if we are not enjoying the moment, we can experience it and learn more from it than we would if we were not mindful.

Not except, but accept.

Moreover, part of mindfulness is acceptance.  Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, created by world renown therapist Marsha Linehan, talks about radical acceptance. We accept what we cannot change which decreases suffering. Imagine it this way; if you have an awful pain in your body and do not accept it, you have pain and suffering, which decreases freedom. If you have pain plus acceptance, you still have pain, but suffering goes down, and freedom increases.

Now, let me spend some time talking about freedom. We sometimes get caught up in thinking freedom is being able to do what you want when you want, or not being incarcerated or having rules. I remember teaching this concept to teenage boys from Central America and Mexico who were mandated to live in a residential group home. They felt they had zero freedom. However, when we change the idea of freedom from anarchy to acceptance, we could be chained to the wall in a maximum-security prison and still be free, in our minds. If I can accept what I cannot change, I then decrease suffering and increase freedom. So, I’m still chained to the wall, but no longer suffering.

Getting back to artists in the music industry, oftentimes drugs and alcohol are used as an escape for people to not have to sit through the physical or emotional pain they deal with. Many famous artists get discovered or start touring when they are young, in their late teen years. The reality is that the brain is not fully developed yet, especially the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain behind your forehead. This part of the brain helps us regulate the limbic system of the brain, what I would call the caveman part of the brain that wants to survive and feel good; think food, water, shelter, sex, etc. When the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed, we often see more impulsive decisions (the reason why teenagers often take risks that someone over 25 or 30 would not). So, based solely on brain development, younger artists are more likely to engage in riskier behavior. Moreover, drug and alcohol use at an early age can stunt the growth of the prefrontal cortex, causing poorer decision making later on in life.

Additionally, artists who have started their careers early may not have developed healthy coping skills that their peers may have developed in less fast paced lifestyles. The lack of coping skills can cause one to turn to vices to numb out emotional pain.  Additionally, that emotional pain can oftentimes be exacerbated in artists because of the makeup of their profession. You may have thousands of connections with people, but they are potentially a mile wide and only an inch deep. They may care deeply for someone but since they are always on the road there are major challenges in staying well-connected to them. And lastly, the pressures of the industry can wear on even the healthiest individuals causing stress, anxiety, and depression.

Mindful over matter

Moving forward, all of us, but especially artists living on the road, can only benefit from experiencing the world in the present. This does not mean that we do not plan for the future or plan our week out. But it means that we fully experience the moment we are in with acceptance and without judgement. If we are simply living for the next moment, the next high, the next concert in front of even more people we never fully experience the beauty we are in. I have heard many musicians say that they keep “getting through” the small shows until they can play bigger ones, only to miss those small intimate shows once they are playing arenas. In whatever moment you are in, stay present, and find the beauty that exists. If there is no beauty, find acceptance, and choose freedom.

Edited by Jeannie Regan

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