Less than twenty-four hours separates me from the first performance of what will be a month-long process: three recitals, a hearing, and the degree recital for my M.M. As many musicians and athletes will attest to, wrestling with mental aspects of performance is almost as difficult if not more difficult than the physical preparation. This process has led me to the following meditation.
The teachings of Sōtō Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki are compiled in a volume titled Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I have read this book cover to cover many times since receiving it as a gift in undergrad. I fondly remember the first time I read its opening.
“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."
My mind raced forward. How can I achieve the expert’s mind? How does one limit their mind and remove extemporaneous possibilities? How do I become the master? Much to my chagrin, I learned that my questions were opposite of what Suzuki was expressing.
The practice of Zen involves exactly that. Practice. Every day you adhere to a routine. Rise early before the sun is up. Strict meal times and vegetarian diet. Work. Meditation. Lecture. Yet this is not the essence of Zen. Suzuki taught that it is the beginner’s mind that we must also strive for. It is a mind that is fresh because it can consider all possibilities. It is limitless because it does not cling to what it has learned or experienced. In essence, it is enlightenment preceding enlightenment. This is the secret of Zen, to always be a beginner, because the beginner exists in the moment.
This recital program was begun almost six months ago and still has a month until its completion. For me, the most difficult part is keeping my ears, mind, and spirit fresh. So I must reaffirm myself to the original goal of performance. While I do hope to represent my playing at its highest level, my greatest wish is to play in a way that is meaningful. My goal is that each person that hears this program will walk away from it feeling like their life has changed just a little bit, that somehow, they are better off having heard it than not. That means letting go of the past and the future by committing to each moment, second by second and note by note. When I see it put in black and white on the page, it seems simple. It is not simple. But this is why we practice, why we strive, why we take risk.