I do activities outside of music. Perhaps you could call them hobbies, but I shift from one to the other and don't focus on any one thing. Each one provides perspective to my music. The mastery of one is the mastery of all. I know the process required, and that allows me to make rapid gains. While many practice music, I view my practice as a practice of life. Today was the first time I solidly practiced archery. I've wanted to for a long time and played with homemade sticks in the backyard, but archery reminded me of some things on the musical path.
First, true mastery of anything takes commitment and practice. We all have a natural aptitude for certain things. I have an aptitude for music but also an aptitude for archery it would seem. I love the creative expression the physicality of human movement demonstrates. I only missed the target 6 times all afternoon and was backed off from the target 3 times. Yes, they were impressed. However, I can tell where my movement was inconsistent from shot to shot. The strong winds played games with the arrows. In spite of any aptitude we may have, we will get nowhere without the commitment to consistently practice. Natural aptitude hits a wall without work. The moment something becomes routine and work is the moment most people quit. We think it should be easy or we ought to be picking it up quicker. We dislike plateaus. We fall short of committing 100% and going all in -- but in doing so, we miss out on all the joys. This is true in archery, music performance, teaching, vocation, relationships, etc. We will not find the intimacy and unity and mastery we seek without going all in. Mastery is shown at the end of the honeymoon phase, because mastery takes character and integrity to pull off. Mastery in any discipline is breathtakingly beautiful!
True mastery follows the flow of the breath. I was expecting both of these first two points, but I was NOT expecting the clarity with which they hit home. The instructor discovered that I am one of the rare people with no dominant eye. It may be part of being ambidextrous, I don't know. And I don't know if it's genetic or because I've played piano for so long that I've used both sides of my body equally and instinctively for my whole life. I was given pointers for how to aim and hit more of the center of the target. I diligently did my best to follow them and be a good students. The more I tried, the more sporadic my shots were. I had a moment of calm and clarity. I stopped, let go of the 15 steps to good archery, centered myself, and followed my breath through on the shot. It was dead on. The instructor had seen what I did and was stunned. "Not going to lie, I have a lot of trouble teaching people without a dominant eye and haven't been successful yet. Whatever you just did, don't stop." When you have the steps down, know truth, and have put in the foundation, there comes a moment. We must trust ourselves by letting go of the outcome. Follow the flow of your breath as it leads you through the right things. Breath is not only important for vocalists or wind instruments!
Finally, true mastery comes from a connection to your heart. This is the principle I was not expecting to rediscover. Practicing can easily lead to going through the motions, trying to be a "good" whatever, and following the letter of the law. I got to a point where I was mindlessly popping shots off, and they were ok. My brain stopped me. "Wait a second, what are you doing? You've lost awareness. You're no longer connected." Things changed in that moment. It was a feeling of unity. I was shooting from in front of myself, and the bow and arrow connected to my heart and connected my heart to the target so that there was no action of releasing the arrow. I let go of results and connected myself to the shot. I was the shooter, the bow, the arrow, the target. The same is true with music. We easily go through the motions. Yet one mindful repetition is worth more than thousands of mindless ones. It connects your heart to the music, the composer (who may have been dead centuries), to the movements, and to your audience. True mastery cannot exist unless it proceeds from your heart. We humans don't care about the details unless you're connecting to us with your heart. Why would we practice without it? We are the energy that connects the past, present, and future. We unify. Music unifies. Each thought is a vibration that alters that energy and unity. Practice the heart connection.
My brain makes connections like this all of the time. When I'm stuck in music, I go to a different activity to allow my brain to calmly find the answer. The physical is connected to the spiritual and back to the physical. The answers are all around us. This is part of the Voice, Vision, and Adventure. Everything in life is a sacred moment, a sacred practice. It changes the world.