I started playing guitar around ten years ago, when I had lessons for a brief period of time, and ever since I’ve dipped in and out of it.
Having never been in a band, I didn’t have the motivational leverage (I’m aware many don’t need it) to practice eight hours a day. So, as a result, it didn’t become an ingrained habit of mine. This is, even though, I thoroughly enjoy playing the guitar when I take the time to do it, I listen to all sorts of music all the time, and more than any of that it is an amazing practice in presence.
By that I mean, presence to the moment, with no thoughts about what he/she thinks of me, or how last weekend wasn’t as fun as I’d hoped, or when that elusive next promotion is going to come at work… Nothing but presence to this very moment.
There are countless other practices in presence, such as meditation and exercise, which I partake in, but with guitar beginning to come back into my life I have had a burning desire to post about it.
I believe the reason for the presence experienced when I’m strumming away is that I enter what Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I know) refers to as a flow state – make sure to check out his book on this topic. It occurs when a task is not too easy, not too difficult, but just right, so you enter a present state in order to keep focussed and perform to the best of your ability. As I’ve said, this removes excessive thought from other events that normally have only built up in the mind and have little (or no) basis in reality – often things that you have built up through repetition, meaning you have developed strong synaptic pathways to that particular memory/premonition and therefore triggers a strong emotional response.
The amazing thing about presence is that the more you practice it, the more you experience it in all areas of life. So, me finger picking my guitar for an hour a night, isn’t just enjoyable and creatively fulfilling, it also means when I’m in a heated business meeting about hitting this week’s demand target, I’m more likely (though not certain) to keep calm and be able think well under pressure as I tap into present energy – what Csikszentmihalyi refers to as source energy, rather than my mind darting around, worried about how I’m being perceived by my boss and others in the meeting. Don’t get me wrong – I still feel the rising burn of anxiety – but I am much more likely to let it dissipate than to resonate with it.
SO, yes, playing guitar is an extremely enjoyable creative pursuit, but the hidden pay-off, and why so many people love playing any instrument so much, is the enabled entry into the present moment, and the present moment only.
Thank you for reading, I’m eternally grateful.
All images taken on an iPhone by Angela Pegg