Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Personal Energy

I've been thinking a lot about personal energy, lately. Today I'll talk about it first with reference to music (as promised last time), and then more generally.

Really inspiring musicians are inspiring in part because of a kind of energy they have. To be good requires focus, and the focus creates a kind of concentrated power that carries the listener into the music in a vivid way. Sometimes this kind of energy is also called presence.

Sometimes less experienced musicians do not yet have this kind of energy. They still might produce fine, well-executed music. The skilled listener can still get a lot out of such performances. Less-skilled listeners may find their attention flagging.

Many people want to label the good energy "charisma," and want to attribute it to some mysterious talent that people either have or they don't have. Because it is a quality that is hard to teach, it is tempting to dismiss it as something that cannot be taught, nor self-cultivated.

But I wonder. More and more I think it comes down to a quality of attention. And I believe that our powers of attention and perceptiveness can be cultivated. Again, a good way to cultivate this is through some kind of spiritual discipline. If you want to develop this good energy in terms of your musical performance, then you can cultivate it through practicing the the right kinds of perception and attention while you practice your music. You learn how to really listen -- both to how you want the music to sound, and to what it actually sounds like. But you also keep listening for more and more in the music than you may originally have noticed. As your awareness of all that is in the music deepens, so too do you become more and more able to bring out these additional layers of the music in your own playing.

But I also think that this kind of energy is not limited to musical performance, nor even to "performance" more generally. I think there are people who can bring this kind of energy into other human activities, experiences, and relationships as well. And again, the origin of this kind of energy is perceptiveness and awareness. Those who conduct their lives with constant thoughtful attentiveness are the ones who develop this kind of energy.

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