We are list makers, task accomplishers, and detail managers. We juggle between our professional and personal lives, never really stopping for long because there is always one more item on the list, one more email to send, one more errand to run. When we finish that, we think, then we will be “done.”
The only problem is, “done” is an illusion. Life, by definition, is energy in motion. There is always something that beckons us to act, something we can improve on, or something we need to attend to that we have been putting off. Driving home from our concert, we are already planning the next one without taking time for a breath, a moment of gratitude, or a good night’s sleep.
And yet we yearn for the relief of “being done” because it means we can pause and relax for at least a while before starting our fast pace again. We know we need to rest and re-charge, but we keep going, never realizing we have the ability to change this cycle of behavior that is wearing us down and keeping us from living our best life and doing our best work.
“Done” is a decision we make. It is a state we experience when we shift from constant (often unnecessary or obsessive) activity to the present moment, when we stop doing and pause for being. When we move from rapid-fire external engagement to receptive internal focus; from a deficiency mindset to one of belief in ourselves and in a higher wisdom source that guides us – if we pause to listen.
In rehearsal, if we paint the artistic process as alive, creative, and always open to further skill development and interpretation, we signal a growth mindset, our positive desire to move forward, which is the very definition of leadership. But if we are managing, rather than leading, our rehearsals, obsessively chasing the illusory target of doneness can result in a lot of churning and drilling, an unrewarding and stressful musical experience that sends the message we are “never enough.” It’s exhausting, for us and for our singers.
Deep musical learning and experience happen when we Stop.Time. When we ask, What are you hearing? What did you notice? How does this feel different in your body? What do you think this means? This is present-moment teaching, a powerful shift that I have found brings the best results in performance and the richest memories of music making and community.
Yes, wrong notes, sour intonation, and unhealthy vocal skills all need to be addressed because they get in the way of everyone’s musical experience. Our singers deserve our expertise and though they don’t always show it, they want to learn. Choosing a “done for now” approach, when necessary, gives us permission to return to the work at another time; this trains us to pause the cluttered mind and come back to a more awareness-based rehearsal with the techniques in hand to make the progress we envision.
In my last post, I reflected on how we can live our yoga off the mat. One of the earliest and most cited of the ancient Yoga Sutras, the “threads” or aphorisms on the philosophy and practice of yoga, is Sutra 1.2, “yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.” It is impossible to still the mind when we are constantly moving without awareness, always in task mode without reflection or purpose. Focusing on experience creates our best teaching and art-making because we become whole-body aware of what we hear and see and feel, fretting less about the list of “what-if’s” that puts us in panic mode when rehearsal progress doesn’t seem to be working in our favor. The irony is that in our quest for doneness, we can move so fast that we never experience our music, or our life, with all its marvelous potential.
I leave you with the words of well-known sage, Ted Lasso:
“Living in the moment, it’s a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) and a certified Brain Longevity® Specialist, a research-based certification on yoga and integrative medicine for brain health and healthy aging. Reach her at: