It is no news flash that we live in an incredibly judgmental world. Even in the last 10 years, the opportunities to “like” or judge have increased exponentially and the impact on our time, our state of mind, and the quality of our professional work is profound. Especially because we don’t realize what is happening.
How many times in the last 24 hours have you received a text or LinkedIn message or seen a post and felt obliged to respond quickly with some kind emotional response, a “like” or thumbs down, an LOL or sad face? How often do you keep your phone nearby or leave your messages app open on your laptop so you can be available to respond immediately to the latest notification or news item?
This keeps our nervous system on high alert, always waiting for something to happen. Our minds and breath can’t really slow down if the next new thing is going to demand an emotional response from us, and now. And our brains can’t really focus on the bigger, more important work of our lives which means our overall experience is whittled away by what Stephen Covey would call the “urgent, but not important.”
Judgment is colored with emotion and is often reactionary, with little to no real thought behind the response (like/don’t like and extreme versions of both). Judgment can be rooted in fear, anger, envy, ego and often, ignorance, when we don’t do the hard work of learning more about that which we judge. It is easier to make a quick judgment and move on than spend the time to learn, to know, or to understand.
In contrast, discernment, what yoga calls viveka, means to separate or “pull apart,” to perceive, to move towards reality or truth. In rehearsal, we teach perception. We listen. We discern what we hear and what action we should take to move the process and the product forward toward the truest and most beautiful performance. When we stop to correct a rhythm or adjust the blend, we discern or perceive the sound in that moment and determine how to improve that reality, getting closer to the “truth” of the style, the accuracy of the printed page, or the intention of the text.
The universal penchant for judgment has an impact on our teaching and conducting as this mindset shows up in rehearsal. We can honor singers’ “liking” or not liking the music but teach them that perceiving is the process we are about. We often don’t like what we don’t know, including music—and once we have a better understanding of the mechanics and the context and grow in our physical comfort of being able to sing the notes with confidence, we find we like, even “love,” the music because now it is rooted in understanding and a deeper connection than we had on our first, surface judgment.
Can we teach something very important here? That what we don’t know is yet to be discovered for its true essence, whether that is music or a human who has a very different narrative than we do. One that we may not understand because we have judged based on fear or a knee-jerk reaction, often influenced by pop culture or our upbringing or our own life experiences. Can we commit to doing the deeper work of discernment, getting us closer to reality, truth, and to a broadened awareness?
Judgment drains our minds, bodies, and spirit. The constant emotional demands of judgment fatigue us and can reinforce negative, ungrounded, and reactionary thinking that plays out in our professional or larger lives. Discernment is demanding, but growth-focused, work; it is a fundamental quest for understanding that is energizing, though effort still remains. The difference is knowing we are reaching towards something good, for something good. So we come back to the work, again and again, with a sense of purpose, building strength that serves now and for the long term. And we discover that the truth of our shared humanity as experienced through the expressive art of music is our richest gift as conductors.
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: or ramonawis.com.
For an in-depth understanding of the principle of viveka and all yoga principles, consult, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda: https://a.co/d/0TwFEiu
For a practical application of yoga principles, try The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga, by Nicolai Bachman: https://a.co/d/iiqOotk