Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

Cultivating Patience

pa·tience  pāSHəns/  noun

the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

It can easy to be overwhelmed, stressed, and frustrated-with your own playing, your rehearsal schedule, and your colleagues.  While I'm not saying that every situation that arises requires patience, I do find that most of us react before we think about the consequences of our reactions.  Where in your personal life, music-making, and teaching are you reactive, no matter what?  Musicians are incredibly great at complaining about nearly everything.  Conductors, repertoire, soloists, chairs, lighting, rehearsal space, colleagues, weather...the list goes on.  And while I do complain about things sometimes, it usually doesn't make me feel better, and instead puts me even more in an incensed mental place, with a short temper and a flared temper. 

In my mind, it comes down to two paradigms: reactivity/impatience vs. patience/receptivity, and how you handle change, conflict, impediment.  This doesn't mean that you accept negative situations or injustices, but that instead of wasting emotional energy on something, you just do what needs to be done to remedy the situation without a whole bunch of emotional baggage, outcry, or drama.  If something is not working, tell the person, make the change, do the thing that must be done, and skip the drama.  Change is difficult, whether deviating from routine, or in larger parts of life, and our ability to weather change smoothly is a mark of our own resilience.  How can you handle change more gracefully?  How can you be patient in spite of difficult things and difficult people around you?  Can you be patient with difficult people and difficult situations?  Or do you always react outwardly? 

On the flip side, when you receive someone's anger, frustration, or rant, it can be easy to have an over-reactive emotional response.  If someone criticizes you, it's easy to take it personally, but it often is not personal but instead a reflection of how the person criticizing you is feeling about their own issues.  How is this other person (conductor, colleague, administrator) moving from a place of rage and reactivity towards you or another person?  How can you remain patient, calm, and somewhat collected in the face of these conflicts?

For me, it all comes back to the breath and the body.  In tough times and challenging conversations, I come back to feeling of breathing and the contact of my body and the earth.  Your breath is your tool for preventing rage, full-out stress response, and over reactive tendencies.  It won't solve everything, but it's a good start.  How can I respond to this challenge in a way that will have the least consequences over time?  How can I express myself and my grievances without become outwardly emotional or passive aggressive? 

Why this topic and why today?  Musicians have to be good at working with other people, which is ironic because most of what we practice is on our own, in the privacy of our practice space or home.  Being in an orchestra requires that you navigate a range of personalities, abilities, and situations, hopefully with grace and compassion.  Being in a chamber ensemble requires that you work with other people in a profoundly intimate circumstance, highlighting everyone's strengths and weaknesses.  The same is true of administration, teaching, conducting, and other music-making opportunities.  Complaining, gossiping, and turbulent reactions don't help things, and can hinder the process immensely.  At the end of the day, ask yourself, where am I being reactive towards others?  Where can I be more patient (in regards to a person or situation)?  Where can I be more patient with myself?  Cultivating patience in our minds, our actions, and our bodies can make rehearsals, music-making, and life so much more enjoyable.


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