Somehow, in this post I have managed to tie in Marcel Proust, Winston Churchill, and your practice habits… it may be a little vague now, but I hope you will be with me by the end.
Over the last few days I have reached out to some of the subscribers on the Classical Guitar Corner mailing list. I hadn’t heard from these guitarists in a while, and I was wondering if they were still interested in learning classical guitar online. After receiving the replies, I started to see a trend. One that you might resonate with.
Apart from the few that had moved on from guitar, or those who simply weren’t interested anymore, the vast majority of people said the same thing:
“I just don’t have the time”
“Life keeps getting in the way”
or, “I will start up again once I have space to breathe”
These are common responses. Kind of like the answer you give when an acquaintance asks you how things are going “busy!” you say.
But I don’t believe them.
What I believe is that the underlying answer is: Music isn’t important enough to me to make time for it.
It is the same way people speak when they do or do not make a purchase. They are not making a commentary on the price, they are saying this is, or is not, valuable to me.
I see two possibilities here.
1.Music and art is just not that important to you. There are other things in life that you deem more important, and therefore you dedicate time to those other, more important things. I like this answer a lot. It is true, and it is clear. The second possibility, however, gets me a little agitated.
2. Music and art is important to you, but your dedication and prioritization have been overrun by habit.
Habit seems like an unlikely subject to overrun anything. It is more of a passive ongoing fog that develops over time. And that is exactly my point. Like unkept weeds, if we are mindless with our habitual activities, we can become distracted and distanced from our core personalities.
Marcel Proust in his epic work À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time) presents his thesis that habit and art are opposing forces. One being a state of mindless wandering and the other, awake and appreciative.
Alain de Botton describes it far better than I ever could in his book How Proust Can Change Your Life.
“For Proust, the great artists deserve acclaim because they show us the world in a way that is fresh, appreciative, and alive… The opposite of art, for Proust, is something he calls habit. For Proust, much of life is ruined for us by a blanket or shroud of familiarity that descends between us and everything that matters. It dulls our senses and stops us appreciating everything, from the beauty of a sunset to our work and our friends.
Children don’t suffer from habit, which is why they get excited by some very key but simple things — like puddles, jumping on the bed, sand, and fresh bread. But we adults get ineluctably spoiled, which is why we seek ever more powerful stimulants, like fame and love.
The trick, in Proust’s eyes, is to recover the powers of appreciation of a child in adulthood, to strip the veil of habit and therefore to start to look upon daily life with a new and more grateful sensitivity.
This, for Proust, is what one group in the population does all the time: artists. Artists are people who strip habit away and return life to its deserved glory.”
I fear that the constant clouding of habit becomes something harder to shed as our world gets more complex. More things vie for our attention, and what is really important to us gets pushed aside.
What habits do we have?
- Family responsibilities
- Relaxation and distraction (Facebook, Netflix)
If you are a little contrarian (like I am) then you might be thinking: “Simon, those are important things, I can’t get rid of any of those.”
I agree, they are important. But they are the kind of things that will get in the way of art and music. And, if art and music is really important to you, then you are denying yourself something valuable.
In the case of work, I am reminded by a quote often attributed (perhaps erroneously) to Winston Churchill. When asked during WWII why he was not going to cut funding to the arts he replied:“Then what are we fighting for?”
This is a timely quote, as the National Endowments for the Arts is in the process of being defunded to pay for military expansion in the United States… but let’s not get distracted on a macro level.
For you, you need to ask what you are working for. Why are you giving up your time to make money? Is it to traverse your week habitually or is it so that you can afford time to make music and art?
In the case of family responsibilities, many of you commit your time taking care of others, being present with family. Clearly an important task, but would it not be better done with a fuller heart? A satiated soul?
Perhaps the most insidious example of habit lives within the technological world we inhabit. Machines and media have become so good at distracting us it is like we are all a little ADHD. After hours on our devices we wonder where our time went. All that we do know is that the time was wasted.
Finding out what is really important to you
Like I said before, if art and music isn’t that important to you, and that is why you don’t make time for it? Fair enough.
But how can we know if it is important to us? If it is worth prioritizing over other things. Only you can know that, but I hope that I can provide a simple exercise to help commune with yourself.
The exercise I have for you is incredibly simple, it will take less than five minutes, and with those five minutes you could mould the rest of your week, month, or year in a vastly different direction. I urge you to do the exercise, I have done it multiple times now and it is always surprises me.
- Take a piece of paper and write down all the things you do in a week. Really think about this. How exactly do you spend your time? Write down a comprehensive list of all the activities in a single column.
- Once you have completed your list, go through it and cross off everything that isn’t important to you. It might seem important to others, or to society, but if it isn’t important to you, cross it off.
- With the remaining items, make a new list. This list is comprised of activities that matter to you, things that are important.
- With that second list, go through it again, and select three to five activities that are the most important out of all of them. Cross out everything else, and make a third list with your results.
What’s in your list? Is music there?
If it is, are you making time for it?
Have time vs. Make Time
Nobody has time. It is merely a matter of prioritizing your activities i.e. making time.
If music is important to you, make time for it.