One of the basic guiding principles of yoga is Saucha. A Sanskrit word, it can be roughly translated as cleanliness. But not just cleanliness of our environment or physical cleanliness, but also cleanliness or purity of the body and mind. (Saucha is one of the Niyamas, which are observances meant to help us to achieve a life of less suffering and ultimately, more joy.)
“What has that got to do with my musical life?” you may well ask. Well, I can only speak for myself and you can tell me if any of this resonates with you.
First of all, I can not work in clutter. It is extremely important to me to have to clear a space on my desk or keyboard in order to work. I need a sense of order and cleanliness just to quiet my thoughts. Otherwise my mind will be drifting from one little mess to another. My attention will be split. Any music I might eke out will be half-hearted, unsettled, and unsatisfying. So first things first: Clean, Baby, Clean!!!! I am always amazed at how good it feels to finally sit down in an orderly workspace, my keyboard dusted, the floor vacuumed, all bits and pieces put away in their proper place. And with regular upkeep, cleaning the workspace can be a quick, easy ritual with instant gratification.
But let’s just say for the sake of argument that you are one of those artists who appreciates chaos and gets inspired by it. Okay, then for you, skip that part and let’s move on to the cleanliness of the mind/body.
First, the body: I’m not just talking about taking a shower and brushing your teeth (although I think it’s a good start.) I’m also talking about what you *feed* your mind/body! What kinds of foods do you generally nourish yourself with? If you are a happy camper living on take-out pizza, soda, and Big Mac’s, all I can say is – Great! But have you ever experimented with substituting fresh fruits, veggies and whole grains for at least some of that? It might be an interesting experiment to keep a food journal for a week. Notice what you’re eating, when you’re eating it, how it makes you feel, and notice your level of creativity throughout the week. Does a pattern emerge with any given food group? If you want to change, try making one incremental change at a time (e.g., substituting water for soda for one week.) Any difference?
As for drugs – like cigarettes, coffee, alcohol, as well as cannabis, cocaine, and all the rest – that would be a subject for another conversation. But I think it is safe to say tha,t in general, less is more. I’m sure you are aware of the effects of various drugs and whether they have a negative impact on your work. Moreover, if you feel that drugs are out of control in your life, I would start there and seek outside help immediately.
And then of course, we all know that ancient maxim of computing: “GIGO” (“Garbage in/Garbage Out”). What do you listen to? What do you read? What do you watch on TV? What kinds of video games do you play? How involved are you in social media and if so, what kind of people are you (virtually) interacting with? The content of your metaphysical “diet” will inevitably affect the content of your creative output. You can experiment with this in the same way you would experiment with food. Keep a journal for a week recording all of the printed matter, music, email, video games, movies, etc. that you take in during the week. Make a note of conversations, too. With whom did you talk? What did you talk about? How did it feel? Do this without judgment, but in the spirit of curiosity. As with your food journal, once you have established a base line, try small, incremental changes and see where they take you. For example, substitute 5 minutes of Pachelbel’s Canon in D in the morning for 5 minutes of drive time AM radio. Just five minutes. For one week. (And if you don’t like Pachelbel, find one of your own I’m sure you have some piece of music that brings you a sense of order and peace.) Similarly, if you find yourself having conversations that leave you feeling depleted, frustrated, or resentful, can you slowly steer yourself away from those conversations, either by spending less time with that person or making a conscious choice to change the subject of the conversations? Toxic conversations can have a dampening effect on creative inspiration, I find.
Will Saucha make you a better composer? Who knows! But it might be worth exploring. At the very least, you might just find that you feel a little better in general. Ahhhhhhhhhhh-Ommmmmmmmm.