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How I Meditate: Adam Bernstein

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“If music serves us by providing a forum to express the depth of who we are and to connect deeply with our fellow humans, it is then beneficial to develop our ability to witness the judgmental mind for what it is – thoughts that can stop us from enjoying our expressive connection to life.  Instead we can create a nurturing environment where musicians of any ability level can improvise together.” ~ Adam Bernstein

Adam Bernstein is a musician in New York. He writes and performs music (he plays Bass) and also runs the Music Mindfulness Program, at which he teaches music and mindfulness at the same time. We spoke to Adam about his meditation practice and why meditation can be so valuable to the creative process.

How has meditation improved your creativity?

When you meditate everyday with real intention to know your true self, you will be transformed by the experience. It helped observe my judgmental mind, which isn’t a friend to creativity. I compose and I improvise as part of my work. Through meditation and observing negative thoughts, learning to watch my critical thoughts (rather than believe them!). It helps me approach my work with more joy and equanimity. I’m not always successful of course!!! The mind is powerful, like a tornado!

Meditation’s most powerful effect is to be able to tolerate emotional (and physical) pain. This helps with everything in life because we can’t escape our problems or discomfort…Again, it’s all a work in progress. Humor is absolutely essential! Got to be able to laugh at everything, positive and negative.

You teach mindfulness and music at the same time. Why? What’s the benefit to new musicians?

The benefit is awareness. Learning to meditate helps one quiet the mind. The judgmental mind, which we all can struggle with, impedes our creativity, spontaneity, and ability to act/react confidently in the moment. Just being aware of your thoughts can give you just enough distance from them to let you say, “Hello negative thoughts, I know you are there but I don’t need you to run the show today.” That can be very liberating.

As you develop that awareness of your inner critic, you begin to recognize that your fellow musicians are dealing with the same thing. Your compassion increases, and in the best of scenarios, you listen more attentively. This is crucial. I teach improvisation to all level musicians. When mindfulness frames the music making, even the total beginner can improvise successfully with other musicians. That is a precious gift. It’s a weight lifted. Everyone can enjoy music making.

You can see the confidence and compassion develop in students overtime. Humor surrounding the human condition seems to increase. Laughter begins to replace self criticism. I saw that a lot with students over the course of the semester.

One last thing: when you address the issues of the mind in the context of teaching any subject, I believe students begin to feel cared for in a holistic way. It’s a deeper level of support which is created in which to learn ones craft. We all need that at any age.

Why did you start meditating? What was your goal?

After I got sober 24 years ago, I was physically sick and searching for ways to recover mentally and physically. Spiritual practices and teachings always attracted me. In 1993, en route to Cuba (and visiting my dying grandmother) I discovered Thich Nhat Hahn’s Peace is Every Step. It was like a lightening bolt went off in my life. I absorbed that book on a deep level and meditated everyday in Cuba. When I returned home, I practiced Zen Buddhist meditation for 20 years. My goal was simple: I wanted to feel better.

What is your meditation routine?

I meditated almost everyday for 20 years. I formally left the Buddhist world about two years ago. I taught at a Zen Center the connection between music and mindfulness. After my divorce three years ago, I needed to change everything. Now I just meditate, I sit and follow my breath for 20 minutes or so when I desire. I also tend to follow my breath when I walk. I’ll meditate a lot on the subway.

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