Play Through a Mental Block

© Andrey Ushakov

In a recent post, I discussed how to practice when you couldn’t concentrate. I offered some techniques for overcoming the mental block that may be keeping you from focusing on your work. Today I wanted to share with you an experience I had that demonstrated how powerful a mental block could be, and showed me the best tool we have for overcoming it.

I used to study martial arts, Okinawan karate, to be exact. I started taking lessons because I wanted my son to start, and I thought I would lead by example. He enjoyed the lessons, but I enjoyed them even more. It was so different from harp playing, and yet the discipline was so similar that it felt like a natural extension of my abilities.

But I did feel a little anxious when the sensei offered us the chance to break a board with our hands. Not my hands, I thought. But one of the instructors was also a musician, and he told me that I shouldn’t have any worries about hurting my hands. And so I signed up.

Board-breaking day arrived and a couple dozen of us waited our turn to break a board. Some students had done it before, and the fact that they were coming back for more, seemed to me to be a good sign.

This was fairly early in my karate study, and there were many students in the class with higher belt ranks. And I watched them get up one by one and, following the sensei’s instruction, break the board. I began to relax.

Until one student couldn’t break her board. She was a recent  black belt, but had never broken a board before. And she couldn’t do it. I had been in class with her many times, and I knew her to knowledgeable and capable. But she couldn’t break the board. Her hand hit the board and bounced right off. It clearly hurt her hand. The teachers were giving her advice and encouragement, but her repeated efforts still couldn’t break the board.

Then I heard what sounded to my music teacher’s ear like the best advice: “Don’t look at the board. Look through the board.” They told her that if her vision stopped at the board, so would her hand. But if she saw in her mind the floor beneath the board, her hand would go through to the floor.

Unfortunately, she was unable to use this advice. She tried once or twice more, and then gave up, discouraged and with tears in her eyes.

When my turn came, I knew I had heard the piece of advice I needed. I followed instructions, and with the loud shout we were taught to use, my hand went flying through the board, breaking it in two. I had done it, and my hand didn’t hurt! And when they offered us the chance to break two boards at once, I took my turn and did that too! That is still one of my favorite moments to remember.

The lesson I learned was profound, with great application to music, or to just about anything. When we have a mental block, all we can see is the block in front of us, and that is where we will stop. If we can see past it and through it, we can destroy it. If we believe in the place “beyond the block,” we can arrive there. And it will be beautiful.

What are your tricks to get “beyond the block?”

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