Let’s be honest, life as a musician can be tough. It can be full of highs and lows but it’s especially testing. It can be lead to damaging effects, both professionally and personally. The stresses caused by being in a band, the constant pressure to create and fulfil the demands, can be destructive.
Nevertheless, more and more musicians are speaking up and being honest about how being a musician has affected their mental health. While, organisations such as Mind, Rethink, Time To Change, Music Mind Matters, and Help Musicians UK are just who continue to put mental health awareness in the spotlight.
Amongst the musicians who have spoken about the difficulties of being in a band, there is Ali Epstone of Black Surf. The London group recently returned with ‘Make Friends’, the first of two EP’s set to be released this year. It sees them combine 90’s fuzz alt-rock with electronic experimentation, while Epstone touches on the subjects of mental health and mindfulness. For example, recent single ‘Major Regiment’ is carried with the line of “stop trying to be the best”.
Away from Black Surf, Ali is the founder of Mindwave Meditation. Having experienced the struggle and the frustration and the mental toll being in a band can take, he’s studied various practices (Zen Psychology, Vipassana, Insight, Vedic/Transcendental Meditation) to go on a self-healing journey to the point where he’s sharing his guidance through Mindwave Meditation.
For this guest blog, Ali has provided a detailed insight into how mindfulness can help musicians (and everybody) towards living a happier life.
As a musician, meditation teacher, and now an unashamedly full blown preacher of Mindfulness, I cannot begin to emphasise how much Mindfulness has positively affected my love of life, music, my bandmates mindsets and their lives too! Mindfulness has help guide many musicians from the typical recipe of unnecessary self-indulgent and destructive tendencies. The whole process and journey of BEING in a band is a far more enjoyable experience than doing it unconsciously.
Creating music and touring with an unconscious respect for your own mind and body will eventually come back and bite you. And it’ll bite you hard. Maybe not instantly, but the inevitable breakdown of your individual and collective equilibrium will eventually become unbalanced.
There’s three main factors why you or your bandmates unnecessarily and unconsciously overindulge with food, drugs or technology whilst creating or on tour.
1) Because that’s the outdated image and lifestyle of a rockstar that one buys into and tries to live up to.
2) Because when not on stage, there’s a whole lot of nothing to do and it fills the void and boredom of waiting around.
3) Because you or your bandmates genuinely has a problem that’s not been addressed individually or collectively between you.
Who knows whether the secret to longevity and creating great music is kale chips or heroin? Lots of sunshine? Being waited on hand and foot? Maybe it’s living a stress-free life with the fulfilment of BEING and doing what you enjoy doing and being the most? But for the majority of us, life isn’t always that easy. However, Mindfulness is one profoundly simple step we can take for free. Whether you like to regularly indulge in life’s quick fixes or not, add Mindfulness to your pipe and smoke it.
It’s this simplicity that allows us to enjoy life through a lens that you never realised was even an option before you experienced it first hand for yourself. Practising Mindfulness will help you bring the BEING into your busy, and sometimes chaotic, lifestyle. You will eventually experience inner peace and absolute happiness.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience both sides of the coin of unconsciously and consciously creating and BEING in a band. After dabbling in the long term self-destructive story, and now prioritising an aim of absolute happiness over relative happiness (the quick fix), it makes being in a band a much more joyful experience. Everything in moderation even moderation is the key to keeping the balance and harmony within yourself, and with your bandmates too.
However you live your life, just add Mindfulness to the mix as an experiment. If it feels good? Do it again! It’s that simple. The daily aim of BEING in your best mindset, a focussed headspace, helps you enjoy creating, the gigs, the tours and the whole process of life for the long haul. It’s all about prevention.
It’s awesome to see that the world is starting to realise it’s no longer about the quick fix when solving any problem. Whether you’re a classical player or a touring rock star, it’s all the same when you don’t have that clock in, clock out, 9-5 mind. We tend to fill the void and now we’re realising this is a direct route to Burnoutsville. You get ideas and inspiration at the most random of times and there’s no rule book on how to live. So why not at least make your journey as easy, simple and as enjoyable as possible for yourself and everyone around you.
5 Mindfulness Tips For Musicians
1. Awareness of the Monkey-Mind
Whether you’re writing, creating, brainstorming, playing, releasing material, looking at the numbers and reviews etc, become aware of your Monkey-Mind AKA your ego. It is constantly jumping from branch to branch trying to satisfy sensations of attraction or aversion; judging, questioning, looking for something more or the next thing.
You will always perform your best when you are in a state of flow and free from the needs of others. You are 100% a better person/musician when you are living in a state of flow, in the moment.
Exercise: In every action you do, become the observer of your mind and just acknowledge without judgement. Watch what you are saying to yourself. Do you get jealous of others success? If so, realising that there’s plenty for everyone can dissolve that little mind trip in seconds. Practise just simply BEING as much as possible. When you become the BEING in HUMAN-BEING you’ll soon find freedom in your mind and day ahead.
2. The Mindful Consumer
It seems that musicians tend to gravitate to destructive vices to take us away from boredom; food, TV, technology, porn, drugs/alcohol, sugar etc. Whatever it is, trying to fill that hole with momentary sensations is like trying to ultimately fill an infinite void within ourselves. Even the spiritual truth seekers often miss the point and keep on searching through books, courses, drugs or the next guru on their to-do list.
As Alan Watts once said, “When you get the message, hang up the phone”. This is such a powerful message. When it hits the spot, enjoy and appreciate that moment and savour it. Practise what you preach. Everything you could ever want or need is right here, right now in this moment. That includes the buzz of the coffee or booze, the knowledge and wisdom in the books. It’s all momentary, so enjoy the moment! This moment is all there ever is.
Exercise: When eating, drinking or consuming anything and everything this week, observe every bite, gulp, toke or contactless tap you do. Obviously, you’ll miss a thousand but you’ll certainly catch a good handful. That will lead you to catching hundreds in time. This process will rewire, reprogram and transform you. In no time you’ll catch these thoughts before they become unconscious actions and negative patterns. This is when you’ve truly consciously tapped out of the trance of life.
3. The Zen Bathroom
When living with other people, either through touring or working around others in a close environment on a daily basis, you can feel claustrophobic at times. You start to lose that deeper connection with yourself, as you slowly start to become your environment. Finding a space for yourself where nobody can take you away from the moment is absolutely vital.
Whether you tap out for three minutes and just do some deep breathing or you carve out time to meditate amongst the beautiful chaos around you, JFDI (Just fucking do it!)
Exercise: Turn every bathroom at work/home or on the road into a Zen Bathroom! This means that you turn this space into a kind of portal of peace. The rules – From the moment you touch the door handle, the room becomes a no talking, no phone, no thinking zone. No more questions. Just observe yourself in each moment. It’s one place where you are free from to-do lists and that god damn relentless monkey-mind!
When on tour, we all know when one of us needs that moment to go meditate or be alone just to re-connect, it’s fully respected. We know it only makes them stronger and more at peace when they return. Sharing the idea of the Zen Bathroom with bandmates, family, colleagues or friends only makes it easier and more enjoyable to practise. YOU create the portal of relief in your day.
4. Learn To Meditate
Being a musician, life can be a complete mind melt at times. Constantly trying to create your next great song while just trying to get by, or worse still, being over loved and adored by millions. It’s really a catch 22, a never-ending process. By using the method of becoming the observer of our thoughts and mind, we can detach from the constant running dialogue that takes over our minds. When we meditate, this noise-cleaning process occurs naturally and works on autopilot.
The more we practise this, the moments of peace and joy in our day seem to lengthen and expand. This builds a real deep connection with yourself. Mindfulness is one of the many great benefits and byproducts of Meditating daily. Listening to a guided meditation is a great start and will certainly relax your body and mind. However, this is still using your active mind; your programs are still running. If we compare ourselves to a computer, Ideally we want to log out, shutdown and rest as often as possible.
By meditating once or twice a day, you’re playing the long game to living and creating an enjoyable life. It’s like charging your phone and also having a back up external charger with you at all times.
Exercise: Learn to meditate! Make it part of your day and discover that there’s way more to this life that what we could ever know. There’s an unlocked amount of confidence, clarity, and creativity already within us. We never need to seek out anything, we only ever need to let go; clear the noise that blocks what we already have from coming through.
In deep meditation, we can learn to go even further and merge with life itself. Once you learn, you can do it daily for free! The best news is that it only comes with positive physiological and psychological benefits. Invest in yourself for the good of your future self, you friends, family and especially your bandmates.
5. Be Here Now
The realisation that the joy of just being alive itself is the only target you ever really need to aim for. It’s the remembering part that is the constant challenge. We seem to wake up with a mild form of amnesia while we proceed to piece together our thoughts, beliefs, morals and tasks for the day.
The classic book – ‘Be Here Now’ by Ram Dass, even has the words “Remember” written on the front cover just above the title. It’s so beyond simple that this phrase is completely overlooked. Right NOW is all there ever is. It’s all there ever will be. The future never comes!
Musicians that are constantly creating and adapting to change, whether that’s musically or literally on the road, this simple philosophy can keep you completely grounded. This phrase only gets deeper and more profound with time.
Quotes like “Sometimes it’s best to pause in the pursuit of happiness and just be happy” are arguably among the greatest combination of words you could ever read in print. We are always striving for more in life; to be better, create better, reach more people, play bigger venues etc. The moment we can stop and pause, breathe and just enjoy the ride, the sooner we find peace within ourselves and in our lives and careers.
As Bill Hicks so poetically and simply stated: “It’s just a ride”. If you’re in the wrong band or relationship then do yourself the biggest favour, and get off that ride! Take a moment and take steps to get out of it, right now! Find out what you really love to do and JFDI! Just fucking do it!
Time is ticking and nobody is getting any younger. If you’re one of the lucky ones that is doing what you love, despite all the frustration that sometimes comes along with it all, Just stop for a moment and realise that everything you do is from a place of love. Simply remembering that no matter how hard or unfulfilling or unappreciated it is at times, you are doing it because you love it.
Practising BEING HERE NOW IN THE PRESENT MOMENT can literally save you mind from imploding. When you are truly practising living in the present moment, you are free from the past mistakes or events and the relentless anxieties and unpredictability of the future. Free yourself from the data of the past and the future.
In this free Introduction to Mindfulness, you’ll get a first step deeper insight into how you can easily and simply apply all this to your day for your benefit.
‘Make Friends’ EP by Black Surf is out now.