John Aylward – Living Arts: Effortless Mastery

Last post, I wrote about meditation as a gateway to creativity. In this post, I would like to explore some of the ways we think about harnessing that creativity, no matter what media we use.

As a younger musician, one formative text for me was Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery. Werner is a jazz pianist who had an unconventional path that finally led him to the Berklee School of music where he met musicians who helped him open up a sense of freedom and exploration in his music. Essentially, for Werner, this came down to learning the art of improvisation.

Improvisation is a kind of meditation where music is somewhat spontaneously created and developed. Bill Evan’s famously said that jazz is the art of creating a minute of music in a minute’s time. And that cuts to the core of improvisation, not just in jazz music, but as a tool for spontaneous creativity and for living ‘in the moment’ – an aim shared with the practice of meditation.

In future posts, I’ll talk more about improvisation as a companion to meditation and a means for harnessing creativity, but for now, I would like to share one exercise that we can all do to unlock our creative potential that comes from Werner’s Effortless Mastery.

In an early chapter of Werner’s book, he asks to ‘make something bad’. In a naïve and encouraging way, we are asked to simply sit down and make something bad. It could be at our instrument, on our canvas, in our studio, on our design program, or however else we endlessly create. After a few minutes, Werner asks us to stop and look at or listen to what we’ve done. The phenomenon is actually striking because we see that when we are in the midst of a creative process we are usually consumed with whether or not it is any good. If we set out to create something bad, we have conquered the first inhibition toward creation, which is the constant censor of self-consciousness and critique that continually interrupts the creative process.

In this great clip of one of Kenny Werner’s lecture / performances, he talks about this connection between meditation, creativity, improvisation and non-judgment. I hope that no matter what you are working on, this idea of moving beyond your self-censor will help!

Kenny’s remarks begin at 10:50



John Aylward is a composer, performer and writer who lives in Cambridge, MA.

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