Category Archives: practice

How are you coping with world chaos?

So the world is going to hell in a hand-basket it seems.

How are you coping with the current flavour of world chaos?

how to cope with world chaos mary kastle bowen island jazz pop folk soul singer-songwriterNot to make light of it of course. It’s dismal out there and the news seems to keep getting worse, doesn’t it?

But more than ever, I feel we need to be diligent. We are sensitive creative beings and just because there’s a lot of noise right now, it shouldn’t be permission for us to lose our bearings as individuals. Especially when we have information about “shock events” deliberately created to throw us off. It’s up to us to stay grounded and build up our emotional resilience, right?

It’s almost too easy to feel depressed, angry, or totally numb from helplessness. Bell now has a mental health campaign (#bellletstalk) encouraging people to talk openly about mental illness. But let’s face it, who isn’t depressed on some level? Beyond protesting and being well-informed, there’s little any of us can physically do to change the course of events. So we sit with all this info and spin ourselves into anxious circles. We check social media more than we should, and wonder not when shit is going to hit the fan, but when is shit going to hit OUR fan. I think a raised stress level in these precarious times is actually a sign of good mental health! Your gut is telling you something is very wrong and that is 100% true.   

So while pondering how to fix it is a noble thought, a better question might be “how am I going to cope with all this chaos?”

Because I don’t think shutting down is an option, and I hope you don’t think it’s one either. And thinking about the next glass of wine, obsessing over the playoffs, or zoning out on Netflix, are just other versions of that, aren’t they? Like it or not, the world needs us to rise up to the challenge of letting our lights shine. Joni said it best, “We are stardust, we are golden.”

Creating a plan or strategy for coping

You probably know by now that my strategy for coping involves a few things – meditation, journaling, making music, writing blogs (and soon-to-be books!), using mantras and affirmations, and consciously attempting to deal with my own demons so I don’t feel so threatened by everyone else’s.

To some that might feel like a lot of work. What a commitment! And yes it is, but I’m lucky that I know my demons so well at this point that there is more joy from the process than emotional turmoil. It’s very similar to exercise, way harder when you’re out of shape.

Others might be ready to dive into their own exploration but wonder just how much they need to do. They might say, “Well, I went on one retreat last spring.” Or “I did some acupuncture back in 2008.”

Well, in my experience, dabbling in self-help and alternative therapy is a step on the path to self-knowledge, but if you really want that combo to work for you, you need to dive in and test, test, test. You need to try a lot of things and work at it every day in some capacity before things really start to click. Then with a lot of pieces working together, eventually magic will start to happen. You will KNOW when it really starts to work for you because everything in your life will feel very different and not so difficult.

We are connected, like it or not

People complain about how social media and the internet is ruining us. But in my experience after meditating every day for 2.5 years and constantly facing fears and unpacking my baggage, I feel the complete opposite. I feel so connected to everyone and the life force itself that I don’t even need to open my mouth that much! (Though I do anyways…lol.) I feel you out there going through your stuff and that it’s hard and that we are very similar in so many ways. I hear how much people are suffering and how much we need to cultivate inner strength and resilience to confidently OWN our voices and paths in life. So many of us are afraid to show our true colours, but maybe it’s because we don’t have the tools to shape our colours in ways that will intrigue people rather than scare them away. Maybe it’s actually a skill gap.

Some will inevitably argue that it’s #whiteprivilege or #canadianprivilege that we have the opportunity to meditate and journal and face inner demons while millions are dealing with external ones that are very real and scary. I could use that as an excuse to bury my head in the sand. But what I really want to do is use that privilege and put it to good use.

So, think about it – how are you coping with world chaos?

Do you have a plan or a strategy so world chaos doesn’t blindside you and leave you helpless, anxious, frightened, and dreadful of the future? What can you do in your life to carve out a bit of space to remember that we’re not only wired for connection – we ARE connected, like it or not. How will you stay vulnerable and express yourself to your political leaders, neighbours, partner, kids, in a way that is non-violent? Will you create? Meditate? Connect with others? Volunteer? Protest? Whatever you choose it takes PRACTICE. Take a minute to think about it and write it down.

Your mental health matters. Your experience on Earth matters. And there has never been a more important time to make your spirit a priority. If it feels scary, that’s ok, because it IS scary, but it’s a fear that is totally worth facing. Just remember, the deeper the wound, the bigger the growth. 

How to live your dreams

How to live your dreams mary kastle meditation mindset presence new year goals intentionsHappy new year! Do you feel the burst of creative energy in the air to start the year with a bang? Whether in setting new goals or intentions, or getting re-focused on a project, it’s exciting to think you can make a quantum leap in your life by applying yourself with renewed gusto. But once the excitement of the dreaming and planning is done, the energy can fizzle quickly, right?

Because that’s when following your dream gets hard.

Showing up to do the work starts to feel like a gargantuan effort and your brain will make a thousand excuses why it can wait one more day. There’s always a task to put off – sending that email, making that phone call, getting down to the creative work, or doing the promotion. It’s that thing you avoid because subconsciously you know it could be the catalyst to a lot of change – and that can be scary as hell!

But as long as your dream is not done, the dream stays out there, something for you to chase.

It turns out following your dream is easy. Living your dream is the hard part!

As I’ve deepened my meditation and mindset practices over the past few years, I’m coming to understand that my goal is not just to follow my dreams and keep imagining them year after year. It’s to LIVE my dreams every single day and be present in their states.

What does that mean exactly?

Picture this: what if the only thing that actually “separated” you from your dream was a flimsy little shell you affectionately referred to as your body?

Imagine yourself “following” your dreams. That statement implies that they exist out there somewhere in the stratosphere outside of your body and every day you go around chasing something to bring it closer to you – more money, connections, time, freedom, whatever it is.

And now imagine that your body is transparent, like a permeable cell, and that the energy outside of you and the energy inside of you is the same, it flows in and out through the dense matter that makes up your body. So now your dream is both outside of you and inside of you. What if those two energies are actually the same?

When that feeling becomes strong you will begin to live your dream every single day. All you need to do is tap into this sensation that the world outside of you and the world inside of you are the same and you’re there living your dream right now. It might not be physically manifesting outside of you (yet), but the same feeling that you believed existed only outside is now present inside of you anytime you wish to feel it. Actually it was there all the time, all you had to do was acknowledge it.

So, how do you live your dream exactly?

Well, sit down, close your eyes.

Take some deep breaths.

Feel your body.

And think about your biggest desire.

Whether it’s making a new record.

Writing a bunch of songs.

Doing something creative.

Spending time with your family.

Getting your business together.

Going for a run.

Eating healthier.

Traveling the world.

I could go on, the list is endless…

Think about it and think about it already being in you. Already existing inside of you. There’s nothing to chase. There’s nothing to follow. Meditate on that feeling until you can feel it in every cell in your body and it feels totally comfortable and real. No resistance.

Rumi said it best: “What you seek is seeking you.”

He was right. It’s already in you.

Once you find that state, something amazing happens. You can RELAX.

You can relax into your dream and just let it emerge from you. No more chasing.

What an amazing feeling this is. It’s freedom, pure and simple.

I can’t prove my little example (about the body being a permeable cell) with science (although a real scientist may have already?). It’s only something I’ve experienced in my own practice and that is all the proof I need.

Maybe this is a very different perspective on goal setting and dreaming for you. But it is powerful and worth exploring and might give you a new sense of freedom and peace of mind.

Here is to your creative and spiritual exploration in 2017!

xo

How to start a daily meditation practice

daily meditation practice mary kastle music jazz folk soul pop vancouver bc canadaOne of the biggest life improvements I’ve made in the past few years has been a daily meditation practice. It’s changed my life so profoundly, I want to tell you about it in case you’re curious about meditation or have dabbled in it and want to commit but haven’t found the will or discipline to maintain it yet.

Our beginnings

It all started in the fall of 2014. Before that I’d attended a couple of 10-day Vipassana retreats and did the occasional sit on my own, but that was about it. I couldn’t seem to carve out 30 minutes a day when there were SO MANY OTHER THINGS to do. (Right??) Oh yeah, and we had a two-year old to contend with too! 😉

mary kastle music vancouver bc meditating with kids singer songwriter jazz folk pop soul

Here’s a photo Leo snapped of me meditating with the kids. Nothing like a few thousand interruptions to strengthen that focus! 😉

I have my husband (Leo) to thank. He was in the midst of changing jobs and decided he wanted to get more grounded spiritually so he could make wise decisions going forward (ever the wise person he is!). He came upon an intro course called “Passage Meditation” and once he finished it he announced he would start getting up 30 minutes earlier every morning to meditate. I laughed in his face! No way was he going to do that with all the parenting chaos we had going on at the time. Well, I sure ate my words! He did do it and not only that, but I couldn’t believe the change in him over the next couple months. He seemed so much more calm and thoughtful… All I could think was “I gotta get me some of that!”

I don’t know if I could have jumped into a daily practice so quickly if I hadn’t had someone modelling for me how to do it and all the benefits of maintaining it. [On that note, I would highly recommend finding someone you can use as a mentor or cheerleader until your own practice is established. It really helps!!]

Passage Meditation

We both still practice Passage Meditation today because quite frankly it’s very simple, highly customizable, and totally suited to modern day times. Here’s the premise – you choose some passages or texts that inspire you and you recite them in your mind. That’s it! The idea here is that although it’s great and profound to focus on your breath, our noisy busy lives make it so hard to slow down enough to actually focus on those things! If we give the mind something simple to hang on to and guide it through we’ll be able to build our focus much more successfully.

What texts to use? 

This practice has been around for eons, but was made popular by Eknath Easwaran who wrote a book called “Passage Meditation” and contains all the instructions to get started. What kinds of texts to use? He recommends sacred texts because they’ve stood the test of time (any religious tradition is fine), but if that’s not your cup of tea then anything inspiring or motivational will do. It’s important that it resonates with you! I love this because it’s like music. You can create your own little repertoire of passages to learn (I keep mine in a special journal) and it becomes your signature set.

And here’s where it starts to change your life. As you recite these passages in your mind, they gradually sink into your subconscious and as you go about your days, the words will start to come back to you (usually when you’re hitting roadblocks in your life) and become like guiding principles in your life.

There’s a lot of research now proving that meditation can change your brain, through increased focus and rewiring neural pathways to change your thought patterns. Passage meditation is a very direct and intentional way to do that because you’re literally reprogramming your brain with the passages you memorize. If there are specific issues you want to work through you can even choose passages on those themes.

But even more so, maintaining a daily practice has actually cultivated in me a much stronger connection with the Divine and my own spirit, which I realize now was deeply lacking in my life. It’s hard to even put into words how much comfort that’s brought me over the years… But that’s a subject for a whole other blog post!

In the meantime, if you’re curious about meditation and/or want to start a daily practice but feel intimidated, consider picking up Easwaran’s book (I get no kick back, I’m just a fan!).

And here are a few tips I’ve learned that make it easier to keep going once the initial momentum wears off.

1 – Use a timer! (The one on your phone will do fine) It frees up your mind to truly focus on the meditation and forget about how long it’s taking. Some days it will fly by and some days it will drag on eternally, and oddly enough it always ends up being the same duration. 🙂

2 – Be (somewhat) flexible with yourself. If you are really hustling to get out the door one morning, allow yourself to sit for 20 minutes instead of 30. Or even 15. But most days, try to do 30. You will come to love and cherish that time on the cushion. But any minutes are better than no minutes when life starts to go sideways.

3 – Be inspired. Allow the vast repertoire of spiritual traditions to inspire you in choosing your passages! I recite everything from Christian prayers to passages from the Bhagavad Gita to Rumi poems!

4 – Keep a journal. You will no doubt have a lot of insights along the way about different things that come up in your meditations. It’s great to document these so you can look back for reference and/or dig into them further. Prepare yourself for some breakthroughs around old patterns, habits, or thoughts!

5 – Easwaran recommends furthering your practice by doing some spiritual reading before you go to sleep. At first I thought this was a bit of overkill, but after trying it out I can see the value now. If you are meditating in the morning, the spiritual reading at night grounds you before drifting off to sleep. Also, reinforcing those positive messages can have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep.

I hope these little tips will help you find your way on your own spiritual path!

How to teach music (& how Whiplash failed us)

how to teach music whiplash failed us mary kastle musician bowen island jazz pop soul folk singer-songwriterIf you are interested in music, then you’ve probably seen the movie Whiplash by now. It’s taken me a while to process my feelings about it because it was so deeply triggering for me. I’m sure anyone who’s been through jazz school had at least a few head-nodding moments throughout it.  Continue reading

How the “Amazing Slow-Downer” showed me the key to virtuosity

Mary Kastle musician bowen island bc amazing slow downer key to virtuosity creativity insightEvery once in a while, I come across something that is a game-changer for my perspective in music and life. A while back I was struggling to transcribe yet another complex jazz solo and thought to myself “if only I could slow this down!”. I sat there feeling bewildered until suddenly I realized “hey! there’s probably an app for this!” Lo and behold, I did a quick search and found my now all-time favourite music-learning tool: the “Amazing Slow-Downer”. What a great name, right? I giggle a bit every time I say it. 🙂

Even if you are not a musician, and/or don’t care about virtuosic playing, this app is still fun to check out. As its name suggests, it can take any music in your phone’s library and slow it down or speed it up to any tempo you want without shifting the pitch. Very cool technology!

You can experiment listening to music at 75%, 50%, or even 25% of the speed. It’s like your favourite songs being poured through a giant vat of molasses. You hear all the incredible nuances come glistening through the speakers in perfect detail so you can absorb them all one at a time without your brain being overloaded.

When I first got the app, I listened to nothing but Art Tatum at 75%. And then classical music, and more jazz, and some pop. And as I listened, especially to the live jazz improvs, something powerful dawned on me.

There seemed to be no errors. EVER.

Even though they might have been playing at lightening speed. Or an immensely difficult passage. The performers were linking together pattern after scintillating pattern more effortlessly than playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

It’s like their fingers were speaking through their instruments without ever getting jumbled up. They never forgot a word, they never mispronounced anything, or paused to reconsider a thought. It was all just there, at their fingertips, waiting to flow out one after the other in perfect sequence.

And I realized that a major key to virtuosity must be CLARITY.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized this concept can be applied to almost any creative pursuit. In our age of artistic abundance and accessibility, it’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race of feeling like you need to emulate so many styles and techniques before you really “qualify”. But these players weren’t just playing everything under the sun. They were playing very specific things that they had chosen, and then executing them with perfect precision.

This made me understand that no matter how much I sometimes want to improve just for the sake of sounding more sophisticated, working on technique can never be an end in itself. I need to be discerning in the technique I acquire and then be diligent in continually integrating it into my mental map so it can flow seamlessly with other ideas. Without this discernment and integration, acquiring new technical skills is no more useful than learning a thousand new words in a foreign language I’ll never learn to speak.

Now when I practice I am going to SLOW DOWN and make a more conscious effort to ask myself important questions like “why am I practicing this technique?” and “how does it fit in with my other skills?” In addition to spending conscious time mastering the technique itself, I will be stepping back regularly to integrate my techniques together and get clear on how I want them to all fit and flow together.

[bctt tweet=”Asking “why am I practicing this technique?” is as important as the practice itself.”]

More and more I feel that when I listen to another player I’m really just witnessing the state of their unconscious mind in that moment. And in the case of a virtuosic player, their musical consciousness is clear as a bell. Perfectly curated, organized, and integrated.

So there you have it – the Amazing Slow-Downer. A revolutionary little app that has changed my whole approach to practicing music.  And who knows, maybe it could do the same for you. But don’t just take my word for it – go check it out for yourself! 🙂