The War of Art, Harmonica Division…

I recently posted an email about how I fell off the path of practice. I ended up getting some replies out of the clear blue that just floored me. One of those resonses came from a man named Dave Moran, a fiddler and harmonica player from Colorado.

Here’s Dave’s bio (from a concert poster) Dave “Road Hog” Moran has been a college professor, a biologist, an author, a fly fishing guide, a race car driver, and every once in a while he operates the fiddle.  He doesn’t play a lot of notes; only the ones that need to be played, and those he plays with love, energy and a power that can only come from a man   who’s ridden a Triumph Bonneville into a fire hydrant.

My original email follows Daves letter:

November 22, 2013

Dear Richard,

Thanks so much for your email, “coming clean.”

Congratulations on being so clear! It’s great when we can come from our own truth. Because then — when we’re stuck — we realize we’re actually stuck, and will find a way out.

Recently, I read Steven Pressfield’s book, “The War of Art,” in which he, as a writer, describes long periods of stuckness generated by giving in to his internal adversary, “Resistance.” His descriptions of being stuck and getting unstuck ring so true.

Much of our “stuckness” comes from the epic battle between the conditioned Self and the real Self in which the conditioned self — the monkey mind — wins. “First, I gotta do the laundry. Then I’ll have the right to play my harp.” What, then, is a good strategy for preventing the monkey mind from running the show? How can we allow our real selves to put our favorite thing at the head of the line?

First: Don’t think “I should practice”. “Practice” is a loaded word; it implies a duty, a piece of work (which is defined in our culture as unpleasant) rather than play (which is where we’re at our best). And, “Should” is a loaded word, too; the tyranny of the shoulds can wreck our lives. On the famous painting of St. George and the Dragon, when you look at the dragon closely, every scale has “Thou Shalt” written on it.

Second; Location, location, and location. It’s key to allowing, helping, promoting our playing. The house is loaded with obligations, real and perceived, which jam our creative channels. We fear the phone will ring, bearing a negative message or a telemarketer. I play my harp best in my pickup truck. No phone. No humans. No perceived distractions coming my way. And, it’s a nice acoustic space filled with good memories. I put a CD on and play along with it. My driveway is fine, although I can be discovered there…so I take a drive out into the country where nature can in-spire me. Bring the Spirit in. When the Spirit comes in, there’s no room for chattering monkeys.

Third; our behaviours are run by pleasure and pain. When we want to play our harps — and don’t — it’s because somehow we attach more pain to getting started playing it (and it’s the getting started that is the hard part: summoning up the activation energy) than pleasure. I learned a wonderful strategy from Tony Robbins that works when I employ it:

1))Take out a piece of paper and make four columns in it. In each separate column, write

a) The pain I will get if I play my harp now

b) The pleasure I will get if I play my harp now

c) The pain I will get if I do not play my harp now

d) The pleasure I will get if I do not play my harp now

2) Then look at the columns, and — bingo! The way is clear. The disparity between the columns is amazing. The red meat is on the carpet. You’ve got leverage. Leverage works.

We all put leashes around our own necks and are eager for someone else to guide is. One modern leash is the cell phone. Unclip the internal and external leashes, turn off the internal and external cell phone, and go play! It’s recess!

Yours on the path,

Dave Moran


November 18th, 2013

Coming Clean…

OK let me get this over with.  When I write to you, I feel it is my mission to share things I have discovered that are inspiring and helpful.  Nothing wrong with that.

But I also feel that it s my job to be honest with you about what is going on with me that relates to what i am sharing.

Oh hell, let me just get on with my confession- its not such a big deal after all, compared with a lot of things going on in the world.

One of my themes that I have written to you about is the joy of learning through practice. How even just a few minutes a day of focused practice can create huge breakthroughs over time. I believe this.

But for reasons I don’t entirely understand, I have not been practicing the harmonica all that much. I am back once again to relying on gigs to light a fire under my butt to get playing.

I have lots of great reasons for this – after all I have a family with two teenage daughters, a business, and a lot on my mind. No need to spell out all the details, you get the idea.

But I feel like a hypocrite preaching about how great practice is when I let it fall off my plate. I could have used any one of the  tools I already know about:

– committing to practicing for only one minute a day (Kai-Zen)
– talking to someone about it (asking for help)
– finding an accountability partner
– gluing gold stars on my journal when I practice
– publicly declaring to fine myself $5 every time I skip practice and sending the money to my worst enemy…

– ANYTHING besides what I WAS doing: worrying about myself and trying to whip myself back into “living right”.

Over the last couple months I seriously thought about just quietly slipping away and finding something else to do with my life. That’s how bad it got. Feeling stuck in one area of my life seemed to start cause a growing stuckness in other areas of my life. So I had to do something…

I decided to just come clean, write to you about my own ups and downs with practice, and maybe you will find it useful. And I will quit feeling like one of those TV preachers who is about to end up on the front page of the National Enquirer.

I KNOW it is really worthwhile to practice. It is like exercise – when I do it I feel great. And I am grateful for the things I have learned and absorbed by the practice I have done.

I am always amazed at some of my friends who have major work ethics and who seem to be practicing all the time. I guess I just have to say I am a work in progress…

One thing that makes me feel better over all is reading about other people who did things I admire and finding out that they all had areas of their life that they struggled with. We’re all bozos on this bus.  I have a book “Profiles of Power and Success” by Gene N Landrum   that describes the lives of high achievers like Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Amelia Earhart, and it is stunning how screwed up their lives were in some areas… And yet they did things that were extraordinary.

So – now I am looking to find new ways to ACT up – to trick myself into doing things I know will create some momentum. I have been down this road before. I quit playing the harmonica a few times over the years out of frustration or cause I compared myself to someone who seemed to be light years ahead of me and thought “why bother”… Or some other reasons I can’t remember at the moment.

I know  I need to play music and that is all there is to it. I can’t make that need go away, no matter how inconvenient it may be at times for me.

So – thanks for reading this. I hope in some twisted (or untwisted) way it is useful to you.

I have also had some cool discoveries that I will share with you the next time I write.

Till soon,
R. Sleigh



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