Last week in “Shoes” (if you missed it, read it here), the first installment of my blog series “Teaching is Art” I dove into the idea of shoes and what it represents in my teaching. This idea of shoes reverberates through what I do at the piano with my students and it doesn’t stop there.
It is my deepest intention that what I do with my students at the piano will echo out into all parts of their lives. As I say, impact beyond the notes.
This reverberation echoes to me just as much. Each young person is a soul on their journey and I am entrusted with key moments in their lives. It’s a big deal.
In holding sacred space for them to be and expand, it helps me be a better person. It calls me to my highest self each and every day. This ripples out into every nook and cranny of my life.
Throughout these ripples in my time as a teacher I have observed, grown, and experienced so much. Mindful Music was born organically. It was just something I did.
I sought to keep the beautiful that I had experienced in the world of music and replace any darkness with light. I sought to gift it to others.
I had no idea it was revolutionary or special. It just seemed like the loving and important way to be.
I witnessed magic with my students in our lessons. Others noticed the magic too and I saw cravings for the magic and lack of magic all around me. I was then that I knew - this is big, this is me - pursue it fully.
Upon my maiden voyage with Mindful Music, I wanted to distill what exactly it is that I do. I was called to speak to this way of being as an “artist of holding space”.
This art I create with my students doesn’t exist on a canvas, or even through written word. Rather, it’s manifested in real time as we engage in the learning and discovery process together.
Mostly, it’s about being human.
It’s a vision, method, embodiment and belief system that I live by as a teacher. I decided to call it Mindful Music.
Through hours on my meditation cushion, loose papers sprawled on my floor and a full reverse engineering excavation, I discovered that everything I do comes down to three pillars. Each is centered around the skills and values I seek to instill in my students. Each pillar builds upon the previous one and most importantly they prioritize mindful loving humans first.
Music is my, is our, vehicle of transmission, integration, skill, story, art, empathy, enjoyment, and flow. Not to mention, it’s just one of the best things about being alive! Through holistic foundations, true excellence in the craft can be born.
Regardless of if my students pursue music long term, my goal is for them to learn the tools that will help them be who they are, excel at anything they choose and achieve their dreams.
Children must not be taught what to think, they must be taught how to think.
- Margaret Mead
The most important value and skill I am devoted to instilling in my students is autonomy. It’s their ability to have full ownership over their lives, their choices, their identity and really just keep being who they are.
This is the foundational pillar of Mindful Music that everything else is built upon. Nothing else matters if it’s not rooted in the pillar of autonomy.
How many people felt controlled, forced, misunderstood or most poignantly - not valued as kids? I know I did at many points. I didn’t feel like my voice mattered. I felt like I needed to comply, achieve, contort and essentially abandon who I was to be seen.
I believe that every young person gets to be fully seen and fully heard for exactly who they are. Yes, exactly who they are and not who adults think they should be.
I fan the flames on the voices of my students and show them different ways to think independently. I let them follow their ideas. I let them keep their wisdom.
I see them as valid and equal. The biggest part of all is not just seeing them this way - it’s treating them this way.
This shows up in a big way in terms of choice. My students know that everything is a choice. From their practice habits, what they choose to think, the kind of lesson they decide to create and the person they choose to be - they know the ball is in their court. They know that every moment is an opportunity to choose again, choose differently if needed and as a result create their reality.
As a teacher, this requires my ego to die. In this death, my students’ voices get to live.
My student’s results are not my responsibility, they are theirs! In this release and expansion, love can enter the room and my students’ continue to create more success than I could have ever imagined.
They inspire me every single day. I did not fully learn “everything is a choice” until I was in my early twenties. I view this as paying it forward with a lesson that changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Autonomy shows up in that my students co-create their learning environment and content through choice. We are truly a team. They express what they would love to learn, their feelings, how they learn and I offer a beautiful exploration space, a plethora of tools, and expanded content to stretch their knowledge.
Because my students have autonomy over their lessons, they get to choose what songs they learn. When they choose, they practice! They decided, they want to do it and they have true skin in the game.
It’s not forced. Because it’s not forced, it tends to flow. And if it’s not flowing, it’s an opportunity to send them back to themselves and ask - “Am I acting in alignment with my goals and values?”, “Do I need to pivot?”, “What’s a mantra that can help me with what I’ve chosen?”.
The biggest thing about autonomy is being fully seen, being allowed to be fully themselves and giving them the ability to fully choose. From there, I support them in providing tools.
About tools - I offer them, extend them and show them ways that they can be used. In full autonomy, my students decide if they will pick them up.
This is empowerment and respect. I want my students to trust themselves and know themselves.
Most adults are constantly unlearning things that are blocking them from their authentic truth, selves and heart’s desires.
What would it be like if the next generation didn’t need to unlearn these things? What would it be like if they could just stay who they are, keep their innate wisdom and skyrocket from there?
Through autonomy, I allow my students to stay in their power.
My students build trust with themselves, feel capable, loved and free.
Everything else is built on this pillar.
Raise your awareness and share your uniqueness to the world.
- Amit Ray
It is often said that the first step in solving any problem is knowing that a problem exists. I would expand this to say the first step in doing anything is to know what is currently going on. Let alone do anything at a high level.
Awareness is simply the ability to notice. It’s the ability to look at things with a neutral gaze, without judgement or story attached to them. Awareness is the practice and ability of separating one’s self and reflecting on what you notice.
This is where the mindfulness of Mindful Music comes in.
As a musician, I have been in a constant state of feedback and awareness since I was four years old. I pulled a fine tooth comb through everything I did. I was willing to look at myself and my results square in the face.
I have played, reflected, leveled-up. Played, reflected, leveled-up. Played, reflected, leveled-up. Quite literally, on repeat.
The two big questions I have always asked are “What’s working?” and “What’s not working?”. It did not occur to me that this was a treasured skillset until I left music school and realized not everyone had it.
I was stumped by the lack of attention to detail, I was shocked at people’s discomfort with self-reflection, I was surprised when people didn’t follow through and I was stunned at people’s inabilities to take into account feedback and information from the world around them.
I realized that this treasured skillset was something I had honed through music and was impacting all parts of my life in a profound way. I copied and pasted the process on autopilot and used it to created success in all other areas of my life.
This copy and paste echo to all parts of their lives is what I intend for my students, however there is one big adjustment I hope to give them.
Something very common in music is awareness without love, feedback without grace and a direct link from results to self-worth.
Through mindfulness and awareness in Mindful Music, my students learn from the get go that they are worth upon arrival. No one and nothing can give or take away from their worth - it just is.
From here, awareness is a game and science experiment. It’s easy to self-reflect and look at things head on. It’s a fun exploration or variables and expansion. When our worth as a human is never on the line, awareness can even be fun!
Simply notice, learn why and then choose what the next best move is toward what they desire. This awareness state of being, first in music, thought, belief and echoing out to all parts of their lives is what I seek to empower my students with.
The more aware, mindful and loving humans we have walking the earth, the better our world will become. The hearts that roam will be happier hearts. I create this possibility with my students on purpose.
Through the combination of the autonomy and awareness pillars, my goal is for my students to independently notice what is happening, why and from there choose what they’d like to do.
Conscious choice of their own based in awareness of their current reality.
Music is what feelings sound like out loud. I sing songs that speak from my heart. They tell my story, how I feel.
- Georgia Cates
To me, music is story telling. Like any art. Through art humans tell stories to connect, create empathy and share the oneness of others and of the world. For the span of centuries humans have been making art to say things that are significant, to evoke change and to feel something real.
This third pillar of my teaching allows my students to put the first two - their own ideas and awareness, out into the world. The ability to effectively express emotions and ideas is needed in our world. The ability to express not only our individual ideas and emotions, but the ability to listen and understand others neutrally is necessary. This is emotional intelligence and music is a wonderful playground and place to learn.
For self-expression, my students are supported in sharing their feelings and ideas through word and sound. They can choose what colors they paint with, they create their own compositions and know the importance of their unique ideas. Performance and expression are experienced as a gateway to their highest selves and real connection with others.
My students learn not only how to convey the emotions they feel are appropriate for their pieces, but how to convey a composer’s story and ideas. This is truly putting themselves in the shoes of another. It’s bringing another’s story to life with the same respect, care and reverence and they tell their own.
Pairing the ideas of self-expression and putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, music is empathy in real time.
The final pillar of expression is the culmination of all three pillars in play together. Based in full autonomy and heightened awareness, expression is sending those discoveries and creations out into the world.
Rather than the cocoon of holding all they have to offer and receive, expression is the portal of love, ideas and creation with others and the world. This culminating pillar of emotional intelligence, expression, brings the pillars of Mindful Music full circle and equips my students to realize their dreams and move through the world in tune and in loving exchange.
The pillars of Autonomy, Awareness and Expression work together to create an ecosystem. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate and it feels like a web. However, much of the time it’s a wheel. A wheel of fortune, indeed!
We start with spinning Autonomy - everything is a choice, you are responsible, think, decide and discern for yourself.
Then Awareness - what do you see? What are the different perspectives? Can you observe? What are your reflections? What is the neutral version? What is the current reality? Why? What can you choose with this information?
Finally circles Expression - the combination of Autonomy and Awareness, expressed out into the world. This could be sharing an idea, having a challenging conversation, playing a piece of music, conveying emotions, telling their story or the story of another.
Then, we spin the wheel again. It goes round and round and round. In music, and copied and pasted out into all parts of life.
Autonomy, awareness, expression.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Spin, spin, spin.
Beloved, Mindful Music.
These are the pillars of the magic, the structures we lean into and the paths we walk that lead to empowerment, fulfillment and freedom of every kid I get to work with.
It reverberates, it echoes and it is copied and pasted.
This ecosystem and these pillars are the art I have created. These are the colors, the brushes and the canvas that my “art of space holding” is.
Not only do I create this art, I believe in it and I see it making a difference every single day.
Through the world that is Mindful Music, I am devoted to equipping my students with the tools to be exactly who they are, embody loving awareness, excel at anything they choose and achieve their dreams.
It’s about being human.
Impact beyond the notes.
How does autonomy show up in your life? Do you believe that everything is a choice? Do the young people in your life experience autonomy?
If you knew awareness could be a game, would you play it? What’s possible when your worth isn’t on the line? How can you pay it this value forward to the next generation?
If you knew that your story and the stories of others were equally valid, how would you show up? Self-expression and empathy are values and skills that can be learned. How are you showing this to the young people in your life?
Finally, what’s an area of your life that you want to level up and how can you apply the pillars to improve it?
If you’d like a young person in your life to learn the pillars with me through Mindful Music at the piano, please reach out here! I’m accepting a limited number of families. If you’ve been thinking about it, hop in! I would love to connect with you and hold space for your kid as they grow in music and beyond.
And, if you’d like to learn how to implement these pillars and more in all areas of your life, I’m accepting 1:1 clients for mindful coaching mentorship experiences. This is a deep dive high touch container in life design through conscious creation and mindfulness. If you'd like to learn more, book a call with me here and let’s connect!
Martin Luther King famously said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?"
In pillars, purpose and pursuit of a better world,