Published on 19 Oct 2020.
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Guitar meditation

Like lots of people, over the course of the pandemic, I’ve revisited old hobbies. One thing I’ve gotten back into is playing guitar.

I used to play a ton back when I was a teenager, working my way through all the classical grades, but stopped after going to uni and in the subsequent years. It’s been really fun to pick back up, and try playing all the old sheet music I could find.

Another thing I’ve tried to do more of this year is meditate. At the start of the year I was using Headspace pretty religiously, but I now just sit with a timer app for seven minutes each day.

(I’m also exercising more regularly and Sounding Off each day, both with the aim of investing in my wellbeing and ‘being more mindful.’)

If you’ve done any meditation at all, you already know that the goal isn’t to actively clear all the thoughts from your mind and think about nothing. Instead, it’s just about sitting and watching thoughts go by. That’s why breath control is so important — it gives you something to focus on, instead of getting caught up in a thought and following it down its rabbit hole.

This is also why audiological forms of meditation are so powerful: Vedic chanting and kirtan from Hindu and Eastern traditions; Compline services and Taizé chants from different Christian traiditons; and I’m sure many others I’ve not heard of.

A few weeeks ago, while sitting on the floor in my room with my guitar, in the spot where I usually sit to meditate, I found a really pleasing simple series of notes to play, which alternated between two chords, that could be played in time with my breathing. It’s complex enough that I can’t tune out and do it without thinking (like, say, strumming might be) — but simple enough that my fingers can play it without my mind having to be fully engaged, without having to consciously think through finger positions and timings and shifts.

When playing this passage, closing my eyes, and focussing on my breathing, I can reach a meditative state a lot quicker than just by sitting in silence.

(Most days when I meditate, I don’t hit that state. On a good day, I might hit that point seven minutes into a ten minute meditation. With guitar meditation, if I’m in the right mindset, it’s almost immediate.)

With this form of meditation, there’s no space for other thoughts to butt in. If thoughts do interrupt, your fingers jolt and stop playing and the sound reaches your ear and you instantly hear that it’s happened — leading you to quickly adjust back into the flow, so that you’re still playing the notes in time and going back to focussing on your breathing and thinking nothing at all.

If you’re a guitar player, here’s the passage if you want to try it:

If you’re not a guitar player, I imagine this would work with a near infinite amount of medium-complex repetitive physical tasks. The task can’t be simple enough that you’d zone out, but can’t be complex or new each time so that you can’t let your mind relax into that meditative state.

I haven’t read anything about this type of guitar meditation before. Searching for it online only gives me endless results for chill guitar music to relax/fall asleep too. But I’ve read a lot about the flow state, i.e. getting in the zone, and being fully immersed in a sense of energised focus. I’m not sure if that’s what this is — but it feels as close to that as I’ve ever been.

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