When I was a small child, our house on the Oregon coast had a small Japanese garden in the front yard, complete with stone pagodas and a koi pond. Looking back, I wonder if a kind of traditional Japanese aesthetic — at least an Oregonian's version of it — influenced me even then? At the same time, our house was filled with boxes of jazz records including albums from Miles, Coltrane, Bassie, Ellington, etc. and pop records from vocalists such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. My older brothers spun records by The Beatles, The Stones, and The Dave Clark Five, etc. I dug those records too, but something drew me to the jazz recordings. My father, who would later pass suddenly when he was only 48, was a good amateur jazz vocalist with a wonderful voice; he occasionally performed live even after he became a company worker. I credit my father with introducing me to jazz. No one gave me formal lessons in jazz appreciation or in the Zen aesthetics as a kid, but the influence of those elements were surely there, even though I would not really appreciate those things until much later in life.
To those unfamilair with it, jazz can seem like an abstraction. Zen can seem quite abstract and removed from our daily lives as well. But in fact both are far more concrete than that, both are much more concerned with direct experience and direct connections, connections to reality. By mere coincidence, I have built a deep appreciation year by year for both Zen and for jazz. Though my intention was never to compare, looking back I now see that the similar elements, tenets, and complementary components of jazz and Zen are quite profound. Here a list of a few lessons that both jazz and Zen practice have taught me over the years. These lessons, all seemingly commonsensical, can be applied to presentation or to any creative endeavor.
Twenty-one things I've learned from jazz and Zen
- In structure there is freedom and spontaneity.
- Restraints and limitations can be great liberators.
- Don't ever force it; be ever natural.
- Good intentions are key. Sincerity is king, and yet...
- It's not about you.
- Listen more than speak.
- Speak only when you have something to say, and then in the most economic way possible.
- Your approach can be direct and subtle at the same time.
- Fear is natural (and human), but work through it and past it. Don't let fear hold you back.
- Mistakes are part of it (do not worry about them).
- Embrace the power of now, this moment.
- Technique matters, but it's not the most important element.
- Make no pretenses; put up no facades.
- Laugh, smile if you feel like it — why not?
- Share yourself with others; make a contribution.
- Simplicity is supremely beautiful, yet difficult to obtain.
- Emptiness and silence are powerful elements of expression.
- Remove the clutter, strive for absolute clarity.
- If you think you have mastered it, you've have already begun your descent.
- Always be learning. Always be learning. Always be learning.
- Curiosity is your greatest gift, nurture it (in yourself and in others)
Related Links (from PZ)