Follow-Up(note) Thoughts on Meditation: Jared Dickerson

INTROIT

When I first started meditating, I was moving through the endeavor with frustration and impatience. “Why can’t I quiet my mind? Why can't I just focus on my breath? I’m a brass player for heaven’s sake!” My first venture only lasted about 3 months, and it was full of holes and missed days, only to fizzle out to nothing at all.

Fast forward to today — I am 82 days in to the daily meditation journey, and since I received a few comments from friends and listeners about Episode 18 (check it out if you haven’t already!), I wanted to write out some thoughts. My goal for this post is to convince readers that this habit isn’t complicated, and that the work is entirely WORTH IT. The changes it has brought into my life are noticeable and very favorable!

MY PROCESS

When I meditate I recite sanskrit chants in my head and move through my “check-in network”. What do I mean by a check-in network? I cycle through some objectives during meditation: I internally recite the chant, soften my muscles and release excess tension, make sure my posture is straight but relaxed, find my breath, and dial back in to the chants. Over and over… When I first started, I would only focus on my breathing and found it maddeningly frustrating how easily distracted I was.

But here’s the thing: the brain is GOING to be distracted. Nowadays when I meditate, I am not trying to silence or stop the mind, rather I am an observer of it. The check-in network insures that I can keep the “distraction part” of my brain busy, almost fooling it into bouncing around to things that are all a part of the greater meditation process. Of course inevitably I will bounce to things that are NOT helpful, but when that happens my response is, “Okay, back to the network. Breathe, chant, soften, straighten, breathe.” I take note of what the unhelpful distraction was, and find that they’re usually the same everyday: money, practicing, work, that thing I lied to my 7th grade math teacher about, etc. I observe it happening, catch it as quick as I can, and gently bring myself back.

That’s my trick, and it is definitely a balance! I direct most of my focus on the chant, then the next most on my breathing, and the posture/tension checks are the least frequent. I notice my thoughts raging like white water rapids, but instead do my best to focus 99% of my energy on the check-in network, and 1% of my energy on acknowledging those passing thoughts. And once I made that distinction, meditation began to be palpably therapeutic.

MY DISCOVERIES

As you heard in the episode, this practice has seeped into every aspect of my life. I learn music faster, I embrace habits quicker, and I am more efficient in overcoming general emotional tumult. I even get a refreshing enjoyment from simpler things like eating or taking a walk. The way I listen to music — both my faves and new stuff — is now with replenished and open ears. I hear AND listen now. I look AND see now. I touch AND feel now. Does this mean I am a Yogi? “Yogi Jared” sounds pretty sweet…

And the best part, creativity really flows! I find myself having more ideas and a clearer process of executing them. Starting this year when I first went in to that *observational* meditative state, the first things I noticed were my repetitive stressors. I started to more easily sift through what was a bad mental habit and what was a new thought. Since the brain is just a collection of information from personal experiences, the chances are high that most thoughts and worries are eerily cyclical (are we a simulation?). Once I began to pick up on what was passing fluff and what was not, my brain thought and executed differently.

When a new idea pops up, instead of resorting to my usual self-doubt and fear, my brain treated those tendencies as passing fluff, and the majority of my mental energy instead went into expanding and hashing out this new idea. Of course I have to sift through my daily fluff still, we all will do that forever! But instead of spending a ton of energy on sifting, I spend a ton of energy on furthering the creative process. Creativity became more active, and dealing with problems became more passive. With meditation, I didn’t have to “train my creativity,” I simply cleared out some of the blockage.

Let me conclude with a really fun and exciting metaphor: If my brain were an A/C unit, meditation acted as cleaning out the dust filter. Sure, the A/C was cooling off the house before clearing the filter, but now it can do its job quicker and better. Same product, less time and energy, more efficient. Who doesn’t want that? Go clean out the A/C filters in your brain!

Namaste, yogis.


This Is Why We SX: Alex Eggleston

The other night, I had one of those magical SXSW experiences that fuel the dreams of the thousands of non-industry folks that pour into Austin every spring hoping for an intimate brush with their favorite bands. The night before, I got a text from a friend who had just moved into town saying “Hey, what are you doing tomorrow night? I got us on the list for HATH” HATH is apparently an abbreviation for the Head and the Heart that no one uses, so I had to think on that for a second, but once I realized that he was referring to the major label indie folk band of “Rivers and Roads” fame, I was no less skeptical, and I told my friend so. He said he found a post buried deep in a SXSW subreddit, messaged the guy who claimed to be able to get you on the list, and voila, got a confirmation email minutes later. The definition of too good to be true, but if it was true, I sure didn’t want to be the one missing it. So on Saturday night, I got into a short, inconspicuous line in front of the Scoot Inn on the eastside, near the entry of which hung a modest banner reading “T3 Presents The Head and The Heart” (another reason I was skeptical - everyone in Austin knows C3 Presents, but I’d never heard of the homonymic “T3”). We made it to the front of the line, showed one of the women working the door our IDs, and wouldn’t you know it, she couldn’t find us anywhere on the list. Too good to be true. But before we could sheepishly back out of line and laugh our way to a less exclusive bar, another woman who had overhead our misfortune walked up and said “Let me just check the VIP list, you never know.”

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In true SX miracle form, our names were somehow on the VIP list. We were given gold wristbands and told that drinks were free inside with a VIP band. We grabbed a beer and sidled easily, effortlessly, without any shoving or elbowing, to nearly the front of the stage. We were two of maybe 120 people watching the show, which ended up being a full set with an encore, another happy surprise, as I was expecting maybe a 3-5 song set from such a random miracle. They played everything you’d want them to play to spark the just the right amount of early-twenty-something nostalgia and genuine excitement for their new material. I left smiling and smitten with the world and SXSW. And then I tried to get an uber home. I live about a mile and a half away from the venue, and 45 minutes and $16 later, I was riding a little less high on the shimmery magic of the evening.

People on both sides of the event love to find things to complain about when it comes to SXSW - local Austinites maneuvering through the flocks of industry out-of-towners scootering from event to event while they’re trying to get to work, music industry bigwigs and hipsters talking about how the event peaked years ago - but the fact remains, there’s tremendous value created by SXSW every year, regardless of how you slice it.

In 2018, SXSW’s economic impact on the Austin economy totaled a whopping $350.6 million. It remains the single most profitable event for Austin’s hospitality industry, and continues to feed the Austin “Live Music Capital of the World” ego. Honestly, in a city like Austin, the value of the techy, hipster clout lent by SXSW, even if it’s almost cliche at this point, shouldn’t be minimized.

And the value of SX obviously extends far beyond the novel and economic. We’ve all got to find new music somehow, and with thousands of performers from 60+ countries playing in official and totally unofficial showcases alike, it’s hard to avoid new music at SX. As an A&R rooting around the internet day in and day out for new talent, you have to balance what the data tells you and what your gut tells you, but it’s impossible to replace the value of seeing a new band live. You can feel electricity in the room, watch the way the crowd responds. And you can make the same statement for music lovers who don’t spend their days searching for new artists for a living. Finding a new band or artist to dive into is the BEST feeling. Sure I was magically on the VIP list for a knockout HATH show, sure I saw Big Boi perform Shutterbug from the sidewalk down the street from my office; but one of the most exciting parts of SX for me this year was stumbling upon an Australian band called Quivers at the end of a Tuesday night at one of my favorite eastside hipster bars. They have roughly 30,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, only a small fraction of which are based in America, but they had every SX soul in that Austin bar engaged and grinning.  Their earnest guitar pop leaning slightly towards 80’s nostalgia had me bouncing on the balls of my feet, wishing I had cash to buy a record, and thinking “THIS! This is why we SX.”


Introduction: Alex Eggleston

 Upwords - Alex Eggleston

HI, I’m Alex, and I’m a folk-music devotee, turned student of the music industry, turned cybersecurity salesperson. The Upnote is a podcast and media platform run by bright, talented, young working classical musicians, and I’m the music industry dropout that they’ve agreed to let write stories for them every once in a while.


Ryan and Jared asked me to put together a brief introduction of myself and how I came to be writing for The Upnote, and while brevity isn’t necessarily my strong suit, talking about myself kind of is. So I’ll spare you recounting my years in choir, college a cappella, and bumming around friends’ townie shows and say that to figure out how we got here, we start at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA.

After undergrad, a weird series of events found me living alone in a haunted house in Woburn, MA, about half an hour north of Boston. I was very cold, very lonely, and very broke. To combat two of the three of those classic 20-something-in-New-England symptoms, I responded to an opening on a non-profit job site for place called Club Passim.

Club Passim is a folk club that can fit about a 130 people on a given night, including the artists and friends of artists that gather around the sound booth at the back of the room. It’s small and unassuming. So unassuming, in fact, that the vast majority of people I met in Boston outside of the the specific folk scene that revolved around the club had never heard of it. Luckily, I was a fairly weird teenager and had been heavily into Bob Dylan and all of the biographical information I could gather about him since I was 17, and so I knew that Passim was an important part of the folk music revival of the 60s and wore my meager role in its current artistic state as a badge of honor.

As a box office attendant and bartender, and later club administrative coordinator, I was starstruck by the strings of wildly talented musicians that graced the stage every night and faded into anonymity as soon as they stepped down from it. I began spending upwards of 10 hours a day in the club and was delighted to find that the artists that I thought of as super humanly talented were actually normal people, some of whom made pretty great friends. I got hooked on the scene, on my every day’s revolution around music and musicians.

After about a year at Passim, I moved west to Denver, and took all of my artist contacts and nostalgia for club life with me. I started doing promotional and event management work remotely for a couple of bands that had plenty of shows to go around, but significantly less time and resources. I called and emailed venues in advance of shows, pestered blogs and newspapers to cover tours, and flew out to manage a few of the bands at a four day long industry event called Folk Alliance - an experience that taught me the true meaning of the term “impostor syndrome”. I was doing all of this on top of my normal 9-5 at a tech company in downtown Denver, and eventually I thought that maybe there’s a way to do the fun stuff all the time, get paid for it, and stop feeling like an impostor.

As it turns out, shaking impostor syndrome is a lot easier said than done, but getting a master’s degree doesn’t hurt. Roughly two and a half years after I began turning the thought over in my head that maybe it was time to go back to school, I was shivering on my air mattress in the corner of the shoebox apartment that I shared with 3 other people in Brooklyn, hitting submit on my final thesis for my Master’s of Science in Music Industry Leadership from Northeastern University. In a few hours, I would have to wake up, catch a sardine-packed subway to the Universal Music building in Midtown, and throw myself into the breakneck pace of life as the lowest rung on the ladder at a major record label in NYC, but for that moment, I was finished. Two years of classes in everything from finance to marketing to intellectual property law, two years of business proposals and thesis prep and all nighters before picking up shifts at the club, finished.

I was fiercely grateful for the opportunity to study the business mechanisms behind the artful industry that I love so much, and even more grateful for the perspective that my taste of major label life afforded me. Looking back now, the half a year I spent in New York working in A&R research for Island records while finishing up my masters feels like one long out of body experience. I was ecstatic, I was miserable, I was busy, I was lonely. When you start going down a path that’s set to end with a life in the music industry, people in the know start to warn you at every turn that this path isn’t for everyone. You have to be ALL IN, you can’t want anything else. And while all of that still strikes me as a bit melodramatic, I will say, it opened my eyes to what I really care about.

So while I can’t say I went through the last five years and came out on the other side with the certainty that the life of an A&R exec was for me, I can say confidently that I know so much more now than I did when I started down that path. I learned new ways to think and talk about music, as well as how to engage with the business behind the music that soundtracks our lives. And I’m very grateful to do all of that here with The Upnote crew.