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Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States
Professor of Saxophone, James Madison University

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Be careful when you fight the monsters . . .

Nietzsche warned in Beyond Good and Evil, "He who fights with monsters should be careful, lest he thereby become a monster."  I had to look that up, because I'm not that well-read.  I'm working on it.

This famous quote is a terrific reminder of the meaning of Practice Monster.  Everyone gets a good laugh out of the greenish photo, and the SMASH mantra, but my intension is not to say that I am a Practice Monster, or that you should become one.  Rather, the monster represents the dark side of creative work.  Those bits inside each of us that are motivated by competition, frustration, anger, and fear – that is what forms the monster.  He lurks in dark corners, trying to rob us of the long-term satisfaction and happiness that results from patiently cultivating mastery.  He is a hungry ghost.

Practice Monster wants to be the biggest, the baddest, and the best.  He wants to destroy his competitors.  The more we feed him, the more he hungers.  He can consume the artist (or athlete, or whatever), until the original motivation is lost entirely.  He is obsessed with all the wrong aspects of the art, and worse still, he spends most of his time looking over his shoulder, terrified that a bigger, badder monster is on his heels.  His fears are justified.

This blog is about using the energy of the monster to power a higher pursuit.  A little competitiveness goes a long way, but life-long happiness can never come from a lucky win or two.  There is permanent pleasure in calmly growing a little bit each day, with temporary disregard for subjective outcomes.  Practice Monster serves a great purpose, but we must be careful to keep him on the leash.  He requires a lot of energy, and left unchecked, he will run us into the ground.

Remember that our pursuits are exactly that . . . , pursuits.  We spend most of our time preparing, and ultimately, the preparation is where the real contentment can be found.  If we place our self-worth on the performance alone, we are left severely out of balance.  Nietzsche also warned that if we stare too long into an abyss, the abyss will stare back at us.  So it is with Practice Monster.

Mastery is a moving target; every success requires countless failures.  Remember that the joy is in the process itself, and from a sheer numbers game, the process is almost the whole enchilada.  Practice well!

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