Meditation

Picture a monk on everest saying "llama llama."

This is not that.

Lets strip our notions away for a second. I define mediation as: Setting your attention on one thing"

There are a lot of more and less strange ways of doing this. But at its core, meditation is about getting all the thought junk out so you can focus on what matters most to you.

How I meditate:

The weirder edge of what I do is a breathing technique taken from a crazy guy named Wim Hoff. Wim can also hold his breath underwater for 7 minutes and climb beyond the Everest death zone in only shorts, socks, and shoes. I'm not even kidding.
While I don't plan on doing any of these things anytime soon. I've found that starting with two minutes of his breathing technique helps my mind focus. I could offer an explanation, but basically it just works for me. That's the best I can give you.

From there I typically meditate on God, but allow that focus to mingle with whatever is going on in life at that point.

Side note: Even if you are an agnostic/atheist, meditating on a loving deity—even one you think is a bunch of baloney—actually strengthens in a visible way the physical parts of your brain that deal with empathy, self-control, and compassion. Whereas meditating on a primarily angry deity weakens the same physical structures. Consequently, more fundamentalist sects of any given religion are actually more prone to more devient types of behavior. The CIA has often found pretty deviant porn on the computers of Islamic terrorists.

I don't offer this as a proof of any deity's existence, just an interesting phenomena.

Meditation is difficult for Westerners. We value clear ideas spoken out loud, particularly within Christian tradition. The meditation I've found helpful and transforming has more to do with images than words. If I am leaning more toward the prayer side of things, trying to manifest something spiritual into the physical world, I might picture a sick friend and imagine a cloud of sickness leaving their body. I could just ask God to take away their sickness, but the imaginative process allows me to feel a greater connection to the person I am praying for.

Too weird for you? Well it doesn't have to be. Even the practice of picturing any image and returning your attention to that image over and over when your mind wanders, trains your brain to focus.

Even just a few minutes of mediation each day gives increased ability to focus the rest of the day. So whether it is for religious reasons, or just to improve your brain's ability to focus, 10m a day is a small price to pay.

Morning Routine

I thought this might be helpful to share. It's what I do every morning. And for the record I actually don't feel like I have that much willpower or self discipline. In fact the opposite, which is why I lean so heavily on a strong routine that becomes habit. I'll be updating the links from time to time (every item on the routine will be clickable). So check back in from time to time.

Close

As I left the print shop that sits two streets over from my house, I saw the guy who does my taxes heading into his office, and then thought about my eye doctor (3/4 block south, 1/2 block west) where my new contacts are waiting for me. 

At this point, if Courtney and I moved 5 blocks from our current apartment, it would feel like an entirely different world. Our life is organized primarily by geographical imminence, things being physically close. Like if I were really good golfer with a clear shot, I could tee off from our back yard and hit my office, my eye doctor, my church, my accountant, the coffee shop I haunt frequently, plus 5 really good taco joints. Not to mention several friends, who would either be angry or impressed that I could strike the ball (and their left temple) with such accuracy. 

The whole experiment has taught me that our culture has forgotten how significant geographical distance, as opposed to how much time it takes to get somewhere, is. Even within the home (the size of which has tripled even as people have less children), the amount of space we allow ourselves affects how close we are. When people funneled into the same spaces during mundane tasks, small conversations happen that sometimes lead to bigger things, I submit the proverbial work water cooler conversation as evidence. I even suspect the fact that Courtney and I share a single sink in a small bathroom has shaped our relationship. Being "with someone" when there is no specific agenda—dinner plans, work project, religious gathering—is a form of being with that we rarely encounter, unless of course you start to shape life around physical closeness.

Christmas is about physical closeness. Thanksgiving is far enough in the past that families have forgotten the experience and plan yet another meal together. (By the end of the day they have not only remembered but relived the former tragedy of a meal and decide its best to put off another one until the following November when father's headache has subsided). Churches do this crazy thing where they make you see the people you attend with on a day other than Sunday morning. And often the season inspires people (who have also forgotten about the last get together) to spend hundreds of dollars and several hours on a flying proximity enhancer that also happens to carry banshee children. It's as if for a weekend someone in the heart of the Western world flips a giant switch that turns on a great relational magnet that forces us to reduce the typical physical space between us. 

It is sad that this magnet is typically only plugged into the end of a string of Christmas lights. 

Cue the 1950's Christmas music piano.

Because isn't that what Christmas is ALL about? Well, no. It is about a great many things. But one of the things that it is about is closeness, the great inconvenience and pain of deity being "with us". Because for all of the bumping into each other, fumbling over each other, getting in each others way—no technology can replace the infinite nuance of being physically with those you deeply care about.

December 2016 Update

Hi.

I'll be in Ohio this month for a couple of dates, then back in Goshen.

December 10th - Bryan, OH
December 11th - Columbus, OH
December 16th - Goshen, IN - Celebration of Failure Show with Jonathan Reuel.

The "Celebration of Failure" show is a do-over. We were supposed to release the Past, Future, Present album with Jonathan Reuel (which you can get for the price of a tip here) in September, but I dropped an amp on my foot an hour before the show and we had to rush to urgent care instead. But we decided to reframe failure and make an even better show where we give people an opportunity to process their own failure. We'll have art up by artists who have learned to embrace failure as a way forward. And Jonathan and Christa will be selling some of their "failed" pieces in a sort of silent auction form, there could be some great steals.  

After that, I'm done for the year. 

2016 has been hard work, on a number of levels. Former seasons of life have either been abundant or dark, but 2016 feels like both light and dark hard panned in stereo, and sometimes blending until you frankly can't figure out which is which. 

But that is Christmas I suppose, a spark in pitch black, a chorus of light that only a few farmers get to see, babies killed because of an king worried about a newborn. Real gifts in real life don't have perfectly folded wrapping. And life is a gift.

As far as what 2017 holds, we'll see. I'll be on the road more, if you want my route heading near you just drop me a line (jasonropp@jasonropp.com) and we can get something figured out. I've really enjoyed the house shows I've done in 2016 and would love to do some more. Otherwise if you just have a suggestion for a spot in your town that I should put on my radar, it's all helpful. 

Also I'm curious. What kind of music do you think the world needs more of these days?

 

Grow Like Trees,

Jason 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compassion Fatigue

My wife came across (and then experienced) a term from social work called compassion fatigue. When you give yourself to helping a lot of people without taking regular and adequate time to care for yourself, you get jaded and burnt out. Think social workers, pastors, etc.

It isn't inevitable, it just takes making some very clear and consistent boundaries. And honestly it only happens to people who are already making most of their lives or employment about helping others (so like 2.8% of the population?). So really I think the application for most of us would be that we need to really respect the boundaries of people who give of themselves so often. And maybe encourage (or force them) to care more for themselves so that  they can keep on helping a lot of people.

I Dont Know

Probably the hardest thing for me to say. I'd rather BS my through an answer or contribution instead of saying I don't know so I can learn.

There are people who will mock you for not knowing things, but I think that these people fail to see the broader world and the possibility of things to know. They are not curious people and will deride you just as much for knowing "useless" things as they will when you don't know actually useless things, like who is the quarterback for such and such team. 

But a friend told me recently how he's trying to increase the number of times he says I don't know, especially when feel like you "should" already know something. It opens the doors to learn.

 

 

Failure Reframed

I guess you could call last night's show a failure. For the first 20 minutes I was literally playing to an empty room. A friend here in Bloomington came in first. 45 minutes later a table of 8 sat down in a nearly separate room, visible through a glassless window. 

I drove 4 hours to play a two hour set to an empty room. To make it worse, telling stories about songs to a mostly empty and not listening room makes you look a little off, which means that I have to play even more songs to fill the two hours (all of which I do from memory). It was brutal, and since my pay was a percentage of drinks, I got $20. I think the owner felt bad and paid me more than 10%; they did not sell $200 in drinks.

A show like this might have destroyed me a couple of years ago. But thankfully I've had some good creative role models to help me see that shows like this might be short term failure. But long term, they are the way forward. 

Because tough rooms tell you something. When the environment is not primed for success, when the sound is bad, or people think of you as background music, or there is a lot of banter in the room, your songs have to work harder—so only the really good ones survive. I got this mindset from the comedian Louis C.K. (below is some of his cleaner material), who is now famous enough that people will laugh at whatever he says. So in order to try out new material, to see what is really funny, he would spend 5 minutes heckling the crowd. After he made them mad, then he would tell a joke. If they still laughed, then it means they actually liked the joke. He made the room harder on purpose. 

 

Psychologist Viktor Frankl said that when you find a purpose for suffering, it ceases to be suffering. And in case you are tempted to say he doesn't understand your particular suffering, you should know that Frankl was saying this about his time at Auschwitz. He lost a brother, his mother and his wife to the Nazi's. So I think it might apply to a failed show in southern Indiana.

And this show made me better. 10 minutes before the start when I realized that I'd be playing for a while to an empty room, I plugged in my looper pedal which I have practiced with for a total 15 minutes. Trying it out with the pressure of a show, but without people present, showed me what sorts of challenges it would bring in a live setting. I also had my harmonicas along with me, which showed me that under pressure I was still not yet intuitive on those. Even as the show was going, and a few people came in, I realized the purpose for this failure. I knew that I would be picking up my guitar more in the coming weeks, and that I would be making a long list of songs to review every other week to keep them fresh for longer sets like this one. There was a purpose for my suffering. So while it was hard, it felt hard like doing a hundred emotional sit-ups rather than getting punched in the gut. And afterward, I got the usual post show tired-high and moved on into a great evening with some friends.

I'm not trying to paint a rosy picture here, there were still those moments of "What the heck am I doing here?" But those moments lose their controlling power and instead of breaking you down become fuel for the future. I know what sort of preparation and execution could have made that back table engage the music. In the best moments of the show I saw them start paying attention, I just didn't have the chops (yet) to keep them there or to pull them over the line to tipping. Knowing what is not working gets you closer to what does if you'll let it. 

Finally, a little promotion here. Jonathan Reuel and I are hosting a Celebration of Failure show in Goshen on December 16th. We're going to play music from our new album "Past, Future, Present" which is about how to mourn the loss of people, places, and dreams. But we're also going to be selling art that we consider a failure in some way. But there's a twist, you get to write on a piece of paper what that piece of art is worth to you in that moment (even if it's just 50 cents), at the end of the night, the person who it is worth the most to will be able to buy it for that price (again, even if it's just 50 cents). We'll also be hanging pictures of works by other artists that were either failures that helped them move forward, or failed processes that produced something great. Basically we just want to tell a lot of stories about failure (and to give you opportunities to do so) in order to weaken failure's hold on all of us. We hope you can join us.

Time, Money, Standard of Living

Life is an interactive equation of time, money, things; they all suck from or feed into the other parts.

If you want more things you can spend more time in order to make more money. 

If you want more time you can buy less things, consequently spending less time making money.

Time is limited; money is flexible—you can find ways to make it more efficiently; things are practically unlimited.

Busy—the poverty of time—is an American virtue. That I have no obligations till 3:30 pm today, that I could find a way to make more money rather than write songs, that Courtney probably could find a way to earn some extra cash while she finishes up her internship, all rubs against the blue collar sentiment that I have yet to successfully evict from my brain. Even though in terms of $$$ we have more than we need, and in terms of things have more luxuries than Caesar, and certainly more than any Medieval royalty, the abundance of time that we have carved by contentment makes me unsettled—perhaps a little like a millionaire who lives in a run-down neighborhood.

I feel like I have defied prophecy a hundred times already; "wait until you graduate, until you are married" the next on the list is children. Each stage of life will certainly challenge the pace we've chosen in new ways. But I've seen people defying the rule in each chapter. For example, some friends from Ohio stripped their lifestyle to the bone and carefully choose occupation so that even with 6 children they could on a whim hop in a van and drive to Arizona to see a solar eclipse from the Grand Canyon.

I think it is true that if I want to have the money to fund the lifestyle so many put their hope of a good life in, then I must sacrifice any luxury of time in order to bring it into being. 

Or I could pay the price of contentment (which in the end feels like very little at all), learn to be wise with what I have, and enjoy the wealth of an unhurried life.

 

 

 

Starting Over When You Don't Have To

My friend Nate (he and his wife Amber run the spy guitar Americana musical outfit Shiny Shiny Black) told me that his art teacher once told him to come up with 100 ideas for a project. When he had, the teacher told him to throw it out and come up with a new list of 100. He then told Nate to throw out that list and find another 30 which he could actually use.

I have often hung on for dear life to my best ideas because I was worried that they were the best ideas I'd ever have, my last resort. 

But creativity is an infinite resource. If you cultivate it you will keep finding more great ideas. That is, so long as you quit hanging on to your great ideas. Your best ideas come when both your hands are free to work on them.

This past Saturday night at Goshen Brewing Company was by most measures (emotional response, financial, excecution, atmosphere) the best solo show I've played. On Sunday it felt great to take a pause on my journey up Music Mountain to enjoy a pretty spectacular view, but I knew I had to leave that scenery behind and start climbing again. I felt compelled to act as if I were starting over.

I have new songs I want to write, new places I'd like to play, and I'm starting a new album in the coming year. I need to keep climbing. I've built up a great set over the past couple years, so what happens if I set out to play an entirely new set by next summer, leaving all my current songs out of it (just for now)? It's daunting, but the birth of a lot of new work depends on a bit of self imposed desperation. Put yourself in the place where you absolutely need new creativity and you'll find it. I've seen it happen enough times to vouch for it.

Desperation breeds innovation. Hard times call for desperate creativity. 

The point is, quit robbing the world of your current best work—show it to them! And if you don't? Well then you're probably also robbing them of your next best work that won't get made while your holding on to what you already have.

It All Costs Somebody Something

 

Dear People Fighting To Be More Human,

We are accustomed to thinking in money. This trip to Baltimore costs me $100. These pants cost $35. It's a tidy way to organize value and make decisions.

But what if instead of dollars and cents we thought in hours and minutes.

That trip to Baltimore costs me 18 hours of driving plus 5 hours of work to earn the money to pay for it. That trip costs me 23 hours of my life, nearly one day. And since no one is awake 24/7 really it's more like 2 days of my waking life.

Or think of when we get something for free, like the really cool mug my wife got from local potter Brandon "Fuzzy" Schwartz (go buy some, it's durable, affordable, and beautiful) during an arts scavenger hunt. I know nothing of pottery but lets say that it took him an hour to make the mug. And then lets say that after chit chat and the inefficiencies of life, it took him another hour to deliver. Lets not forget the cost of the supplies–add $10 translated into a half hour of other work to earn the money. What was 'free' to us actually cost Brandon 2.5 hours of his life. If he were to 'give away' 10 mugs, he is essentially giving away 2 days of his waking life

And lets not forget the thousands of unpaid hours in which he honed his craft to create things you couldn't come close to unless you yourself went through a decade or two of dedicated work.

image.jpg

I'm making a list of artists who have given me special moments in the past few years that have cost me absolutely nothing. Courtney and I are a few months away from turning a financial corner. Money isn't everything but I plan on compensating those artists for the price they've paid. 

My potential motives here are obvious: Buy my music, pay for my stuff. Not saying that. In fact go buy a mug from Fuzzy. What I am saying is that we live in a world of seemingly free or at least very cheap and consequently very little value. It costs us nothing which also means that we get nothing. That is unless we stop for a moment and consider what the thing actually cost and whether or not we are really willing to let someone else pay that price for it on our behalf. 

 

Grow Like Trees,

Jason  

Longevity And Creativity

I used to think that if I didn't have some eternal—or even just long term—purpose for a project, then it would falter creatively. I had a hard time seeing the role of making things that wouldn't last.

A couple of years ago while on the road with my buddy Jonathan Reuel, we stayed with Toby and Denice Hazelett (Denice is now my manager). Relevant to this story was that they had a Buddha Board in their bathroom.

The board is quite simple: it's a white board that turns black when wet. Below the board is a dish with some water and a brush in it. You paint on the board with water. But whatever you paint fades quickly and dries within minutes. 

I was hooked immediately. Something shifted in how I approached making things. It didn't matter if this was good or bad, it was not permanent. I was free to paint with no expectations of anyone else seeing it again—myself included.

I've tried out a few other mediums like this. While on the chilled Lake Michigan beach with Courtney I filled in a 3'x3' square with designs. I figured someone might see it—but probably only a couple people before it disappeared. After that I made a small sandbox that sits on my front porch. Daily it gets scribbled over with new patterns. I even create designs by putting my coffee cup down in a new spot each time while I'm sitting there. 

The current layer of indents. 

The current layer of indents. 

It is joyful work.  

Its effecting other things as well. When I write a song I try to explore as if each one will be thrown away and never heard. It gives me freedom to try new things. I can bother later with deciding  whether it's worth showing or "fits" what I'm currently trying to do.

My reasons for making things musically or otherwise are mixed. Part of it is because my own existence, my relationships, my faith, has been enriched by all sorts of people brave enough to show and tell. Part of it is because I need it. But I've found that at least starting as if it's just a silly little drawing gives it the best chance of becoming something bigger. 

 

-Grow Like Trees

Only 30 Minutes

I get clogged if I only have 30 minutes before the next thing. I cant seem to get anything worthwhile done, because I feel too crammed. So what's my solution? Have a go to 15 minute activity list. Respond to Emails Make one connection with another musician or venue Write a lyric line Meditate 15 miutes Take a 15 minute nap Run a mile Practice 3 songs in my set Free write 15 minutes

I usually just flitter it away while I wait for the next thing, here's to changing that.

Three Things

Jack White (if I went to one of his concerts I'd scream like a 13 year old girl) has this theory that anything needs at least three parts to hold up, like a stool. Like If you have a fantastic burger, amazing fries, but your soda is flat. Or maybe your car interior has two colors–that third color would really make it pop. It's a low enough number of things that you can think a lot about each of them–but without getting bored.

So how does that plug in to whatever you're doing?

New Normal

Courtney and I have a loose boundary—or perhaps more of a gravitational center— that keeps us circling the several blocks around our home at 117 1/2 South 6th. There is not some invisible fence or moral code that keeps us from leaving. We often take a day trip here or there. And I give a few guitar lessons 10-20 minutes away each week. But whenever I get in the car and drive it feels like I'm expelling something extra in order to break orbit. This afternoon I had the thought smash against my forehead that our little 3 block experiment—still strange to many—was now everyday to me. 

I was sitting at the coffee shop (2 blocks from our house) talking to a friend who happened to be there as well. We ended up chatting for nearly an hour. This was after Courtney and I had been at church that morning (2 blocks away) and had last second lunch with some friends (4 blocks away). Had this sort of closeness and impromptu happened 4 years ago it would have been a day for the books. Not that it's like that all day every day, but enough that it no longer shocks me.

So I took a moment to remember. No one can live on always new, always different. But the danger of the new normal is that you can lose an appreciation for what was at one time revolutionary and liberating and only see what is wrong instead of being grateful.

Stories. Fear. Guitar Practice.

Fear and anger shut down your ability to think logically. The emotional reactions to crisis physically happen in a different part of the brain as logical thought, judgement, and self-control.Guitar practice has always been difficult for me. I am bi-polar when it comes to self discipline. 

A lot of it has to do with fear: that I'm not good enough, that I am late to the game, that this is a frivolous waste of time. My blue collar instincts—which have served me well in many ways—are more interested in difficult and practical gainful employment. And so often, halfway through a practice session the demons start whispering. 

But I heard recently that while the anger and fear centers of the brain don't respond well to logical thoughts, they do respond to stories. So instead of white knuckling, I daydream for a couple of minutes about where I'd like to end up in vivid detail—as a person, as a musician, as a writer—and it puts a little more fuel back in the tank.

2 Eggs w/Siracha + Toast

Every morning I start the burner beneath the cast iron pan on medium low. I drink a glass of water then crack the eggs into melted butter and wait. If I feel like spicing things up I'll get some hot water going for a pour over coffee. A minute before the eggs are ready to be flipped (I like mine over-easy), I drop a piece of bread in the toaster. While the toast is finishing I grab the siracha and drip it on the eggs. Toast pops up, I butter it, and we're off to the races. By now it's about as predictable and comfortable as Mass to a 60 year old Catholic. I first started the ritual after reading a surprising interview with Ira Glass, one of my favorite storytellers. Instead of giving an inspirational speech about chasing dreams, he talked about breakfast, lunch, and what he wore (pretty much the same thing most days). He had long ago realized that your brain is a muscle. When you use it to make a decision (like what you are going to have for breakfast), you are using that muscle. And you can only do so much lifting in a day. But the brain can also do an enormous amount of familiar things efficiently and automatically. Most of us for example don't have to think all that hard to put our shirt on or tie our shoes. So if you turn something into a habit or ritual it reduces the load on your brain, whose energy can be used to make more important creative decisions. So now Ira, who daily does an immense amount of creative work, eats the same breakfast and lunch every single day.

I can attest to the power of a small change made into habit. Getting out of bed in the morning is difficult for me. I have chronic neck problems which means I often wake with a headache. On top of that I'm fairly ambitious in my business and creative efforts. So any given day I might have several guitar lessons to give, a spate of catering request emails to respond to, as well as my own piano and guitar practice and songwriting. And since I'm a zoomed out thinker, I tend to wake up thinking that all those things must be finished in the next hour. Once I'm out of bed and put pen to paper to plan my day I'm typically fine. But until then it can be a coin toss as to whether or not I'll snooze a few times in avoidance of reality. So I often just avoided eating breakfast altogether because I didn't want to think about what I would have to prepare or if we'd have enough of this or that. And the mornings I didn't muster the courage to make breakfast, I'd suffer for it by mid morning.

But now, I can get up and let my body go through the motions while I mentally try to prepare for the day. It seems like a small thing, but the way I begin affects every moment after. Plus, I can now make a pretty darn good cast iron fried egg.

So I'll stick with my 2 eggs w/siracha + toast.