Going to the beach and collecting shells have become almost as meaningful as the wooden spoons I have written about. Although I was born in New York, I grew up in Florida, where I have stood for many hours scouting about and wading for shells over the years. Like many activities we often no longer have time for during our busy lives, this is a simple activity that allows my mind to aimlessly wander and provides a chance to just....be. Perhaps its nature's form of the ultimate bargain shopping, but this activity allows me to just take in the colors and shapes of countless polished bits and pieces of ornately decorated former "houses." With its incredible soundtrack of crashing waves and calming breezes, shell shopping is a cleansing and rejuvenating activity I miss and dream about in each land-locked state I have resided.
That means that from time to time I have to recharge my batteries and collect shells. Every time I visit a beach I follow an unspoken rule of pocketing a shell or smooth small stone. Sometimes this is an overwhelming task, as you can see from above, which was taken during my recent hunting expedition. When I finally stop and crouch down to examine my options presented on the shore before me, I'm amazed by the gazillions of shells, shell bits, shark's teeth, sand, etc. - where to begin?
This is a metaphor for so many things in life, but right now I'll apply it to practicing. It's so easy to become overwhelmed by all the bits and pieces that make up our piece. The more we focus on one tiny attribute of the piece the more flawed it usually becomes. It's so tempting to just chuck the whole thing in the ocean rather than really appreciating what insight that bit of shell offers...
In observance of my shell-a-visit rule, sometimes I'm struck by this self-imposed pressure to find the one good treasure worthy of safekeeping. Again, the practice room comes to mind here. Do we succumb to the desperation of finding some source of redeeming value each time we near the end of each practice session? Or are we able to take a step back and trust that our invested time will offer great rewards? At the beach, I always find that I need to back up a few inches or feet to cast a wider view of what's before me. Silly as it sounds, this offers a sense of calm and trust in my abilities to spot today's perfect shell...perhaps calm my worries enough to hear the shell whispering to me, "Take me home to inspire your practicing!"
This concept is especially helpful for material we are preparing to perform at auditions and recitals - anything we are revisiting time and time again. Try this in your own practicing, taking care to acknowledge all the bits and pieces that helped bring us to this point - while not becoming overloaded with them. Get that bird's eye view of one section so that you appreciate a broader perspective, not trying quite as hard to find that perfectly shaped phrase or technical passage, but trusting that it will unfold if you make the investment!