Music and the Spirit: A Conversation with Robert Johnson
Those of us who know Robert Johnson know him for his vibrant personality, quick wit, and his beautiful horn playing. What you might not know about him is his level of training and commitment to the practice of meditation and the fundamental concepts and practices of the Sufi tradition. He is the founder of Windy City Meditation, and has recently joined the faculty as a mentor at the Suluk Academy, a school for Sufi studies in upstate New York. I recently spoke with Robert, and asked him about this aspect of his life. We began with the question: what sparked your interest in meditation? Robert takes it from here.
“The audition process seemed rather grueling to me, so a friend who was not a musician, suggested trying meditation. I found it to be not only relaxing but great for concentration under stress. I guess it worked!
Meditation is extremely helpful for performers as regular practice cultivates excellent concentration and better relaxation. If we focus only on what we need to do in this instant, we play more beautifully and are less distracted by ourselves or others. Heightened awareness and great focus make for beautiful performances.
I founded Windy City Meditation as a means to offer basic meditation classes as well as provide more advanced ones for those who were interested. Over time, it seemed a 6-week class works best so that the students can gain some confidence in their new skill as well as to practice it with other people whether in person or via the internet or both at the same time.
What I teach in all the beginning classes is a simple method whereby we reduce stress and strengthen all the systems of the body (circulatory, endocrine, immune, respiratory) to produce good health as well as promoting insight into our own lives. This is achievable in 10-15 minutes a day - perfect for those of us engaged in an active lifestyle. There are musicians who have directly benefited from the 15 minute practice I teach them. That makes it all worthwhile. Some people have claimed it has helped them win auditions and/or be better players.
I have been doing the Meditation for Musicians class in the music schools and conservatories for at least 7 or 8 years. The students and their teachers welcome any techniques that may aid them in helping create more successful performers and teachers. There are some awesome profs out there!
Suluk Academy is a school that provides sincere seekers the opportunity to experience fundamental practices and wisdom of the Sufi tradition. Students are immersed in practices including meditation, concentration, and prayer, which emphasize concepts of breath, sacred sound, and light. I was a graduate from the Nasim Suluk class in 2013. I received a call from the director of Suluk Academy asking me to join the faculty for the 2015-17 class. This program consists of 8 residency weeks at the Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, NY, which is located in the Berkshires not far from Albany. It is truly an honor that they invited me.
People usually seek out meditation for various reasons, typically in the arenas of concerns around relationships, work (or retirement) or health issues. Stress is such a prominent feature in modern life that we seek ways to reduce it in the healthiest manner possible. Or sometimes we are in such emotional pain that we seek to find answers instead of continuing to repeat our current patterns.
There is irrefutable evidence now that meditation affects many parts of the brain as well as the body. We can activate the portions that create empathy, compassion or understanding, while reducing the activity in the areas responsible for fight or flight. Science also indicates that consistent meditation practice keeps our mental capacities sharp as we age.
The wonderful by-product of meditation is gaining the skill to step back from overactive thinking and see our lives more clearly. By stilling the mind, we can open up what is stored in our subconscious and the unconscious (which records all our life events) and gain insight into what is truly in front of us. These revelations may not always be the most flattering to our egos, but they are fantastic for creating the lives that we truly want, if only we put in the requisite work.”