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JAZZ and GESTALT: 
The Art of Being In The Moment

by Hana Dolgin

I am a seeker of good living. A life that feels good and does good. A life of peaceful vibrations, that extend outward, like a pebble thrown into water.

The peace is in this moment. In the now. In the stillness. In the simple being. 

Allow me to introduce myself: I am a jazz saxophonist and a Gestalt psychotherapist. While these might seem like two very different occupations, in fact they have a lot in common. What they have in common is the art of being in the moment. When we are able to experience ourselves free from preconceptions which arise from various sources (such as our personal history, cultural and social norms, even our own concept of who we "are"), we can let ourselves be surprised by the surfacing of aspects of ourselves we weren't previously aware of. These experiences enlarge and enrich our sense of "self". We are a myriad of potentialities and possibilities! We can encompass a host of traits and behaviors!

A musical example: When I began playing jazz, I had difficulty identifying myself emotionally with the blues, which is an essential ingredient of the music I play. I told myself I couldn't play the blues convincingly because: 
            a) I'm a woman 
            b) I'm white 
            c) I didn't "feel" that music 
               (I didn't experience myself as raw, sensual, melancholy, gutsy, lusty, etc.) 
            d) I hadn't grown up around that music
               (Therefore, it wasn't a natural part of my musical vocabulary.)

As you see, I had preconceptions and judgments about myself, my abilities, and about "who I thought I was". With more time spent listening and more "in-the-moment" experience, while suspending my habitual internal self-talk, I "found myself" playing the blues, and that experience demonstrated to me that I could "be" and "feel" more than I thought I could. 

Jazz is a style of music that includes a lot of improvisation. When I improvise, I can "recycle" old musical phrases and patterns, which are time-tested and safe, or I can take the risk of following each note and seeing what musical idea will suggest itself to me next -- perhaps an idea I've never had or tried before! When I'm able to be open in that way, I allow a unique creation to emerge. If I get too "hung up" when I play a note or phrase that doesn't satisfy me, I miss my next musical ideas and spend time internally "berating myself" for a poor musical choice. Meanwhile, the music must continue to flow, so I'm playing with a divided mind -- part in the past ("poor choice, didn't turn out well...") and part turning out more notes. How much better, I've found, to let the notes that were played vanish into the atmosphere and focus on my next thoughts, and continue to try to create beautiful music.

Likewise, in our lives, we can stick to the time-tested ways of thinking and acting taught to us by others (which certainly may have merit and be useful in some situations), or we can open ourselves to the inspiration of the moment. If we aren't satisfied with the outcome, we can simply choose differently in the next moment, and hopefully not waste precious time berating ourselves for a choice, basically an experiment, which didn't turn out as we had hoped. 

When improvising, and particularly when recording music, I know that whatever I want to create and express must be done now! "The tape is rolling," as they say, and once the piece is played or recorded, no excuses such as "I should have practiced more... got more rest... had my instrument repaired" will be heard or accepted by the listener. Now's the moment, and I must seize it or forever hold my peace! Now is the time to reveal to the world the beauty I'm capable of!

This is a valuable lesson of life. Every moment we live is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, precious and irreplaceable. If we can be aware and present to its richness, we can live a rich and wonder-full life!

In Gestalt therapy, we learn to focus and be aware of our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, all of which help us to connect with ourselves more deeply -- with our needs, dreams and desires. The more aware we are in-this-moment, the more purposefully and effectively we can move towards our fulfillment.

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