How to become a virtuoso of life

July.30. 2015

My life has been defined by one mission, achieving virtuosity in life.

Virtuosity to me simply means mastery, understanding what it takes to do something easily and effortlessly.

The key word here is effortless.

Effortless does not mean without effort, it means not having to exert more effort than you have to.

For example, when I play guitar, there is absolutely no effort involved at all.

I simply pick up the guitar and the fingers are moving about on the strings by themselves. I am like an observer watching them do their thing.

That doesn’t mean that there’s no effort in my fingers.

It just means that the effort is so minimal it seems effortless.

How did I develop this effortless touch?

From years of playing.

Years of experience have taught me exactly how much force to exert to pluck the strings and that’s exactly what I do.

I exert the energy required and not one ounce more.

My search for virtuosity led me to identify the basic components that must be present before virtuosity can occur

The discovery became the basis for my first book, the Art of Virtuosity.

In that book, I listed the necessary conditions for virtuosity to occur.

These are lightness of touch, looseness of body, fluidity of movement, rhythm, economy and release.

They are universal principles of virtuosity, present in all manifestations of virtuosity.

Take painting for instance. (Besides my interest in music, I am also a watercolorist.)

A good painter is defined as someone who has mastered a light, fluid, rhythmic and economical touch in his brush strokes.

Have you ever seen a master painter with a heavy clumsy touch?

Or for that matter, a martial artist?

Or an athlete?

Even in boxing, a pugilistic art based on brute force, consider Mohammed Ali’s famous line, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

Look at any virtuoso and you will see the same qualities in their movements.

In life, I’ve found the same conditions and attributes to be true.

In life, to achieve mastery, one must also move lightly, fluidly with grace and rhythm, and with economy.

These are all necessary conditions if you want to live an effortless life.

Next, some ideas on how to achieve effortlessness in life.

Three stages

July.25. 2015

The search for wisdom and truth, I’ve found, goes through three stages.

The first stage is the stage of externals.

Here you’re preoccupied with appearances, with how things look rather than what they are.

This is the stage of rules and rituals, of formulas, and magical incantations. As long as you perform all these externals well, you feel you’ll be okay.

In religion, it’s mostly about following strict rules religiously. (Now you know where the word ‘religion’ comes from.)

And condemning all others who don’t share the same blind adherence to these rules as you.

But the preoccupation with appearance is not just a religious phenomenon.

You find it everywhere, including the rarefied world of guitar playing

Where many self-professed experts will try to convince you that they have the keys to guitar heaven and they will try to impose their rigid rules on ‘correct’ guitar playing on you.

The modus operandi is the same.

If you follow their rules, you’re ‘saved.’

If you don’t, you’re an infidel, to be cast into their guitar hell.

This stage is ruled by fear and ignorance.

Fear because the punishment for non-compliance can be brutal.

And ignorance because to maintain their hold on you, these self-appointed guardians of ‘truth’ will keep you in darkness and ignorance.

Because they know that if you ever find the truth, their little racket is over.

The second stage is the stage of internals.

This is the stage of experience.

With experience, you begin to understand that there are more than externals.

There’re internals in everything and if the externals do not reflect the internals, it’s all a sham.

At this stage, you begin to see though all the hype, all the hypocrisy.

You start to question.

And you begin to realize that behind all the smiles and rituals and rules, there’s something a little less wholesome.

And that the glossy externals are really a cover for incompetence at best and more sinister intentions at worst.

If you’re a guitar player, you realize that it doesn’t really matter how you look, more important is what’s coming out from your fingers.

If you look the model picture of the ‘perfect’ player but you sound like crap, well, time to focus on your internals.

Or if you see pastors spewing their Sunday fire and brimstone driving their fancy cars and cavorting with their glamorous sidekicks, well time to check out their internals.

In other words, you begin to focus on the real as opposed to the phony.

The substance as opposed to the superficial.

And the third stage?

Well, this stage is beyond words, it’s beyond explanations.

You’ll have to experience it to know it.

All I can say is that once you experience it, everything else will be of little consequence.

The paradox of l energy

July.13. 2015

You’re probably saying, “Now wait a minute, didn’t you say that a love-energy filled life is effortless?

So what’s this about having to put in effort to spread its energy around?”

That’s the paradox about the energy of love.

It’s no effort at all if that energy comes from the heart, but if you have to force it, then it’s a lot of effort.

I think I’ve mentioned it before.

If you have to force yourself to practice the guitar, then it’s a lot of effort.

But if you truly love playing it, it’s a joy.

The same is true of any other expression of love’s energy.

If you truly love someone, your expression of that energy will be effortless, but if you’re doing it simply because you feel you have to, it can require some real effort.

But as with everything else, if you persist and keep on doing it, you will find that over time, that expression will become completely natural and soon, all that energy will come pouring out of your heart effortlessly.

The key to a good life

July.12. 2015

Understanding how the energy of love operates is the key to a good life.

Because then you’ll be able to understand its flow in your life, you can precisely fine-tune how much of it you want in your life.

In other words, it puts you in the driver’s seat.

And it takes the blame out of things.

Because you know that its flow is completely determined by you, how much you get is a direct result of how much you put in.

If you feel you’re not getting enough of its energy, now you know why.

If you feel lonely and neglected, now you know why.

If you feel like everyone’s avoiding you and it’s not fair, why is that guy so popular, now you know why.

If you feel everyone in the office hates your guts, now you know why.

Instead of feeling bitter and drowning yourself in self-pity and blaming others for their lack of caring, you know what you need to do.

But of course it’s easier to blame.

(Which is why most people take that route.)

Because spreading love energy around you requires effort, quite a bit of effort, especially if you haven’t made much of an attempt at it before.

And conversely, if life is a breeze, and goodwill and blessings follow you everywhere you go, and whatever you want to accomplish is accomplished without much effort, you also know why.

In fact, you probably don’t need me to tell you this, you already know.

How to harness the energy of love

June.22. 2015

Unlike other forms of energy, love’s energy does not work in unilateral ways.

For example, gravity is unilateral.

It’s always there, it requires nothing from you. You want to tap into it, just create the right conditions and it will work for you effortlessly.

But not the energy of love.

The energy of love operates as a flow, as an exchange of energy rather than a one-sided affair.

In order to access it, you must first release some yourself.

You can try to access this energy simply by demanding it, or you can try to force it to come to you, but you will not succeed.

In fact, the more you demand or force that energy to come to you, the less of it will come.

Instead, you access the energy by first producing it yourself.

And then spreading it around, and over time, this energy that you send out will begin to attract other like energy and soon you will be surrounded by it.

And the great thing is, it’s a totally dynamic and responsive thing.

The more energy you send out, the more you receive.

It works in reverse too, if you’re stingy with your love energy, you will expect the universe to be stingy with its love energy too.

Perhaps one of the best lessons of love’s energy is one I learned from my mother.

One day, on one of my annual trips to Borneo, she said to me, “Go and look at that plant in the corner. It’s such a nuisance. I’ve tended and looked after it for over a year and still nothing, not even a flower. If it’s not going to grow any flowers, just pull it out and throw it into the rubbish.”

That’s the lesson of love’s energy in a nutshell.

Love exists in a dynamic exchange.

To tap it, you must be generous with your own energy first.

If you’re stingy with it, if you give nothing back, you risk stopping its flow.

Which leads us to our first observation.

Unlike what people say, love is conditional.

There’s no such thing as non-conditional love.

Love always operates as an exchange. It will only come if it goes out (or as the Chinese say, “got come, got go”).

But how about a little baby?

What can the baby give you to deserve that love?

If you have to ask that question, you’ve probably never experienced the love in those tiny fingers. That love may not be a conscious type of love, but it is no less powerful than more conscious manifestations.

Or how about a plant?

I know I’ve used the example of tending to a plant many times. (Now you know where the examples come from, my mother is an avid gardener)

Notice how the more love you pour out on a plant, the more it responds, not directly but indirectly, by blooming beautiful flowers for you, filling your garden or apartment with its fresh scent of love.

So the secret is simple.

If you want to harness the energy of love, you must first give it out yourself, spread love all around you, and soon, you will be basking in an abundance of love and goodwill.

And whatever you want to accomplish in the universe will be done effortlessly and miraculously.

All that love surrounding you will do it for you.

There’ve been many attempts to explain this energy.

The law of attraction, karma, reaping what you sow.

They all describe the same thing.

Which is that if you want the universe to work for you, if you want to tap into all its abundant energy, all you need to do is invest in a little bit of that positive energy they call love.

As an aside, if you’re one of those sorry people who are stingy with love, and you want to hoard it all for yourself, well, that’s really a dumb way to love yourself.

Because if you’re not generous with your love, that’s all you will have eventually, your small measly pittance.

No amount of love you think you have can be measured with the infinite amount of love in the universe. If you’re generous with your love, it will be returned to you a hundredfold.

Isn’t it better to access all that energy rather than try to hold on to what little you have?

The energy of love

June.4. 2015

The key to an effortless enlightened life is to tap into the abundant energy of the universe.

Martial artists are well aware of this.

They understand the flow of energy in the universe, and instead of going against this energy, they work with it.

So for instance, if they’re fighting an opponent, they don’t try to oppose him directly; instead, they blend with him and try to harness his energy to redirect it back at him.

The opponent’s energy is of course part of the universe’s energy and by redirecting it, they’re tapping into that energy to accomplish their goals.

Learning how to blend with the energy of the universe and using it to accomplish your goals is a fact that eludes many people.

They think they have to rely solely on their own energy to accomplish their goals.

But that’s an inefficient and ineffective approach.

Our energy, physical or otherwise, is limited.

If you rely only on your own energy, you will be limited by what you can do.

For example, no matter how strong you are, you can never match the strength of a horse. So why not harness the energy of the horse to do what you need to do? Which is precisely what our ancient forebears did.

A beast of burden is only one example of the universe’s energy, but there’re other more subtle forms of the universe’s energy out there.

Think of gravity.

Gravity is an omnipresent force around us. It’s everywhere, so why not harness it to accomplish what you have to do?

Which is what the ancient designers of irrigation systems did. They used gravity to transport water around them.

When it comes to subtle energies, perhaps the most subtle of them all is love.

Yes, love, that much maligned, much abused, and misused word.

Thanks to the dream merchants of Hollywood, the word has come to mean a whole lot of other things which has little to do with love and more to do with self-gratification.

In its purest form, love is energy–positive energy.

When we love something, we pour out our heart and actions at this thing, this produces positive energy towards the thing.

Positive because it’s all good energy, intended to create good outcomes.

So for example if you love your plants, you’ll be showering them with attention, feeding and watering them regularly, and you’ll be spending as much time as you can with them.

Or if you love the guitar, you’ll be playing it all day long, every chance you have.

In other words, love is manifested in action and energy, always towards good positive outcomes.

Many people have this mistaken belief that love is a feeling.

Let’s say that all you do is stand over your plants and feel deep love for them all day long, but you do nothing for them and they die of neglect, would anyone believe you if you tell them that you love them?

Sometimes, I’d have students who don’t practice and yet they tell me that they love the guitar, and I tell them, that ‘love’ they think they have for the guitar is a fantasy.

Because if it was real, they’d be playing it all day long, every chance they have.

You can feel love all day long for something but if it’s not manifested in action and energy, it’s just so much empty emotion.

And of course, when I tell them this, there’re the usual protestations, to which I always say, if you really feel love for the guitar, show me, don’t tell me.

Next, how to tap into the energy of love.

The meaning of life

May.30. 2015

Philosophers have debated over it for years, great teachers have tried to give us answers, and I think I’ve finally got it all figured out.

Life is a cosmic accident that is best lived out in blissful forgetfulness.

And in this, we’re all hugely blessed.

Never before in the history of mankind have there been so many ways to drown ourselves in forgetfulness, so many activities, substances, toys at our disposal to help us forget ourselves.

Mind bending drugs, gadgets, social media, video games, TV reality shows–you name it, we got it.

All designed to make us forget our mundane existence and keep us entertained.

And that’s the key.

As long as we keep our minds occupied with one pointless pursuit after another, we feel like we’re filling up our lives with meaning and purpose.

The mecca for all these pursuits is of course America.

The land of the free, home of the brave and the bored.

That’s why the entire focus of this great society is on how to keep ourselves entertained.

And when it comes to entertainment, nobody does it better than America. Call it the genius of American ingenuity and inventiveness.

We can take anything and turn it into entertainment.

Politics, food, sex, religion, education (especially education. As a teacher myself, I’m aware that the buzzwords these days in education are “innovative teaching strategies” which is just another way of saying, “make it entertaining”).

As the old saying goes, “ignorance is bliss.”

I would add, “and forgetfulness (or entertainment) is heaven.”

The Theory of Everything

April.13. 2015

It was said that after he discovered the theory of relativity, Einstein set out to try to uncover the secret of all secrets–the theory of everything.

A principle that ties in all the disparate forces in the universe.

He never found it.

That doesn’t mean of course that it isn’t there. I believe one day, someone will find it.

But the idea is intriguing and one that particularly resonates with me.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always believed in reducing things to their basic elements in an effort to understand them.

It’s what I tried to do with the Art of Virtuosity, where I was able to identify basic principles that are crucial to virtuosity.

Well, the other day, I uncovered, purely by accident, one even more basic principle that ties in all these principles.

This principle is so powerful, I have to call it the theory of everything (well at least for the guitar).

I have been aware of the principle for years and have written about it in numerous short articles.

But I had not been aware of its role as the principle that connects all other principles.

What is this principle?

Without giving away the plot too much, I’ll have to say that it involves the fingertips.

A way of manipulating the energy at your fingertips so that they function like automated engines.

This principle is so powerful that when you discover it, speed, power, and precision occur effortlessly.

Your fingers will seem to be filled with a special kind of energy, they will seem to play themselves.

Of course, this may sound like so much mumbo jumbo to some.

It is always hard to understand something when you haven’t experienced it yourself. But believe me, this principle is very real and its results are very real.

So how do you discover this secret for yourself?

Practice is the key, many hours of practice, countless hours.

Next, patience—because you’re probably not going to get it next week, or maybe even next year, or the year after. So how long do you have to wait? As long as it takes.

And an open heart, no preconceptions. Just give your body and fingers complete freedom to explore and go where their instincts lead them.

Wisdom as a tool

March.28. 2015

Wisdom for me is a tool.

A tool to elevate your existence and create a more effortless life for yourself.

That’s what tools do—they make life easier for you.

For example, have you tried driving in a screw without a screwdriver?

Or a nail without a hammer?

Or tried to cut a board without a saw?

Without tools, life is a constant struggle. With tools, life becomes easy and effortless.

And that’s what wisdom does for you.

It gives you the tools to cut through the crap of life and see right to the essence of things. So that you can concentrate on the things that matter and not bother about the rest.

This makes life easy and effortless.

You don’t waste time and you still get to produce great results.

For example, if you work in a big impersonal organization. Organizations tend to operate with many layers of bureaucratic red tape (otherwise known as policies.)

You can blindly follow every one of these policies, but you’ll be wasting precious time and worse, you won’t be able to do your job, the job you’re hired for.

Or you can figure out which of these ‘policies’ can be dispensed with and focus your energy on doing your job well.

And this is where wisdom comes in.

What is your job?

Is it to fill out countless reports for your supervisors so that they can cover their butt and look busy and engaged?

Or is it to get things done?

For example, if you’re a teacher, the essence of your job is to educate.

Once you figure this out, you can focus all your energy on teaching.

And do the minimum on the rest. (Minimum here meaning doing what you need to do to give the appearance of having done what is ‘required’ and nothing more.)

This way, you’ll be able to produce the goods and still look good to the paper pushers and rule enforcers.

In guitar playing, wisdom will tell you that the essence of what you do is to play and express yourself on the guitar.

Everything else is secondary.

So if you’re playing well, but your teacher still tells you that you need to change your hand position because it doesn’t quite fit his idea of what is a good hand position, it may be time to look for another teacher.

Because obviously, he is more interested in enforcing his preconceived ideas than in teaching you.

Wisdom is especially important in sorting out the real from the phonies, the sincere from the scammers.

If you go to a church and the pastor tells you God wants you to contribute more money so he can expand his church, that’s an instant red flag.

Because wisdom will tell you that the essence of religion is to bring you salvation and not to help someone build his own megachurch. (Which sounds more like an ego trip than the word of God.)

Or if he tells you God wants him to have a new jet, stay very far away.

Because you’ll be financing his lavish lifestyle instead of finding salvation.

This has nothing to do with not being generous with God’s gifts to you, it has everything to do with not being taken in by some scammer.

Wisdom to me is a functional tool. Something that is actionable, something that actually makes a difference to your life.

It’s not to be confused with the ‘sage-like’ wisdom that does nothing for you except make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Yes, you can find your ‘inner child’ or ‘live in mindfulness’ but that’s not going to put food on the table or pay your bills.

The natural order of things

March.2. 2015

Wisdom, I’ve found, has a lot to do with the natural order of things.

What is the natural order of things?

It’s how things work in their natural state.

Take a mountain stream. Left to its own devices, it will find the straightest and most direct path to the ocean.

That’s how streams operate in the natural order of things.

And that’s how we operate too when we gain wisdom.

We begin to act like the mountain stream. We naturally find the straightest and most direct path to our goal.

And usually this means a path of least resistance.

A path of directness of purpose.

A path with only one objective, to reach the ocean.

That’s the simple scenario of working within the natural order of things.

But it gets a little more complicated at the human level.

Because along the way, your directness of purpose and efficiency must not create any resistance.

Because if you create resistance, you bring the forces of the universe against you.

(Think of the resistance as obstructions in your path to the ocean.)

Suppose your directness of purpose has to do with defrauding people, and you’re quite efficient at doing that, and for a moment it might appear that you have been uplifted—you’re living in your fine downtown mansion.

But you can’t defraud people without creating ill will and bad feelings, and this creates resistance in the universe (for you), and you soon find that your uplifting was only temporary.

This is the problem with some people.

They forget that the universe is full of energy and you want that energy to work for you, not against you.

The minute you create bad feelings and ill will, you invite that energy to work against you.

In other words, you’re not working with the natural order of things, and sooner or later, you will find your reality has been downshifted instead of uplifted.

Let’s see how this relates to the guitar.

Let’s say that you’re filled with directness of purpose and efficiency and you practice diligently every day.

But your directness of purpose is to follow someone’s prescriptions for guitar playing rigidly, without considering whether it’s working within the natural order of things in your body.

And the result is resistance within your body.

And sooner or later this resistance will manifest itself in subtle and unsubtle ways.

Subtle—by limiting your technical development and unsubtle—when you start suffering from all kinds of “overuse syndromes.”

(Neither one of which you might call uplifting outcomes.)

There’s, of course, no such thing as overuse syndrome, only misuse and abuse syndromes.

If you work within the natural order of things in your body, you can practice ten hours a day and not experience any ill effects.

To rephrase my original point.

Wisdom, I’ve found, really means understanding how the universe works and working with it in a way that creates least resistance and brings you to your goals simply and efficiently.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.