Herbie Hancock tells a story about playing with Miles Davis: “Miles was playing one of his amazing solos, and right in the middle of it, I played the wrong chord – completely wrong.“
Herbie was mortified. How was Miles going to respond? He could be angry – after all, Herbie just spoilt his solo! Would he just walk off the stage and refuse to play with him ever again? Or at the other extreme, would he just try it pretend it never happened (even though everyone knows it did)? What would you do in that situation?
What Miles actually did was this. He paused for a second, then played some notes that made Herbie’s chord “right.” The chord had been so wrong, Herbie was astounded that this was even possible, that “Miles was able to make something that was wrong into something that was right.”
Reflecting on it, Herbie’s conclusion was that Miles didn’t hear it as a mistake. He heard it as just something that happened, an event, a part of the reality of what was happening at that moment. And he dealt with it, “He found something that fit.”
That’s the mindfulness lesson: we have a choice. We can choose to hear mistakes and see problems – they’re all around. We can get upset and angry, trying to stop the universe going wrong in any way. But that’s stressful!
Alternatively, we can take whatever happens as just the reality of the moment. After all, it is! That puts us in the best place to find a good way forward.
While I was typing that last paragraph, an error message came up, saying I had lost my work. Getting upset would have stopped me thinking clearly and creatively. Following Miles’ example, however, I can pause, and find a good way forward. With a little cunning, there is a way to recover what I’ve just typed. Furthermore, this paragraph perfectly illustrates my point – handled in this way, the computer’s error enhanced the very thing it interrupted!
Herbie’s conclusion: “That taught me a very big lesson, not only about music but about life. We can look for the world to be as we would like it to be…but I think the important thing is that we grow. And the only way that we can grow is to have a mind that’s open enough to experience situations as they are….to take whatever situation you have, and make something constructive happen with it.”