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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Hodges

How Good Does It Feel When Things Are Working Really Well?

The sublime is a feeling of awe, wonder, and amazement that is often associated with nature or art. There is a view that these extreme states of mind are rare and only available to those who are extremely skilled. However there is something about our human capacity to co-operate together which points to a different answer. The strongest evidence for this comes from within the field of music. Given that it is a fundamental of human nature that we are all musical, the achievement of sublime states is therefore available to us all.

Non-musical improvisation and musical improvisation are similar in many ways. They both involve experiencing something new in the moment, without planning or preparation. They both require creativity, quick thinking, and the ability to respond to feedback. For both groups when the improvisation is working well there is a strong sense of connectivity and ultimately a feeling of 'upliftment' which has all the hallmarks of being sublime. Even in a business team the feeling of closeness, affinity and togetherness can have a similar effect.

When musicians improvise, they can experience a feeling of the sublime. This is because improvisation requires them to be fully present in the moment and to let go of their inhibitions. As a result, they are able to create music that is spontaneous, expressive, and original.

There are a number of different ways that musicians describe the sublime states that they experience when improvising. Some musicians say that they feel a sense of flow, or being in the zone. They feel as if they are no longer playing the music, but rather that the music is playing them. Others say that they feel a sense of connection with the other musicians, or with the audience. They feel as if they are all part of something larger than themselves. The sublime states that musicians experience when improvising can be very powerful. They can provide a sense of joy, peace, and fulfillment. They can also help musicians to connect with their emotions and to express themselves in a unique and creative way.

These states are available to everyone be they advanced performers or beginners. Reaching these states is a function of deep listening and sensitive responses to the sounds emerging. To achieve the sublime does not necessarily require skill. Paradoxically, when skilled musicians play they often have difficulty experiencing the sublime. The technicality of the instrument can be an impediment to truly performing well even if they play accurately. They can be further impeded by the expectations placed upon them by comparisons with the recorded performance of the piece they are playing. Perversely novices don't have this difficulty. If they are provided with easy access instruments and given the right circumstances they can repeatedly find themselves achieving quite incredible results.

So it follows that sublime outcomes may be much more a function of deep listening and sensitivity than they are necessarily of skill. There is a strong suggestion here therefore that this may well inform the non-musical fields of human interaction and the possibility of sublime states.

Here are some additional details about the sublime states that musicians experience when improvising:

  • A sense of flow: Flow is a state of consciousness in which a person is fully immersed in an activity and experiences a sense of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. When musicians are in flow, they are able to let go of their inhibitions and play music that is spontaneous, expressive, and original.

  • A sense of connection: Musicians who improvise often report feeling a sense of connection with the other musicians they are playing with, as well as with the audience. This sense of connection can be very powerful and can help to create a shared experience that is both memorable and meaningful.

  • A sense of awe and wonder: When musicians improvise, they are often surprised by the music that they create. This can be a very rewarding experience, as it allows them to explore new musical territory and to push their own boundaries.

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