John Aylward – Living Arts: Effortless Mastery

Last post, I wrote about meditation as a gateway to creativity. In this post, I would like to explore some of the ways we think about harnessing that creativity, no matter what media we use.

As a younger musician, one formative text for me was Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery. Werner is a jazz pianist who had an unconventional path that finally led him to the Berklee School of music where he met musicians who helped him open up a sense of freedom and exploration in his music. Essentially, for Werner, this came down to learning the art of improvisation.

Improvisation is a kind of meditation where music is somewhat spontaneously created and developed. Bill Evan’s famously said that jazz is the art of creating a minute of music in a minute’s time. And that cuts to the core of improvisation, not just in jazz music, but as a tool for spontaneous creativity and for living ‘in the moment’ – an aim shared with the practice of meditation.

In future posts, I’ll talk more about improvisation as a companion to meditation and a means for harnessing creativity, but for now, I would like to share one exercise that we can all do to unlock our creative potential that comes from Werner’s Effortless Mastery.

In an early chapter of Werner’s book, he asks to ‘make something bad’. In a naïve and encouraging way, we are asked to simply sit down and make something bad. It could be at our instrument, on our canvas, in our studio, on our design program, or however else we endlessly create. After a few minutes, Werner asks us to stop and look at or listen to what we’ve done. The phenomenon is actually striking because we see that when we are in the midst of a creative process we are usually consumed with whether or not it is any good. If we set out to create something bad, we have conquered the first inhibition toward creation, which is the constant censor of self-consciousness and critique that continually interrupts the creative process.

In this great clip of one of Kenny Werner’s lecture / performances, he talks about this connection between meditation, creativity, improvisation and non-judgment. I hope that no matter what you are working on, this idea of moving beyond your self-censor will help!

Kenny’s remarks begin at 10:50



John Aylward is a composer, performer and writer who lives in Cambridge, MA.

John Aylward – Living Arts: Meditation


Meditation is at the core of so many of the healing arts. It allows us to pay attention to ourselves. It opens up awareness of our body and mind and their interconnectedness. It reveals a way of seeing life that we never knew existed. True healing of physical or psychological trauma can be had through meditation. New levels of being and awareness can be achieved and unlocked. And for artists, meditation helps us imagine deeper connections and inspirations within our work.

I find it so interesting that, like all the healing arts, meditation takes practice. We in the creative fields understand practice too well. Indeed, there is even an art to practicing (stay tuned for my next Living Arts post!) So how do we practice meditation? And how do we know if we’re getting it right? If it’s providing all that we hear it offers?

I won’t assume to know the best ways, or the best way for you. I’m still learning myself. But I do know that meditation has made me a happier, more creative person. I have dedicated time each day to a cycle of meditations on the body’s chakras by Lisa Erickson. The link to these meditations is below. After reading descriptions of each meditation, there is a streaming audio to listen to as you meditate.


John Aylward is a composer, performer and writer who lives in Cambridge, MA.

John Aylward – Living Arts

We all need time out of doors and away from it all, not just because we need to unplug, but because we need the quiet solitude of something beyond culture to inspire. Ask the greats, and quiet time is necessary. I take my quiet time, whenever I can, at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. It’s an hour from the city, but a best-kept secret. Few realize its one of our country’s largest bird sanctuaries.

The Atlantic offers a particular kind of meditation that is healing and inspiring all at once. And while that’s true no matter what time of year, for me that best time is August. The water is as warm as it will be. Maybe just as essential as having a passion that drives you is having a passion for what rejuvenates you.

Wave Traces. Sandy Point, Plum Island.

John Aylward


John Aylward is a composer, performer and writer who lives in Cambridge, MA.