It is clear that controlling our thoughts is a huge issue for us pianists. Indeed, most of the piano players I have met are easy to describe as “conceptual thinkers”. Indeed, I would say that conceptual thinking is probably an essential skill for any high level player.
But there’s a huge problem. In recent years, we have become increasingly aware that “over-thinking” any problem can break rather than solve it, and often leads us to bizarre conclusions.
At the same time, we have been convinced by the growing body of research confirming our suspicions that many physical health problems are rooted in the activities of the mind. “Over-thinking” can ultimately be associated with anxiety, fear, paranoia and mental instability, all of which can have serious physical as well as social consequences.
This is something that the ancient Daoists knew many centuries ago, as illustrated by this quote from Peng Zu’s Method of Prolonging Life (trans. Eva Wong):
“The spirit knows contentment and understands the limits of the conceptual mind. Too much thinking and scheming damages the spirit. Too much desire can make us anxious and indecisive.”
“Thoughts expend the energy of the spirit, and when the spirit is exhausted it will no longer produce generative energy. When generative energy is low, the body will weaken and be vulnerable to illness.”
So what is the solution? It seems that we cannot have it both ways – be conceptual thinkers and live a healthy life!
But in fact, there are two possibilities for us to embrace here:
- The first of these is MODERATION.
Think – but don’t “over-think”. “Moderation” and Balance are key concepts throughout Daoist philosophy.
- And secondly, we can take up simple MEDITATION
This counteracts the negative effects of too much over-thinking, allowing renewal to take place.
As Peng Zu goes on to say:
“Rest in stillness, and let the body sink into the subtle vapour of life. Leave your thoughts in a place you will not visit, and let yourself return to the natural way.”
These are beautiful poetic words – I just love the idea of “leaving my thoughts in a place I will not visit” for a while! How about you?
We can begin to build moderation and meditation into our lives right now. We can start to experience these benefits that counterbalance the over-active mind, and live in better health as a result.
Within the Daoist traditions, there are many styles of meditation, including both “still” and “moving meditations” in which breathing and stretching form a part of the focus. “Qigong” is an umbrella term for “energy work” (or literally “breathing exercises”) closely associated with both these forms of meditation.
In the introduction to her translation of the Peng Zu, (the contemporary Daoist Master) Eva Wong writes:
“In Daoist meditation the first step is to turn our awareness inward toward the life of consciousness.
Most people are so occupied by the external world that they don’t realise that there is a very rich world within themselves. In this stage, we relax, let go, and learn to appreciate that we have an internal universe.”
This is the essence of what “Qigong” is.
The “Piano Qigong” that will be featured on this site is primarily aimed at helping pianists apply specific Qigong stretches and movements to aid the development of their physical relaxation, mindful awareness and connection, balance and flexibility. There is no need to consider the “meditation” aspect in this context. However, those who find Qigong beneficial will soon find that it can also provide a fresh and powerful route into meditation and spiritual development.
For those of us who wish to practice qigong in any of its forms, this is one of the many methods by which it’s possible to “leave your thoughts in a place you will not visit”, and develop a deeper focus that will surely benefit our piano playing.
These are therefore themes which we will continually return to as a core focus of the Pianodao website in the coming months, so stay tuned!