”Often we find ourselves in trouble simply because we are going too fast, disregarding signs of trouble that we would have seen if only we had been going a little slower. All too often we get caught up in the rush; our whole culture is based on it. Get ahead! Do it now! Sometimes the right thing to do is not to do anything.”
Solala Towler, Cha Dao (Singing Dragon, 2010)
These comments (which are taken from a book about the preparation and consumption of tea) offer golden advice which can be applied to pretty much any aspect of our lives. No wonder so many of us feel completely worn out most of the time!
For our purposes, I want to touch on the value of taking our time in two areas:
• firstly teaching and learning • and then our personal piano practice…
Qigong is a huge and fascinating subject, and there are a great many excellent books and other resources now available to help the Westerner with an interest in finding out more.
If you are keen to find out about the primary benefits of Qigong practice, here are some recommended books to explore – between them they include practical advice for Qigong practice, simple exercises for beginner practice, a philosophical grounding, and a general overview of Qigong history, science, its many styles and applications.
These books are suitable for beginners and those who simply want to find out what Qigong is all about.
I have included a short description of each, which I hope will help you to select the right book for you!
Elsewhere, the Qigong Resources section on Pianodao includes reviews of other books and resources which may be of interest.
Have you ever felt ignored, passed over, or even scorned?
Consider these profound words:
“Help others for all the times that you have been ignored; Be kind to others, for all the times that you have been scorned.”
Deng Ming-Dao 365 Tao Daily Meditations, 206 (Harper Collins, 1992)
These are powerful sentiments, which point towards a wholeness which can be ours if only we respond to life’s disappointments and hurts with wisdom and generosity.
It can seem counterintuitive to be kind when we are scorned, and to help others when we ourselves have been ignored. Shouldn’t we fight back, hold our ground, pursue our own agenda, and put ourselves first?
And yet it is within our nature to have empathy; if we ignore the impulse to do good, we diminish our own humanity. We damage ourselves more than anyone – and more than we can bear.
Having been scorned we know what it is to be scorned; Having been ignored we know what it is to be ignored; Unless we have a cruel heart, we will want to spare others such pain.
Notice that Deng isn’t suggesting we be kind to the very people who have slighted us. Rather, the focus here is on our own attitude: foster generosity to ALL who need it.
Such help is not meddling; nor is it another excuse for self-promotion. It is simple giving.
Forgive and Forget?
Certainly when we feel hurt we must forgive, if only to protect ourselves from the anger, disappointment and bitterness that do us more harm than anyone else!
When a situation or relationship has been knocked off balance, regardless of the reasons or blame, it can also take patience to wait for more auspicious circumstances so that balance can properly be restored.
Better in my experience to smile, walk away, and forget those who would do us harm; and like the great sage Laozi, to seek anonymity at such times. Not only does this allow us to maintain our own integrity, it negates the influence of those who may seek to diminish us.
And if, in the future, there is a renewed opportunity for friendship, our own commitment to forgive, forget and move on from the past enables us to foster reconciliation.
I am often asked why I devote so many hours every week to writing this site, offering free help to pianists and teachers around the world, rather than simply cashing in on my expertise.
Firstly, I already make a reasonable living as a busy piano teacher, and I am not especially ambitious. But perhaps my desire to give freely here is also in part my own response to those times when I too have been ignored or scorned.
And yet I am equally well aware of the enormous good fortune I have experienced, and the generosity of others towards me.
In short, then, I want to give back in a world where I believe there is so much to celebrate and to share.
But it seems to me that a positive outlook can only be possible if we are willing to let go of the times when we were ignored or scorned, and focus instead on helping others. If I am ambitious at all, it is to become a kinder person.
Whether in our piano journey, or in general life, most of us have experienced times of disappointment, felt wronged, or been told, “you lose”.
But the truth is, at such times we stand on the threshold of personal growth, accelerated opportunity, and the chance to truly triumph in life.
In traditional Daoist lore, the turning of the Chinese New Year can bring about transformations to prevailing energies, both subtle and more sweeping.
In previous years I have written about the Year of the Fire Monkey and the Year of the Fire Rooster – now, as we commence the Year of the Earth Dog, let’s briefly consider – albeit with a light touch – what this might mean for the coming months …
January is, for many, a time of resolutions, grit and determination. Whether it’s a fresh commitment to healthy eating and exercise, or a renewal of discipline, setting aside time to practise the piano – this is a month where many make a decision to turn a new leaf.
I hope that as many as possible who make a commitment towards self-improvement in its many forms will succeed in their freshly stated aims. But what are the ingredients of perseverance which will foster that success? Here’s my theme for this month’s reflection!
And I will try to explain why I believe that Progress is a Process, and that perseverance is never simply a matter of grim resolve and self-discipline …
“Leave your thoughts in a place you will not visit …”
Most of the pianists that I have met are easy to describe as “deep thinkers”, and I would argue that an aptitude for analytical thinking is an essential skill for the advanced piano player.
But the jump from analytical thinking to overthinking is a small one. And here’s the problem. In recent years, we have become increasingly aware that overthinking any problem can break rather than solve it, and can often lead us to bizarre conclusions. Overthinking is inextricably linked to anxiety.
If we overthink an upcoming performance, this can undoubtedly contribute to performance anxiety. And in the same way, if we overthink life in general, this can have a significant and debilitating effect on our whole lives.
A growing body of research supports our suspicions that many physical health problems are rooted in the activities of the mind. Overthinking can be associated with anxiety, fear, paranoia and mental instability, all of which can have serious physical as well as social consequences.
Emotions are an essential aspect of our basic humanity. But when they are out of balance they can become dangerous, with the potential to leave us feeling shipwrecked and adrift.
The Problem for Pianists
Of course this is true for everyone – but for piano players (and for musicians and performers in general) there can be some additional challenges, and the swing from over-excitement to terrible disappointment and back can become our daily emotional currency:
We are exposed – even for hours on end – to powerful and profound emotions, communicated wordlessly by some of the most creative people in history
To play well we must engage with our own emotions, those of the composer, and in performance with those of our audiences
We work often in solitude, with few alternative emotional outlets other than our musical expression
The touring of the concert pianist, and the long (often antisocial) hours of the piano teacher can put additional strain on our physical and social wellbeing
The piano world is a hyper-competitive one (often in my view, destructively so) leaving many players with low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and a crippling sense of failure
We contend with all these issues as an added factor on our journey through life, which of course includes the same emotional challenges in our personal lives, family, security, and health that everyone else has to cope with.
It is little wonder that so many pianists sustain significant emotional damage and suffer from mental health problems.
A recent survey by The Stage reported 7 out of 10 musicians report mental health problems, while a study conducted in Australia by Entertainment Assist found that musicians are up to ten times more likely to have mental health problems than the general population.
What we need is “emotional wisdom” – the self-awareness that helps us keep our emotions in check, balanced and healthy.
As I write this, it’s been another eventful week in celebrity land, with tabloid headlines screaming the latest sordid news about Angelina, Brad, Jennifer, Jonny and others. There’s a common theme here: celebrity can be both a magnet for narcissism and unhappiness and a force that knocks lives off balance.
In the world of piano playing, albeit on a smaller scale, being well-known brings its own challenges, with exposure to conflict, malicious gossip and the envy of those who are less successful or unfulfilled.
So should we basically pursue anonymity?
Can a wise balance be found?