Tools of Transformation
“Just be yourself!”
Out of all the important needs of humans, autonomy might be the most abused. From a very young age we are trained to be the serfs of society, following the paths and laws of civilization and trusting our leaders and parents. During the various stages of adolescent rebellion, we attain a certain degree of aggression, or willpower, to form our personal independence. This is the platform from which we can govern our own lives, a place from which we can be ourselves, understand ourselves and live our lives on our own terms. This is strength. This is resilience. This is freedom.
However, we are not free. We are subjects to society, to governments and laws, to parents, to forced contribution, to academic degrees and regulations, to opening hours and taxi lines. We are ruled by politeness, social judgement, advertisements and newspapers. We are labourers of our phones and our emails, slaves to imagined hierarchies and gods. At every corner there is a correction through which we can confirm that how we act, look and feel is wrong, offensive and abnormal.
As a natural response to society’s judgements it has become customary to pretend our lives instead of living them. Pretend to be smarter, better and stronger. Pretend to be crazy, sexy or cool. Pretend to be a good Christian. Pretend to be heterosexual. Pretend to care. Pretend not to care. Pretend to be sociable and outgoing. Pretend to understand anything about global affairs. Pretend to never fail. Pretend to never be angry. Pretend to be happy. Pretend to feel safe. Hide your tears.
Pretend to be human. And become a prisoner of yourself.
Something might set your free:
Admit your Incompetence!
Be as ugly and mediocre as you really are.
Say it loud.
This is me.
Now you are ready to grow.
A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg moves after which?"
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.
Katherine Craster (1841-1874)
The rhyme of the centipede has become quite popular in psychology through the work of George Humphrey and later in Maslow’s hierarchy of competence. The psychological works problematizes conscious control as disruptive to subconscious control. In this way, what you have trained to automatization will be spoiled by trying to control action.
As Dr. Farias puts is: Excessive control leads to lack of control.
The complexity of movement makes conscious control impossible. For this reason, piano technique is based on automatization, because control will disrupt the practiced and automatized patterns. As musicians we aim to “listen”, to “let go” or to otherwise distract ourselves from the control of movement. This, of course, has creative benefits as well.
For this very reason many teachers of movement, either for skill or for health, sometimes discourage information on movement and function. Because knowledge can lead to a focus on detail and seems to obstruct natural movement.
I do not quite agree.
I like to think of our ability to act as divided into four levels:
· Inactive inactivity – This is being asleep.
· Active inactivity – This is purposeful inactivity. It is what you aim for when you meditate. It is “just being”.
· Inactive activity – This is automated action. Like walking. Or eating with a fork. It is the natural ease of “letting go”. It is “just doing”.
· Active activity – This is consciously attempting to do something. Trying. Effort. Control. Doing. Action. Focus on specific detail.
Problems arise when there is confusion between active and inactive activity. This does not occur specifically when informed but rather as a need for excessive control and thus an inhibition towards “letting go”. In my experience a need for control rises when in duress or confusion. Or when an operation is not yet completely trained.
If I do not understand an exercise I often fall into confusion and a sense of futility. This is not a need for control, but a healthy suspicion of whether I am performing the exercise appropriately. Or if it has any effect. Every exercise has a goal, and if I do not understand the goal how can I then properly perform the exercise?
When informed I can easily observe my exercises with confidence and there is no need for excessive effort. I can notice the important details without interfering, I can correct mistakes and I can more easily let go.
Experimentation, variation and result can only happen through the calm observation of an informed eye. Without insight there is only trust, and trust is blind.
“You’re thinking too much!”
There is no such thing as “thinking too much”. This statement is as crude as it is rude and when being told this I usually take offense. “Thinking too little” is however very common and should be discouraged.
“Thinking too much” is probably confusion, struggle or a stress induced demand for excessive control. Instead of complaints about thinking there should rather be a focus on awareness and overview. Like listening.
Stress induced control is extremely common amongst students and, strangely, professors sometimes interpret this excessive control as intentional. Rather than reducing stress in the situation the teacher might then complain about ineptitude, thus increasing stress and ensuring the same stressful reaction in future lessons.
“Push through the pain!”
During a learning process there is no room for stress.
Any form of stress greatly reduces performance and inhibits creativity. Pressure of time, survival, peers and prestige is not just unnecessary but a highway to bad emotional health and reduced ability.
Mammalian learning happens through play. When in joy, assurance and activity the learning abilities of anyone are greatly improved. Repetition is secondary to attention. Practice is secondary to sleep. Simple tasks are more efficiently learnt than complex bundles and excessive effort is generally discouraged – if not in want of learning there will be minimal learning.
Slow, deliberate, attentive and creative play at the keyboard will teach anyone to play the piano very efficiently. “Talent” is not required, just two hands and a brain. And time. Lots of time.
Scheduling should not occur. Learning happens on its own pace and mastery will blossom only when it blossoms. Not before. When trying to rush development you are probably slowing it down. With the stress of time there can only be disappointment and tendinitis.
Any form of skill must be trained from the calm attention of grounded assurance. If under the stress of survival creativity and spontaneity are clearly inhibited. For this reason, I think, we find ourselves in a time of “very high level of mediocrity”, as Horowitz once put it. We are good at survival but not so much at living.
Peers are meant to be a support. But if we are trained to be competitors we will not be in a position to help each other. Competition is a curse invented by oppressive leaderships and psychopathic executives. In the true Darwinian spirit our ancestors survived not through competition but through collaboration, attachment and love. Caring for ourselves and each other is imperative to our success as a field. And as a species.
Prestige, status and careers are pale distractions from the heart of life. As ambassadors of art we are supposedly searching for deep purpose, wisdom and inspiration whereas the pursuit of prestige and careers leads us to insensitivity, jealousy and bickering. Career and opportunity should be a consequence of growth, not a deliberate goal.
When in a developing process all these stresses become a paralyzing scream. But to learn and to live we need Silence.
“There are no simple answers, just simple people”.
To fully understand anything, it is important not to seek answers but to explore questions. An answer turns you blind to other perspectives and closes the mind. Whereas to continue exploring means that we can reach new areas of creativity and maintain openness. And this is necessary because there is no thing in this world which is simple enough to hold only a single answer.
There is no “down”. It is “towards center of gravity”.
Feldenkrais argued that something changed man the day he discovered left and right. From that day on human life was split into opposites. But these are simple directions and hold no actual wisdom. Divisions of two assumes that there are two sides to everything. But in fact, there are always many more.
This fantasy of duality disables us to see what really is because it will emotionally be colored by either white or black. As such we find ourselves making opposites where there are none. Perhaps if we had three arms we would be wiser beings.
There is no “darkness”. It is “lowest property of light intensity”.
Classifications like “good” or “bad” are flat and undescriptive. If you argue that your cake is a “good” cake, then you have said nothing about the cake. You have said a lot about yourself. The cake has properties you may address but “good” is entirely your own opinion.
Your opinions are not just undescriptive, they are unreliable. People’s preferences seem to change drastically according to context and in order to fit in people will pretend the most bizarre of things. And while you are pretending to agree with your pretend friends, you are missing out on life.
There is no “good”. It is “this becomes me in this moment”.
Whenever you have a reaction to the world, this means you have been exposed to something that you recognize inside yourself. What you meet inside yourself causes a reaction. This reaction, unless it is properly processed, distracts you from experiencing the world. It disables you to see what the world really is.
If you find yourself angry, then anger is blinding you. Anger is a color. So, unless you process this anger you can only see through your anger-colored sunglasses. Do not think and do not talk. Do not suppress and do not pretend. But allow anger to flow through. As it is. Scream if you want to. This is expressing your emotion. It helps you process.
When it has passed you have grown a little. And you are free.
There is no “me”. It is “momentary generated experience”.
In between left and right we can find nuance. If clear of mind we can see not just two directions but an actual place in between the opposites and a path that takes us there. This is called Vision.
We need Vision to see where to go,
Autonomy to move towards it,
Information to know how,
and Silence to see what really is.
Riddles and Puzzles
According to legend the Buddha had more than 200 teachers. Because knowledge is light and without light we cannot see.
Any sort of learning is like a puzzle made of riddles. There are always different bits and pieces that need to come together. Once a riddle is solved it is no longer a riddle. Now it is a fragment of a solution, another piece of the puzzle.
All my teachers try to describe the same thing. They have been working on similar puzzles, often for decades, for different reasons and in very personal ways. When I visit them, they offer me pieces of their own puzzles that I might use to solve mine. These pieces are themselves riddles.
To explain, receiving information is not the same as understanding it. That makes it a riddle. It takes time, effort and failure to discover what the information is trying to say. Then we can see how it fits into our own puzzle. Resilience to failure is key because failure is both useful and necessary. Every failure is a lesson that brings us closer to solving the riddle. If failure brings you shame, then you cannot learn.
Many people have helped me with my puzzle and I wish to leave some credits to the most central players in my recovery. The common denominator for all these people is the absence of medicine. We use the body to heal the body. Or rather, we evolve out of our problems through conscious transformation. People really do change and with the right tools and mindset we can change into something we want to be instead of something we just happened to become.
Dr. Joaquin Farias (www.fariastechnique.com)
Dr. Farias of the Farias Technique, biomechanical expert and an ace in the world of dystonia rehabilitation, offers ‘neuroplastic’ movement therapy aiming to recover lost function and stabilize the area of compensations. His philosophy is well documented in his invaluable books and his method has a very high rate of success.
Without Dr. Farias’ insight into focal dystonia I would never have been able to recover. In the four days I saw him he drew me a picture of what has happened to me and then he gave me a roadmap to find the way out. Others may offer me ideas, exercises and information, but the foundation of my understanding and the basis of my retraining is uniquely from Dr. Farias.
Tina Margareta Nilssen (www.timani.no)
Tina is a dear friend and the creator of Timani. Timani is an anatomy-based movement method tailored for musicians.
In habitual movement there are usually compensations. By compensations we mean suboptimal function. The body is exquisitely equipped for refined movement like playing an instrument, but we are generally unaware of the tools at our disposal. We don’t understand this vehicle we’re driving. By informing ourselves and training unused or unbalanced functions we can optimize movement and interact better with our instruments.
This is essentially informed instrumental technique. It is not just for healing tendinitis. It will make you a better musician.
Tina’s role in my retraining has been that of a Sherpa. Since 2014 she has pointed in every conceivable useful direction to help me find my way. Her wisdom, patience and guidance has been life changing.
Peter Feuchtwanger (www.peter-feuchtwanger.de)
Peter Feuchtwanger died in 2016 almost 90 years old but he was already a legend in the field by the age of 50. Throughout his lifetime he had been the coach, companion and teacher of an impossible number of pianists, many of which was suffering from tendinitis, focal dystonia or simply bad habits.
From the very beginning Feuchtwanger had a very keen eye for “natural” piano technique. This lead him through a life long journey of helping those damaged by their own efforts and it encouraged him to develop a set of exercises designed to promote his ideal. Working closely with practitioners of Feldenkrais and Alexander technique he managed to create an exercise program which has helped people in the thousands.
My relation to Feuchtwanger is through a dear friend who wished to help me as I told him about my dystonia. The exercises have led me to some key insights that I utilize in my recovery.
Dr. Shen Hongxun (www.shenhongxun.org)
Dr. Shen is the late creator of Taijiwuxigong, a system of qigong, and an energy healing practice called Buqi. He enjoyed great influence in the world of self-healing and psychophysical arts.
Qigong is a type of Chinese movement therapy for health derived from Tai Chi and focuses on healing through energy meridians travelling through the body. Qi Gong itself means “‘life-energy’ cultivation” and it is based on ancient eastern principles of medicine closely related to acupuncture, meditation and Zen.
Even though you might not trust Chinese medicinal concepts or believe in energy meridians, Qigong can help you in many ways still. Training ground force reaction, training stabilizer muscles, stretching and softening connective tissue and exploring dynamic range of joints are only a few of the benefits of Qigong. Like Yoga it also directs us towards Silence, a very welcome benefit to someone troubled with anxiety.
My relation to Qigong and Dr. Shen is through his deeply devoted student Harald Øygard who now runs the Oslo Qigong Center and who has taught me the principles of Taijiwuxigong.
Dr. Pradeep K. Chadha (www.anger.guru)
Dr. Chadha is from India and grew up surrounded by Ayurveda and Hindu spiritual practices. He is more importantly a very accomplished and dedicated psychiatrist who is helping me treat my anxiety.
Anger, anxiety and stress are mechanisms in the mind which are there to protect us. They help us survive in hostile environments. If my mind decides at a young age that people are hostile, and I need to be afraid of them, I am forced through a life-long experience of unnecessary stress. And in time, probably a more severe diagnosis.
Dr. Chadha offers treatment using simple but powerful techniques of breathing and imagery. His medicine free and meditation-like exercises help me find emotional health and stability on a level I could not foresee.
Marianna Shirinyan (www.marianna-shirinyan.com)
Armenian born Marianna Shirinyan is, besides one of the most amazing musical minds of the century, one of the most amazing people that I know. She has guided me through my master’s degree at the Norwegian Academy of Music, but I first me her during my days in Copenhagen.
Even though she does not possess the knowledge or the experience to help me in my retraining she certainly belongs on this list. Despite my long-lasting inability to perform and my declining proficiency at the instrument she has firmly supported me, believed in me and followed me through this strange and often difficult time. She is the one who pushed me to play repertoire for the left hand which has had an incredibly positive impact on my psyche.
The people that show you faith in the times of need are as important as the doctor who heals you. Had it not been for this support I would probably never have graduated. I give my thanks.