HEAD AND HEART AND
AL-REA-DY HAVE THEM1
Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject
Certainly through the first half of life most of us spend a considerable amount of energy and effort looking for answers to our inevitable questions. The natural curiosity as to why I am the way I am, how I fit into my family, how I fit into the society around me, how I can earn a living, what do I really believe in, what are the most important values to uphold, etc. For many people the search for answers dominates the whole of life. For others the idea that there really is a ‘right’ way to see the world, to understand history, to understand science, to understand religion, to understand one’s own nation, results in a set of views which can be endlessly pitted against other people’s differing sets of views. We still have either/or discussions and debates presented as creationism v. evolution, science v. religion, male v. female, East v. West, capitalism v. communism, Christianity v. Islam, Catholic v. Protestant, gay v. straight, Harry Potter v. Voldemort. Humans have always looked to people who will lead them, tell them what to do, what they should believe etc. etc. People like to have leaders so that can know that they are on the right track, that they are on the right side, that they are safe, that all will be well. And so it is not really surprising that the visionary insights and teachings of both Jesus and the Buddha were turned into religions. But it is worth spelling this out very carefully : Jesus did NOT come into the world to found a new religion. The Buddha did NOT come into the world to found a new religion. ￼The creation of religions belongs essentially to the ‘old’ way of understanding which the great wisdom teachers came to point the way beyond. The ‘new’ way of understanding is always a new experience. Not a new religion, not a new school, not a new method, not a new road-map but a new experience. New experience is only possible from being present - and so it is not surprising that the heart of the message of all the great wisdom teachers is the same truth - let go of all attachment to a separate identity and live your life fully in the here-and-now. Presence which we can call simply the present. But most of us drift through life like the schoolchild sitting patiently and expectantly in their seat when told by their new teacher to ‘wait there for the present’. As we get older we gradually become more and more cynical and unsure that the present really exists at all. The reality - that the Kingdom of God is present here and now in all its fullness, that Buddha-mind is realisable here and now in this moment - is presented very clearly by the great wisdom teachers. It is not the hidden teaching that religious establishments and hierarchies have tried to make it. And so once again to playing and teaching the piano. Many people are searching, searching, searching for answers. The best guide to piano technique, the best way of improving my sight reading, the best was of learning to improvise, the best pieces for me to learn, the easiest way to memorise pieces, how to play like Oscar Peterson, the best way to see groups of notes as chords etc. etc. There is a strong belief in most people that there are real answers to all these questions somewhere ‘out there’, and that the job of learning is to find out those answers. Or even that the job of the teacher is to provide them! I think the journey of learning the piano is like setting out on the Yellow Brick Road in the land of OZ to find the Wizard who will give you your brain, your heart, your courage. There comes a point on the journey where you are are confronted with the reality - you already have these with you, you are using them all already, there is NO great Wizard out there to give you an infallible answer to your questions. What there is is infinitely more amazing and empowering - the realisation that you are fundamentally your own best teacher. it is a hard thing for a piano teacher to say of course because it puts them out of a job, but the reality is that you are your own best teacher. A good teacher can be a guide on the journey, a sounding board, someone to challenge assumptions and preconceptions, an inspiration to keep going on the journey, a counsellor in times of difficulty and despair. But a good teacher does not need to come up with answers to every question. Be discerning about who you ask to teach you. Be honest about what you are really looking for. And enjoy the music!