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42.  Prelude and Fugue in G sharp minor from Book 2





Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject

The desire to grow in compassion is a clear aspiration in all spiritual traditions, but we often find it difficult to acknowledge that the primary need is to be compassionate towards ourselves. ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ has so often become ‘Hate your neighbour as you hate yourself’ with human history littered with the wreckage of our collective lack of self compassion. Being convinced that one’s own country, faith, religion, sexuality, values, aspirations, sensitivities and achievements are somehow better than anyone else’s is not a compassionate mindset but a fearful one. It leads inevitably to projection onto the others and the scapegoating of the other as the reason things are not as they should be. To be compassionate to ourselves is not about proclaiming our way to be superior. Neither is it about claiming our difficulties to be greater than those of others, It is not about being obsessed with the fact that the world is not perfect nor with the fact that we are not perfect. In the language of mindfulness it is rather about acknowledging the reality of what is happening while it is happening - whatever it is. Of course life has its share of pain - but we don’t need to amplify the 10% pain by adding 90% suffering by reactively pouring petrol onto the flames. A compassionate response to ourselves would bypass this 90% suffering altogether by converting our reactivity into simple contemplative awareness. In the mystical Christian tradition this self compassion is about opening to grace, about accepting full forgiveness for whatever has happened, about letting go of all our feelings of unworthiness and of separation from God. So what does this self compassion mean as we sit down to practise the piano? First of all it means to accept where we are here and now - physically, emotionally and mentally. It means to take time to feel centred and grounded. It means to let go of expectations. It means to be aware of any physical tension - shoulders, jaw, wrists, arms, legs, feet. It means to accept that we make mistakes. It means to be grateful for the ability that we have. It means to enjoy being present. It means to be kind to ourselves when we drift away from being present. It means to stop practising before we lose our sense of self compassion. Practising the piano like this can become a way into contemplation. It can become a genuine spiritual practice. It seems to me there are many things about practising the piano which make it an ideal spiritual practice. It needs great attention to the detail of the here and now, the particularities of fingering, phrasing, dynamics, etc. At the same time, it needs a big picture awareness - the resulting sound. It engages the mind and the body together. Tension in the mind will result very quickly in tension in the body which will then very quickly get in the way of the intended sound being produced. So there is an inbuilt feedback loop which is happening all the time and from which we can learn more about our own process. Intention becomes of the utmost importance. Every sound that is intended by the mind and incarnated by the body physically will result in the sound being realised and received by the person practising as listener. And that will lead to the arising of the next intention, and so on. These three paradoxes - * highly detailed attention/big picture awareness *interdependence of mind and body * intention changing realisation - are core principles of spiritual practice. Enjoy your practising!