Giving a Hand

words of wisdom

words of wisdom

“Put your brain in your fingers and put your fingers in your work.”

I was reminded of this quote by Martha McChesney Berry today.  It is written on a piece of crumpled paper that I have kept in a tiny drawer of my secretary for years.  It was given to me by the mother of one of my piano students about fifteen years ago.  Funny, it’s taken me that long to begin to think about what that means.  Or maybe I’ve been thinking about it all along, and didn’t realize it.

Still not quite sure about it.  But it somehow stuck with me.

Today I was practicing this for tomorrow:

O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross, BWV 622

At the end of my practice, I had taken the music off of the rack, and was just playing around with registration, wondering what might be the best sound.  In a moment of shift of awareness, something amazing happened. I normally never look directly at my hands or feet when I’m playing–my eyes are always occupied with the sheet music.  Since I had taken the music down, I did something very unusual, and started watching my hands. It was the most fascinating experience for me, as I observed them playing, noticing that my playing was much more relaxed, fluid and comfortable.  I didn’t really think too much more about it, until it came up later in a conversation, and we connected it to something I had just read from Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs:

“When we are fully present, we don’t accomplish presence with our head.  Our whole being is present.  We learned presence in infancy, but it may have been schooled out of us.  Psychologists now say there is no such thing as an infant.  There’s only an infant/mother; in the first few years they are one, especially from the infant’s point of view.  Infants see themselves entirely mirrored in their parents’ eyes, especially the mother’s.  What her eyes tell us about ourselves, we believe and become.  It’s a mirroring game.  Prayer is much the same: we receive and return the divine gaze.

It’s a heavy book, not for everyone, but “Coming to Our Senses” by Morris Berman is helpful here.  He makes the point that our first experience of life is not a merely visual one of knowing ourselves through other people’s responses; it is primarily felt in the body.  He calls this feeling kinesthetic knowing, which starts breaking apart only around two or three years of age.  We know ourselves in the security of those who hold us and gaze upon us.  It’s not heard or seen or thought.  It’s felt.  That’s the original knowing.

All the later education we might get, even a Ph.D., does not change our living out of that kinesthetic knowing.  We might think we’re now smart and learned, but this early way of knowing is what we finally fall back on.  That’s what a great gift a good mother and father are.  They enable us to know ourselves at a depth that cannot be shaken.”

And, it’s a good thing to have the opportunity to go back and experience that again, isn’t it?

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Be well, and at peace,

Phil

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