"It felt like my senses were being used in a way that I ignore them a lot."
My life involves endless hours of repetitive and frustrating practising, lonely hotel rooms, dodgy pianos, aggressively bitchy reviews, isolation, confusing airline reward programmes, physiotherapy, stretches of nervous boredom (counting ceiling tiles backstage as the house slowly fills up) punctuated by short moments of extreme pressure (playing 120,000 notes from memory in the right order with the right fingers, the right sound, the right pedalling while chatting about the composers and pieces and knowing there are critics, recording devices, my mum, the ghosts of the past, all there watching), and perhaps most crushingly, the realisation that I will never, ever give the perfect recital. It can only ever, with luck, hard work and a hefty dose of self-forgiveness, be "good enough".
And yet. The indescribable reward of taking a bunch of ink on paper from the shelf at Chappell of Bond Street. Tubing it home, setting the score, pencil, coffee and ashtray on the piano and emerging a few days, weeks or months later able to perform something that some mad, genius, lunatic of a composer 300 years ago heard in his head while out of his mind with grief or love or syphilis. A piece of music that will always baffle the greatest minds in the world, that simply cannot be made sense of, that is still living and floating in the ether and will do so for yet more centuries to come. That is extraordinary. And I did that. I do it, to my continual astonishment, all the time.
to keep dementia away
most of the doctors say
use the opposite hand --
force new learning on the mind
my left hand laughs
says it's all silly,
doesn't buy the split-
but being a good sport, plays
along--works hard against being
it's my right that slays
me--sulking and skulking
at the margins--curled
up like a forgotten turnip
Using Your Nondominant Hand
Excerpt from How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness by Jan Chozen Bays
Use your nondominant hand for some ordinary task each day. These could include brushing your teeth, combing your hair, or eating with the nondominant hand for at least part of each meal. If you're up for a big challenge, try using the nondominant hand when writing or when eating with chopsticks.
This experiment always evokes laughter. We discover that the nondominant hand is quite clumsy. Using it brings us back to what Zen teachers call "beginner's mind." Our dominant hand might be forty years old, but the nondominant hand is much younger, perhaps about two or three years old. We have to learn all over again how to hold a fork and how to get it into our mouths without stabbing ourselves. We might begin to brush our teeth very awkwardly with the nondominant hand, and when we aren't looking our dominant hand will reach out and take the toothbrush or fork away! It is like a bossy older sister who says, "Hey, you little klutz, let me do it for you!"
Struggling to use the nondominant hand can awaken our compassion for anyone who is clumsy or unskilled, such as a person who has had disabilities, injuries, or a stroke. We briefly see how much we take for granted scores of simple movements that many people cannot make...
This task illustrates how strong and unconscious our habits are and how difficult they are to change without awareness and determination. This task helps us bring beginner's mind to any activity--such as eating--that we do several times a day, often with only partial awareness.
See also: "Each Flick of a Digit Is a Job for All 5," by Natalie Angier, The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2012