Saturday, May 5, 2018

Feeling TImeless

We are often counseled to “live in the moment.” True, it can be very liberating to just be here and now, and not worry about the past or the future. When people tell us to live in the moment, it is to help free us from the burden of these worries and focus on the beauty of today.
            I do not disagree; I have spent a great deal of time trying to develop that skill. But I propose that having a sense of the past, present and future all at once can also be a joyful experience and is quite natural.
            As we go through our days, and move from one event to the next, it appears to us that we are living in the present. We talk about how certain times seem to pass more quickly or more slowly than others, but we almost always perceive time as passing in one direction: past to future, and we are in between, in the now. Even when we say someone is “living in the past,” it’s like we’re saying they are only in one place on the timeline.
Even if time really does go in one direction, and I have my doubts, it’s not really that way in our minds. We travel forward and backward on our timeline in our minds constantly – memory and speculation alive in our thoughts simultaneously.
            For example, when I’m playing a Beethoven sonata, my mind is at once in the present, and also in the past and the future in very important ways.
            The part of me that’s in the present is thinking about:
- the joy of hearing the music as I play it
- the feeling of my fingers pressing the keys firmly and confidently

But at the same time I’m also thinking about:

- the sense of how the piece unfolds from beginning to end. To play it well, I must think about where the music has been, where it’s going, and the story it’s telling
            - memories of my past practices while I was perfecting it, how a section became what I wanted it to be
            - memories of my father, who taught me to love the piano and music
                  (He played the piano I practice on: the past is always present there)
And the most far-reaching of all:

- thoughts of Beethoven, long dead, and what he might have been trying to say
- the knowledge that I am part of a continuous line of teachers and players, each passing along beautiful music over the centuries, as I will pass them along to my students or my audience beyond the biological limits of my life
All these pieces of past, present and future are there in my mind and my playing at once, making the experience beautifully and naturally timeless. It doesn’t have to be Beethoven, or Mozart, or Chopin. It’s the same if I’m playing The Beatles, or Scott Joplin, or Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s not about the musical genre, and it’s not even about music. In almost everything we do, this is the way our minds work. We are beautifully and naturally in many places in time at once. Not living just in the moment can be a rich and rewarding experience.