Overwhelm and the distance student

At one symposium in the early stages of my Taubman training, I distinctly remember the moment when the learning stopped being fun. It was 2007, the symposium was drawing to a close, and I was becoming more and more stressed.

After my first transformative encounter with the Taubman work in 2003 as an injured pianist, it had taken me four years as a full-time student to recover financially and save for the next visit to the USA. There were no Skype lessons, no Taubman teacher in Australia, and it was unclear when or if I could return to the US. In my desperation, I realised too late that I had put pressure on myself to learn and fix everything in a couple of weeks, including a complicated and stubborn collapse in my left thumb. It was simply an impossible task, which I had a good meltdown trying to achieve.

 This year at Princeton, I saw my old self in one of the participants. She had worked incredibly hard to be able to attend, taken on endless accompanying jobs, taught long hours, and putting her own lessons on hold. As a result, she brought a lot of self-imposed pressure with her before the symposium began. Then, after arriving, she was steeped in a dense body of information, different country, campus and culture, 120 new (and lovely!) people, and a hectic schedule for the next seven days. Even if a first-time participant has had Taubman lessons, there will undoubtedly be a barrage of new information, including issues that may be foreign to one’s background, and not applicable to one’s current stage of learning. One trap is assuming that every  problem mentioned in the lectures applies to your own playing and becoming paranoid, another risk is paralysis through taking apart what was already working well.

 The challenge is to locate oneself within this vast sea of knowledge in order to zero in on the particular island of one’s own learning stage, focusing on the immediate task that the teacher has set you. Then taking the next baby step. And the next. And so on. You have to give yourself permission that it’s okay NOT to learn everything all at once, and to allow the learning to unfold at its own pace. While some changes can be made quickly, others simply take more time, and short cuts only provide band-aid fixes rather than a solution for life.

 I often am reminded that the Taubman work is an ongoing lesson in being in the moment; mentally, physically, and emotionally. We need to attend to each small detail, one step at a time, be physically present to feel, time, and listen to every single key we play, and  emotionally be grounded where we are, rather than worrying over future issues, or losing ourselves in the past. Aside from the tears, frustration and distress that often accompanies overwhelm,  it becomes difficult to focus on even simple tasks when in that state. When overwhelmed, we lose the ability to learn well.

Having said that, my heart still goes out to the Skype students who can’t say “See you next Wednesday!” at the end of the Symposium. After a healthy dose of hands-on lessons, sessions with the practice assistant, technique and pedagogy clinics, it can feel like going home is returning to isolation from the teacher and shared experiences of like-minded learners. One has to trust that there is a way to access the next opportunity for in-person lessons, and be creative in finding ways to either travel to the teacher, or to bring the teacher to you.

The long term solution to overwhelm due to distance learning is access to many more skilled Taubman teachers, all over the world. While it’s wonderful to have large numbers of people attending a workshop now and again, the success and longevity of this work depends on the individuals who make a commitment to ongoing, deep learning, to develop the skills to tailor to the particular combination of needs and missing skills for each individual’s stage of development, and guide them through the process, one step at a time.


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