How does my hand compare to the Buddha’s hand?
Playing guitar in the moonlight.
~ Huanlong’s Three Barriers, Entangling Vines, case 10
Jordan Mcconnell serves as one of Pacific Zen’s musicians during our weekly meetings and periodic retreats. He is a craftsman, and hand-makes exquisite guitars, which are in demand all around the globe. He is also a professional musician: Jordan spent a decade on the road with his band, The Duhks, which garnered several top music awards for their albums. We recently had a conversation about the weaving and interweaving of music, Zen practice, and becoming comfortable with not-knowing.
“I had some weird trepidation on Sunday before the meditation gathering; my brain was playing tricks. I thought I was going to overthink things, and that my playing would be terrible. So, I thought I could find safety in the one standard tuning I am very comfortable with: D major. But I had forgotten that my guitar was alternately tuned, which means that every string is tuned differently, generating an unusual play and sound. With alternate tuning, each session becomes an exploration.
“As I began to play, I immediately realized my mistake, and felt an element of danger, that something was going very wrong. At the same time, I knew I had to stick with it. I felt my playing was beginning to come off the rails. But as I played, as uncomfortable as I was, I realized that being off the rails is just fine. Somehow, as I played, I understood that making a mistake is merely an expression of what’s happening in that moment. It is just that note manifesting itself in the way it wants to. Suddenly, I began to feel a beautiful freedom. It reminded me of an old song I recently heard, that went: “All my mistakes were masterpieces.” My hands had become the hands of the buddha.
“I’ve often found it easy to fight against my life, to struggle against things that didn’t feel like they were going the way I wanted them to. In the same way, as a professional musician, I could sometimes find myself angry or upset with my hands when they wouldn’t do exactly what I needed them to. A missed note here, or a badly timed riff there, could ruin my day, my week, or my life.
“My relationship with my hands has changed in recent years. Once my practice deepened, I stopped fighting my hands so much. I stopped seeing myself as controlling my hands; rather the universe was playing through them. It removed the need to judge every mistake; removed the separation between me, my hands, and my music.
“If we can see our hands as the hands of the buddha, and simply play from our hearts in the light of the moon, then maybe we can realize that all our mistakes in life are themselves masterpieces.”