Romantic Relationships

Humans are social creatures and humans are sexual creatures.
Romantic relationship: a friendship coupled with a sexual attraction that is expressed in some action.
So, relationships often sear themselves into our souls.

Long-term monogamous relationships are hard in our culture.
Of people who marry for the first time and live 40 more years: 2/3 end in divorce
Unhappy marriages increase illnesses by 35%
Unhappy and failed marriages have powerful effects on children. Divorce of parents shortens the lives of their children, whereas death of a parent has no effect on their life-spans.

Our relationships live in our memories.
We don’t come into adulthood with much good teaching and role modeling of relationships.
We’re not born with the skills of relationship. It’s best we learn them and make them habits.
I view all relationships, especially those of young people, as practice relationships.
In relationship, I work for these values:
To love and be loved, to support and be supported;
To work toward personal growth for self and other –
to love, serve, learn, and make peace with my past;
To nurture the relationship, thereby putting good memories into it.
It’s both blessing after blessing and AFGO after AFGO. (Another fucking growth opportunity)
It’s the quality of the friendship. Do you treat your partner as a good friend?

Loving: the experience of a heart-felt “yes.”
When the “no’s” come up in a love relationship, what to do with them?
First, don’t hunt for them, don’t scan for no’s. What you look for you will find.
There are better ways to live than judging our partner, fearing, keeping score, or nursing grudges.
Security comes not from hanging on to loved ones, but from being able to appreciate whatever and whoever comes your way, turning it/them with your “yes!” into a loved one.
Everyone has their own style – you and your partner. Why label her irresponsible when she’s lost in a world of ideas or art or music outside the mundane material world you live in?

Competition: Some people stand outside competition, they just don’t buy in. Some people can’t help but get sucked so deeply in that they won’t go near any competition. Some use competition (with self or other) to bring out their best and add spice to an activity. If you compete with your partner, be sure to discuss what it means to each of you. You may need to compromise. Competition can be devastating.
When we find something our partner does that keeps bugging us, we are wise to ask for what we want – but not to demand it.
What’s the difference? Demands contain emotional blackmail. In addition to the request I add the threat that I will upset myself and/or you if I don’t get my way.
Your partner likely can change in a healthy way only if s/he first feels accepted as s/he is.
Attend to the startup if the discussion. Discussions often end on the same note they begin on.

You can turn your complaints into requests.
A complaint addresses a specific action.
Criticism is more global, adds fault and blame to the complaint.
Defensiveness defends self and denies responsibility
Turn toward your partner, rather than away. Even when you think s/he is being hostile

Choosing is the experience of confronting alternatives and willfully picking among them.
Freedom is the experience of being able to choose, within the limits of the constraints.
Values are the rules, methods, and assessments of better and worse by which I make choices.
Responsibility is the experience of being in some control, cause, or authorship in my own life and in the world
around me. Note, responsibility is not blame, shame, and guilt. These add condemnation,
shithood, to responsibility.

Many of us are raised with external control theory:
I am not responsible for how I feel.
Other people, events, my physical body are responsible for how I feel.
Thus, I must try to control others by whatever methods I know, rather than work to
change my actions, my thoughts, and how I approach life.
Research shows that living from external control dooms your relationship.
You and your partner are wise to live with a lot of choice/responsibility.

We are fascinated by causes, we crave the stories, explanations, we cling to causes,
so we focus on what’s wrong and what keeps us stuck in habits.
Everyone wants to know why? “Why is s/he/I doing this? What are the reasons?”
The reason is usually because s/he/I has the habit of doing this.
Caught up in that habit, s/he/I chooses to do this! The question of why I do it is immaterial.
The question is how do I do it? And how can I practice stopping doing it?

Sometimes we encounter a being so wonderful they seem to cause us to love them. We have no choice. This is a trap. It makes us think, “That’s what love is, it’s what love should be like.”
Of course, as we love, we appreciate special features. But beware of going through life always judging, judging others (and/or self) and repeatedly asking, Am I really in love?
If you love, you love. The practice of loving is living in YES, choosing to appreciate, over and over again.
Know that every blessing you will ever have will come in a flawed vessel.
So which will you focus on – the blessing in the vessel, or the flaw? Take your pick.
Conditional loving means I’ll love if you fit my pictures. Unconditional means I love you as you are.
Don’t take something for granted because it’s reliable. Don’t take something for granted, appreciate it.
And don’t stop and assess your relationship very often. If you choose to stay in it, then choose it all, what you like and what you wish were different.

Language evokes, as well as describes. Use this fact consciously.
Research shows that each partner in good relationships makes at least five positive comments to their partner for every negative one. You can simply listen to a discussion between them, count the positives and negatives, and predict the success or failure.

Research also shows that any signs of contempt doom a relationship. Contempt means sneering, sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, hostility, criticism, sarcasm, blaming, whining nagging, threatening, punishing, bribing or rewarding.
Most of us don’t use these deadly habits on our friends. Yet many of us use them with our romantic partners.
If you hear signs of contempt in a married couple, you can predict divorce with 95% accuracy.

Humans can take anything and anybody for granted. We can get bored in paradise.
I want to wake up before I die.
We can hold what we call flaws as “differences.” Learn and appreciate both yours and partner’s.
Your partner lives in a different reality from yours, has different values, has different energy, has a different intellectual approach, has different talents, has different interests, has different dreams and visions (some of which may not include you).
Take any partner and you choose a set of unsolvable problems to grapple with for the duration.
Who is wrong? Or is it two people being human together?

Some people go toward obsessing/enmeshment/codependence and some toward withdrawal/ignoring (Well, we’ve handled that one!).

Practice: “How was your day?” Take turns; Show interest; Communicate your understanding; Take his/her side; No unsolicited advice; Express solidarity against others; Express affection; Validate emotions

Practicing Intimacy:
Look forward to time with your partner, commit time with the person to them.
This is it! This is romantic life! Make the most of it. Wake up! The clock is ticking.
Willfully appreciate your partner. Silently send love to partner.
Look intently at partner, esp when she speaks or when there’s silence.
Look into partner’s eyes, esp when you speak. Share a triumph.
Speak what is on your mind, esp your feelings.
Give subtle positive feedback, nod, smile, agree, when s/he evaluates self positively.
Ask for what you want, including loving or caring actions. Don’t demand.
Ask/sense/listen for what is wanted from you; give it if it seems appropriate.
Confront partner afresh, with awe/wonder. Notice conditional thoughts and let them go.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, reach out mentally and unite/embrace.

Crisis Loving: Stop feeding the crisis; Breathe deeply; Relax; Visualize feeling peaceful; Postpone action; Attend to what is happening now – no symbolic meanings, no future, no past; Speak positively; Act the part of a lover; Explore the crisis without words; Learn what you can; Move your seat back from the stage; Feel your pain without interpretations; Laugh in the face of your crisis; Say yes to your experience; Make the loving choice; Redirect your energy; Transform crisis into triumph.

Beware thinking you know what something means. Something means whatever you relate it to, whatever story you will use in order to understand it.
Take care in deciding what your partner “means” by what they say or do.
It will be your story – people are killed, abused, ignored, appreciated, loved, supported, cherished, abandoned, and divorced because of stories. Your stories are sacred – employ them with care!
Will you use this action, whatever it may be (e.g., buying groceries or changing a poopy diaper) to express love?
Will you let the particular (wash these dishes) stand for the general (making my house a home, or putting good energy and service into the world)?

Sacramental loving: A sacrament is an action you turn into sacred mystery through willful dedication to spiritual meanings.

Living as if. You are always living as if something. You can’t help but live as if. So, right now, what are you living as if you were doing? What are you living as if it meant? Studying for another midterm in this damn class? Having a coffee with my boyfriend? Learning ideas that will bless me all my life? Encountering the Divine?
Is this person is your “soul-mate?” I think the word is yucky. But if you want a soul mate, you’ll have to live as if.
One face of God? The one presentation of Existence that you get to commit to?
Receive love as if from your soul-mate, God, Existence.

Do you matter enough to have a really good relationship? Don’t start listing faults & attributes.
This question doesn’t call for description. It calls for an assertion: take a stand – YES!
“I am Frank and my life matters. I deserve to have an outstanding relationship.”

Commit to your partner what you will do to create a better relationship.
“I commit to giving up what I consider to be gentle teasing of Jeanie, but which she interprets as demeaning.”
We surrender in relationship not to the other person, but to the process of our relationship.
Here we are – two people – being human together.

Challenges: computer, TV, children, careers, exhaustion, lack of support, other priorities, clinging, expectations, finances, control/demand, symbolic meanings, money, greed, addictions.

If you are dating, what kind of people do you habitually attract? Do you feel you have a choice? Or has the
pleaser in you taken over? Has desperation, have to, should, must, ought, taken over?

Share your vulnerabilities. Your goal is to communicate, not to be rescued. Both of you must be able to hear no and hear requests for change. So it’s OK to say no and to ask for a change. Listen to her no or to her request for change. If she tells you how she feels, that is how she feels. Should she feel that way? What does that mean? That you want some authority to shame her and tell her she’s wrong? Clearly, she should, since she does.

Watch the power unfold. Do you feel in control? That’s too much power. Do you share the power? Does your partner have it? Remember who you are and what is important to you. You have an absolute right to feel safe with and supported by your partner. Learn what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad. If you are unsafe or your feelings don’t matter to your partner, get out of this relationship. If your feelings don’t matter to you, get counseling.

A note on timing issues in relationships. Especially through high school and college, most people are not mature enough, skillful enough, or at the right place in their life for a spouse. Therefore, their relationships end. Things happen and they end. We tell all kinds of stories about why they end – your fault, my fault. But in truth is was a timing issue. The love in these relationships is valid, the loss as painful as any grieving. It’s just the wrong time. You both have loved and grown. Your next relationships will be the better for your having this one, painful as that might be to admit.

Partnering is, in part, a business relationship – decide who is handling what. Then let them do it.

Note: There an important distinction between who you look for as a romantic partner and who you look for as a life partner. A cultural myth says that if you’re charmed, you build your castle together. Great rolls in the hay do not ensure that you’ll raise children well together. And vice versa. It works best when you two are good romantic partners and good friends and coworkers. Expect some heartache.

Book I recommend: Partnering by Hal and Sidra Stone. 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage by John and Julie Gottman or any other books by one or both of these folks.


We procrastinate when we make our life worse through postponing things. Postponing by itself is a useful and necessary strategy for living. Procrastinating is overdosing on postponing, and the symptom is the experience of a life cheapened thereby. For many of us, procrastination is a habitual way to cope with what we think will be unpleasant tasks that lie in otherwise appropriate directions for us. It points up our magical belief that there will surely come a better time to do the task, one when we will want to do it. Maybe, even, it will do itself while we’re asleep or not watching. Or just go away.

Yet, so often there really are best times for doing things. Like before the deadline. Procrastinating then means chances missed, last minute rush and poor performance, feeling weighed down, hopeless, inadequate, and guilty. This contrasts with feeling free and on top of life. We know it will be harder in the long run to put things off, but it’s easier in the short run. So we put them off.

Procrastination shows lack of skill in handling a condition that bedevils us all – having desires or wants that act over different time scales. I want to do well in this class, which requires that I study, go to class, and do the assignments. I also want to talk to this friend. My motivation for the class seems abstract, in the future, a “mere” idea or thought. The friend is here, right now, and my desire to talk is vivid. Indeed, talking is pleasant, while studying might feel unpleasant. So as you learn to handle your habits of procrastinating, you get better at living your life with a healthy balance of values – both long-term and short-term ones. When motives or values conflict, perhaps because they act on different time scales and with different levels of intensity, you will choose and act in ways that make your life work for you over the long run and by your highest values.

Even though we know we’re hurting the quality of our life by procrastinating, we use many tactics to keep from changing. We can challenge each of these tactics as soon as we notice it. We can see the long-range pain that the short-range pleasure will cost, and employ that vision to motivate acting in our own best interests. Most of the time.

For example, a favorite tactic is the nice, clean decision to do it “tomorrow,” or at some other “more appropriate” time. We’ll “feel like doing it then.” For now, we need to relax or maybe get more information. We’ll do it after we’ve done something else, perhaps even something “important” like another task. The decision to do it in the future reduces anxiety, because after all we’ve decided to do it. We can even fantasize doing it tomorrow. But isn’t it curious how easily such self-talk comes when we really don’t want to do the task at hand, no matter how much we may want to have done it?

Some of us promise ourselves we’ll do it later or start it tomorrow and fantasize doing it so often that we grow cynical about the integrity of our self-talk. Challenging these decisions when we catch ourselves making them means shouting, “This is the time! Right now!” True, I don’t want to. But there just will be no better time. No time of inspiration. Tomorrow I will feel just like I do today. Doing it now will motivate me better than thinking about doing it. Despite all the things wrong with now, even though I feel sure this is not a good time, this is it!

Another disarming tactic is simply to admit to being “a procrastinator.” It is, after all, a loveable human trait to be by nature one who cannot do unpleasant tasks on time. And what could anyone expect of a procrastinator? Procrastination, of course. The trouble is it’s a lie. People who habitually procrastinate can break their habits and do things earlier. Labeling our self a procrastinator suggests we have no choice and thus aren’t responsible for our procrastinating. Yet, however we try to wish it away, we have a choice and are a cause in our actions and inactions. A subtler form of this tactic is to label procrastination as a reflection of our great patience with ourselves, and everyone knows patience is a virtue.

Another tactic arises from having noticed that at some time in the past we worked well under the pressure of an immediate deadline. This memory then comes up to justify a decision to procrastinate. Some of us can selectively remember one or two successful postponements and forget hundreds of procrastinations. Honest observation, recall, and self-talk is the route to a rich life.

Procrastination may also arise from perfectionism – fear of being responsible for failure or less than perfect results. Here, putting the task off to the last minute ensures that it will be done in a rush, and how could anyone expect rushed work to be good? It gives me an excuse by which to justify failing to live up to my demands on myself. The solution is to stop making demands, to accept that I’ll disappoint myself and others many times, that I am responsible for the quality of the job, regardless of whether it was rushed or not, just as I am responsible for rushing it. Excuses and justification do not change results; instead they blind us to our responsibility for the results we do obtain.

Beyond that, why do I have to do perfect work anyway? Whoever invented to concept of perfection blighted the human race! Of course, it’s nice to do well and often has good consequences. But am I not human? And don’t all humans perform with a variety of competencies as they go through life? What is so special about me that I won’t allow myself to live the way all humans must live?

Another way to avoid responsibility for procrastinating is to claim that the task itself is responsible: It’s “too” hot to mow the lawn; she’s “too” talkative to be friendly with; it’s “too” cold to shovel the walk; this book is “too” dull to read; I’m “too” tired to do the dishes; it will cost “too” much money; it’s “too” late to read you a story; there are “too” many people here for me to speak up; and that all-purpose, never-fail lament — “It’s too hard!”

What, exactly have we done by inserting that magic word, too? In its absence all these statements are presumably true: It is hot to mow the lawn, it is late, . . . , it is hard. These facts are part of the information useful in deciding to do something, not to do it, or postpone it. Also, without the word too, we imply that the decision is in our hands, where it actually rests. Adding the too implies that we have no choice; we cannot possibly do it; and we are not responsible. The conditions of hotness, lateness, and hardness are responsible. This use of too is a verbal cop-out from admitting a responsibility which in fact we cannot escape. How much more honest to say, “It’s a hot day to mow the lawn and I don’t want to do it.” This can be followed with, “I choose to postpone it,” or “I choose to mow it.” Either way the choice and its consequences are mine.

These rationalizations for procrastinating are lies and distortions that we have learned bring short-term rewards. And, unfortunately for the quality of our lives sometimes, psychologists have shown over and over that short-term rewards affect human behavior more strongly than long-term rewards. So the long-term motives have to be kept firmly in mind and habitually worked toward if they are to be reached. For example, at the moment of procrastination we might think that the job could just disappear or someone else (our fairy godmother?) might do it. Then it’s a matter of checking quickly on the reality of the situation. There are no fairy godmothers; we can challenge our reliance on them to help us. Just how likely is the job to go away? How likely is someone else to do it if we don’t? Would it be OK with us if someone did? Would that solution keep us going in a good direction? Perhaps it would. Then postponing would not be procrastinating. But if not, vigorous challenging can reduce the effect of our magical wishful thinking.

At the heart of our procrastinating lies the task we don’t want to do. It is possible to live so as either to increase or decrease the unpleasantness of these unwanted tasks. One approach is to put off some pleasant activity until after the task is done. Thus the pleasant activity is a short-term reward for the unpleasant task, whose own long-term reward is not strong enough to motivate by itself. Sound practice is often to work first and play later, as reward. Procrastination – play first and work later – is just the opposite. How often do we not even enjoy our playing when the procrastinated task is still hanging over our head?

Why must you dramatize how horrible this task is? If you stop catastrophizing, or even evaluating, the task, you’re likely to find that it isn’t so bad after all. There’s no unpleasantness inherent in changing diapers, writing letters, exercising, eating less, or whatever. We bring the resistance to the task. After all, we’ve already chosen the goal – the clean bottom on the baby – in whose way the task lies. As we give up fighting the task and move toward choosing it, it’s amazing how its unpleasantness fades away. People who choose to stop fifty years of smoking cold turkey sometimes find it’s not so bad. People actually come to enjoy doing things that earlier they dreaded, just by stopping the fighting and instead approaching them in a spirit of interest, appreciation, play, blessing, or love. For example, I love doing dishes and playing the piano. It wasn’t always so!

Many of us procrastinate out of low tolerance for frustration. Americans are a spoiled lot, by and large. We indulge ourselves. We want what we want when we want it. If a task doesn’t yield to a short burst of work, we conclude that it’s too hard and abandon it. Most of the richest rewards in life don’t yield that easily. Yes, it’s hard, but not too hard, a truth worth repeating over and over. Whatever our plight, there are lots of people on this planet who would gladly trade places with us.

We are not inadequate to the job at hand, and even if we were, that would not make us inadequate people. It would make us human people who simply had failed at something they wanted to do. Failure is unfortunate, but it’s a common experience of members of our human race. Sometimes we don’t even want to admit that we are members of the human race, because its members are so fallible. Fallibility is OK for others, but not for us.

Some of us procrastinate as a subtle way of rebelling against authority or doing what’s expected of us. The problem is, by definition, we are the ones who suffer the consequences, not the authority. The authority rarely gives a damn about us – most authorities are used to people screwing up. It’s always our life we are living, so when we foul it up, we get to live with the results.

Some of us take on so many problems as to require a super-person to do them all. We then put off major problems in what looks like procrastination. But we can’t get them all done and prove to be ordinary, rather than super-people. Here the place to look is at what motivates us to pile so many things onto our plate. Is it grandiosity – no one but me could handle them so well? Is it that I’ve defined my worth by what I do – I have no value unless I’m accomplishing something? Such motives are better challenged forcibly: “My grandiosity is neither necessary, justified, nor working.” “People don’t need to be loved, appreciated, and respected, either all the time, or by everyone who knows them.” Furthermore, accepting all the problems that somebody offers us is a poor tactic to assure that person’s esteem. Who loves their doormat? And if you are the doormat to somebody who actually wants a doormat instead of a friendship, why are you still hanging out with them? What’s wrong with being another human being instead of a doormat?

People who increase their work-loads sometimes feel overwhelmed. “All the work seems important, all must be done at once. But I can’t do it all at once – so what will I do?” This leads to worry, anxiety, lamentation, inaction, anger, depression, you-name-it, but not to work. Overwhelmed states require calmly setting priorities, perhaps quite arbitrarily, handling things one after another, without agonizing over the consequences of deadlines that are missed. Only when you are out from under the crunch can you look back to see how you let the work-load get so big, and take steps to keep it from getting so big again.

Here are a hodgepodge of techniques for doing unpleasant tasks: Ask a friend to put upbeat written reminders where you’ll be sure to see them, or put them there yourself. When you do the task, reward yourself with something you’ll enjoy that you have made contingent on doing the task. Attend to your triumphs and share them. Set medium-term goals and celebrate reaching them. You can “punish” yourself for not reaching them by sending money and a letter of praise to an organization you especially hate. (The agreement to do this is best audited by a friend.) Let other people know of your commitments, the day-by-day targets you set for yourself, and the results of each day’s efforts. Change the stimulus for quitting the task from your thoughts (“How hard this is, I don’t want to do it, how much fun something else would be.”) to something less immediately under your control. For example, give yourself the opportunity to quit or take a break only every twenty minutes when a timer goes off. If possible, reset the timer when it rings and keep working. Increase the time between rings. This uses doing to motivate more doing, and doing is a more powerful motive than wanting, worrying, or sulking.

What are you going to let be the boss in your life – your long-term best interests or your immediate wants? What are you willing to commit to? Will you commit to more than just what you want right now? Are you willing to give your word that you will do what it takes to achieve your considered goals? Then, when the motives get more complicated, are you willing to remember your word and be true to it? And for no reason except that you gave your word? And you’ve learned that keeping your word makes for a better life – better by your own highest values! Are you willing to cultivate a strong integrity to your commitments, to your word? Not a neurotic integrity: “Oh, I said I would wash the dishes so I must wash the dishes, martyr that I am!” But a calm acceptance, “I said I would wash the dishes, so I’m going to.”

We know procrastination when we experience postponing in excess. Super-people don’t procrastinate. If we demand that we never procrastinate, we are likely to have to give up postponement. And postponement is a useful tool for rich living. Compulsively doing things as soon as they come up or excessively simplifying life so there’s nothing to postpone are poor routes to satisfaction. Thus, if we’re living as richly as possible, some of our postponing will prove later to have been an error. We will have procrastinated! That’s part of being human, one more of the many mistakes we might as well accept completely, after (not before!) we’ve made them, so we can get past them and get on with living.

You deserve better than to run your life by “I don’t want to do this.” You are sufficiently in control of your choices simply to do it, regardless of whether or not you feel like it. You deserve to have a life that is successful by your highest values, not simply one that is least uncomfortable over the short term. With work and practice, you can change from a habit of procrastinating to one of getting things done.

Playing the Piano as a Spiritual Path

At age fifteen, I quit seven years of piano lessons, quit playing the piano, and heaved a sigh of relief. Maybe my mother had some regrets, but no one else. Ten years later in graduate school, I made it final and gave my music away to a friend — I was never going to play the piano again.

Who would have guessed that a grand piano and harpsichord would eventually fill my living room and that I would play almost every day until my back aches! Yet this is not the piano-playing of my youth. Some of the pieces are the same and my fingers may hit the same notes in the same order, but what I intend and experience at the keyboard is totally different.

It took me all these years to figure out what was most important in life, and to use the keyboard to practice — not just playing the piano, but living according to my highest values and purposes. Living this way is what I call following a spiritual path, and briefly it means for me to love, to learn, and to pour good energy into the world. How might I play this as a prayer?

In order to follow this path when I sit down at the keyboard, I must practice staying mindful of my purpose, the same purpose of loving, growing, and expressing that I have for all the rest of my life. So I play like I live — for the love of it. Not to “work up” or memorize a piece, not to play for others, but for the love of playing. This is my overriding value, the “bottom line” by which I make my choices at the keyboard: I intend to appreciate, delight in, love every moment from the time I open the instrument to the time I close it. Whatever I do or think, I do or think for that single purpose. I’ve learned a few rules of thumb that work to keep me on my path, and my major practice is to hold them in mind. Here they are:

I sight-read lots of different pieces and come back to the ones that I like and that are technically within my reach. I’ve learned to keep my eyes almost always on the music rather than the keyboard because I can’t jump them back and forth between keys and score accurately and quickly. Thus I conceive and create the line of music from the printed score, rather than from alternately glancing at my hands and then trying to find my place in the music.

When I raise my hands, I relax and warm my fingers to caress the instrument. My fingers are not the “little hammers” that I was taught, but a part of me that touches the keys with love, the part that physically evokes emotion from the instrument, to which I listen with rapt attention.

I use the piece to feel, express, and hear the music I make at this moment, not to imitate the sound some professional pianist put onto a record or “the way the composer intended.” Renditions I may have heard, and even tempo, phrasing, and loudness markings on the score are simply suggestions for me to use as I wish. They just guide and motivate me to play it the unique way I am playing it. A critic might call my playing too slow or too hammy, but I’m not playing for a critic. I’m playing for me, for the depth of my experience.

I could use any activity as a spiritual path. And, in fact, I try to use them all. But playing the piano is perfect for this purpose because I so frequently make mistakes and fall short of my ideal. No matter how skillful I may be, my ideals run way ahead of my skills. While this is true in all areas of living, nowhere else do I get to experience its truth so many times an hour! I am forever hitting keys mechanically, pausing to search for chords, playing wrong notes, playing whole sections in the wrong key, falling apart mid-way through a piece that I “used to be able to play beautifully.” There is no end to the number of expected and unexpected ways I disappoint myself at the keyboard. So there is no end to the opportunities the piano gives me to notice my short-falls, learn what I can from them, and re-commit to my path, with all my heart. Thus I practice an important part of my spiritual path — accepting my lot as a fallible human being and making the most of it.

Finally, piano playing brings up so many issues I have about other people, especially that question that dominates the lives of so many of us — “What will they think of me?” I have made a couple simple decisions about other people: First, if a friend can sit down and play a piece far better than I could dream of, that’s nice for my friend. It doesn’t affect me and how I play. I play the piano for myself, for the same reason my canary sings: “Hello, world, this is me playing, isn’t it great!” I’m pouring my best energy into the world. To me, that is prayer. What the world does with it is its business.

If people are listening to me, I let them. They may enjoy my playing or they may not. They may praise me or wish I’d shut up. Whatever they hear is with their ears and their background; it is not what I hear. If someone says a piece should be played twice as fast as I play it, I’m happy for the chance they offer to strengthen my skill at walking my path. I just say, “Oh, I suppose so,” and with no apologies go back to my path and my music. No deflated ego and no loss of enthusiasm. If someone compliments a piece, I take it to mean simply that they enjoyed hearing it. And I just say, “Thank you,” and absolutely refuse to second-guess their judgment. No denials and no puffed ego. Just “thank you” and back to my path.

In summary, here is the list of what I keep in mind as I play:
• Bottom line: How much love can I create from this experience?
• Eyes on the music and hands relaxed, caressing the keys with love.
• Ears listening, as deeply as I am able.
• Expressing my unique passion, feeling, and life in every note, every phrase.
• Using the inevitable, frequent mistakes and disappointments to practice learning from experience and recommitting wholeheartedly to my path.
• Welcoming others to listen, to criticize, and to praise, but I’m playing first and foremost for me.

I believe we can turn any activity into a spiritual path by making minor changes in this practice. Try it for yourself. Life may get a lot simpler and a lot more wonderful.