Learning how to pray by not praying

If I could go back in time to deliver a message to my 16-year old self, it would be this: Relax and just be.

In high school, I was willingly interested in playing piano, but just as willingly convinced that, to be candid, I played abysmally.

I spent a great deal of time listening to music on the radio and trying to mimic the piano in the background, but fixated on the seemingly endless gulf between my lofty expectations and my relatively undeveloped abilities.

I vividly remember the time when I begged my piano teacher, Mrs. Courtoue to let me learn how to play a popular song. She yielded.

The sheet music arrived and Mrs. Courtoue explained the counting.

Soon, I thought, I’ll be playing behind the likes of Elton John.

So, when I sat down at the piano during my practice time, it was with the full weight of my own expectations for myself looming over me at the keyboard, plus the affliction of my own not-inconspicuous ego turning my every move into a potentially life-changing event.

I struggled to hit the correct piano keys with the necessary sharps. It didn’t matter if I knew how to count the song. My playing was so patchy that counting was only added noise. Every misplayed key resounded doom in my mind, not only for the song, but for my future as the next great piano player. After 3 weeks, I hated the song.

Based on this, I’d persuaded myself that I was terrible at piano.

But the urge to create harmony hasn’t gone away. My inner Elton John called to me when I was in my 30’s.

We’d needed someone to play piano at church. I brought out the hymnal and sat down on the bench. I began finding keys. Everyone in church supported me even when I played the songs with one finger. The willingness to make music returned. The keys on my fingers felt good. And to my great surprise, I improved. I found that all the things that had vexed me when I was 16-years old, besides comparing myself with other good piano players my age, caused me little anxiety. They were far away.

Somewhere between the time I was a teenager and the time I was in my 30’s, I’d learned how to play piano as background music.

It reminds me of other things that had seemed so intimidating, so uncomfortable and so scary to me as a 16-year old, that in fact became easier as I got older—after my false expectations and ego got out of the way. If I catch myself praying with anticipation of being Mary Baker Eddy, or any other spiritual leader, I stop praying until the anticipation is dissolved.

I can pray effectively. I can play piano, ride a motorcycle, write, and publish my writing. I can forgive my self-criticism. I can forgive others who criticize me. I can pray and heal things not healed before. I can see what is before my eyes, rather than be distracted at what could or should be. I can enjoy relaxing and just be.

lookg at piano

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