Any form of work has its ups and downs.

Of course, there is the inevitability of two steps forward, one step back. We might question the days that feel like three steps back.

But what about those days that are five steps back, where we curse and wonder if we are different than everyone else?

Despite knowing that any course of work, any path of mastery, is a series of peaks and plateaus, growths and descents, the sting of a fall remains.

At work, one may find that something that once felt second nature is now a struggle.

How do I put this report together? What am I supposed to say?

In working with your tasks, you might say,

I had this all together before! What happened? Where did it all go wrong?

The beauty of a craft, for example of music, allows us to practice this pattern directly.

A piece that I’ve worked on for years, performed at times with a seemingly seamless flow for an audience, can still collapse. Somewhere, somehow, I falter. I cannot make it past a passage.

I always wondered how my piano teacher would say that she would walk away from the piano feeling refreshed.

I just wanted to punch stuff.

How can I have forgotten how to play that? I’ve done it hundreds of times!

I would then wonder if my memory was just a series of sand castles, frustratingly being washed away in time.

But then, I go to practice.

At the piano, I try to:

  1. Reduce the scope of where I am finding error. In other words, bring my focus to that area of seeming injury
  2. Reduce my speed to the point where I can play it well, relaxed, and effortlessly.
  3. Often, I will do so with one hand, then the other, and then together, even more slowly.
  4. From there, I build speed gradually, at a pace that seems natural to my fingers, always bringing that state of relaxation and effortlessness along with me.

Meanwhile, working against me are the need to sound and perform “perfectly”, the impatience of “how am I not there already?!”, and the irritation of not doing just about anything else.

But over time, I’ve realized that there is another vital component – play.

Even between two notes, I’ve found it useful to find the play between them. Whether I’m speeding up or slowing down, raising or lowering the volume, I find my own flowing voice within the structures, even and especially within the simple.

Whatever the medium, create music with the small and tiny. Find a flow in the relaxed and effortless.

Listen for the music of growth.

In so doing, I find that it’s not about memories being made of sand. It’s often about having grown in other ways that now need new integration with what has been.

With that understanding, I see where my piano teacher was coming from. In those moments where I can touch a growing play, what else could I feel but rejuvenation?