You may find it hard to believe that I, a card-carrying Goofball could have anything in common with Steve Young, one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time.

But I do!

Not only that, our shared trait is potentially available to all human beings, Goofballs and non-Goofballs alike! It does, however, take extraordinary circumstances to coax this trait to the foreground.

Check it out.

A few years ago, I started playing piano after a twenty-year hiatus. To be more precise, I started playing piano in front of other people. Audiences, in fact.

photo: open hardware summit on flickr

It was scary. Terrifying, really.

This terror led to many teeth-chattering and heart-pounding performances. Many of you may recall my adventures in piano prison. Or the worst thing that ever happened to me on stage.

In spite of my fear, I persisted. I loved to play.

photo: Nayu Kim on flickr

The only problem was the audience. All those people, sitting in their seats, watching me. They screwed everything up.

When I was at home, practicing, time was a fluid thing. Minutes and hours would go by, and I would barely notice. But when I was on stage, performing in front of others, the weirdest thing would happen. Time would literally shrink.

I especially noticed it when there was a difficult passage in the piece I was playing. Knowing it was coming, I would try to psyche myself up.

I can do this. I did it at home. Okay, there weren’t hundreds of people watching me, but that’s beside the point. And don’t start pretending they’re all in their underwear, because that’s just weird. And totally distracting. Like, why would a bunch of people in their underwear want to sit around and watch me play the piano? Really. Okay, I have to focus. Stop thinking about the underwear. I’m playing the piano, for God’s sake.

photo: William Ng on flickr

Before I knew it, the hard part would arrive and I would freak out. My mind would run away like a frightened little bunny, leaving me all alone to try and play the piece. It all happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to gather my wits.

After the difficult passage was over, my mind would return and continue its commentary.

Great. I freaked out again. What the heck happened? There’s not enough time to focus. It all goes by too fast. It’s because of those frickin’ people in their underwear. They’re messing it up. They’re sucking all the concentration out of the room, and I can’t play without screwing up.

I tell ya, it was a party up there.

One day, after a particularly challenging performance, I was telling my sweetheart, Melissa, about my dilemma. How was I supposed to focus when I was so nervous? How was I supposed to play with so many people watching?

Melissa listened to my woes. She nodded her head in sympathy. And then she told me a story about Steve Young.

Steve Young, as many of you may know, sat on the bench with the San Francisco 49ers for years. Four years, to be exact. It wasn’t until Joe Montana, the starting quarterback, became injured that Young really got a chance to play.

In his first forays on the field, Young found it hard to focus. There was too much to think about: keeping his eye on the other players; evaluating plays and strategies; deciding whether to pass or run. It all happened so quickly, it was hard to juggle the competing concerns.

photo: Andy Lyons/Allsport

But after a while, after more games and more experience, everything started to change.

Young began to notice that every time he was on theย field during a game, time literally started to slow down. What used to be over in an instant now took ages to transpire. Young had all the time in the world to evaluate plays and strategies, to scope out the other players and decide the best move. What once was a cramped and quick instant was now a spacious and luxurious century.

It was a miracle. And it changed his game forever.

As Melissa told me this story, I thought: That’s nice. I’m happy for Steve. Really I am. But what does that have to do with me and the naked people? It was a nice tale, but I wasn’t in Steve’s league.

Or so I thought.

Like Steve, I put in my time. Performance after performance. Weeks turned to months turned to years.

And one day, out of the blue, it happened.

There I was โ€“ in the middle of a performance, headed for a tricky passage โ€“ when time began to stretch and expand. Suddenly, I had all the time in the world to navigate my way through.

photo: Jason Vernon on flickr

I was about to play a wrong note, but before I did, I slowly and luxuriously moved my finger to the correct key. Then I forgot the correct chord in the left hand, but I easily found it on my music. Time was like a big, fat, infinite field in which I was given ample room to run and play.

photo: Matt Phillips on flickr

I felt small and big at the same time. Powerful and grateful. In the flow, as the flow. I felt like . . . Steve Young.

Melissa likes it when I admit she’s right, so here goes:

Melissa was right.

I had it in me. I had the power to overcome my fears. I had the ability to drop into that timeless space where creativity lies. It’s one thing to feel it when you’re alone, sitting on your meditation chair. It’s another thing altogether to tap into that space under stress.

But I did it. Just like my buddy Steve.

photo: Mickey Pfleger

They say the Divine is timeless. They say It knows no boundaries, no restrictions. And it’s nice to know that intellectually.

But it’s even nicer to truly feel it.ย 

Thanks to the piano, the naked people, and Steve Young, I have savored this place. I have basked in its wide open spaces.

And I want to go back. Again and again and again.

photo: Robert Nunnally on flickr

How have you experienced the timeless nature of the Divine? When have you found space in moments of stress?

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