You’re always a beginner. If you always wake up in the morning and realize, “Oh my God, I’m just a beginner!,” then you’re in a really good place. If you wake up in the morning and say, “Oh, I’ve got that handled, I can do anything I want.”—hmm, I don’t know.
Now I follow a practice that I’ve done for about ten years. I go through an actual daily practice of greeting the instrument, positioning myself with the instrument, paying attention to my posture, my breathing, the texture, the feeling of the instrument. Sometimes that takes seconds, sometimes it takes five minutes. Just getting a physical-sensory connection. The next thing is when I actually start playing, I don’t lose that physical connection. To be completely aware of the sound that I’m playing and also what my feelings are about the sound of the instrument. Just paying attention. I don’t try to do anything about it necessarily, but I just play, letting it be there. I might be playing an arpeggio or a melody, but basically the attention is on the sensory-emotional aspect of my playing. And then I let it go.
“I think music actually prepared me in some ways in coming to zazen, because it was the only window in my life where I felt kind of a spiritual or religious sense. I looked at that the essence of that and it was just bare awareness. Zazen is the same thing; it’s a heightened sense of awareness. My daily mantra is a quote from my Zen teacher, John Daido Loori, Roshi. I asked him one time, “What is Zen?” He said, “Just do what you’re doing while you’re doing it.” It’s so simple, but it’s so hard! That’s something about Keith [Jarrett]. Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it. In some ways he’s more Zen than anybody I’ve ever met.”