I’ve been reading a fascinating book called “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” by Jonah Lehrer.  To be frank, when I say, “been reading” I really mean that I’ve been slowly nibbling at tiny portions of his prose, having consumed just a handful of chapters in as many months. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the book—it’s just that whenever I read a section, I feel the urge to actually get up and do something creative instead of sit there reading. Such is the treasure and torment of this little gem of a book.

Take today, for example. I was mesmerized by a passage on the brain’s response to improvisation, followed by a stirring interview with the brilliant cellist, Yo-Yo Ma.  Ma spoke of his creative, interpretive and improvisational process. Suddenly, my own brain detoured toward a related conversation I’d had with clients, and that led me to reach for my laptop to record my thoughts before they fled.

See what I mean about that book’s distracting “side-effect?”

The conversation in question was with a couple who had come to see me for help with their relationship, as well as guidance breaking out of their stilted sexual routine.  As a “homework” assignment, I’d asked them to set aside time to have a “play” date—to make love with no goal in mind; just exploring each other’s bodies as if for the first time.  Based on what I already knew, I fully expected they would initially avoid doing this assignment.  After all, when sex is a safe and predictable “1-2-3-pop,” breaking out of that rut is one of the scariest prospects a couple could be asked to undertake.  Without giving away too many trade secrets, let me just say that sometimes I have to ask clients to do what I know they can’t or won’t, in order to help them see where their barriers lie. Inevitably, they can and do leap past them. It’s just a matter of making the invisible visible.

Most of us have had the experience of completely blocking out an emotional barrier until someone we trust points out how we keep scurrying completely out of its way—knowing precisely where to steer clear—while insisting we don’t see a thing. The moment that obstacle becomes wholly visible is like an awakening. Yet, it can result from evading the most basic of acts—like “playing.”

The clients I mentioned were hardly alone in their predicament. Many couples forget that great sex involves nothing more complicated than a grown-up form of playing—with a few special skills thrown into the mix.  Instead, intimacy devolves into a goal-oriented effort so laden with pressure to conform, perform, succeed or fail, that it’s rarely much fun at all. That’s why I was so struck by the passages I read in Imagine today.  Yo-Yo Ma conveys the same message I often do about making love—except that he’s speaking of making music.

To fully appreciate his words, try this experiment. Read the paragraphs below. Then go back and read them again, but this time, where Ma speaks of performance or of being onstage, substitute the concept of lovemaking. You might be surprised how well his words resonate:

Yo-Yo Ma from “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer:

“I will make a mistake on stage, and you know what?  I welcome that first mistake, because then I can shrug it off and keep smiling. Then I can get on with the performance and turn off that part of the mind that judges everything. I’m not thinking or worrying anymore.  And it’s when I’m least conscious of what I’m doing, when I’m just lost in the emotion of the music, that I’m performing at my best.”

“I think the best way to perform is when your unconscious is fully available to you, but you’re still a little conscious, too.  It’s like when you’re lying in bed in the early morning. I always have my best ideas then.  And I think it’s because I’m still half-asleep, listening to what my unconscious is telling me. But at the same time, I’m not in the midst of some crazy dream, because then it’s just crazy.  I guess it’s a controlled kind of craziness. That’s the ideal state for performance.

“When people ask me how they should approach performance, I always tell them that the professional musician should aspire to the state of the beginner. In order to become a professional you need to go through years of training. You get criticized by all your teachers, and you worry about all the critics. You are constantly being judged.  But if you get onstage and all you think about is what the critics are going to say, if all you are doing is worrying, then you will play terribly. You will be tight and it will be a bad concert. Instead, one needs to constantly remind oneself to play with the abandon of the child who just learned the cello. Because why is that kid playing? He is playing for pleasure. He is playing because making this sound, expressing this melody, makes him happy.  That is still the only good reason to play.”

There you have it.  Making love–truly, deeply, passionate love–or having insanely thrilling, ferocious sex, is a “controlled kind of craziness.”  No matter how experienced you may be in the bedroom, no matter how many books on sexual technique you might have read, or even how much porn you’ve watched—if you are tight inside, if you worry, if you think about being judged or criticized, “you will play terribly.”  Real sexual artistry is little more than “getting lost in the emotion” of the experience; playing with the pure abandon of the uninitiated.

With Ma’s words in mind, begin to think of sex as an outpouring of your own inner music, sex-play as an inspired, joyous flow.  Discover what happens if you have sex merely for pleasure, because it makes you happy.

Just as Ma states so eloquently: “That is still the only good reason to play.”