My grandmother died last week at age 93 and she was a force to be reckoned with until the end. She hosted a monthly event in her retirement community she called Happy Notes, where she played and sang and got others to sing for a full hour! I hope to be that zesty when I'm in my 90s.
I loved playing for her funeral. Mostly.
Because, my older sister happens to be a trigger for all my fears! Her being two years older than me, I lived my formative years in comparison to her.
When I sat down at the piano bench, after Karina's beautiful playing, my body experienced a wide variety of intense feelings. Gratitude and warmth for music, for my grandma, for all the people in the church who loved her deeply. Appreciation that she asked me to play. Gratitude that I could fulfill this request for her.
And nerves. Adrenaline crackling in my arms and legs, heart pounding, fingers and legs shaking.
I kept coming back to the warm feelings of love running through my body, and my gratitude, and in retrospect, those warm feelings were enough to keep me in enjoyment and in the moment - all the while, my legs continuing with their shaky shakiness.
Gratitude, in fact, is one of the first tools that I discovered that worked for me as a antidote to fear. Not that I am the first to discover this. But it felt like 'discovery' when I first internalized the power of the warm feelings as a way to stay in the moment, be more grounded, and to relax some of my chronically tight muscles.
As I was working on tools to deal with performance anxiety, I learned the Centering Exercise. One of the steps is consciously relaxing tense muscles.
This is what would happen in my head when I tried to relax.
Brain: Relax. Say ahhhhh. Let go. Feel good. Feel free. Come on, you can do it.
Brain: I believe in you, it's time to let go.
Brain: COME ON, I SAID RELAX
It didn't work for me.
Letting go of tension takes some amount of faith, of trust, that things will be okay. That you will survive. That you can do it. That you don't need to clench muscles to protect against judgment, wrong notes, and rejection.
This is all subconscious of course. I know in my head that I'm safe, that I will survive, that I'm okay if I play wrong notes. But my shoulders and the deeper, more vulnerable parts have taken longer to internalize and believe that truth.
Gratitude is not the end-all-be-all solution to tension, and it doesn't solve the problem forever. But finding something in your performance, or your collaboration, or your creation that you can genuinely enjoy and feel grateful for, can be a tool in your arsenal to help shift the focus from fear to enjoyment.
Performing from a place of love and gratitude and positiveness (even if your character is not positive), rather than fear - well, we all want that, don't we?
Here's how to do it:
- Identify places in your performance and preparation of true enjoyment and gratitude.
- You might have a voice that argues, saying something like you don't deserve enjoyment or relaxation if you don't do it perfectly. Try experimenting with the 'buts' and 'what ifs' coexisting with the enjoyment and gratitude.
- Are you performing with another human being? Has anyone helped you prepare? Do you have stage management, lighting and sound designers, directors that you enjoy and appreciate? Sense what that gratitude feels like in your body. Maybe even explore extending that gratitude sensation towards these other people.
- If it feels right to you, locate where in your body you feel the connections, the appreciations, the gratitudes and focus on that feeling. What happens if you stay with that for a moment, or two, or longer?
As with anything you want to be effective, using gratitude to counteract fear takes practice. To get gratitude to be at the top of list, apply it as part of your practice routine. Or even write the word on your music in key places, so you practice applying it as you work through learning the music.
As always, thanks for reading.
With love and gratitude,
PS - if this was helpful, you might be interested in Quick Tip #1: State the Obvious