Q: When I perform, I often sense that others are judging me and finding me inadequate; and I am also judging and finding myself inadequate. How might I get over myself and make it more about other people?
A: I appreciate this question very much. It reminds me about how grateful I am for having the experience of being an Alexander Technique teacher. Let me explain by first giving you a bit of personal background, as I gradually answer this question.
Even though I inherited a pretty flexible and open-minded nature, as a child and teenager my life revolved almost entirely around music and musicians. During my college years, when I came into contact with non-musicians who were also of a deep and sensitive nature – philosophically and spiritually – I was delighted to find new ways to connect with people whose lives did not revolve around music.
More than a decade later, I was introduced to the Alexander Technique. At that time, I began to meet people who were not only deep and sensitive in a philosophical/spiritual way, but who were also aware of how the mind and body are interconnected, and who wanted to learn how to use the body-mind to make positive changes in every area of their lives.
This approach to living fascinated me, since I had largely disregarded the experience of living in a body most of my life – to the point of thinking of playing the violin as an exclusively mental activity (which it clearly isn’t, since I can’t play my violin without using my arms!). At this point, I lost most of my already-dwindling interest in music, and I started spending less and less time with my violin as I explored this new territory of the mind-body connection with voracious curiosity.
When I first started teaching the Alexander Technique, I had no desire to work exclusively with musicians, even though it seemed to everyone else that it would be the logical thing for me to do. I found it consistently amazing (and still do) that as I came to know so many non-musicians on a deep level, my eyes were opened more and more to the universal experiences of humanity, including the general problems that all people suffer from, regardless of their activities of interest. I wanted to open up my Alexander practice to helping all kinds of people, not just musicians.
I’ve come full circle now, as I am finally seeing the enormous benefits of specializing by offering my work mainly to musicians; I realize that music is where my greatest expertise lies, due to my life-long experience as a musician and performer. After all, music has been in my heart since before I was born. There’s no denying one’s first Love! 🙂
But I am SO glad that I went through the process of turning away from music and musicians, opening up to meeting and connecting with all kinds of people on a deep and subtle level. Some of the non-musicians I’ve worked with include: firefighter, accountant, homemaker, dancer, office worker, computer expert, psychiatrist, physical therapist, medical doctor, massage therapist, teacher, football coach, runner…among many others.
So….what does all of this have to do with the question above? Everything.
I have learned over the years that, despite the obvious variations on a theme, WE ARE ALL THE SAME. Every person who walks into my studio for a lesson is a human being, and it’s simply part of our human nature to experience the full spectrum of feelings – which includes our capacity to suffer. Everyone is suffering.
All of humanity has the unfortunate and unhelpful tendency to judge others, and to self-judge (it’s the same thing really; we can’t do one without the other, even if we aren’t aware of it). We all experience physical pain and we all have periods of darkness and depression, to varying degrees. We all have known joy and light-heartedness, and loving moments of awareness and union with nature and all of existence. We all have the same basic needs for food, shelter, water, etc. We all have an aching core need to love and be loved. We all have a tendency to want to be right, and we all feel guilt and shame from time to time, when we see how we are going wrong. We all have the tendency to split and divide, to label, sort, and separate.
My point is: you are not essentially different from every other person in the world; and you are just the same as every member of your audience. We are all caught up in playing our roles, and we all experience some fear when we dare to step outside of habit. When we walk out on stage, we are playing the role of performer; the people watching us are playing the role of audience. But as we play these limited roles, we are creating division and separation, and that inevitably leads to suffering.
The heart yearns for essential Love, union, and connection. When we see the audience member as “other”, the mind jumps in and the habit of judgement takes over – we want to please the audience, we want ourselves to be pleased, we want to be good, we want to get it right, we want our music to be beautiful, etc., etc. It’s a vicious spiral of endless desires and we fall into this sense of lack as soon as we pay more attention to differences, division, and separation than we do to that which unites us.
The good news is that we can choose to stop the downward spiral – and actually stop it – if we want to. We can remember the ultimate reasons that we’ve chosen to be musicians to begin with. Most (or all?) of us musicians love music, for reasons esconced deep within the heart. We make music for Love above all. Making Music is making Love. Love of the music. Love of how we feel when we become One with the music. Love of sharing that Oneness with the audience. Love of the audience. Love of becoming One with the audience, and everything around.
Do you love your audience, or do you fear it more? Do you love yourself, or do you fear yourself more? It’s your choice. Love and fear are both natural; they’re both there, and they come together. But which one will you pay more attention to? The answer to that question is the answer to the original question that prompted this post.
You can choose to fear the audience and yourself, setting up the division and separation that leads to tension, stiffness, pain, judgment, ego-centricity and suffering. Or you can choose to connect with the Love that unites everyone and everything. There are endless ways to do this – this is the essence of what I teach with The Art of Freedom.
A way to practice:
Before you go out on stage….even before that….when you’re alone in the practice room….be still for a few moments and connect to the Heart of all humanity. Love that Heart. Realize that your heart is the same as the heart of all people. Resolve to play from that heart and for that heart, in every being on the face of this planet. And make that absolutely more important than everything else. Pay attention to That, above all. It doesn’t matter if they’re not in the room and they can’t hear you; play for them anyway. Love them through your music.
When you play with Love from heart to heart, the mistakes just don’t matter anymore – and they happen less frequently as this becomes a more familiar practice. The imperfections become part of the perfection of being human. There’s no such thing as inadequacy when you’re allowed to be perfectly human. The judging person suffers; it’s not our job to judge. (We can be discerning, but that’s different – it’s impersonal and objective; we can be detached and discerning while also being loving.)
What really matters is that you have compassion for your audience who suffers, just like you do. What matters is that they are there, taking a chance, opening up enough to let your sound into their ears…and maybe, if you’re both lucky, all the way into their hearts.
Play for their hearts, not for their minds. Play from your heart, not your mind. Let the mind experience stillness and silence, and let it sink into your heart; then you have a much better chance of being moved by the Love and Beauty that is infused into your music, and they might be too. You can’t control whether the audience is open to that or not, but you can certainly influence it by whether you are open to it or not.
Are you willing to open up to connecting with your audience on a deep and very subtle level? Are you open to loving your audience, with a Love that goes beyond all separation and duality?
Practice this when you’re alone. Often. Don’t listen to the mind that chatters on and on and doubts and judges and criticizes and tells you you’re not doing it right, and you’re not good enough. Just stop, be still, listen to the silent ground the music plays on in your heart, and choose Love. Again and again and again. And it will get easier every time. Guaranteed.
And there’s no hurry. You have a lifetime in order to practice!
Let me know how it goes. I would love to hear about your experience and any comments you might have about this post. Does any of it sound familiar to you? Do you find this discussion helpful?
p.s. Do you know of any musicians suffering from the issues discussed here? If you do, help them out by sending them the link to this post, and encourage them to sign up for my newsletter! And please contact me if you’re interested in working with me to learn more about how to achieve all of this practically.