Thursday, July 29, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mom and Dad!

As another birth year comes to a close and a new one stands poised to begin, I find myself pondering our cultural ideas about birthdays, and the very nature of age...

If you'd asked me at 16 how I thought I would look, feel, think, and dream in my thirties, I doubt I would have said, "precisely the way I do now!" And yet, in the first moments of 36, I seem to myself exactly as I always have... as mentally and physically inspired, excited, and energetic about and in life as I was in my teens.

I'm not an anomaly. Many people I know and care about remark how 'odd' it is that they feel the same as they did when they were children... that they don't feel like they're getting older...

Maybe what's 'odd' is the meaning we assign to age and the way we imagine the experience of aging...

What would we do and who would we be if we allowed ourselves for a moment to consider 36 as 16... to pretend that 21 was in fact 60? Wonder, wild adventure, and unbridled passion aren't meant to be the exclusive playgrounds of the young. The creation of meaningful and moving poetry, music, and art isn't reserved for only the seasoned and experienced. I marvel at the profound maturity and vast knowing of many of my young clients; I am in awe of my father's dancing and theater-going three nights a week and my mother who- a month after retirement- enrolled with giddy enthusiasm in University courses on everything from Archeology to Occidental History to Eastern Mysticism. How much I learn from them all!

How are we limiting the possibilities of ourselves and others by the notions of age to which we individually and collectively cling? How many 8 year olds think they're too young for their ideas to matter? How many 80 year olds think that they're too old?

I'm also impressed by what a birthday is truly celebrating. When I consider my parents back in 1974 at 9:13 in the morning after a 17 hour labor (my first, official act of stubbornness...) I can't help but feel overwhelmed by the idea that this day is not about me...

So on my parent's special day, I wish you all the opportunity- whatever your age- to explore the endless and timeless possibilities of mind, courage, body, and heart that are available to you beyond what you've heretofore thought of as 'normal'. And to give thanks, in word or spirit, to those who brought you into this world... to those who made it possible for you to now be in the midst of this incredible gift and ride called life.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Performance = Anxiety

Performance anxiety is an elephant-in-the-room sized issue for anyone who spends time on any kind of a stage. Its management is the subject of a thousand books, workshops, and programs that teach how to deal with and mitigate its effects… how to ride its wave rather than have it come crashing down upon you.

Yet only a fundamental shift in how performance anxiety is perceived will allow you to overcome and indeed, transcend it. This shift begins by considering how the majority of us view stage fright: as a barrier between a performer and an audience.

That performance anxiety is a barrier is not news to most of you. But what may come as a surprise is that its status as such only exists when another much larger barrier is already in place: the perception of the performance as a performance, rather than as a communion, a conversation, and a connection.

To illustrate what to some may seem like a foreign concept, consider the excitement you feel at a wedding, watching a concert, or during the birth of a child. Most of us don't call this sensation anxiety, in spite of the fact that the same physiological reactions are being triggered. Why? Because in these instances, we're participating and sharing in the moment with those around us. We are not focused on ourselves. We are in tune with the group.

In our culture's current understanding of performance, however, the opposite is true. As we make our way to the stage, the wall of separation rises, and the opportunity for communion and connection instantly transforms into a profound sense of self-absorbed isolation. Standing opposite and apart, the fear in our belly rises as we wonder about and focus on one thing: "will they like me?"

To break away from this conditioned response and indeed, overcome the dual barriers that are performance and anxiety, we must move closer to those we've walked away from. Who are the people sitting there before you, not only collectively, but individually? What do they want and need? What are they looking for in their lives? Imagine that they have come to your home to share a meal, discuss their concerns, their ideas, and their dreams. How would you reach out them? How would you help?

Those who come to experience your sharing on stage are no different. While they are there to listen to you, they are in fact asking to be heard. They are waiting to be touched, to feel inspired. They are longing to experience something in your voice and expression that will open them up further to themselves.

You might be the one on stage, but it's not about you. When you begin to get this- that a 'performance' is actually an invitation to and participation with another rather than an offering of the self, the grip of anxiety begins to unravel and fade. Why? Because when you're listening deeply to another in this way- both on and off of the stage- it is almost impossible to be concerned with how you sound.

'Performers' imagine there to be a great divide between their best and worst shows, and thus, fearfully obsess about the technicalities that communicators know are largely irrelevant in the minds of those listening for something vastly more valuable.

If you want anxiety, stick to performing. If you want to move others and be moved by them, start listening.

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