Monday, April 20, 2009

Darkness is Your Candle

But what shadow has been serving you!
What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.
- Rumi from Enough Words

A couple of weeks ago, I learned an extremely powerful technique that has helped me deal with one of my most debilitating fears. It's applicable to any situation, but for the sake of an example, I'll use it with my fear of Open Mic Nights. (Lately, I've been writing music for grownups, so I've been showcasing these new songs at bars and other places that host these "cattle calls".) The technique can be applied to any situation, however, that you may find full of terror.

It's really quite simple:

STEP ONE (Creating Darkness) I imagine that I'm walking into the venue where the Open Mic is taking place. Next, I try to fully feel all of the fear. In my case, I name things like "I feel out of place and uncomfortable". Then I picture myself waiting to go onstage and becoming progressively more anxious about what I'm going to play, how I'll be received and what I'll sound like. Lastly, I'll see myself onstage and try to create in my heart and in my mind all of the worst feelings that I can muster up.

STEP TWO (Creating Light) I imagine the same scenario with a contrary set of emotions. In my case, I use the word "comfort". I imagine that I'm walking into the venue and it looks and feels like a place where I want to be. I feel very at home and say things to myself like, "It's great to be here!" Then, I imagine the anticipation of going onstage with a feeling of inner joy and harmony with my surroundings. As I step onstage and look at the audience, I drink in the moment and smile because I am where I want to be - singing my wonderful songs as best as I can to an audience who wants to feel passionately connected to great music, too.

STEP THREE (Alternating Darkness and Light). Immediately after step two, I return to step one by creating the fear in my belly, again. Once I'm fully feeling the fear, I return to the same scenario with the comfort. Back and forth I go, shortening the time between fear and comfort but always fully feeling it before moving on.

STEP FOUR (Simultaneous Darkness and Light). The final part is to feel both emotions at the same time. Absolute terror and joyful comfort coexisting in the same moment in time.

The important thing here is to FEEL as if the situation were occurring during this exercise. If you usually get moist palms, then try to create that feeling. The way it was explained to me is this: if we really want to explore, understand and deal with our fear, then we first learn to deal with them in a comfortable place like our own living room. Oftentimes, it does no good to repeatedly put oneself into the real situation because we haven't learned the way to control our emotions, yet.

Over time, I hope to apply this technique out in the "real world" and find that the fear I imagined and felt is no longer perceived as strange and unwelcome. Instead, it will become a known entity, an emotion I understand. I haven't tried it, yet, but I hope that I will be able to move as seamlessly between emotions at my next Open Mic Night as I would in the quiet of my own home.

I hope this technique brings you the courage to walk towards what you are afraid of - not with an absence of fear but a fuller acceptance of that emotion AND the belief that you can feel cleansed by it, too.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Doing the Right Thing

I haven't written in this space in almost two years. During that time, my wife and I have staged two new children's shows: Do the Right Thing (a character education piece for upper elementary) and Beth & Scott's Nutrition Mission. I'm very proud of these two pieces. They are examples of us taking what's often referred to as "The Teacher's Seat"and being very honest with children and teachers. Our values and our vulnerabilities are both on display and I feel very good about that.

Most of my writing energy, however, has been spent composing new songs for grownups. Truth is, I never dreamed about being a children's artist when I was a kid. I wanted to be a singer-songwriter or a rock star. So, now I've now got to the point where I have close to 20 tunes and I'm beginning a new career while maintaining my job as a children's artist. I play one night per week at a local restaurant where I combine my originals with cover tunes from 6-9pm. For the most part, I'm enjoying the experience, though I've recently begun to feel ill at ease when I perform too many cover tunes.

That's not entirely accurate. When I perform for kids my goal is to reach them and teach them. I am expert at controlling the 45-minute experience so that they take a "ride" with me. With grown-ups, however, I feel like I don't want to spend my energy trying to get them to go somewhere. A cover tune is like saying, "Hey, notice me noticing you! I know you love "Brown Eyed Girl" and I'll play it so that you can tap your feet and remember where you were in 1975." I guess I'm saying that I don't want to lead people on a Magical "History" Tour of the 60's and the 70's. Been there and done that, friends.

This is not a finished thought, today. I'm struggling with the needs and wants of the audience and the bar owner versus my desire to connect and play my new tunes. I'm not so sure I want to settle for a balance between the two. I'm not doing this to earn money, so I don't have to be beholden to the almighty dollar. But do I have an obligation to the audience? And what is it exactly? Am I an artist or an entertainer? Don't rush to answer that question with "both" because that's too easy. Think about your favorite musician and wonder, does he or she play cover tunes? Yes, they play their famous songs over and over and that's a drag sometimes. But I know from playing my children's tunes that playing what the audience wants if it's my tune is a lot better than when they ask for something that I haven't written.

I think that this is about the guts to stand up for what I know is right for me. All too often (in the grownup music world), I have bent to the needs of the many and forgotten my own needs as as an artist. I have to stop doing that. As one of my friends said, "You try things out and then see if you can sleep at night." Well, now I know. I realize that I'm on a track where I'll be playing my songs more and cover songs less.

As I said earlier, one of my new kids' shows is called, "Do the Right Thing". That lesson applies to me, too!