"Can we start now?" the conductor asks without sparing an ounce of snark. I'm in Vienna, Austria, playing lead keyboard in A Chorus Line. Every night for a week since the show opened I've been running from the orchestra pit so that I could hurl my guts, get back to my piano and start the show (with a solo none the less). This night, the conductor challenges me to skip the freak out and start the show on time.
In that moment, I realized I had to face the fear and anxiety that I had been expressing so well by fleeing and heaving just prior to showtime. I asked myself, "Are you going to let this get the better of you or are you bigger than your fear, Sandra?"
I'm happy to report that I averted disaster and successfully performed in the show even though I felt the twinge of anxiety from time to time. This was the first of many lessons about how to move with and through uncomfortable experiences rather than avoiding them. I befriended feelings of discomfort, fear, dread, anxiety, depression, anger, and hopelessness.
These prickly feelings are natural, they are part and parcel of being human, and it's common for them to be uncomfortable. In fact, our modern culture of convenience affords a buffet of options to aid in distracting us from the unpleasantry of it all. Television, social media, drugs, alcohol, shopping, just to name a few, are all activities that can be used to soothe cringeworthy moments.
I'd like to suggest another way to deal with painful human emotions. Instead of avoiding these experiences or bulldozing through them with the might of willpower, I recommend taking a position of curiosity. What if every feeling we have is merely a messenger calling us to action?
Perhaps, when the feeling of anxiety unexpectedly leaps into a situation, it's an invitation to find comfort (self-care) or face a fear that's been put off. When depression skulks into the scene, it might be an opportunity to listen to a part of self that is looking for hope. When anger sounds its ferocious roar, it could be a clue that a boundary has been crossed.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes about this so beautifully, ”When we have an unpleasant feeling, we say to ourselves, ‘This feeling is in me, it will stay for a while, and then it will disappear because it is impermanent.’” Seeing the temporary nature of our feelings can give us hope that we can be with them, find out that we don’t have to become the feeling, and possibly take a positive action to meet the need that the feeling is bringing to our attention.
I still perform, and I still feel like throwing up sometimes, but when the nervousness shows up, I think this is normal, this isn’t a sign that anything is wrong, and I can still have fun with the music while I feel this way. It won’t last forever.
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