My knees were trembling.
The possibility of physical collapse was becoming increasingly real. My palm had ceased to be under my command. Perspiration was profusely beading upon my beet red face. If I could only manage to finish the song I was playing–at least hit that final chord–then my knees were free to buckle and I would have weathered the storm. I had no idea how well I was doing. My body and mind were in survival mode, and the flush of adrenaline presented unease. I hit the last chord and let it ring.
I was still standing, home free.
The scene I just described was my first experience performing music publicly in many years. It had been a long time coming, but most of that time was spent developing frightening images of worst case scenarios in my mind. I came to realize that often it is the very thing I fear the most that is the next step on my journey.
Stage fright is common enough. Most people typically relate and often express their own fears of public speaking or performing. For an introvert, this can be an especially terrifying concept. For this introverted musician, my mind perceived it as a death wish. I’d spent the previous year writing songs and discussing music with friends. A major part of my personal life was music, but only a select few cohorts ever got a peek at what I was doing. I began to grow restless. Every time I wrote a song, I experienced a lift in mood before the inevitable fear ceased my consciousness. My first thought, each time I finished a tune, invariably suggested that I share it with others.
Enter psychological paralysis.
I fancied myself a musician and posted random musings about it on Facebook, but nobody could ever see the breadth of my passion for it. To me, it was too close to my heart to have rejected. At least that was the story I developed.
However, at some point I am always faced with a major dilemma in matters regarding fear. It must either be faced, or I must exile myself from whatever excites the fear. My anxiety about performing was intense enough that I’d seriously considered abandoning the thing I was most passionate about. Fortunately, I did not exercise this option.
A few months prior, I had taken interest in the works of Joseph Campbell, a comparative mythologist whose work inspired George Lucas when writing Star Wars. The recurrence of various mythological motifs resonated with something deep within me. The primary concept that proved essential to the unfolding of my own life was what Campbell called The Hero’s Journey.
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. – Joseph Campbell
This awakened within me a zeal for self-actualization. That is, not just a new design in which I attempted once again to reinvent myself, but a strong desire to be who I really was. I knew that on my own journey, I was in fact a musician. I now knew that I would suffer psychological assaults and deaths daily were I unwilling to heed the call. This was a call I’d refused for nearly seven years. I was now being dragged by the truth of who I was towards the threshold. I was no longer granted the option.
I decided to put on my cape.
This past June, I was invited to an open mic night at Naked Bean Café. Without allowing myself time to think about it, I said yes. I practiced like a man whose life depended on it. In a sense, it did. That night, I was called up to the mic and felt the weight of years of self-disdain pile upon me. This was the point of no return.
A sense of community provides strength.
I was not alone. Many of my friends knew my fears quite well; many of them attended. A number of them signed their names on the sheet and ended up doing some fear facing of their own. I was overwhelmed by the sense of support that the community expressed and found myself grateful that places like Naked Bean provide the space for people to grow in this manner. Pam, the owner of the coffee shop, had adamantly asked me to come perform for close to four years. Her persistence and hospitality are appreciated in retrospect.
Since that night, I have played publicly a number of times. Each time I am scared, and each time I get over it, happy to have done it. Ten minutes of sheer terror is worth the catharsis that descends upon me afterwards. For anyone who reads this and might relate in any way, I strongly encourage you to take a leap of faith in yourself. I may not have discovered the key to everlasting life or invincibility, but I have discovered valuable principles such as love, freedom, and community. If that’s all I ever get, I’ll have fared quite well.
I am a member of the Refuge Meditation Group, which in many ways has prepared me for such experiences, and this group hosts a monthly open mic night at the Naked Bean Café on the second Thursday of every month between 6:30 and 8:30 pm. In fact, there is one on October 10th. If you relate to my article, please drop in to perform or support the local businesses and groups involved. It is a safe atmosphere that supports individual as well as communal growth. Because, as Joseph Campbell use to say,
The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.