My son was walking through the garden picking up sticks, rocks, and leaves to fill his "nature box." He fell down, as toddlers often do. It was a muddy day. I expected tears, but was pleasantly surprised when he popped right back up, dusted off his little hands, and said, "tadaaaaaaa!" Clearly someone at his wonderful daycare has been teaching the kiddos how to get back up and move on.
I've written about anxiety many times before. I write about it mostly because I know that many people struggle with it, but few people talk about it in regular conversation. Only occasionally have I heard artists reference it when talking about their performance practice or creative process.
Well, you know me, friends! I do enjoy a good awkward ramble.
My son, when walking through our yard after his fall, taught me a lesson. He taught me something about the enjoyment of resuming a process after a big failure. Think about it!
1. He fell down.
2. Everything fell out of his box, so his work was destroyed.
3. He got messy during the fall . . . the fall stuck to him.
4. He stood up.
5. He dusted off what he could, and accepted what was still stuck.
6. He began refilling his box.
7. He still enjoyed the process of refilling his box. It was a happy experience . . . he was excited about it.
8. He carried reminders of his fall all over his clothing,
but didn't let that stop him.
Similarly, the grass in our backyard has been tenacious this year. An 8 month drought has not succeeded in ridding us of all greenery. The first snow offered a wonderful opportunity for this small defiance to show its face - "You can't stop me from springing up!" Small blades of brave, green grass made their presence known just a few weeks ago . . . basking in the sun, unafraid.
"See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and springs in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19
Just a few days ago I wrote to you all about the experience of "finding my voice." When I say that I "found" it, I really do mean just that. It's as though I've never sung before - it is strange for a career vocalist to be saying such things!
To make it very practical and technical, I can explain it like this: I've been "placing" my voice "farther back" OR creating what many folks would call a "darker" tone than is actually natural to my vocal tone when singing classically. Also, when singing things other than classical music, I have likely been withdrawing breath support, making phonation difficult. I suspect that I withdrew my breath support in an effort to not "over-sing" in those situations, but it is never necessary for a vocalist to withdraw breath support in controlling volume. That means that the choice to withdraw breath support was unconscious . . . and if one can make such a choice unconsciously . . . well, that means that I wasn't actually ever totally conscious of the healthy feeling and experience of using good placement and breath support. In other words, folks: my previous success in singing has been a happy accident. People like me come by happy musical accidents honestly because some musical ability is innate for some people . . . it's easy, then, to be a haphazard success. We can't build a house on a sandy foundation, though, and that's exactly what we're doing when we take these things for granted.
Well, I find myself in a tough place today, on the other side of this beautiful vocal discovery.
Why should any of this be difficult? It's a beautiful gift and a lovely discovery!
Somewhere along the way some of us have learned a lie. We have accepted an untruth.
Some of us feel that anytime we happen upon anything good, we'll be immediately and purposefully blindsided by tragedy. That is a form of catastrophizing. Those of us who struggle with this sort of mental exaggeration usually experience it in a split second, and we might not even realize that we have done it. It has taken me a long time to even build up an awareness of this mental practice, and it will take me even longer to slowly weed it out.
Over the past couple of years I've chased the physical experience of anxiety all over my body! Heart palpitations, asthma, a nervous stomach, vocal tension . . . and obviously, a lack of breath support/connection. Even now, as I type this, I can feel the tension in my throat . . . the fear of never singing with my new voice again knocking on the door of my heart, wrapping chains around my body.
I'm not saying that to be overdramatic - it's just an honest account of the physical experience that can go along with anxiety about anything. Anxiety, if you have it, is not a "just get over it" sort of thing. You don't combat it with judgmental thoughts toward yourself. You combat it with logic, healthier mental habits, and sometimes with the help of a medical or mental health professional. Nothing about that is shameful, Dear One. Nothing about it is wrong. It's a learning process - like any other study or practice, it's much easier if you have a community of other learners to travel with, and a teacher to guide your work. In fact, it's a great blessing and relief to have some wise counsel in your life. Having several counselors in the family, I have a unique opportunity to see the equation from a different angle - I get to see them prayerfully considering their work the same way many good preachers consider their own ministry opportunities. I am able to see very clearly how God uses these "emotional teachers" to enrich the lives of others.
My little son and I have responded differently to failure. I find that my adult response to failure involves an awful lot of emotional hoarding whereas my son tends to shake off the unpleasantness so that he can get back to his play.
Perhaps a large part of the adult difficulty is not so much the failing, but rather our lost perception of play . . . our loss of childlike joy and excitement for whatever it is we've been doing.
Instead of being afraid of losing future success before we've even begun again, why not glory a little more in the enjoyment of the process? I mean it! Why not?!?
Mistakes really are nothing special. They are a guarantee in our human experience. We often have no choice about our failures. There isn't always a way for failure to be prevented, and failure can offer us many good things in terms of wisdom, empathy, and loving kindness. The thing we CAN control is our ability to choose various responses to our failure.
Now, not knowing all of you, I can't say very much about what you've experienced in life - failures, successes, or physical manifestations of anxiety. I don't know those details about you, and I'm not qualified to offer any sort of medical advice about any of that. But I can testify about the way I've been able to sit on the inside of my experience of anxiety, and I can share with you the gifts I've found hidden in the dark.
"He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells in Him." - Daniel 2:22
I am encouraged because God isn't afraid of the dark. God made the night and the day. God's people, historically, have been successful and unsuccessful. It's not a lineage of perfection. The Bible often reads a bit like a crazy soap opera. I mean, really! Have you read about all of those kings??? They made some ridiculous and misguided choices. And they were "chosen people." They were ordained people!
I've learned that there is a beautiful defiance in recovering the joy of creativity on the other side of failure. I've learned, also, that this is hard work, and that it helps if we're not alone. I want to be like those little blades of green grass in the snow, don't you? Or like that toddler in the garden, dusting off so he can play more!
So? I'm still sitting here with a lump in my throat. This still isn't easy for me. I'm still afraid that I'll open my mouth later on and find my voice gone again. I'm still afraid of failure. But I think maybe if I can stay open and honest in this fear, I'll find light in the dark. Maybe we'll all find each other there with our little lights from John 1:5, searching for God, and we can walk together. That won't be so bad, will it?