“What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive.” – Arnold Palmer
In “Performing Under Pressure,” Part One the discussion was on specific techniques to help prevent “choking” under pressure along with the concept of developing “quiet confidence” to establish a foundation of composure. In Part Two, we will investigate taking our “performance” ability to the next level. From there, your emotional maturity, determination, and insightfulness will delimit how deeply you can go.
What does the word performance mean to you? The Latin word for performance is effectus, which means: doing or executing a work or task, to effect. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as: “the execution of an action, or a public presentation or exhibition.”
Today, the word has taken on other connotations. A performance is also called a concert or show. We hear pro athletes talking about their sport as a business, often called entertainment. We hear the phrase: “athletic performance.” Musicians are called entertainers. You attend a show. I’ve heard people say, “We went to see Stevie Wonder.” Or, “Bruce Springsteen was amazing!”
The idea of performing, for many, puts added pressure on the individual performer. Some people also get stage fright from the pressure of performing before crowds. We hear the phrases: “putting on a show, rising to the occasion, being clutch.” These type of phrases place the center of attention on the individual, on oneself.
We can change the perspective, of a hyper-focus on the self, by changing the language.
Let’s go back to music. Making music has different meanings for different cultures. In Africa, music often has a playfulness about it; bringing the community together to share and bond. In the Muslim qawwali, we hear the song of devotion, collective oneness, and religious fervent. In Latino music, we engage in the dance of inter-generational family togetherness and love.
The common thread between these cultures’ music is of the groups’ sense of communal shared harmony and not on the performers. What if we took the word perform out of the dialog altogether?
Some of us enjoy cooking for people. When in the kitchen, we get into a zone; focused on preparing the meal. It’s peaceful, meditative, and enjoyable. When the meal is cooked, it’s time to serve. This is how I look at giving a concert; serving up a delicious dish of music.
Do we go out to a restaurant to judge the food or hope and expect a wonderful meal? When we go to a concert, do we go to judge the performers or do we want to hear inspiring music and have a great time? When we buy tickets to see our home team, are we going to heckle or do we want to see them thrive and win? When your employees give presentations, do you want them to do a great job; conducting an engaging presentation with inciteful ideas to enhance the business, or do you want them to flounder? These are questions for the self-conscious performer to keep in perspective.
I’ve been a judge for auditions. Believe me, the last thing I wanted to hear was a bad audition. If we take the time to attend a performance, then we want the performer to do their best. This is what I would tell my nervous students. The audience is there to lift you up and cheer you on; just as you are there to lift them up and bring them splendidly inspired celestial and soulful music. The audience wishes you well for their own self-interests.
Now, the cool thing about serving a concert is that you can feel the energy of the audience and be supported by it. It’s not distracting, it augments your energy. You can feel the community. All partake in the wonder of the creative moment. Any artist who thinks that musical inspiration is dawning from themselves is surely deluded.
In baseball, what would it be like for the batter if his only thought when stepping up to the plate was the joy of feeling the energy of the hometown fans sending him love and well wishes? What if his focus was on following the seams of the ball, hearing the crack of the bat and running like the wind to first base? It would be a lot different than, “Oh, man, I really need a hit here!” Or, “Oh no, now there’s two strikes; I think he’s coming with another curveball!” Or, “I’m 0 for 3. I can’t go 0 for 4!”
I trust you can follow this. It’s about leaving the “me” out of the moment and bringing back the playfulness, the awareness of community spirit, the serving and giving.
In golf, what would it be like if the only thought while approaching the ball was just this attitude and intention? What if you only focused on the dimples on the ball, the breath cycle and calming technique from Part One, the visualized path of the ball? Yes, all of this connected.
There was a book, some years back, called: “The Inner Game of Tennis,” by Timothy Gallwey. He suggested thinking of nothing else than the spin of the ball. “The thing I focused on was the spin of the ball as it came to me.” You may find this helpful, as a start.
In a similar vein; a successful technique I used for my music students was to have them shift their focus on to the music and what they were trying to “say” with their instruments, rather than the pressure of the moment with all its distractions. It was about them changing their intention to be about the music and not themselves.
And now, the next step:
To Become a Force of Nature.
In this level, we add to what we have just learned.
Depending on your personality and temperament, you will gravitate to those aspects of this discussion that work best for you. In the end, that’s what counts.
After concerts, occasionally, some would remark about my playing with closed eyes. They would ask why I did it, or if it was disorienting? Removing the sense of sight enabled me to enhance my sense of hearing. I could also feel, sense, or intuit the energies of each band member and the audience. I could focus more on the music without the added distraction of sight. I could connect better.
In essence, I become the sound; uniting my soul’s song with the music. A universe of aural color and abstraction enters into the mind’s eye providing a feeling of being engulfed by another world or dimension of light, sound, and vibration. It’s a symphony of wonder to be held – of light, well-being, and the feeling of love.
It was in this place that I learned that joy is not an emotion. It is a vibration.
What would it be for a golfer if it weren’t about their need to get the ball in the cup or a lower score, but if it were about being engulfed by this experience? – to become fully aware and simultaneously connected with the brilliant blue sky, the whispering breeze, the heat of the sun, the smell of freshly cut grass, the flow of the swing, the soft earth underfoot, the sounds of the birds, the ball’s flight and projection?
What I’m suggesting is a change of attitude and intention. I’m suggesting the entering into a walking state of meditation or Being. Beginning with a calm stillness of mind and body, you can become aware of and feel a part of your surroundings; breathing and living in concert with it. You participate in the flow of energies; incorporating all the energy of your environment; ergo, augmenting your own – the energy of the sun, the earth, the wind, the air, the blades of grass, everything.
From this approach, you will initiate an entry into a new level of humility; now, you are united and a part of this world; no greater, no smaller. Once losing your “self,” you will realize a more powerful Self – the power of being a Force of Nature.