Stage fright and Patanjali. Oh, and hamsters.
I was a theatre actor for many years, and I had terrible stage fright. About a week before the show, the little hamster voices inside my head started to whisper:
“You’re going to trip.”
“You’re going to mess this dance step up. It’s so hard. You messed it up in rehearsal.”
“You’re going to go up on your lines.”
Rather than tell these insidious little voices to fuck off, I would gasp and run to my script, and study my lines over and over until I was certain that I would be wordperfect. Unfortunately, I was really practicing being terrified and in my head. During performance itself, I would have an out of body experience where I spoke and moved on cue while my hamster brain was frozen in the headlights of the audience. Being a proficient actor, sure, I looked fine from the outside; but my worry had killed my artistic joy and abandon.
This year – as a present to myself – I decided to confront my hamsters and perform again. I would sing for my office. Karaoke backtracks, done in the lobby: nothing fancy, but meaningful to me. About a week before showtime, the hamsters started sniffing around, their pert little noses twitching. “Just run through the words in your head,” they cajoled, “make sure you know them backwards and forwards.” The rubbed their little paws together, “You don’t want to mess it up…in front of all those people…”
This time, when the hamster voices arose, I stepped in and firmly grabbed their furry little tails. “Look, hamsters,” I said, “Fuck off. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be tons of fun.” And I put them firmly back into their cages.
Don’t believe everything you think.
We all have these little voices, our little hamsters of worry and anxiety and what it. “He’s going to leave me,” “I’m going to blow the interview,” “I can’t run the extra mile,” “Dolphin plank sucks,” “I can never balance in Ardha Chandrasana” or, “I’ll forget all my lines.” Patanjali (ancient yogi guy) says when we have negative thoughts, we need to step in and cultivate the opposite. He calls this pratipaksha bhavanam. A more recent sage, Wayne Dyer, says, “change your thoughts, change your life.” The Dalai Lama adds that if we can’t find something positive in a challenging situation, we should simply put it out of our heads entirely. Worry is a waste of time. Worry is hoping for something bad to happen.
We can change this. By noticing when the hamsters start, we can step in and redirect our thoughts towards something positive. We train our minds to practice good stuff rather than bad. Sure we’ll have some hamster thoughts, but that doesn’t mean we have to run around in their fetid little cages with them for hours. Whether the hamsters fret about singing, the relationship, running a mile, or dolphin plank, let’s take the proactive moment to question the mind chatter. Create the space to respond from our highest vision for ourselves rather than react from our hamster brains. If we’re going to create a vision, let’s aim high. Let’s aim for joy.
So put the damn hamster down. And start singing.