Before every performance, every time, waiting backstage, waiting to walk out in front of that audience, I am terrified. My mind races. How have I gotten myself into this predicament? What a fool I was to have thought this a good idea. I want to give up. I should have stayed home, on my comfortable couch, a beer in hand, and my cat on my lap. This was definitely a bad life decision. But it’s too late. There’s my cue.
We often talk about conquering our fear. People claim to have no fear. Others claim to let go of their fear. I have no idea what others are capable of or how they operate. All I know is that after a performance, yes, I feel elation, not fear. It seems to have become a hazy, almost forgotten memory. But it will come back. It always does.
To paraphrase David Mamet, ‘If we have no fear, how can we claim to have acted bravely?’ Is fear really something we need to rid ourselves of? It is an emotion. It is part of what makes me human. No, it is part of what makes me a living being. To deny it is to deny my very breath. What I have come to understand is that it is not the fear itself which is to be overcome. Rather it is the attachment to fear of which we must work to let go. It is the attachment to fear which paralyzes us. Fear itself sharpens our senses. It can be quite useful if we learn how to use it; not attached to it, not despite it, not even in opposition to it. Instead, it can be a flashlight.
Accepting it as part of what makes me whole, I can explore, see, and learn. Indeed, I have begun to see that fear is not just something I feel toward great challenges. It is as subtle as any other emotion. As I practice my breathing techniques, I see that it is fear which is not allowing my breath to go deeper, or rather my attachment to that fear.
“The sage breathes down to his feet.” – Lao Tzu
Inhaling, I must let go of my attachment to the fear of not knowing what the universe is offering me. I must receive it openly and humbly. Exhaling, I must let go of my attachment to the fear of fully and honestly expressing my life.
After my very first theater performance, I experienced an incredible feeling. To say that I was elated is definitely an understatement. But that’s not why I continue to perform. I do it because it terrifies me.