It makes sense that we should try to live our lives as free from stress as possible, right? Actually, I don’t think so. Consider the rubber band.
The rubber band does two things. One, it stretches. Two, it returns to its original shape.
If it didn’t do both, you couldn’t use it. You have to stretch it out to put it around something. It has to contract to hold that something together.
Humans are ideally supposed to be able to do the same thing. Our nervous systems and our anatomy combine to correct imbalances. The proof is in our ability to walk.
When we are babies, we learn to walk not only by balancing, but by determining exactly how much effort each muscular system should exert in different positions. We have to release this effort when it’s not needed, or it unbalances us. Babies are generally very good at this.
It’s only when we become older that we, for many reasons, hold on to unnecessary effort, sometimes in our backs, sometimes in our shoulders, sometimes in our mouths. The stress of our activities is not the problem. Our inability to revert to equilibrium is.
Stress is not a bad thing. In fact, going into stressful situations is not only necessary, but beneficial, as we learn something by going into and out of the stress (like how to walk). We learn things about ourselves psychologically, emotionally and mechanically.
What is a bad thing is our failure, or inability, to return to our state of equilibrium. When dwell in a permanent state of stress, we not only damage our health. We actually begin to mistake our stressed state for equilibrium.
What we need is a means of returning to our state of biological, mechanical equilibrium. For me, it’s the work I do with the Feldenkrais Method. For others its martial arts, meditation, or even a hobby.
The act of performing in itself can be this kind of practice. When we perform, we are entering a stressful situation. It’s essential that, when the performance ends, our stress ends too.
But even more, within the act of performing we go through greater and lesser stresses depending on the difficulty or emotional intensity of the moment. The best performers can enter into that stress and then return to equilibrium on stage from moment to moment. Even better, as the audience experiences these rises and falls of stress, they go through them too, and without having to perform, they learn something about the performer and, perhaps, about themselves.
Performing, and by extension, creating, then serves a greater purpose than entertainment. It’s an instruction in the art of returning to equilibrium. And for those who can’t get their on their own, it may be the only way they can get there for the time being.
Adam Cole is a music educator, author and Guild Certified Feldenkrais Instructor living in Atlanta, GA. His weekly blog can be found at www.mymusicfriend.net