When I was a young teenager it became necessary for me to numb myself in order to survive and move ahead. I had to block a certain amount of emotional and social input so that I could manage emotionally and socially. Without realizing it, I also closed myself to physical sensation as well.
Many years later when I’d gotten well into the process of untying my knots and emerging as a social / emotional person, I discovered a stumbling block. I was finding physical sensation a difficult thing to process. What helped me through this block was realizing that sensation is not pain.
Maybe that seems obvious to you. It used to be that if I felt any cold, hunger, or discomfort I registered it as pain even if it didn’t hurt. An intense sensation was something to be avoided or gotten rid of.
Because of this, I found it difficult to exercise outside in cold weather, to make good choices about food, and so on. I managed both, but only by huge mental contrivances and severe discipline where I might force myself to endure the sensation as a kind of trial. It was a little like only being able to wear a hat if I put two on and took one off.
Once I had this conscious realization, I was able to experience intense sensation without fear. Being very cold wasn’t necessarily a threat or an action item anymore, and I could tolerate it, reaping the rewards that come with that greater freedom.
As I have been performing more, I have come to a similar new discovery. Fear can often create paralysis in us. But fear is not paralysis.
For many years I assumed that being afraid meant being unable to move or act correctly. Now I am beginning to understand that the two sensations can be separated. One can be afraid without experiencing any kind of physical debilitation at all.
I do not have a choice about whether to be afraid of something. Like all emotions, it’s not tied to rationality. However, I can and must recognize that paralysis is a response to fear, not a symptom of it.
Tightrope walkers surely know this, because paralysis on the rope is fatal. Surely at least some have a healthy fear of falling but have learned by necessity to move in a way that preserves their life. I know for a fact I appeared fearless to some of my students at last week’s recital, even though I was very afraid.
I did experience some decline in ability as a result of my fear. Some phrases that had never been a problem went wacky, and I felt the little jolt of paralysis. Yet because I prepped well for the concert, I was ready to move through these incidents and they did not diminish the quality of the performance for my audience.
I know there’s more to this investigation, and some of my performer friends have already suggested ideas (see the comments to last week’s blog). Don’t be afraid to let me know what you think, or what you’ve been through, in my comments section. And if there’s anything else you’re afraid of, just know that you can keep moving if you want.
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