I had the great pleasure to take a short and incredibly powerful class with Heather Hightower, a vocal teacher and founder of The Center for Vocal Study in Charlottesville, Virginia. Going into the class (held over Zoom and hosted by The Virginia Players), I assumed we would talk about the importance of breath; how to support the voice while projecting across a stage, or maybe how to relax the muscles in the neck and chest to help breathe more easily while singing.
Instead I spent a glorious hour realizing and relearning the importance of taking care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally. Heather gently reminded me that it is unfair to ask my body to act like a machine, and then expect it to weave gold every time I go to work or throw myself into a new project. Being my own harsh taskmaster and always pushing towards the future when "things will go back to normal" or even just a future where I've "finally done enough" leads only to exhaustion in the long term. Instead of living and experiencing the present moment, I'm weighed down by a hopeless longing for a future that may never come.
Heather encouraged the class to treat our bodies like a houseplant instead of a machine. Whenever we are feeling tired or overwhelmed, drained of will or the desire to get out of bed, we should ask these questions;
Have I given myself water?
Have I given myself nourishment?
Have I given myself sunshine?
Have I spoken kind words to myself?
We cannot flourish and put out new growth if we do not first take the time to slow down, breathe, clear away the weeds and acknowledge where we are and what our bodies tell us we need. I want to encourage you to be extra gentle and gracious with yourself today. (I am encouraging myself to do the same!)
The creative mind is an incredibly powerful thing, and we can chose which direction we harness that creative energy. The life we are living provides a contrasting experience to the life we lived. Instead of viewing it exclusively as an reason to mourn lost momentum, to curse unwanted obstacles or rage against a painful reality, we can choose to see this time as an appreciation building opportunity to experience the opposite of what is normal. A new clarity can be reached about the way we want to live our lives.
I realized that I am okay being by myself. I enjoy the quiet peace of my own company, and the new freedom I have to take up things that interest me; reading, knitting, painting, listening to Scandinavian folk music, playing my ukulele, studying dialects and working on virtual auditions.
I also realized that while I spend less time with people, I value the interactions I do have with friends and family so much more. Casual interactions are a thing of the past, and intentional social time is the name of the game! Sunday evening video chats with my extended family are sacred, movie nights with my roommates a precious time for catching up on each other's lives, and socially distanced picnics with a few close friends from school are a highlight of my month. I've also grown to truly enjoy spending time with the children I babysit, and I find myself looking forward to their shenanigans each week.
And yet despite these new positive things I am discovering about myself, the thought that I'm not working hard enough or being successful enough still worms its way into my mind at times. This may not be a shocking realization for some of you, but it struck me when I heard Heather say it; life doesn’t have to be so hard! If you want to be a beautiful creative body that creates beautiful art, give your body what it needs in order to feel love from you. Whether that’s physical movement, nourishing comforting foods, sleep or good friends, listen to yourself! Clear away whatever is not working. If there’s a time to let it go, this is the time. Lean in to letting go and let yourself explore what slowness and stillness feel like.
Let me be very clear, I am not suggesting you should no longer try, or work hard at anything. As Heather said,
Be a creative beast! Have drive! But if you’re stressed out and not having fun, it becomes worth it to ask yourself “what’s needed in this moment for me to feel better?”
We are brilliant thinking, feeling systems, and the unfortunate reality is that we are often told to stop paying so much attention to our feelings. Instead, own your feelings and where you are, and guide yourself up into a better feeling space. The more you focus on those feelings, the more in tune you are with yourself. And the more in tune you are, the more beautifully you will sing. ;)
Or grow...because you're a houseplant. I'm mixing metaphors now, but you get the point.