A couple of weeks ago, I had an exciting and terrifying rendez-vous with one of my goals. My boyfriend and I had seen a concert in Pigalle (the neighborhood that houses Moulin Rouge), and then walked up to the highest point in the city (Monmartre), where the famous Sacre Coeur church presides over the city. Many other people had the same idea, and were gazing off into the city lights, drinking beer, or making out by the telescopes. There was a group of people surrounding two guys playing flamenco guitar on the church steps. I listened for a few minutes, and really dug it. A little later, as I was looking out into the city, I heard the guitarists (now finished) speaking in English. I approached them, thanked them for playing, and we began chatting about flamenco. At one point, one of the guys asked me if I played; I paused, and boyfriend immediately shared that I did. The guitarist smiled, pulled out his guitar, and told me to play with them. I stared blankly at it, smiled, said “no, no, I couldn’t…”, but he insisted, and enthusiastically shoved it into my hands.
For a moment, I stood frozen as a wave of anxiety washed over me. I had been practicing a lot, but I was not ready to play with seasoned, professional flamencos. But, I knew in that moment that it it was extremely important for me to play, no matter how I felt. Predictably, the complex rumba strumming patterns I’d spent hours practicing fled from my memory, and my cold hands couldn’t move fast enough. I could have panicked, but I didn’t. I decided not to be formulaic or fancy- i just soloed along with what they were playing. I let go of ideas of how I should sound. I just stayed in the moment, listened to the sounds, and focused on my guitar. I connected, I stayed in key, and kept with the mood of the song.
I knew I did not do my best, but I f*****g did it. I played flamenco with professional musicians in front of a beautiful landmark overlooking the entire city of Paris. A few years ago, I would not have gone through with it. Just the act of playing- even though I felt nervous and not ready- was a huge step. I embraced the role I didn’t believe belonged to me, in a city I never thought I’d ever see. What else could I do if I really felt confident and owned the idea?
I told my guitar teacher about the experience, asked him what I could do to prevent myself from “freezing”, and we spent the entire lesson talking about living a meaningful life. “Be a flower, not a weed,” he told me. “The secret to playing music is love. All you need is love. You must give love away. It can’t be about you. Weeds take and take. Flowers open up for the word, give pollen to bees, they share.”
Anxiety and fear are always, by nature, about trying to protect the self (even if this anxiety is directed toward other people. More on this in another post). If I’m worried about the act of “screwing up”, I’m, by default, not putting my all into what I’m doing. I’m not helping anyone by being closed-off- I’m taking shelter, holding the beautiful things I’ve learned in in an act of self-preservation. I’m not giving my love; I’m locking it away. Anxiety is a complex and tangled weed to get rid of, and even when you think you’ve totally trimmed it, little bits of it find a way to grow back and continue draining attention from something else. Sometimes it makes me feel like a weed, too.
The Bhagavad Gita talks a bit about attachment to goals and anxiety. Arjuna, the subject of the story, is pretty freaked out about an impending war and paralyzed by indecision and his anxiety. Krishna, his charioteer (and also; secret god) engages him in a discussion about dharma (right action, or that which one is meant to do). He says,
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.”
Easier said than done, Krishna. But, that’s why yoga is a practice and not a performance. On and off the mat, we have opportunities to practice non-attachment to our goals. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have goals, dreams, and aspirations. It means we should honor exactly where we are, and be totally present to the process. Being present to the task and not worrying about the outcome of action seems to be the key to truly connecting, understanding, fully-engaging with, and mastering our work. Paradoxically, it also seems to be the most direct path to reaching the goal we are no longer fixated on.
Next time someone asks me to play guitar atop a city, I’ll slow down and connect to my yoga practice. I’ll take a few deep breaths and remind myself why I play- because the sound and the act of playing makes me feel more alive than anything, and I want others to feel it too. Then, I might just be able to be like a flower.
What about you, readers? Do you ever feel held back by fear or attachment? Have you let love overcome fear? How did you do it?