“Worry is a misuse of the imagination.”
“It’s dark because you are trying too hard.
I am a performer. And I suffer from anxiety.
I came across the first of the two quotes above awhile back and was immediately struck by it. What it highlighted for me was that when I was using my imagination onstage and when I was worrying, I was using the same muscle.
Throughout history, anxiety and imagination have been tied together through countless artists who also suffer from difficulty creating healthy boundaries around their creativity. Creativity itself is a neutral force that can be used for good or evil, self-realization or destruction.
When I was in theater school, I struggled with over-effortful performance. A professor told me I had tremendous energy and needed to find a better way to channel it--it was like a fire hose that had so much pressure that it lost control. This need is what forged my original connection to the Alexander Technique (I've written a bit about my personal journey in other blogs).
Through A.T. I found a way to ground and direct the stream of my thoughts and energy to benefit me rather than harm me. Through this I shed much surface tension and anxiety and greatly expanded as a person. But there has always been a holdout of these energies that have persistently resisted being dispelled.
Recently I've had a breakthrough in how to take my work with myself(and students) even further. It has to do not just with the Direction of my thinking, but with the intensity of it.
A tool I use often with students is the idea of the Effort Scale, which I adapted from teacher Joan Schirle--the idea of analyzing any movement on a 1-10 scale of effort and trying to find the appropriate tension for what you are doing at any moment. Sometimes extreme low or extreme high tension is appropriate, but often right effort falls somewhere on the 3-5 range. Usually we apply this physically, but lately I have been experimenting with it mentally--how effort-fully am I thinking? I was shocked to find that even with improvements to my day to day physical effort, my mental effort was still often higher on the scale than I would have thought, and that certain activities, especially those where I use my imagination, spike this effort higher still.
This made me think of the Aldous Huxley quotation at the beginning of this blog. What if I could think lightly, but still deeply? How would that change my anxiety? How would it change my performance?
The early results have been pretty mind-boggling. When I feel anxious, i don't try to stop thinking anxiously--instead I try to think lighter (somewhere on the 3-5 range on the scale). And I've found my anxiety has had significantly less hold on me. When it comes to performance, specifically acting, more nuance and ease has been communicating with less of a tendency to get stuck in my head. Its been like a magic trick.
Next time you feel tense, try thinking lightly but deeply, and let me know how it goes!
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.