Stage Fright with Seven Billion (Advice from the Dalai Lama)

I was asked to audition for a part in a play earlier this week. I don’t remember when I last went to a theater space to audition for something. I have been performing with my singing group regularly for over ten years now, and have been teaching community theater with a company I have been with for longer. Over the years, stability gave way to contentment.

When I was starting out in musical theater, it helped to be wearing lapel mics because my hands trembled due to stage fright. When I started performing in my singing group, it was my biggest problem to be able to steady a hand with a handheld microphone. Sometimes, I’d grip one with the other to try to hide or manage the uncontrollable shaking. Nowadays, there is nowhere more comfortable for me to perform than alongside my six co-singers with our individual microphones; both hands have stopped shaking a long time ago.

But because I’ve become so comfortable is also the reason why I haven’t gone on an audition in ages.

Microphones don’t scare me anymore, but for a while people did. I realized as an adult that it usually took me a while to adjust to a big group of people. That’s why when I get comfortable, I really get comfortable. It would take a lot for me to get there.

In show business, if you freelance as an artist, you naturally jump from one production to another, one set of people to the next. Some people are made for it; I felt that I wasn’t. I was grateful to have found two permanent homes. I was grateful to have performing families that hardly changed over the years.

Independence Day

I am more grateful that it is this year that I have been getting asked more than usual to sing outside my comfort zone.

With my fears and discomforts then, I wouldn’t have been ready for the work that are being presented to me now. I guess this is what it means to say that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” I have unknowingly prepared myself for these opportunities by having focused a lot on my personal growth since June of last year. I am still growing, though, and have been slowly learning how to be both more dependent on my self and more open with every other person.

It has made life so easy. And fun!

It was the Philippine Independence holiday when I went to the audition in the middle of this past week. What a celebration of independence it was.

I felt ready and I know I am definitely a more confident performer now than I had been ten years ago, or even a year ago. I have learned to focus all my energy within so that I have a stable source of power; instead of focusing outward on who are listening and thinking of how to please or make them like what they hear or see. My steady meditation practice has calmed me down a great deal and it’s easier now to just be myself and be open to the present possibilities and use the energies surrounding me.


So there I was, getting lucky with “preparation” and “opportunity.” Auditioning.

Well, oh my God.

There were vibrations coming out of all endpoints of my entire being and I thought I was going to sparkle and combust and disappear from the physical realm.

I was so nervous I felt like collapsing into stars.

And the plot thickens.

This play I am auditioning for will not be using lapel mics.

So when I was asked to sing, I was asked to stand in a far corner while the handful of artistic and production team were seated in different areas of the room before me. It was all the more nerve-racking because you feel even more exposed and vulnerable to all that negative space around miss positive you.

I warmed up soon enough and, in the end, I thought I did well. But the song we were asked to sing (there was another girl) was so powerful and my emotions were so high that I had to walk around for a bit in the mall outside afterwards. I kept trying to refocus my breathing. I was getting a headache and decided to sit down and get dinner.

Of course, I kept thinking of the audition. I thought of my process. I still have to fiercely remind myself to go inward. It’s funny how I know exactly what works for me, but my instinct still attacks the opposite way. Why is that?

I know that if I think about them, what is outside of me, I will be weaker. My voice will be unstable and my nerves will be all over the place. If only I could stay in, then I would stay calm. I could harness and build on my power source. I would communicate better. I guess it shows how it takes more effortful practice to pay attention to what we have within than what we see outside ourselves.

Dalai Lama’s Advice

I knew I would barely get to concentrate on anything else, but I brought out “The Book of Joy” by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams and tried to read as I tried to chill and eat my pumpkin soup for dinner.

I managed two chapters. I stopped at two because I happened to love the second one so much that I had to free the rest of the night to internalize what I had just read.

There was such good advice in there that not only applies to how I could best live my life, but also gives beautiful insight as to how I could become the best performer. You know it’s good life advice when it works in all scopes and scales. And it’s just the most lovely feeling, too, when you get advice for exactly where you are at, right when you need it.

At the end of the chapter titled “Fear, Stress, and Anxiety: I Would Be Very Nervous,” the Dalai Lama says:

If, on the other hand, I relate to others from the perspective of myself as someone different–a Buddhist, a Tibetan, and so on–I will then create walls to keep me apart from others. And if I relate to others, thinking I am the Dalai Lama, I will create the basis for my own separation and loneliness. After all, there is only one Dalai Lama.

In the whole chapter, the Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama talk about perspective and how to look at your fears and anxiety so that they become manageable. In the end, the discussion becomes about ideas of “separation” versus “to see yourself as part of the greater whole.” As he continued to talk until the end, the final sentences from Dalai Lama touched me so deeply that I had to put the book down and breathe it all in with a grateful smile:

In contrast, if I see myself primarily in terms of myself as a fellow human, I will then have more than seven billion people who I can feel deep connection with. And this is wonderful, isn’t it? What do you need to fear or worry about when you have seven billion other people who are with you?

This statement filled me with so much love. And ease. What a way to look at the world, and life, and taking action in your life in connection to other beings.

I then started smiling so warmly at all the waiters in the restaurant and they all smiled warmly back.

Togetherness in Sameness

This idea of togetherness is exactly what I have always loved so much about performing and theater. Through music and art, you become one with every single person sitting in the audience, with your fellow artists, with all the silenced and hidden parts of your soul and theirs. All barriers are down and, within one magical hour or two, you all become part of one story. Communication is at its peak. Everyone acknowledges, even expects, that the story you are telling is yours inasmuch as it is theirs and it is theirs inasmuch as it is yours.

Dalai Lama and the Archbishop have a beautiful message. It is always the idea of separation that weakens us. If I go to an audition and think of myself as someone who is auditioning for people who are deciding on my fate and worth, nerves will take over. But I am there to take part of the whole that they have created for everyone and anyone. I am not presenting myself as a missing link, but someone who simply wants to make an active participation within the existing whole. Whether they see me as belonging or not is irrelevant. I do my part as they do theirs, and if I find the courage to take part and share a story with them, even for ten minutes, it would have been worth everything.

If I perform for an audience without believing that something in what I am telling or showing them must be a reflection of their own lives and a resonance of all our truths, then I would miss a great opportunity to uncover and reveal a deep connection.

We must look at life in a way so that no song, no story, no artist, no two minutes or two hours will ever go to waste. With no separation, we will always have luck. No one is less and no one is more, and we would never have to fear or worry or be nervous about sharing the big stage of our humanity.

We are all as special as the common story that we all desire to tell.

Dalai Lama says:

I would give speeches when I was young. I was very nervous because I would not see myself as the same as the people in the audience. Then after 1959, when I left Tibet, I started thinking: these people are just like me, same human being. If we think we’re something special or not special enough, then fear, nervousness, stress, and anxiety arise. We are the same.

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