In my newsletter last month, I announced my new creative project for this year: learning to sing! In the weeks since then, my daily assignments in the Fear of Singing Breakthrough Program have gotten me doing a lot of things I definitely wouldn’t have done otherwise: Breaking down the musical theory behind “The Happy Birthday Song.” Leaping up and down in front of my computer, an invisible mic held to my mouth, as I mimic YouTube videos of David Byrne (“Life During Wartime”) and Blondie “One Way or Another.” Singing arpeggios while sounding them out on the piano. Driving down I-280 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz while belting out “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” from the musical Oklahoma.
Each of these assignments has chipped away at a limiting self-image—some variation on “I’m not good at…” or “I’m not the sort of person who…” or (especially potent) “I’ll look ridiculous if I…” Buddhist teacher Tara Brach tells a story about a tiger, caged in a zoo for most of its life, who was released into the relative freedom of a wildlife sanctuary. Instead of roaming free, the tiger spent the rest of its life pacing back and forth within the confines of an invisible cage. When it comes to singing, I’ve been like that tiger, trapped inside fake bars formed by beliefs about what I couldn’t do. Now I’m starting to explore the wilderness outside that imaginary zoo. Maybe I look—or sound—a little eccentric from time to time. But do I have the time to waste worrying about that?
I have to admit: I’ve sung less —and written less about it–than I’d hoped. But I’m on my way, focusing on progress, not perfection: Trying to sing just a little bit every day. Jotting notes about my experiences in my journal. Not beating myself up when I miss a few days, but just returning back to the practice without judgment—the way I bring my mind back to my breath when my attention wanders in meditation. I’ve posted a couple of blog posts about what I’ve discovered, which you can read here if you’ve missed them.
I’m about to leave town to teach a meditation retreat in Germany. But when I get back, I’m planning to join a choir. I’ll let you know how that goes! In the meantime, I hope we all keep breaking out of the zoos we’ve let ourselves be trapped in.