Be Your Own Guru ;)

Let’s talk about love for a minute. Of course Valentine’s Day is upon us, but I’m not going be discussing romantic love. Rather, a deep and abiding appreciation for the most important person in your life – you.

Recently I’ve been telling my students that when they go home and practice, that they need to be their own ‘good teacher’, and look for what is good in what they are doing, as well as what needs work.

Often the first thing we do while performing an exercise or song is criticize ourselves. We pick out all the things we feel we are not doing right, and we proceed to beat ourselves up in the moment because we aren’t doing them. We make a face. Our body language says we’re frustrated or disappointed. We tell ourselves – and any audience – “this isn’t any good” or “sorry this isn’t working” or “what’s the point?” or “who am I kidding.” Our voice and body then responds to those thoughts, and the voice feels tighter, the breath feels shorter, the throat feels more closed, the heart is less likely to want to express.

Well guess what? That’s EXACTLY how I felt going into social situations for many years! I’d be thinking “I can’t think of anything to say,” and “they’re going to think I’m stupid,” and “why did I EVER say I would come to this thing,” and (worst of all), “they are going to think I am BORING.” And guess what happened? Since all I could think about was how boring I was and how awkward I felt, I looked and sounded awkward, like I didn’t want to be there, like I didn’t want to be talking to whoever I was talking to. Bet that helped them feel good about talking to me, huh?

But I don’t blame myself for feeling that way. I want to be my own good teacher so I can look at that and say… ‘well, wait a minute. I did have friends. I did have great conversations. I read the newspaper and books, and discussed new trends in science or shared stories I thought were interesting. I was a good cook, and people appreciated my meals or my potluck dish. Yes, I often felt awkward and shy. That’s okay. I’ve got the awareness now to see how I was thinking then, how my own thoughts and fears created that dynamic. And I can work to be more conscious of how I talk to myself in social situations.’

Another thing I talk about with my students is confidence. People will often tell a shy singer, ‘well, just get up there and be confident, then you’ll be okay.’ But a shy person doesn’t know HOW to ‘be’ confident. They can’t just turn on the ‘confidence’ switch. They may understand the concept, but they can’t see how they will ever, ever do it.

I remember working with this wonderful vocal coach (Bliss Johnston) who had been assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and who had worked with all kinds of big names, including Pavarotti, Domingo and others. I was very nervous, even though she was very modest, sweet and encouraging. I was absolutely terrified with all my extraordinary teachers, and she was no exception. I was standing next to the grand piano, looking at her, after singing something. Bliss said to me, “Vikki, you must sing from a calm centre.” I heard what she said. I understood what she meant. But having a ‘calm centre’ seemed totally impossible to me. I’d never had one and I couldn’t imagine getting one, not ever. Never. Can’t be done.

But I own a calm centre now. That calm centre gives me confidence. It tells me, ‘whatever happens, you can handle it. You’ll figure it out.’ How did I get it?

I’ll tell you. When I started singing lessons, I had no idea I was going to learn how to live in a more conscious way. But slowly, over time, I learned that I had to observe my thoughts in the moment, while I was singing. I learned that one cannot erase negative thoughts, but one can replace them with more effective thoughts. So day by day, as I practiced my singing, I observed how I talked to myself. I practiced thinking specific, positive thoughts that instantly transformed into positive action. When I was able to think effectively, I felt and sounded better. Hmmm.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, calls our negative thoughts ‘blurts.’ She says we should listen for them, and write them down. I think that’s a good exercise. Follow that up answering them back, or replacing them with new thoughts. Every time the voice in my head tells me, "you're SO lazy," I start listing off all the things I did today (taught my students, went to the bank, got groceries, updated my weekly schedule, worked on that new song, wrote my blog).

I remember going to my very first ‘tweet-up’ (a meet-up of local twitterers) last year. I’d been invited a couple of times, but felt my usual reluctance in going to a social event, especially when I didn’t know anyone. The first time I went, it was a bit awkward, I didn’t know what to say, I felt a little out of place. But I went back again, and sure enough, there I was chatting with other people and really enjoying myself. Pretty soon I was the one making someone new feel comfortable. Hmmmm.

In all my shy years, when I was at a social event, I can’t remember ever thinking about what I could do for someone else. In fact, I imagined that everyone else felt perfectly comfortable, that they knew what to say, and how to be. I was the odd one, I figured. The Alien. The one who bushed uncomfortably if anyone spoke to her. The one who sat in a corner next to the potted plant, nursing a drink with a smile pasted on her face, wishing someone would talk to her but equally terrified that someone might talk to her. Cause then she’d have to make conversation.

Now I actually enjoy talking to people! They are interesting. They are vibrant. They are just like me, but not like me. I am alright when they are with me. If I can’t think of anything to say, I ask them something about themselves. If I stumble over my words, they’ll understand. If I express an opinion that differs from theirs, that’s okay. Variety is the spice of life. If I notice myself telling myself I’m boring, I replace that thought with something else. If I notice myself feeling nervous, I acknowledge it, and breathe. If I reach the end of my coping strength, then I gracefully leave, knowing I need some space to regroup. And that’s okay. As my own best friend, I need to support myself in whatever I am doing, and acknowledge when it is time to rest, or when I’ve had enough.

Singing taught me to be aware. To observe my thoughts. Singing taught me I could change how I thought, and therefore change the results.

I still have old programming and ways of thinking that I struggle with. That’s my journey, and likely always will be, to grow in further awareness and try to move beyond the deeply embedded ways in which I look at myself. Yet I am grateful for the consciousness that allows me to see the many steps I have taken in the right direction, while acknowledging much of the path is still in front of me. I strive to treat myself with respect and love.

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FAWMing – this month I’m participating in “February is Album Writing Month” – a personal songwriting challenge to write at least 14 songs in 28 days []. I’m posting my worktapes and rough sketches on my website as I work, you can check them out @


Carla Lynne Hall said...

Well done, Vicki!!! This post is so dead on - thank you!

Carla (Ariel's CyberPR team)

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