I was about 18 months into recovery, beginning to rebuild some of my professional life. So, there I was, coming to the end of an organ recital, the first I had played in nearly a decade.
Most of the program went well (in my head, anyway), but I felt increasingly anxious during the last piece. So much so that, by time I came to the last chord, all I could hear was the voice in my head telling me that I had never – ever – played so poorly. “How in the world can I face this audience after such an abysmal performance?”
But, applause requires response and, as I worked up the nerve to drag myself off the bench, I heard another voice. Having lived a long life of perfectionism, this voice felt new. Well, maybe not new, exactly, but certainly unheeded.
Then, in those several seconds that it took to get off the bench and turn to face the audience, it happened. IT. One of those moments of spiritual awakening, of grace, that so many of our companions in recovery share in their stories. On that day, it was no bolt of lightning, but a still, small, urgent voice saying, “you know, you could be wrong.”
Wait… What? Wrong?? And, in yet another moment of grace, I let the voice talk. “Yes, I know that you think you’re the expert in how you played. And, sure, it wasn’t perfect.” (Again, more grace, no mute.)
“But, what if, instead of listening to yourself, you listen to them; to what their applause is saying? The music you played meant something to them, and they are thanking you for it.?”
The very thought seemed transgressive. After all, I was the expert on me.
It couldn’t be that easy. But, what if it was?
What was there to lose in the trying?
Somehow, I became willing to take the risk. That day, taking the risk meant that one neurotic knot in my bondage of self was loosened.
That day, I understood what Herbert Spencer called “contempt prior to investigation.”
That day, perhaps for the first time, I became willing to listen.
May it continue to be a practice each day.
8 March 2018