Here is a post I started two weeks ago, when I felt right in the middle of the fire, and it seems quite relevant today as I am officially one week away from opening night:
I feel overwhelmed and stressed out. It’s the last week of classes for Winter Quarter at Cal State East Bay. I have two performances I’m supervising and getting off the ground at school, plus a final work in progress showing of Dandelion’s FRIEND project. Even though these are just informal classroom culminations, and even though this weekend’s showing is just a showing, they still require the immense energy output that any performance requires. There’s so much to do and no way to slow down the encroaching deadlines of “lights up!” I don’t know how I’m gonna get everything done and I’m stressed about it.
What I’ve been noticing about my stress is that it’s like a fast-spreading fire. And the fuel for that fire seems to be my own neuroses. Yes, there’s an impossible amount of things to take care of. And yes, my mind is racing from event to event, task to task and concern to concern. And yes, I’m working really hard and staying up too late in an attempt to get caught up.
But all of this doesn’t have to be stressful. At least 50% of my exhaustion and tension seems to stem from my worry, self-doubt, self-criticism and tightening up.
When I suddenly remember a whole category of things I need to take care of “yesterday,” I then go into a litany of inner complaints: What’s wrong with me? Why did I let this get out of hand? What if I let everyone down? Why does my work seem mediocre? What if what I do is meaningless? Why aren’t I happy if I’m doing the things I love to do? Why can’t I work harder and get more accomplished? Why do I work so hard and try to accomplish so much? And all of it can be summed up in a general feeling of shame for what I’ve done (or not done) up til now.
Instead of just noting a remembered list of tasks as something I forgot but will have to address now or at a later time, I berate myself for getting into the situation I’m in. For being right here. For being myself. I feel like there’s something wrong with me. And this slows me down, increases my anxiety, makes it harder for me to do whatever it is I’m doing in the moment–fueling the fire of overwhelm and stress.
There’s a Buddhist teaching about getting shot with an arrow, and then in an attempt to get the arrow out, shooting oneself with a second arrow. The first arrow (pain and discomfort) is a given, but we don’t have to add the second arrow of self-inflicted blame and worry.
I’m doing my best to practice not shooting myself with the second arrow. Or when I do, at least not shooting myself with a third arrow to get rid of the second. And I’ve noticed some progress–mostly in moments that in the past would have been completely stressful for me and instead I’m now able to joke with my ensemble a little bit more.
Each little bit seems to be important. Each little bit shifts the momentum that much more towards relaxing with this wild, uncertain ride that is art-making.