Just keep swimming: A hero’s quest.
‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what good am I? If not now, when?’ – The Talmud
One of our jobs as artists is to share our talents/voice/perspective with the tribe. Sadly, for many of us, even when we find our voices we don’t have the will or courage to make them heard. We dumb down, evade, silence, avoid-participating and do everything to resist success. In this column, I’ll delve into the barriers that prevent our often acutely wounded selves from flourishing, and shine some light on pathways into wholeheartedly living our musical dreams.
Not all creatives are alike. Sadly, a pernicious stereotype prevails – of the ego-maniacal, narcissistic, overly self-assured performer who just loves the limelight and can’t shut up. Most songwriters/artists tend rather to be more insecure, anxious and self-doubting. We hide under furniture rather than going to open-mics, joining in and/or hustling for gigs.
It can take a long time finding your voice; your unique perspective, sound and viewpoint. Sometimes it’s only in voicing it, that we discover what it is. Then (often at a later stage in life), The Work begins. How do we garner the courage to be heard through our cringe and self-deprecation; then battle gatekeepers, prejudices, critics, financial restrictions, internal and external barriers?
I find strength in story. In particular; the myth of Chiron, the Hero’s Journey and learning the moral of tales like Cinderella and Jonah in the whale. Chiron is Greek mythology’s mentor of heroes. A Centaur, abandoned by his (god)parents, he was adopted and schooled by Apollo and Artemis.
Chiron passed on his great insight and musical, medicinal and healing skills to the most significant of trailblazers and heroes. Famously, he sustained an unhealable wound when shot by a poisoned arrow. Chiron ‘The Wounded Healer’, represents our need to heal our deepest wounds and in so doing, uncover the gifts this process entails.
I relate; having had nodules twice, a cyst surgically removed from my vocal cords and all manner of vocal pathology. I find songwriting, self-representation and expression immensely challenging and lack self-belief and ambition. Suddenly my struggle makes sense! I wouldn’t be able to teach if everything was effortless.
My profound faith and understanding of vocal technique (learned through hard-won experience), is something I can impart with my eyes closed (said the blind woman). Often though, it’s hell-hard to practice what you preach.
What are your deepest psychological wounds? Seek to understand and heal them. Turns out to be your superpaua, right? Learn, and (song)write through this process.
Creatives question, doubt and often self-sabotage. However, a deflated sense of self is catastrophically disabling! A fear of the aforementioned ‘rock star trope’ sends us running in the opposite direction… under the carpet. If this is happening, try to see yourself as a hero. Struggle, then becomes a necessary part of the story – the greater the obstacles we overcome, the juicier the story and sweeter our success. (There’s more character and strength in your voice when you’ve had to adopt good technique. Songs become more interesting when borne out of profound lived experience.)
Abraham Maslow wrote “…the evasion of one’s own growth/voluntary self-crippling are defenses against grandiosity/sinful pride/hubris… to invent or create, you must have the arrogance of creativeness, but, if you only have the arrogance without humility, then you are in fact delusional… You must be aware not only of the God-like possibilities within, but also of the existential human limitations.”
Colin Wilson wrote of an ‘insignificance neurosis’ saying that much 20th Century thought was dominated by ‘the unheroic hypothesis’, a sense of defeat, disaster and futility. We can actually fear our greatness, something known as the Jonah Complex. This is when we have difficulty seeing ourselves as prominent, successful and/or in authority. We evade our own capacities/possibilities. We fear seeming arrogant or self-centred, even fearing the sense of responsibility that comes with recognising our talents.
Nietzsche said, “The concept of greatness entails being able to be different.” Unfortunately, we vacillate between what Otto Rank in Art And Artist called a “fear of death” and a “fear of life”… such that we’d lose our uniqueness, our drive to exist, to step out, stand forth, emerge, appear. However, standing out too much can bring on feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Fear of life is the drive to re-establish a connection with society and reject much of which makes us unique in order to fit in. For artists, fear of death (conformity) predominates, yet we still fear being called ‘a show-off’, ‘threatening’ or ‘intimidating’ …Aaaaaaargh!
The Hero’s Journey is often a call to leave a social situation, face our loneliness and find revelations we cannot find when socially engaged. The Hero’s quest is what Chiron would be training us for. Detachment and withdrawal can be the first phase in the hero’s journey, even though it provokes anxiety, disconnection and loneliness. It’s also an essential part of the creative process, of ‘woodshedding’ and practising.
As a Hero, what phase of your quest are you on? Can your current situation be seen as one of the heroic tasks to complete in order to conquer inner demons? Who are some heroes who inspire you?
Cinderella reminds us that we always have the answer, the potential to meet our challenges. Cinderella, like so many artists, is sooooooo misunderstood! She’s not waiting to be discovered. Instead, through tenacity, courage and creativity she escapes her abusers, works miracles from what resources she has, self-comforts and keeps believing in her dreams.
In the tale of Ivor and Kalisha, we learn about focus, concentration on the task at hand and being in the here and now. Impossible tasks were completed when Ivor was lost in the moment. Using the power of absorption, being caught up in, wholly involved with one’s work, especially for extended time periods, with an intensity of awareness or heightened consciousness. This is where the magic happens in songwriting, singing practice and performance.
We need ‘the courage to proceed’… the strength to overcome resistance, in spite of self-doubt. Therefore, expect doubt, difficulty, negative emotions, chaos, anxiety, avoidance and neuroses. Nietzsche said, ‘You must have chaos within you, to give birth to a dancing star.’
Set yourself daily creative tasks, however small. Mine include: learning a new song weekly; writing a poem a day; singing more. Centre yourself as the hero/anti-hero of your story. Remember, the worse things are (were) the greater the transformation.