Faith is a tricky issue! What should we have faith in? All great ideas and inventions come from what many call “a light bulb moment”, a moment of clarity when the apparent obstacles seem to pull out and make space between them, allowing a path to the objective. There is a rest period in Tai Chi called “Standing Meditation” during which we let our minds free where we consciously allow negative thoughts to go away and leave our minds clear for possibilities.
Paradoxically, that is not when I feel my greatest moments of deep meditation. My most meditative states happen while doing the Yang Style short form that I have been practicing for more than two years. I sometimes get to a state of allowing where my mind is very clear about my objectives and my body very present and ready to perform them. In those moments I have what many call “an out-of-body experience”. I feel as if I am watching myself doing the form, clearly connected to it in my mind, but totally detached from my body doing it. This kind of out-of-body experience I have often experienced in singing. Particularly when I am not having a great vocal day. I have always been able to let go and allow my body to do what it can.
During my most recent moment of clarity, the message was powerfully strong. “Do not sing unless your voice is fresh!” This may seem extreme for a voice teacher, but it is precisely what I have been doing for five days. I may have sung a total of 20 minutes in the last five days including demonstrating for my students when necessary. The thought came to me clearly saying: “Don’t try so hard! Let it happen! Do only what you need to do!” I realized at that moment that what I needed to do was giving my poor voice a chance to be fresh. I realized that vocal technique problems are practically non-existent when I am fresh.
The best way to acquire what you most cherish, is to release yourself from it. When we are so attached to something, we fail to see that our actions are stifling it and we are often too close to it to see that we are headed the wrong way. We need a bird’s-eye-view! It does not mean that we stop wanting this thing or that person. The key is not to allow our strong desires to limit our perspectives. We must remain calm enough to observe and to know what the best move is. The shortest distance to a point is a straight line…as long as there isn’t an iron wall between those two points. Sometimes it is best to go around the wall. Sometimes the distance is non-existent if we seek a spiritual connection.
Let us imagine that one of my goals is to sing my favorite tenor roles at the Metropolitan Opera. I could walk to the house today, find out who is there who can hear me sing, sing an amazing audition and get hired. That is the most direct path! If I am truly ready, the story could be that simple. Yet if I walk up to the front door of my own house but do not have a key, I cannot get in. Yes I may break a window and force my way in, but that might cause more problems than it is worth. In the same way, what obstacles would I encounter if I just walked up to the MET today?
There is preparation for every journey. In my moments of detachment, I know that my way into the MET or to any objective is when the objective comes to me. My job is to make myself attractive to the MET and I can only be attractive to the MET when I am not trying to make myself attractive to it. We cannot guess what another person is looking for in us. We are attractive to people when we are busy being our happiest selves unaware that someone is watching us. How do I make myself happiest as a singer?
When I am in front of an audience, with a fresh voice, singing a song I know inside-out, I am like an Olympic Gymnast doing the most extraordinary floor exercise, or a figure skater skating the perfect long program. I am in my element. It does not matter if I am singing for an audience of two or two million. It’s all the same. I have never had a problem getting out of my own way in the way that many singers are afraid to let go. I have had to relearn to sing over the last five years. I have strengthened, I have coordinated, I have learned to let my body do its thing, I have learned how to become healthy and now my final task is to “rest!” It does not mean I don’t need to train anymore. But that is less important than discovering how my voice feels when it is at its healthiest and the missing element is “rest.” For such a hard worker as I am, the hardest thing is not to do anything.
How do you know what your next move is? How do you see clearly? You must believe that there is a place of clarity! It is quite logical! When you ask a successful person:
“How did you get there?”, the answer is invariably,
“one step at a time!” They can innumerate the steps:
“First there was my first experience singing in front of people, then there was this and then that and then finally, I was there.”
“How did you know what the next step was?”
“It seemed the logical next thing to do!”
There are two prerequisites to success: 1) Know what you must do 2) Do it!
To know what to do, one must be willing to get to that state that Deepak Chopra calls: “The field of pure potentiality!” The funny thing is I used to laugh every time Deepak Chopra said that in one of his infomercials. And in truth I don’t know how credible Deepak is anymore. But it does not matter. Sometimes a not-completely-credible-person can offer truthful information. The “The field of pure potentiality” is a state of mind in which we are not distracted by energy-sucking elements, whether it is from our worst enemy or our best friend. Sometimes the devil comes in the guise of my own children. It is the easiest way. What do I mean by that? What is the devil? No I don’t believe in a red-skinned dude with a pitch-fork and horns! The devil is the distracted self. It is the gullible self that becomes needlessly emotional and irrational because the beloved daughter or son or girlfriend or operatic career seem to require attention of a debilitating type. Because my children and my girlfriend and my career mean so much to me, it is easy to fall victim to their whims.
Five years ago, I stopped performing (with the exception of environments removed from the operatic world where I can keep my chops alive), where as before I was performing something weekly. Why did I do that? Because I needed to discover my true self if I was going to scale the next walls in front of me. To fulfill our potential, sometimes we need to stop, rest and regroup, even retreat and make a new plan of attack. I have never worked as hard as I have these past five years even though my former teachers will tell you it is hard to find someone who works harder. It is in my culture. Haitians are raised with an extraordinary work ethic. But not necessarily the most efficient work ethic. Haiti would be the most prosperous nation on Earth, not the poorest in the Western Hemisphere if its citizen’s work ethic were put to the right tasks. In my own field of pure potentiality I was not afraid to do the near-impossible task of changing from baritone to tenor at age 42. That is the work that had to be done. Now I need to give my voice rest and practice less. That was probably necessary all along. I was not ready to see that until now. Now that I see it, I am doing it!
The world is precisely the way we imagine it. If you walk outside imagining the world to be an unfriendly place, ten people will greet you good morning and you will not give it worth. The first person to call you an asshole, is the first person you notice. So your world is defined by your preconception. I wake up every day with the thought that there is a solution to the problems. I must be vigilant to see the clues to the solution. Sometimes, I just need to wait until a clue comes. Sometimes I need to actively look for it. Knowing the difference takes experience. It is just as important to know when to do nothing as when to exert a lot of energy. Both are necessary at different times and in different measures.
If you want to be successful, you must first believe it is possible to be successful. If you believe, then you start to see the clues and the steps. If you do not believe in your own potential to succeed, all you will see are the obstacles. This is a truth. One that can be used to free people to find their potential or to manipulate them into following a believe system that is not in their best interest. Only you can decide which path you take. Be empowered by your Faith or be victim to it!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!