I spent three years worrying I was boring my therapist to tears. Lord help me, I wanted to be a little nuttier. Instead, I felt I was dysfunctional enough to need therapy, but not enough to be a remotely interesting client.
This conviction would reach a peak every six months or so, when I would become absolutely certain that I had run out of things to say. Finito. That’s all she wrote. I had told all my childhood stories, and all the adult stories could be summed up in three or four narratives that I had already flogged ad nauseum.
I would prepare myself to quit. And then, something amazing happened.
She kept listening.
Through great waves of the white noise of my thinking. Through oceans of “ums” and “uhs” and “I don’t know what I really mean by that, or maybe I meant this other thing.” She just kept listening. Yes, I know she was being paid to listen, but the fact that she didn’t fire me so she could spend that hour listening to someone else was so validating. And eventually, through the ums and uhs and I don’t knows, something would be born – I would have a thought I hadn’t had before, or make a new connection. I just had to wade through the muck of uncertainty for a while, as unpleasant and, frankly, boring as it was.
My name is Madeleine and I’m a performance addict. In this most intimate and honest of settings, the therapist’s office, I was still trying to do a good job. Once I figured this out, I saw how it spills out into other situations – in teaching, socially, in my marriage. I would like very much to impress you with my interestingness. Inside of me, my inner child is continuously tap dancing. After everything I say, she gives a shuffle ball change and a desperate “ta-DA!!!” I fear that how much I am valued in relationships is in direct proportion to how interesting I am, rather than how kind, how honest, how open. All that dancing is exhausting.
This addiction is dangerous when you’re a yoga teacher. In that role, it is much less important to be interesting, and much more crucial to guide students into being interested in themselves. Certainly, it helps to keep a freshness to one’s teaching, to approach the same old poses from a new angle. But there is a fine line between this and what we might call Performance Teaching.
My teacher, Mary, calls it putting on your Teacher Pants. We put them on when we want to seem like an authority, someone who’s Good At Yoga – someone very Interesting. This addiction isn’t just for teachers – we can all can be drawn to put on our Performance Pants when we hit a yoga class.
A couple weeks ago I took an intensive week of study with Mary at Yoga Mendocino. While in tree pose, Mary asked that there be “no Performance Trees” in the room. I think you could imagine what a performance tree might look like – if not, grab a Yoga Journal. I was completely falling out of my tree at that point. Mary’s encouragement to let go of performance hit me just at the right time. I gritted my teeth and I put my foot down. I did my tree just the way I teach my Yoga Basics students to do theirs – rather than the active foot pushed right up into my perineum like a bony mula bhanda, the toes rested on the floor like a little kickstand holding me up. Boring as heck, I thought, but functional.
After the practice, a visiting teacher from Portland approached me. “I want to offer you something” she said. “I was falling out of my tree, deep in my narrative of how much I hate that pose, when I looked across the room. And there you were, so rooted you were a freaking redwood. It was beautiful, and so inspiring.” Right when I let go of the performance, as disappointed as I was in myself, that’s when I touched someone, when I connected with another person.
When I was preparing my students for my impending absence during this week long intensive, I assured them I would return with a bag of “new yoga tricks.” What a mistake. It was prompted by my feeling that I needed to return more interesting than before. “Ta-DA!” Instead, I returned with fewer tricks in that bag. My interesting-ness regressed. I took off my Performance Pants. I put my foot down. Sometimes I gave up and lay down. I flailed a bit. I did the asana version of “umm…” “uh…”
I tell you this, dear reader, because I began this blog six months ago, and I have reached the conclusion that I have absolutely run out of things to write about. Finito. That’s all she wrote. So I could quit now…or I could stop Performance Blogging. Dive into the ocean of uncertainty and boredom and see what happens on the other side. Hopefully, you’ll still be listening.