The spirit of the Great Critic accosts me as I imagine stepping back into the Eastman School of Music. From a huge Wizard of Oz-like face I hear these words echoing off the marble walls:
“WHO ARE YOU? WHAT GREATNESS HAVE YOU ACHIEVED?
YOU ARE NOT WORTHY OF RETURNING HERE.
YOU ARE NOT WELCOME.”
I imagine sitting on a bench with shame as my only companion as I watch musicians much worthier than me pass by.
My musical life path has been an unconventional one rich with inner and outer experiences, but when I make the mistake of comparing my outward accomplishments to my colleagues who landed jobs with major symphonies, string quartets and universities, I feel shame.
I’m heading back to Rochester to present “Curiosity, Compassion and Connection: alternatives to perfectionism”, and this will be my first visit back to my alma mater since 1990. My journey has been a search for deeper meaning in musical performance. I have been on inner and outer journeys that I could never have imagined.
Not finding what I was searching for in classical performance, I turned to musical storytelling, Suzuki teaching, and then finally the spiritual path. I learned how to cultivate my inner experience and to attune myself to the natural joy of the soul. I learned how embracing imperfection leads to self-compassion, which leads to compassion for others, which leads to a huge expansiveness of my heart. I learned how to quiet my own inner critic.
And now I have a challenging opportunity – to step back into my past and face the Great Critic.
The Great Critic haunts so many of us. There is no CEO of music, no presiding ruler that can deem some worthy and others not. Instead, I believe there is a conscious force, so alluring to our egos, that opens a doorway to judge others and imagine ourselves superior. I became one of the worshippers of the Great Critic, and learned how to rip a performance apart like the best of them. If I could find fault in their playing, I could salvage my own self-esteem. What a horrible waste of energy and thought that was. By the time I turned 28, I was a fully fledged jaded, cynical musician.
Thanks to an amazing wakeup call, I found meditation and a chance to turn myself around. I had no idea that it would lead me completely away from classical performance and then back into it again. For whatever level of mastery of cello I’ve attained, it is the mastery of myself that has been the most appealing and compelling. But what does this mean, mastery of self? Like a master of an instrument who can play any concerto at a moment’s notice, mastery of self to me means the ability to respond appropriately to any situation, and the ability to tune into the soul’s true joy at will.
How do I describe what this true joy of the soul feels like? Music opened the door to this knowing – an expansion of the heart, a focus of energy at the front of the brain, a rising energy in the spine that I have felt during deep meditations and inspired performances. This joy is a vibration of subtle energy.
I will consciously carry this vibration into the main hall rich with so many memories. I will silently resonate the core of who I am, in gratitude for all of the notes I heard and absorbed so many years ago. This changes my imagined scenario completely.
I want to reach back in time and offer emotional healing to the young me swimming in a sea of insecurity. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to offer hope to some that are in the same boat that I was. Will it do any good? Will it make any impact? I have no idea.
But I do know one thing:
Gratitude and the resonance of my joy silences the Great Critic.