Do I Really Need to Sing in Front of 400 People to Feel Free?

What if I…
What if I missed my chance?
What if I am leaving an important part of myself behind every time I entered a room?
What if there are second chances?

It’s August of 2016. Before I arrived at Camp GLP, a gathering of creative, entrepreneurial, big-hearted souls who want to make connections and change the world, I’d heard about the epic talent show.

I admit, I was a bit “meh” about the show. I was leaving my husband alone with the girls for the first time. It hadn’t been a great year for cashflow. Music and comedy were great and all, but they seemed kind of… frivolous. This grown-up summer camp thing was supposed to be about networking and learning from the experts.

By the time Saturday night rolled around, I understood that every moment of Camp was about so much more than the bottom line. As the talent show began, I watched my fellow campers get up there and pour themselves into poems and songs and passionate stories. Some were clearly in their element. Others performed bravely through their fears.  

Act after act reminded me of a truth I’d forgotten more than half a lifetime ago: the stage had once been a vital part of who I was. 

I promised myself I would get up there myself in 2017.

But real life takes precedence. Again. (Sigh)

Life at home wasn’t set up to remind me of the power of live performance. Being mama, modulating my voice to fit a shared podcast, holding space for others’ stories… I was doing the work and rarely allowing myself the breathing room to ask if it was the right work or if all that work was really mine to do.

I certainly didn’t allow myself to wonder about all the work - and play - I was refusing to invite into my life.

Are you really good at ignoring the tiny whispers of intuition too?

Throughout the year, whenever my mind wandered to the late August oasis that is Camp GLP, I was always sure I’d find the time to write the monologue worth listening to. The story that needed to be told would tap me on the shoulder. It would explode with universal meaning that made it worth 3 minutes of 400 people’s attention.

That never happened, but I told myself I could find a way to be ok with that.

Another year and a whole new energy

Arriving at camp this year, I knew I was crossing an important threshold. I was in mid-stride. My first foot was through - the collaborative project that had taken so much energy and imagination over the past year and more had drawn to a close. Now, it was time to arrive more fully in my transformation.

Despite months of yearning, being on stage seemed like a “wouldn’t that be nice” sort of thing. I was fully focused on on chatting, learning, hugging, and writing my way into the next chapter of my Sovereign Story. Striding onto a stage at Camp GLP 2017 didn’t have to have anything to do with that.

But then intuition sends messengers too wise and kind to ignore

It was the morning of the talent show and I was scribbling in my journal between workshops. This guy kind of tripped over me as he tried to slide by my seat on the aisle. Because it’s camp, we paused and took a moment greet each other instead of simply mumbling apologies and resuming the mission at hand.

We recognized one another from the year before - he remembered my eyes and I remembered that he was on stage with a guitar a lot. That opened a conversation about the girl I once was - the one who had been in dance recitals since kindergarten, who was in the band and chorus, who pretty much lived in the theater, and eventually landed the lead in the high school play.

And I told this virtual stranger how I’d lost all of that… We didn’t get into the reasons, but I know it was a mix of prioritizing boys over creativity and a fear that I was not good enough to keep at any of that performing stuff in college when there were so many people with “real talent.”

By the time I finished grad school, I had been completely colonized by the seriousness of the written word and the slog of “self-improvement.” My sad little story was emerging: the stage was for kids and the grown-up “chosen ones.”

My new friend Mike has these incredible compassionate eyes of his own, and I just felt SEEN. He saw me and I think he saw right through my story (though he was too kind to say). He told me that there’s always a little jam session after the talent show and he asked to sing my song for him. I promised, he walked away, and I wept tears I had no idea I needed to shed.

Because Camp is fueled by tears and hugs, one invariably follows the other. A stranger swooped in to hold me as I sobbed. In that moment, she was the flesh and bones my mother borrowed to remind me that she still believed in me, even though my stage career had languished for twenty years and she’d been gone for seven.

Later, I’d realize that this woman, Jennifer, had the voice of a badassed soulful angel and she was a mama with a heart as big as her voice.

All my mascara cried away, I joined a Kirtan session and sang through the lump that still lingered in my throat. A yogi who often dresses up as a unicorn, also known as KC,  led us through a couple chants in English:

“This is what it feels like to be free"

"You only get to choose what you hold onto"

The words I could understand were perfect, and I had a feeling the Sanskrit words I didn’t know were just right too. Maybe it wasn’t about being up on a stage. Maybe it was just about lifting up my voice, joining in with the group while I reveled in the private act of creating sound.

All That You Can’t Leave Behind

After the sun set, we all gathered in the theater again. First, Zen priest and activist who is changing the conversation about race, Rev. angel Kyodo williams returned to a question she’d posed to the entire group earlier that day: “When you enter a room, what do you leave behind?”

This deeply personal question is intended to reveal much wider truths.

When you cut yourself off from aspects of yourself, you alienate yourself from your core sense of humanity. When we lose track of our humanness we cannot see our fellow humans in all of their beauty, power, and suffering. We buy into false constructs like race.

A black woman was leading a very white audience through a conversation that, by very deliberate design, was intended NOT to be an “I feel bad about my privilege” session. Instead, this was a chance to look within.

When you understand yourself, you free yourself. Liberated from self-denial, you can truly love others. And this, in turn, will dissolve the myth of separation that has stratified and divided this country in particular.

By this point, it was abundantly clear that I needed to reckon with what it meant to leave behind the performer, the singer, the woman who made her words come alive somewhere other than the page.

It’s not clear what this realization has to do with my own relationship with this weird collective story of whiteness that swept me up from the moment of my birth, but it's all relevant to my story. I trust Rev. angel on that one. In time, it will make sense and help me become part of the solution instead of the silent majority that perpetuates the problem.

Right now, I trust that freeing my own passions from the cave of “used to” and “not me” and “maybe someday” can free me up to be someone who changes the world. For real.

But really, this is A story about a talent show

My second row seat for Rev. angel became a second row seat for a talent show that spanned nearly four hours. I was proud that I felt more love than envy, but I promised myself I would  remember the sense of regret and emptiness that lingered even as I clapped and sang along from the audience.

It was so late after the last standing ovation had faded away, I never reconnected with Mike the guitarist. It turns out that that jam session didn’t materialize on that unusually chilly New York night. I didn’t know that as I lay in my bunk at 2 am, sleepless and exhausted and  wrestling with my habitual lack of courage, my tendency to play it small.

I forced myself into sleep, deciding that the repeating mantra “next year” had to be good enough for now…

Or maybe, I still had chance to rewrite the story’s ending

As it does, time pulled us through to the end of a weekend that could never be long enough. At the last all-camp gathering, the man behind the Good Life Project, Jonathan Fields returned to a question he’d invited us to explore on the very first day. “What if I…?”

He invited a few campers he knew well to share moving stories of transformation, and then he made space for a few members of the crowd to take the mic.

Pulled by some magnetic force - my palms are sweaty even as I type this now, two days later - I asked to take my turn.

I don’t think my voice shook as I sat across from Jonathan on the stage and said “What if I missed my chance…?”

As briefly as I could, I told the group this story about watching two years of talent shows with such admiration. I told them that I had an answer to Rev. angel’s question and I realized exactly what I had left behind. And I told this crowd of four hundred friends that I had a song I was afraid to sing.

And then, I heard myself asking if I could share just a little bit of it.

If I had actually prepared to perform, all I would have done was tell the story of the song I was too scared to share. I would have described the lullaby I had been writing over years and years of bedtimes. I’d always dreamed it would reach beyond two little girls’ bunk bed, but performing it was as much a fantasy as the song itself which described the journey to a mythical island full of unicorns and mermaids aboard a ship called the Cardinal Star.

But I wasn’t prepared to tell that story. All I had was the song itself. All I had was my unadorned truth.

And the next thing I knew, I arrived back on the stage after a twenty year detour and I heard my own voice rise with words I’d added to that old tune “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral.”

When my voice cracked, people shouted encouragement. When I was done, I’m pretty sure there was a whole lot of applause, but all I remember was stomping my feet in celebration and grinning so much I could barely see.

Just reading that paragraph to myself sparks a quivery feeling in my chest, a smile that almost makes my jaw hurt, and a desire to hold on to this moment because it was pure magic.

What happens when you re-member all you are?

So, what does it matter that this writing coach-copywriter-story healer-magic maker got to relive her high school glory days?

By recovering part of my story, giving myself the time to write into it and mine it for meaning, I’m expanding my inner world.

By removing one more “shoulda” I am opening my heart to hold your stories and your moments of triumph.

By finding my voice in a way that I assumed was not really for me, I clear a channel to help you find your voice in a new way.

What happens when you finally say "yes" to the call?

This most recent season of life has offered lesson after lesson in Sovereignty. To grow even a little bit, I’ve been compelled to see how I have been crouching and hiding and hoping someone would recognize all my untapped potential.

I was trying to work magic in the glow a tiny fairy lantern when, the truth is, I live in a big messy world that needs great lamps that light the human heart and bonfires that draw together the human community.

As a writer, as an entrepreneur, as a being who wants to create change in this world, I need to gather all the illumination I can. When we illuminate the caverns of the inner world where dreams are born (and so many die), we're able to light the way for all beings we're here to love and serve.  

Now what?

Will I sing in public again sometime soon? I really freaking hope so. It’s a direct conduit to the magic I was put here to create and I’m too grateful to shut it down again.

But, in the meantime… there’s everyday magic to do.

There are countless paths that led me to this moment, but one of them is my unfolding Magic Words practice. Finding a word each day to live into or a word that helps me reflect on all that happened has been profound. It has set me up to see the stories I was telling, to see the truth behind the illusions, and to tune into all that I didn’t have the courage to say.

I invite you to join the next #7MagicWords challenge that launches on the first day of the northern hemisphere’s autumn, September 22. It’s a free online series with daily prompts that help you discover the magic words that support the transformative work that’s yours to do in the season to come.

Image credit: Mike Kimlicko from his seat on the stage.