I once read a phrase that stopped me in my tracks. All fears, it said, are actually forms of just one fear: The fear of death.
At first I thought, "That's ridiculous!" But then I began to realize that, as far as the body is concern, it's actually right. The big fear is that the body will die and not pass on the DNA. Identity as ME ends. Life doesn't go on beyond this existence. So, I fear dying as a form of extinction. The body is, after all, a part of life, and life wants to live!
And then I began to extrapolate. Are there other ways to die?
As we became human, became conscious, could death actually have become a metaphor? Do all deaths have to involve the body?
Not long after that a friend of mine said, rather casually, "All perfectionism is born of shame."
Again, the sentence stopped me, and remember thinking, "Intuitively I know this is true, but I don't know why."
"Go on," I said.
"What?" he asked, and I answered, "Do a riff on that. Why is all perfectionism born of shame?"
"Oh," he answered, "Shame isn't the same as guilt. You can be guilty by yourself, but shame requires others. Shame needs onlookers. It can only exist when there is an audience. Shame is fundamentally a social creation."
For days those two insights danced together in my mind.
If all fear is a fear of death, what do we fear when we perform? What do we put at risk? What does the opinion of the audience really mean? Or the critics?
What is the death that we fear when we have stage fright? Do we fear being seen as imperfect? Flawed? Inadequate? What kind of death would that be?
Is there a shame-based death? Do we fear rejection to the point that we would be cast out of the tribe?
And how do we deal with that fear?
If we fear being shamed by an audience, what is our defense mechanism for that fear?
And, according to my friend, that bulwark of protection is perfectionism.
It is surely a good thing to want to perform well, but what if we turn that desire to excel into something destructive?
What if in wanting to be perfect we are actually stuck in a protective mode? What if fear constricts us.
Is there an alternative to perfectionism?
If perfectionism isn't the answer, we need to look at its basis, fear, and then to find some other motivation.
Fear is based on separateness: The Other. So, the answer must come from Oneness. The answer must grow from a sense of connection.
If I am acting out of fear, my heart is covered, shielded, safely keep hidden. If I am free, my heart is uncovered, open, vulnerable.
I can take my gifts and offer them. In other words, I can be generous and share myself. My motives grow not out of keeping myself secure, but out of sharing what I have. Instead of fear, this is the realm of generosity and gratitude.
What I have required others: teachers, mentors and friends who supported me along the way. And when I give it away, others now receive what I have developed, and their lives are more beautiful.
We might think about trading perfectionism for excellence. They grow out of different motives, even if the end result might sound very nearly the same to an audience member. For the performer though, they are opposites.
All of the steps on a journey grow out of the first step. If that step is based on fear, the rest of the journey is an outgrowth of that fear. On the other hand, if the first step is based on generosity, on giving, on sharing, the remainder of the journey is an expression of that intention.
It is better to live a life based upon freedom and giving than to live a life based upon self-protection.
The courage to perform is the courage to be seen as a human being. There is no shame in that. None at all.