I have been struggling to put in to words a sensation which I have recently come across while singing. The closer I get to true vocal balance, and the more sincere compliments I get on my singing, the more I feel a sensation of being "lost" mentally, physically, and spiritually while singing. This is what I have dreamt of for so long: becoming One with my Voice, being a walking Stimme---an organic instrument through and through. It is on one hand a beautiful sensation: the music comes, I sing, I go with it...there is nothing to hold on to, nothing else to think about, nothing else to do except to be Voice. The Moment is vivid, real, I feel connection to all that I am. I am present. Yet, on the other hand, it can be terrifying for me, always the "good" student, dedicated to doing things "right" and achieving as close to "perfect" as I can be. The way in which I can now sing brings me to a level of surrender to the music with such a feeling of all-pervasive love, that I want to be just there, and never come back! It's as if I have followed an expert guide through the most dense jungle of the world to find a temple filled with gold which is poisonous when I touch it...a sort of Midas touch effect where I may love what I see and admire it, but I must not seek to become it, or all that life is supposed to be on earth leaves me: ecstasy turns quickly to confusion; the most exquisite security turns suddenly to insecurity. Where, in this beautiful journey to the absolute treasure of my Voice, am I to find balance?
A surprising analogy and solution came to me while I was playing at Liberty (in a 50' round pen with only the aid of a 'carrot stick', a 4-foot fiberglass stick with a string attached) with Emmitt, our Paint gelding, in Oregon. The goal of Liberty play is to test true communication with the horse. Is the horse truly responding to my Love, Language, and Leadership? Or is he just responding to the fact that I have a rope attached to his halter with which I can keep him confined? Does Emmitt really want to be with me? or is he just going through the motions so I will eventually leave him alone?
We've been playing at Liberty for a few weeks together, and having good results. However, I needed to start 'upping the ante' to achieve more of the goals that I have with Emmitt. We need to become more mentally and physically fit, which means doing our exercises together at a quicker pace. A request from me could be responded to by him with no longer a quasi-teenager retort like "yeah, whatever" before he finishes the task with a lack-luster effort. Now we are at the level where things can get exciting: we could do turns on a dime, we could try spins and jumps together. I could start playing with him like his best horse friend (if we could find one he could play with where they did not mutually injure one another because he plays so hard...!) would play with him if he had one. I needed to learn to mirror him and even be a little challenging to him to even start to get to this level.
Our great conversation at the edge of trust and the precipice of fear began three days ago. Our Liberty routine always includes a "dress rehearsal" where we do all of our games Online to see where our relationship is at. Emmitt is a good student, like me. I prefer to know the exact order and manner in which my assignments come to ensure that I do them correctly. Emmitt is the same way, and would do all of his tasks perfectly without be even asking if I did not request that he do them in a different way each time. I must add at this point that I'm sure my voice teacher Jean-Ronald has had the same challenge with me as I have with Emmitt, as I would much rather be able to control each voice lesson's outcome to ensure that I am "good" and "correct" in all that I do. It's my personality, and it's Emmitt's too. Yes, we are made for each other!
We did the games online better than ever. The first three games, also called the Principle Games, were almost flawless. There was a lightness and quickness there which I had not yet seen from him, and I was excited to see what would happen at Liberty. I took Emmitt's halter off, gave him some loves, and moved on to the "Porcupine Game", which is a tool to teach horses to respond safely and appropriately to pressure against their bodies (instinctively a horse will push against pressure; we humans need them to move away from it, for obvious reasons). He promptly took off running around the pen as fast as he could. I was surprised...! WHAT HAD HAPPENED?
As I followed him around the pen, staying with him in his fear and being the best leader to him that I could be while I waited for his mind to come back to me, I thought back to what we had done in our "dress rehearsal". The only glitch I could think of was Emmitt's tendency, as I asked his hind end to move way, to move his forehand toward me. I thought it was a sign of dominance, as dominant horses will often crowd up too close to their subordinants to be pushy. I had quickly corrected what I thought was a challenge from him, but I missed one thing. I had pushed Emmitt, a normally super-confident individual, to the point of insecurity as I asked for more respect from him. Insecure horses will also crowd a human, as they do in a herd when a lion approaches: the ones in the middle won't be eaten so, "Let me in...!" ('crunch')
The voice studio can be rife with incidents like these: one moment I am confident in my knowledge and singing well, but the next note comes with its own set of demands and I am suddenly plummeting into imbalance and insecurity, with all of the emotions which come attached to these states of being. Jean-Ronald, like I have with Emmitt, has followed me as I ran panicked, many a time around the "round pen" of the studio, waiting for my mind to come back after my emotions spilled over the surface in a challenging passage.
What touched me the most and taught me the most about Emmitt's reaction to my request at Liberty, was that he ran from the SLIGHTEST touch. If I had dumbly and insensitively slapped him on the rump, of course I would expect him to run... and in that case, he would be more than justified to add in a little kick as a mirror to my disrespect. However all I had done was to barely touch him on the rump with my fingertips. It was as if, in his newly-found freedom, he could not fathom or imagine responding to such a light touch while completely "free" and still be able to maintain his dignity and safety. It was easier to run away than to face the possibilities of communication with me at this level. I knew I had to convince him as soon as I could that it was possible to respond to me with ease and respect while still maintaining his freedom and safety. He needed to know that even without his insulating guise of a "tough guy", he could be himself and be loved.
I too had been told for ages that I had a "quiet confidence" which actually could be tested to a point where it broke down, allowing true confidence to blossom--but not until I found a teacher I could trust to do this--or one who was interested at all in my true freedom as a singer.
After about five laps around the pen, Emmitt responded to my urges and trotted back up to me in the middle. I tried the Porcupine Game again Online successfully, and then again at Liberty, and again at the slightest touch, he was off!!!! This was our pattern until, at one magical moment, Emmit, his muscles still sweaty and his lips licking, moved away at the slightest touch of my finger, executing that magical feat whose profundity one can really only understand when one experiences it: this 1000-pound horse, capable of trampling me, capable of leading a herd and killing a cougar, respects me so much that he moves at my slightest touch! And not only does he respect me enough to move as I suggest and move quickly, he likes me enough to STAY with me as I ask him to move AWAY.
Amazing. We had done it. Needless to say, Emmitt got a huge hug and rubs and was brushed and pampered for an hour that evening. We had reached a level of balance between horse and human that evening which I had not experienced before. I was deeply honored and still crumble in awe when I think of Emmitt's courage at that moment. It also makes me proud to know that I followed through and went with him into the "dark moments" of his fear, and brought him back to safety. I could have second-guessed my instincts and given up, leaving the challenge for another day, but I chose to stick with him literally, and it paid off.
My Voice and I are at exactly this junction! Emmitt is my Voice, and I am the Singer. The more we know about one another, the more we can move in freedom and joy, safety and confidence! Thank God for Jean-Ronald, who serves as the well-informed mediator between us, who has translated so expertly the language of Voice and Human to the point where we can now, mostly, understand one another and 'play' together in harmony just like I do at a new level with my Emmitt.
So we have the Voice, and we have Me now, growing more and more together with time...and where now does Music come in to the picture? How does understanding how the relationship grows between Voice and Human help me avoid getting us both lost in the Music?
I believe that I am at a very important point in my development as a singer. It is the point where I allow myself to be my Voice, and where I allow the Music to step in and take the place which my Voice once had, and which Emmitt now has, in our relationship together. It is as if I have been trying to maintain a relationship amongst the three of us (Myself, my Voice, and the Music), only inevitably to loose balance as the dance steps fell apart amidst one-too-many partners.
The time of separation between me and my Voice is coming to an end. It was a necessary separation, as any singer who has rebuilt her voice knows. There is no way to find strength when you are constantly identifying with weakness. And I know that there will certainly be times in the future when I regularly step back to observe the health and happiness of my Voice. Now the Music, the Horse, requires our Oneness. I have, in my focus on perfecting my singing, had to forget my relationship to the Music. It was as if I had to learn to use my arms and legs, to re-teach my mouth to form words, in order to even approach a relationship with the Music, with the Horse. Emmitt is lucky that I am relatively physically fit and that the steps to growth which I must follow as a Horsewoman are all relatively tangible, compared to the growth steps I had to take as a singer.
Now it is time to dance with the Music. It is a fine balance, a give and take which can send the relationship sprawling with one off thought or miss-step. It is also a beautiful, mutually intimate flight into the Now when rider and Horse share the same language, when Voice and Music share the same respect.
It is time now to step in to the round pen of the stage and to know that I am not seeking control of the Music, just as I am not seeking control of darling Emmitt. I am seeking a relationship. I am seeking Life...I am seeking Love. These things come in bucket loads when I remember what Emmitt taught me three days ago: Singing is not about becoming the Music. It is about knowing the Music so well that my Voice knows Music's language. It is about learning to Love and Lead in such a way that the Music is free and joyful, full, confident, and complete. It has everything to do with letting go, everything to do with Trust, and everything with being courageous, and real.