I reported for jury duty recently. I’ve been called in a couple of times before, but I’ve never actually gotten impaneled—I’ve always had to wait in the jurors’ room for several hours, only to be eventually dismissed. This time was no exception. Before being sent to the waiting room, we were all taken to the courtroom so that the judge could instruct us on how to be effective jurors. I found what he said interesting, as some of it seemed to connect directly to my mindfulness practice.
He told us to form our opinions on the case solely from the evidence presented in the courtroom. We should not read anything about the case in the newspaper or online. The reason for this, he explained, is that journalism is rarely, if ever, truly objective. Digesting any journalism or media on a particular case can lead a juror to take a side before considering the evidence of the trial. Also, we should not discuss the case with anyone until the case has been ruled on. He warned us of the risk of being swayed by other people’s opinions. Additionally, the mere act of discussing a case can stir up emotions, which can lead to a subjective viewpoint.
The judge’s sage words got me thinking. I often use my emotions, my internal chatter, and my subjective likes and dislikes as “evidence” in forming an opinion on something or someone. I now know that this “evidence” would not hold up in court. Yet I trust my mind’s chatter far too often.
I’ll share something that rears its head far too often for many performers, especially myself. After a performance, I often do a little mental review of what happened. Unfortunately, I sometimes get stuck on the things that didn’t go as planned rather than all the things that went well. I can be very hard on myself, and the mental critic can easily color the entire evening’s proceedings based on some small slips. The chatter might go something like this: “That concert went well, but I missed that shift to the high A. Dammit, I never struggled with that part before. Ugh, it must have sounded really out of tune. Why can’t I rely on myself in those moments? My technique is just not that good. I’m sure everyone heard it and winced with pain. I guess the concert wasn’t as good as I thought.” On paper, this internal narrative seems silly and out of touch. I’m not sure why mental chatter tends to negative and highly critical.
If our goal as a performer is not to make mistakes, then we are bound to be disappointed. What if our goals were focused around how we communicate and connect with our audience? This takes the focus off of those tricky spots and makes the experience about the connection between performer and audience. This interaction can only happen if both performer and audience member enter into the conversation with mindfulness.