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The Performance Trap: Navigating Inauthenticity.

Red Rocks Concert
Trevor Hall Performs at Red Rocks Amphitheater

A good musical performance is one of my favorite life experiences. Dirtwire’s performance in January at the Complex will be a 2024 highlight, regardless of what else the year offers. Seeing Trevor Hall in 2023 with Kristy at Red Rocks Amphitheater was a check off the old lifetime bucket list.

I recently had a profound plant medicine journey that has brought the word performance squarely to my mind’s forefront and the inner tussle has begun.

For me a performance is reducible to the exhibition of  something to an audience, be it a traditional artistic expression, such as acting, playing music, and showcasing all art in general, or something less artistic like teenage eye-rolling after a “lame” parental suggestion, or a reaction to a gift that betrays some of the underlying confusion or distaste.  For me, performance exists whenever there’s an action and there’s an audience, acknowledged either consciously or unconsciously. Would you count trees shedding their leaves in autumn as a performance? From the eyes of the witness, the word performance seems to fit. From the perspective of the trees, this is where the line can be drawn. There’s no conscious. Or is there? Do flowers have different colors to attract bees and put on their own performance for the purpose of pollination? 

My Performances

There’s performance in the meditations I lead for the men’s group, the Algiz Guard, that I’m a part of.  There’s performance in even mentioning the name, The Algiz Guard. I lead a meditation at our Utah Men’s Circle this previous Monday using a tangerine as an attention-grabbing device. There was performance in that. There’s performance in mentioning that I do that. There’s performance in writing this blog post. There’s performance even when I ignore a co-worker accidentally cutting a fart, or conscientiously ignoring a co-worker cooking fish or a singer’s off-pitch singing. There might be performance involved in almost every social interaction I can think of; there’s even performance when I’m my only audience member.

Maybe the point is that everything could be reduced to a sort of performance, and maybe that’s not even the point - the performance itself. Maybe it’s the why underneath. 

Take Dirtwire’s musical performance for a moment. The band could have been motivated by money, fame, contractual obligation, or love of playing music. It could have been a combination of some those motivations, all of them, or something else entirely. As the audience, their motivation matters very little to me as it had zero impact on my experience. Now, maybe love, authenticity, and genuineness brings out their greatest passion and allows them to perform on the highest level, but that’s for them to know.

Dirtwire Band
Dirtwire Performs at the Complex in Jan. 2024

This long tussle has brought me to a place of understanding my own experience as a performer and I’ve had a hard truth come up. At times, I do things with my metaphorical guitar case out hoping it will be filled by my metaphorical audience. I still seek validation and significance outside of myself. I do meditations because I believe in the service, and I like being recognized. I write blogs because I like synthesizing my thoughts, I like sharing them with others, and I’ve witnessed myself paying attention to how many views they get. I tell jokes and make crass references because I know how to get a reaction out of people. Hell, I used to tease my siblings relentlessly because negative attention is still attention. I was obnoxious in front of other family for the same underlying principle. 

Reframing Process

I’m realizing that the seed for this new awareness to performing was not accidental. The space was opened up by taking myself off social media for my 44th trip around the sun and seeing what comes up. Feels like draining the ocean to see the ship wrecks and treasures. There was also the seed planted as I’m reading The Bhagavad Gita: “Work for work’s sake, but do not tie yourself to the fruits of your work.” In other words, do the action because the action is good, don’t do the work for the fruit of the work.”

The key to my gathering was action. Participating with and trusting a cannabis guide helped uncover the idea of tussling. Spending time reading a spiritual book introduced the idea of non-attachment. Having my wife speak her truth caught me off guard and triggered my ego to stop, place its metaphorical hand on its chest and say, “Excuse me?” Two of my guides in a different space gave me two nuggets to chew on: The first was a question: Why was it so hard to keep the eye mask on and stay internal during that plant medicine journey? The second was a piece of advice: Try to avoid turning everything into meaning right away. Instead, let meaning effervesce through action. Once all those separate pieces were set, it helped to practice observation within me and outside. When I noticed someone who was very obviously performing in my daily interactions, all the pieces snapped into place like a mystery novel plot when the reader arrives at the Aha!

My tussle with performance and the tussle of the why behind the performance has lead me to some keen internal awareness. When I can see that my why is to be put on the pedestal of wisdom, wealth, admiration, etc., it becomes inauthentic. Overtime, I’ve managed to put on a good performance despite it coming from an inauthentic space, but it depletes my energy every time. When the performance is authentic and unattached, it becomes energizing, fulfilling, and renewable.

Embarrassment is the first thing that comes flooding into this space when I realize how wasteful I’ve been with my energy. I can recognize all the times I’ve performed because of what I anticipated or expected to receive from beyond myself. That leads to the realization that I didn’t feel like there was enough inside. The realization that I have been outsourcing my significance has always an uncomfortable truth, and I am able to recognize how it contributes to me feeling tired. I’ve been hustling for my worth like a waiter serving hard-to-please tables.

I recognize even in my own medicine journey while my heart was bursting and all the good feelings were coming out, that I was still keenly aware that I was probably being watched while I had my eye mask on. All of the sudden, I recognize I wasn’t acting completely out of authenticity anymore. Performance was seeping in, thus clouding the experience. What a lesson the medicine helped reveal. 

The thing not to do here is start beating myself up for my naivety or misalignment. The thing to do here is to get more curious about why I share. When the why feels aligned and authentic, then I let my natural self take over and trust that it will go exactly the way it’s meant to. Even trusting that I had to do it the old way enough times to realize and appreciate that it wasn’t the way I wanted to do it was part of the process. In some ways, that was the most authentic I was able to be in the moment. Recognizing is step one. Practicing the new skill until it becomes a habit is step two. My fingers and my brain know that dance all too well as I’ve been learning the guitar and get to practice playing from my heart and not for my audience’s response.

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Mar 08
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I admire the hell out of your authenticity, Tony. You inspire me and invite me to consider myself in new ways.

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