Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Bass Line

I've recently rediscovered my love for jazz. One type of jazz that has always gotten under my skin however, comes across as a cacophony of discombobulated sound. That is, there seems to be no discernible rhythm. All is chaos & I usually proceed to change the station.

A song like this came on the other day & I decided to sit with it for a while. I could feel the agitation rising up within me as the horns blasted short, random notes over irregular drum rolls, beats & piano plunking. But then I heard it- beneath all of the excess sound, there was a faint bass line keeping time, keeping everything measured. Somehow, even within this subtle boundary, the other instruments were allowed to break out and shout at will. The bass line eventually overtook the chaos & the music became cohesive & orderly once more.

I likened this to an experience of anxiety I had the other day. I had to give a 4 minute speech as part of a 20 minute group presentation in front of my psych class. I was terrified. I could feel the anxiety rising up within me. I shook, I tingled, I flushed. I worried that I might not be able to maintain composure, that I would fail myself & my team mates. But in the midst of this chaos, I hung on to my bass line. It was a subtle boundary that reminded me that I was not the only one who had to do this. And I was certainly not the only one who had never done this. I used what skills I had to calm myself. Deep breathing, positive thinking & positive visualization came into play. I was able to put the situation in perspective: it was only 4 minutes of my life. I could do this. What's more, I knew my material & I knew exactly what I wanted to say. As I spoke, I still felt every bit the intensity of anxiety I had been feeling the whole morning. But I completed my task in spite of it. My bass line allowed me to do what I needed to do. It kept me grounded. My anxiety remained, but it was measured, manageable. After class, anxiety was nothing more than a memory.

In the end, I was told I seemed calm. I was surprised to say the least. Anxiety might be a bully, but I don't have to let it get away with murder. I may not be able to silence it, but if I can find a rhythmn & maintain it, the anxiety will conform to my whim, not the other way around. I just have to stick with it, not change the station, not tune out. In the words of a wise songstress, "The only way out is through".

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