Mountains and overcoming self-consciousness

by Oct 14, 2018

I love mountains – always have, always will.

Having recently moved to live amongst the Southern Alps of New Zealand, I am lucky enough to interact daily with these magnificent mountains.

I am acutely aware of the support and inspiration they give me as a creative person and I’ve been contemplating what it is that inspires me most about them.


Mountains exude a disarming lack of self-consciousness.

Mountains don’t worry about how others see or experience them. They don’t question or doubt themselves for a second. They each simply do their ‘mountain’ thing, standing tall and proud. The mountains are utterly in the moment. This way of being inspires me.

Self-consciousness is of course a human condition and as a creative performer, I am well aware of its destabilising pitfalls. I assume mountains can’t experience its negative effects, but in contrast, their projection of unwavering strength of purpose and confidence in what they are and what they do strikes me strongly. As creative performers, this state is hugely valuable for us to embody.

I find it interesting how strongly I have been struck by the mountains’ lack of self-consciousness. Through my own career, I can point to many times when the destructive impacts of self-consciousness have impacted on my playing and performances.

Gaining more understanding around what it is, why it is so destructive and how to overcome the negative impacts, has been enlightening and rewarding.

What is self-consciousness?

If you are self-conscious, you are:

  • Excessively aware of being observed by others
  • Unduly aware of yourself, your appearance, or your actions
  • Uncomfortably conscious of yourself as an object of the observations of others

The pitfalls of self-consciousness

When we are overly self-conscious, we focus on how others might be observing us, and this often turns into concern about their assessment of us.

As a result, we enter a downward spiral of destructive thoughts, our minds becoming full of worry, anxiety and judgement.

In the process, we lose ourselves.

The imaginary external perspective

As a result of self-consciousness, our perspective changes. We imagine ourselves from the external perspective of others – a perspective that is completely outside of ourselves.

Paying attention to this imaginary external perspective, we lose touch with our actual internal awareness – and this is why self-consciousness can be so self-destructive.

In the case of creative performers, it is easy to recognise this preoccupation with being observed and judged by others, especially as the very act of performing for an audience involves being observed.

Though we are definitely observed by others, there is another particularly powerful observer within this destructive self-conscious mix that has the potential to be the most distracting and destructive of all.

That observer is YOURSELF.

What is your perspective?

  • When you perform, do you have a sense of observing yourself from an external perspective, outside of your body?
  • Is it almost like another person or perhaps a different version of yourself is observing?
  • Perhaps from that view point you are looking down on yourself, or maybe the view is from the audience’s perspective.
  • Perhaps the perspective is similar to that of another colleague.
  • Does this observer have opinions about how you look, sound, move and feel?
  • Is this observer ultimately supportive and encouraging of you, or is this observer critical, eating away at your confidence with discouraging comments and assessments?

I suggest this external observer has huge potential to destroy your performance, and how you engage with this ‘shadow of yourself’ is a key element to your performance success and enjoyment.

Why is this?

Self-consciousness relies on a heightened external awareness.

If we are observing ourselves from the outside, we are distracted from the active sensing and awareness of our body. We are no longer connected and alert to our internal world. We are dislocated from the intelligence of the body and its natural expressive ability and we consequently lose our natural physical control and comfort. Our ungrounded mind, disconnected from our body, effectively runs wild.

The key to reversing this destructive pathway is to turn our focus inward with great curiosity.

Constantly building a more detailed internal perspective gives us access to a completely different performance experience and outcome.

Perspective from the inside out

There is much natural intelligence and wisdom to tap into when we pay attention to our bodies from the inside out: how best to move, how we are actually feeling, how we want to express ourselves.

The results of truly sensing and acknowledging our internal wisdom are often astounding. Paying attention to this wisdom allows for ease of movement, which in turn allows our creativity and self-expression to flow more naturally, unlocking our innate confidence.

Turning off self-consciousness

So, self-consciousness and its destructive impacts can be turned off by practising self-awareness and internal sensing.

When we are self-conscious, our focus is on our distracting and judgemental thoughts. By placing the focus of our minds within our body, there is less room for the destructive dialogue of our external observer and our unruly minds begin to settle.

With full and clear internal body awareness comes a calm, liberating and productive focus and attitude. We become centred, grounded and in touch with the current moment – and this current moment is where true creativity and spontaneity reside.


Being like the mountains

As creative performers, when we are focused within our bodies, we become just like the unquestioning mountains, confident and strong in ourselves and our purpose.

Having discarded the destructive powers of self-consciousness, we can simply do our thing.

Best of all, in this state of whole-body connection, by focusing our attention on intimately listening and feeling within ourselves, we can unlock our true unrestrained creative voice.

Discovering your own internal perspective:

Personally, I am still discovering how liberating and empowering it is to intimately explore and develop self-awareness from the inside out as I play. This has required being constantly alert to how my body feels, and listening to what it is communicating to me.

Fundamental to this exploration has been the ongoing development of a clear and detailed sense of my centre and how it relates to the rest of my body. The positive impact of this awareness of centre is hugely powerful and impressive – and wonderfully, it also brings a much greater sense of enjoyment in the whole process.

As a creative performer, my aim is to be completely authentic and confident in my own creative voice. Developing a clear sense of my centre connects me with my whole body and this connection has allowed a completely different level of comfort and control.

As a result, through detailed and focused feeling and listening to my body, I find myself to be much more in touch with my own unique creative perspective.

Try this:

Experiment with the following ideas within your creative practice and performance.

Practise bringing this awareness to every aspect of your creativity, and notice the impacts.

Stay curious, keep discovering and have fun with it.

  • Feel your centre, notice it, get to know it in as much detail as possible and try to keep your sense of it alert.
  • If you are struggling to find your centre, consider a spot inside your abdomen, approximately 5 cm below your tummy button, and 5cm within your body. Place your attention at this spot and notice how it feels.
  • Consider the size, shape, consistency and colour of your centre. Simply pay attention and notice what comes to mind.
  • Consider this centre and internal awareness as your foundation – fundamental for everything else to flow in balance and ease from.
  • Notice how other parts of your body relate to your centre.
  • Build a sense of your whole internal body in relation to your centre.
  • Notice how different parts of your body feel and how they want to move in relation to your centre.
  • Consider your posture, and build it from the inside out, relating everything to your centre. Rather than imposing any external sense of how your posture ‘should be’, be guided by how your internal body ‘wants to be’.
  • Throw out the rule book of how you think you ‘should move’ from an external perspective and explore movement from an internal perspective of feeling ease, flow and balance.
  • Relate different parts of your body to your centre: Sitting bones, feet, knees, shoulders, arms, lips, tongue, back of your neck. Notice what affect relating different points to your centre has on your internal awareness.
  • Keep feeling for comfort and freedom…explore where you are uncomfortable, and allow you body to advise and guide you on how it wants to be.

When ever you drift away from the awareness of your centre, simply bring that awareness back.

You will need to do this time and time again.

Just bring your awareness back into your body, back to your centre, and notice the affects on your comfort, self expression and enjoyment.

Silver linings the second time around

Having performed the complete cycle of Beethoven’s violin sonatas in February 2020 with American pianist Kate Boyd, we had originally planned to perform the cycle again later that year. But of course, COVID had other plans for us and the soonest that we could rearrange for our second cycle was for 10-17 January 2023 – almost 3 years later.

With the first of these concerts now just a day away, I’ve been reflecting on the new opportunities that presented themselves because of the enforced ‘change of plans’, and the silver linings have been numerous and rather wonderful.

Building Confidence

Radio New Zealang Concert asked me for advice around confidence, and in particular if it can be built.

I believe it can.

You can read what I had to say about it all on their website: Confidence Tricks – some tips for musical performance.

Effort, Age and Survival  

It is over a month since my last blog post and with the 6 weeks that have passed, we are well and truly in mid-summer here in Central Otago.

I have been systematically working through the 10 Beethoven violin sonatas, regularly inspired by the awesome landscapes outside my window, and accompanied by my trusty sidekick – Coco the cat.

It turns out one of the biggest current challenges is physical fatigue.

A reset from the inside out

Having previously performed 6 of the 10 Beethoven violin sonatas more than 20 years ago, it has been a lovely process coming back to the familiar, as well as discovering the new. Primarily due to the work I have been doing over the last 2 years getting to the nitty-gritty of my performance philosophies, these incredibly pristine works of Beethoven are proving to be an absolute gift for me.

Where to from here?

The next three months are super exciting for me, with 3 concerts confirmed in Mid-Feb 2020 for the performance of all 10 Beethoven sonatas within three days…and all in my new gorgeous neighbourhood of Central Otago.

It’s quite possible that I am naïve to the full enormity of this project – but one thing is for sure, sinking my teeth into these works again is a true treat, and the magnitude of the project is just what I am now needing at this point in my life.

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