Some years ago, I once heard a podcast interview with someone who was explaining the benefits of getting outside of one’s comfort zone. “Comfort zone” for him (and anyone) is living a life free from interference from the fears that stalk us. His method was to do things that confront fear head on and were so outside the realm of normal for you that you couldn’t help but know yourself better, find yourself closer to happiness, and generally be more incredible as a result. His list contained a bunch of things that would suit just about anyone’s inclinations—but they are all harder than they seem. One thing in particular that I still remember was to show up at a comedy club’s open mic night and wing it. Bomb miserably. Be heckled. Another one was to show up at an open casting call for a TV commercial, film, or play. Head in and wing it. No stakes. It’s an interesting thing to do, and something that is so far off the radar for most of us that it almost seems interesting.
Now those are relatively hard ones. But how would feel about something easier? Would you, for example, go to a busy place with lots of people, lay down on the floor for 30 seconds, then get up and smile as if nothing happened?
The point of it all is to test the outer limits of your tolerance and become less averse to taking risks. I’ve touched on this in the past with “7 Steps to Psyche Up Your Bagpiping.” We are generally ruled by, and count on, our habits and the relative comfort we create in our lives. But to become better pipers, or better anything, we have to become accustomed to being “on the edge” where creativity happens. To understand our full potential, we need to be used to pushing beyond our self-imposed limits—and feeling uncomfortable. When we take on a new project such as learning Highland bagpipes, we take a certain amount of risk. Most of us fear rejection and disapproval from other people. It’s very human. And there is much about playing bagpipes that can make us uncomfortable, particularly if your objective is bagpipe competition. Any sort of creative act where you are putting yourself “out there” involves a great amount of psychological risk. Doing things that address those fears outright moves us beyond them where they no longer trouble us and frees up our minds for more creativity. Kurt Vonnegut has lots to say about this, but said it best in this brief quote:
“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.”
A quick search on the internet will turn up all kinds of lists for ways to bring you to the edge of your own comfort zone. Are there circumstances that can do the same for bagpiping? A little imagination is all it takes. Here is a suggested short list of things, some that are commonly mentioned in such endeavors, but with bagpipe variations. Use these as a template to formulate your own challenge (the more extreme the better!). Get used to that feeling of uncomfortably “being on the edge.”
- Pick a tune you wish to learn, don’t look at the sheet music but find a recording or video of it and listen to it a bunch of times to get the melody in your head. Then take your instrument to an open mic music session somewhere, bust it out and and play it.
- Crash a wedding in your kilt and Highland wear and when confronted, volunteer to pipe for 5 minutes.
- Play your pipes while marching through your neighborhood or town. Try to cover as much ground as you can in 30 minutes.
And for those seriously wishing to make a bigger push against their own boundaries:
- Bring your pipes to a nudist beach/camp and play for 10 minutes.
Some of this might seem silly, and cause knee-jerk opposition, but that’s kind of the point. Fear of absurdity and disruption is just another way of saying “I'm uncomfortable.” I daresay that playing your march in front of a judge at your next competition will be a cakewalk by comparison. And that IS the point. The benefits of stretching your personal limits and feeling comfortable with risk are a greater sense of yourself, greater courage, and a stronger creative mindset. Making music is as creative and artistic as it gets. As a result, it is also personally risky. Being comfortable with those risks and inviting them rather than pushing them away is what helps us progress as musicians. Performance of any kind brings up different types of fear in different people and it is that fear that keeps us mired in our comfort zones, keeps us from realizing our full creative potential. Become used to hitting the limits of your comfort zone. It’s the best way to develop your creative spirit and set you free for more incredible efforts.