I’ve been thinking a lot lately about musicians and fear.

I’ve always had a fascination with performance anxiety. That’s why, as a student attending one of my first professional conferences, I was so excited to see a panel session on the topic.

This is my jam, I thought.

For the final question, the panelists were asked for their top strategy to combat performance anxiety.

I steadied my notebook and poised my pen, ready for wisdom bombs.

The first panelist grabbed the microphone. They paused. I remember they seemed unsure. “Be able to play the left hand from memory,” they said.

My heart sank.

I was already practicing strategies like this, and I was still terrified.

Was that really all there was to it? Playing hands alone from memory?

I didn’t know what was missing, but I knew it had to go deeper than that.

I read every book I could and tried all the strategies. Let your nerves work for you. Eat a banana before the recital. You’re nervous because you care.

None of it worked.

Many years later, I began meditating to cope with personal stress. Several years after that, I gave my first solo performance since taking up meditation.

It was an entirely new experience.

I wish I could tell you I was less nervous. I wasn’t.

But I was more present. I wasn’t fixated on mistakes I had made or focused on getting to the end. I was hearing and feeling every note I was playing. My senses were more vivid than ever, and my focus was razor-sharp.

The best part?

All of these sensations were stronger than the fear.

I knew I had to continue down the meditative path. And I had to share this transformative practice with my students.

Playing hands alone from memory is certainly useful. And I’ve seen many a banana backstage.

But I know in my heart—none of it is a match for sitting quietly with your own mind and learning to work with fear, not against it.