Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop at a local cancer support center on the topic "Healthy Eating 101." It was a two hour interactive workshop with a dozen or so people in attendance. It included those battling cancer currently, those who are survivors of the disease and caregivers to people living with cancer.
As I gazed out to the faces watching me, an immense pouring of love swept over me. I could feel their openness and for the first time since my Yoga Teacher Training, I could make out auras surrounding some of the participants. They were open. I was open. Allowing a holding space for connection, learning, sharing and supporting.
I inhaled the experience deeply as a smile formed on my face. I liken this energy to that I feel while I'm guiding savasana. A room full of people who have chosen to hang their insecurities and reservations at the door. They are there open and vulnerable, ready to accept and share. I cannot explain how this energy fills the room. You'll know what I'm talking about if you've ever had the blessing of experiencing it.
I continued holding this space during my presentation and allowed it to fill me. Previously I had sat in my car before it was to begin, I had closed my eyes and silently set an intention for the next couple hours, "Allow me to authentically deliver whatever message or information will resonate with these people, guiding them toward better.
While I planned my presentation and organized it with a slideshow and handouts, it was important to me to feel the room, reading each participant, being open to understanding and recognizing what they might need outside of my planned information. I went with the flow, willing to release the crutch of my slides in order to serve the audience more authentically.
It turned into a beautiful couple hours of engaging conversations, heart felt personal stories, admissions of shortcomings, and a profound level of respect and nurturing amongst the group. I left on a high.
I was 17 when I first experienced symptoms of anxiety. I had a test that morning that I didn't feel totally ready for. My chest was heavy and my breathing wasn't coming easily. I curled up into the fetal position with my forehead pressing into my mattress, willing my breath to slow down. It wasn't very effective.
I was 20 and in University. I chose classes that didn't have seminars, only lectures. Seminars included an hour long class of sharing and conversation as a whole group. Unfortunately within my program there was only 1 class I was able to do this with. The first week was awful. During seminars I sat in a corner, quiet as possible, the entire time battling the nausea that overwhelmed me. My face would turn a dark shade of red at the mere thought of having to speak. I would sweat and wring my hands out, terrified at sharing. My goal those classes was to survive. I tried telling myself to put my hand up once during class and speak just one time, but that thought alone made me want to vomit. I skipped every seminar the second week and told myself I didn't need to go the rest of the year. I gave up 10-15% of my grade just to avoid these situations and to relieve the crippling anxiety that was starting to affect my life in many ways.
The next year in a Social Psychology class we were given an article to read and report on. As I sat in the back row taking in the article, I felt the blood drain from my face. The article could have been written about me. Words jumped off of the page, slapping me straight in the face. Words like difficulty breathing, deep feelings of fear, panic, sweating, blushing, wanting to hide. Holy shit. THIS is what I had been dealing with for years, not realizing it was a thing, just believing I was inherently different from everyone else. I believed I was just shy and I hated it about myself. Why couldn't I just have a conversation with someone in Walmart without wanting desperately to run away? Why did I cancel plans with friends on a regular basis to avoid being in public? Why couldn't I raise my hand in class and share a thought without believing sawing off my arm with a butter knife to be a better option? There was my truth on that page - Social Anxiety.
Armed with a label, I went home and researched all I could on the topic and found that I wasn't alone in the world after all. Yet knowing these things and battling it were two very different experiences. It wasn't until a trip to Walmart that left me paralyzed in my car, unable to open the door and enter the building because of my peaking anxiety, that I finally sought assistance from a therapist. The journey has been long. My tendency to hide and shut out everyone around me still appears when I've faced a fear or criticism from someone else. Yoga Teacher Training was very challenging because we needed to share of ourselves every class, staying open and vulnerable in a way I hadn't imagined possible.
But I did it. And I did it well.
Aside from my numerous therapy sessions, my dedication to living a life of freedom and my hours of research, self challenges and continual commitment to growing outside my comfort zone, I have come up with a simple concept that helps me immensely when I'm standing in front of a room full of people.
Take yourself out of the equation.
Yes - take yourself out of the equation.
What I mean by that is that every time I deliver content to a group, I simply consider myself as a vehicle for information that may transform their lives. I envision words, ideas and concepts coming from a space in the universe to these people's ears. It has very little to do with me. I am there to serve these people. As a conduit. How can fear overtake me with that perspective?
Rather than thinking:
Will these people like me?
Did I work hard enough?
Do I even know what I'm talking about?
They're all looking at me.
Instead I think:
How can I serve these people?
Help me find the words that will resonate with them.
What can I give them that will be meaningful in their lives?
I am taken from a place of fear to a place of love. There is a shift from insecurity to hope. I move from a sense of inadequacy to a place of dedicated determination.
Fear cannot exist in a state of love.
So for 2 hours I delivered content. Eyes stared at me. Conversations happened. And not once did I want to shrink. Not once did my voice shake. Not once did I desire the comfort of the hole I bury into when things get uncomfortable.
I left energized. My cup was full. My heart was bursting. And as I walked to my car, gratitude swept over me as tears formed while I silently whispered to myself, good job Rachel. you served them well