In June, I had the rare and humbling opportunity to speak on a panel with three very distinguished Buddhists and peace activists: Colman McCarthy, Hugh Byrne, and Bill Aiken. The panel was part of the first annual BuddhaFest, and there were over 100 people in attendance. I agreed to speak on the panel because a friend of mine recommended me, I was in a good mood when they asked, and I wanted to encourage myself to move out of my comfort zone.
While backstage, I was given a microphone, signed a video waiver, heard the applause from the other room, and when they told us it was “two minutes” until we went on — I panicked. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I would have agreed to do this. My insides turned to mush, and I couldn’t comprehend anything that anyone was saying to me. I was sure that when my turn came to speak about engaged Buddhism, I would go completely blank, fidget around in my chair, stumble out a few words, and basically make a complete fool of myself. Worse yet, I’d be doing it in front of a crowd of yogis and fellow Buddhist practitioners. I thought I might throw up.
I practiced being aware of my breathing, which reduced some of the sweating at least. But my mind went back to my college speech class, in which 10 of us would sit around a conference table and give speeches on various topics. Each and every time I had to give a talk, I would literally freeze, manage to hurry through some portion of the words on my note cards, and sit down. Later I couldn’t remember anything I said. I wasn’t capable of giving a speech without going into full fight/flight. Remembering this was not very comforting.
If it weren’t for two things, I probably wouldn’t have even walked onto the stage. First, my pride. The thought of telling the moderator that I couldn’t go one was just too embarrassing. But most importantly, what got me on the stage was my faith in this practice. There was some quiet voice in me that knew my practice would support me, and that I wouldn’t completely disappear into panic-land, if I could just keep remembering my practice. Keep staying present in my body, keep breathing, and keep connecting with people.
The time came to walk out, and I followed the moderator out onto the stage, and took a seat. One of the organizers read through our bios. Because I was a late addition to the panel, my bio was only a couple of sentences long. From what I could hear, each of the other panelists had written several books, founded multiple non-profits, and been practicing meditation since before I was born. But perhaps I am exaggerating. Suffice it to say that I had three major items on my hand-written bio, one of them the announcer skipped, and one of them he couldn’t pronounce. It was pretty embarrassing.
It may surprise you to find out that I actually gave a nice talk about engaged Buddhism, without looking at my notes even once. And what saved me? Well, as soon as I really looked into the faces in the audience, I knew that I would be ok. I could see that everyone was just like me, everyone there had suffering just like me, and everyone was in that audience because they wanted to learn how to suffer less. That’s the motivation that leads all of us to these practices. When I was able to sit still and look around, I could see who was really in front of me, rather than listening to what my fearful thoughts were telling me.
I spoke for a few minutes about how I found my way to creating this space and this studio, and how the practice of mindfulness and yoga helped me get here. And as I sat on that stage, I felt just how interconnected we all are. I was reminded of the poet Hafiz who said,
“Out of a great need, we are all holding hands and climbing,” and “Admit something: everyone you see, you say to them, ‘Love me.’ Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops. Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.” We all want the same things – happiness, ease, love, connection, safety, care, freedom. And the practices of mindfulness and yoga help our minds settle to the point where we can really see and know this.
And the more we know this truth, the more we can relax into our lives without fear. And then we can really live our lives to the fullest.
may your life be lived to its fullest this summer.
p.s. Please join us this summer for some great workshops with visiting teachers Suzie Hurley (from Willow Street Yoga) and Christopher Baxter (Atma Yoga), for some summertime dancing at one of our Shake Your Soul Dance Parties, or bring your kids or teens to camp.