Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Today was one of those days when the thinking mind gets the better of me: I sit and try as I may to bring the attention to the breath as I have been taught, but the mind keeps wanting to wander off and play, and manages, despite my best efforts, to occupy all of my attention. I sat for very nearly an hour, imagining that if only I persisted I would succeed in getting the puppy dog leashed. But no. It never happened. I thought, and thought, and thought...

The thing came up in one of our groups last night, when Ellie and I sat down with artists to exchange all manner of things that matter to people involved in creative work. Ellie played the DVD of an artist speaking about his work, his process, his passions, recorded at an annual gathering of painters to which I myself have accepted an invitation to speak this coming June. Instead of paying attention to what this artist had to say, my mind was invaded by an all-too familiar panic, the fear of standing up in front of people and speaking... as though I'm supposed to know something of importance to share with them.

It's a fear that has plagued me throughout my life. Irrational, stupid, unfounded it may be, since I actually do it reasonably well. But it never fails to come up--in this case, months ahead. One of our artists yesterday wisely suggested meditating on its possible origin, the "kernel" from which it grew into what it continues to be to this day; and I thought about all those times, as a child, when I felt that I looked foolish in the eyes of others. Blushing was the outward symptom of a dreadful inner fear of mockery.

Were you a blusher? I put this question out to our group last night, and virtually everyone had shared that experience with me--the hot, red, beetroot flush of fury and humiliation that betrays to the world an inner sense of shame, of having been exposed for all the inadequacies and absurdities of one's very being, a stripping naked of the tender soul within. I was a blusher well into my adult life. I recall the agony when the matter of sex came up in a graduate seminar on poetry...

It's the risk of exposure, I think, that drives my fear--the risk of being seen for the fraud and the know-nothing that I really am. (Not particularly, of course. Or no more than the rest of us. But reality doesn't count.) That's perhaps why I chose to be a writer. It means being able to practice spontaneity with none of the risks. I don't have to publish what I write. I can always edit out the stupid stuff--or try to, if I recognize it! And no one will see me when I blush.

So what happened this morning was that my mind started doing the advance work for a presentation that I'll be making in three months time! What to say? How to say it? How to look wise and modest all at once, intelligent and well-informed, spontaneous and sure-footed with my thoughts?

Absurd, no? And to think that even an hour of meditation couldn't get me past it... Enough for today. I have to meet with a class full of students tomorrow, and another on Friday. My once-a-semester teaching gigs. I've actually grown quite used to that... Good practice.


robin andrea said...

I don't actually blush, but when I have to speak in public my voice always sounds like I am about to cry. It's crazy. I can't really make it stop, even with good steady breathing and a conscious effort.

Sue said...

Thanks for your wonderful writing. You inspire me. I seem to struggle with meditation more often than not, but I am discovering that looking at my discomfort is a great lesson in itself.

citizen of the world said...

Well, what good is mediatation if a whole hour can't take away all your flaws. Jeez.

Mike Cross said...

Yes, I was a chronic blusher as a teenager, and mention of sex (or God forbid, a real live girl sitting next to me on the bus) was often the trigger. The way I see it now, the chronic blushing was a vicious circle of me panicking about my own panic reflex -- primarily a vestibular rather than a psychological problem, I think. There again, I could be wrong.

G said...

I too was a shy teenager who was very self-conscious, especially in the presence of attractive females. Years of meditation & mindfulness practice have enabled me to let go of such debilitating emotions.

The most useful of such techniques was one I came across in my late teens called 'The Headless Way'. In essence, it involves turning attention around to see what's actually here at the heart of oneself:

spacious awareness

Living from this void rather than a super-imposed self-image of a face (blushing or not) can free one from being overly self-conscious and self-obsessed.
There's a website devoted to this way of seeing the no-thing at the center of one's 'thingness'. I recommend a visit, Peter et al, but whatever else you do there, do the 'experiments' - without doing them, the whole point will be missed:

G at 'Forest Wisdom'.