I wish to sit beside…wheeze…..you…gulp…and learn from you”.
Phew! I remember so well that ceremony when, just a few months after my ordination, I had to recite that verse. Alone, aloud and in public. Everybody present was probably silently willing me to get the words out soon, to save themselves from further embarrassment.
I was so lost. Caught up in the struggle to find wind enough to propel something, anything from my already dazed and dizzy self. I got through, I didn’t faint and hours latter I was answering questions at the Chief Juniors Dharma Ceremony. I didn’t loose it although I thought I might.
These ceremonies marked a huge step towards my challenging a life long struggle with ‘shyness’. That’s doing anything in public that marked me out as separate. Reading aloud in class? Well I was never asked as far as I remember. The school Christmas play at the village hall? What a nightmare, all those wretched fairies with wings and wands and sticky-out white dresses. Primroses, primroses and violets sweet as the…….sweet as the…. Nope I still don’t remember what they were as sweet as.
Ten years into my monastic life I found myself in Liverpool, at the Friends Meeting House in the center of town. I was about to give my first public talk on Buddhism. Calming myself, pausing briefly, I launched in with a clear head, and sweaty palms. I survived! I more than survived, I had a ball! Talking in public to total strangers, lots of them, had been my number one ‘can’t do/won’t do’. According to research I stumbled across, people would rather die than talk in public. Such is the level of fear involved.
Life has a way of throwing up opportunities to challenge ones fears. To prove to oneself, perhaps just once, that there IS something deeper than fear which can be relied upon. To find this is to change ones life, for ever. Never mind river rafting, climbing the Matterhorn or biking around the world. Just stand up and speak before strangers, it does it every time.
After the Liverpool talk I remember my mother saying, I can hardly believe you are the same person my dear. I wasn’t.
See also here for a shyness journey. Impressive.