Thursday, July 28, 2011

Putting Myself out There

I'm always freaking out about putting myself out there. I'll post something on Facebook and then an hour later, as I'm walking down the street, I'll think, "shit! I shouldn't have posted that thing on Facebook!" Then, a second later I'll get over it and move on with my life. When I was younger I was often paralyzed by the fear of putting myself out there, and I didn't even have to deal with social networking. Unfortunately, this doesn't necessarily get easier with age. A lot of people get better at avoiding potential embarrassment and pain by staying inside their nice warm cocoons. Maybe that's why adults suck at learning new languages. We always want to be right, sound smart and never suffer failure.

But my meditation teachers keep instructing me to put myself out there, and meditation has given me a lot of confidence to experiment and to fail. Putting yourself out there means making mistakes and often falling flat on your face, then getting up and saying, ok, that failed miserably, so I'll try it another way next time. It means being fearless in the face of failure, and resting in the knowledge that I'm not always going to get things right.

What it doesn't mean is acting like an asshole, giving constant unsolicited advice to all my friends or saying whatever I feel like to everybody. After all, the Buddha taught upaya, or "skillful means."

Putting yourself out there is a bit like learning a new language. You practice your set phrases and then you get to Mexico. You think you are picking up the language, but then you want to say something about an embarrassing moment, so you say, "estoy embarasado." Instead of saying what you meant, you tell everyone you are pregnant. You fall flat on your face, but you laugh it off with your new friends, assuming you've had some success practicing gentleness. Next time, you'll definitely get that word right, but if you didn't put yourself out there and try to communicate, you'd never learn Spanish.

Sometimes I still cringe a little when I'm putting myself out there. For example, this blog is an experiment in moving out of my comfort zone. I know and accept the fact that some people are going to read this and say, "whoa, he kind of went off the deep end with this meditation blog." I understand that not everyone is going to get it. By practicing gentleness towards myself, it is easier to imagine that others will cut me some slack as well.

So where does this fear of putting oneself out there come from? For starters, I'm thinking it comes from attachment to a self, an identity. I've experienced the loss of self in brief moments of awareness, but to live constantly in the knowledge that the self is illusory, is not something I have achieved or that I really fully understand. Since I grew up in the self affirming punk scene, Noah Levine's words really resonated with me when he said, "you have a personality, it comes through, it's conditioned, it's completely part of you. It's not your true identity." Being part of the punk scene was empowering. It was by developing this hard-core, counter cultural identity that I put on my armor and found a way to get around in society. I felt like I had a place in the world and that there was something special about me and my friends. There was a time when I was terrified to let that identity go. It gave me all my power, but later I realized that I could get a lot more done by relaxing my grip on that identity a little bit.

To start putting yourself out there you have to get a taste of fearlessness, which is not so different from equanimity. But to learn fearlessness, you have to start with gentleness. And to learn gentleness, you have to learn to be gentle to yourself first. Gentleness is one of the first things you learn about when you study meditation. It's an ongoing process, not something that you ever graduate from. I expect that the same goes for putting yourself out there. It is a practice and a process, not something we graduate from.


  1. I feel the same way a lot of the time, but I think I need to work on the "don't be an asshole" part. I often try to come up with the perfect response, or attempt to be funny, when what I should be doing is just being natural. thanks for putting yourself out there.

  2. Yeah, the being an asshole part is tough. I struggle with it. I don't know what it is. Maybe it is part of our self deprecating culture and maybe I'm not even being an asshole, or maybe in our culture we tend to have a lot of aggression that manifests itself in snide remarks and pettiness. I tend to think it is the latter. As I continue to practice, I start to notice more when I'm being aggressive in my speech. Hopefully that awareness will eventually lead to less asshole behavior, and more behavior that is supportive of the creative and good work of my friends, family and community.