Friday, August 5, 2011

What Happens when a Jedi Gets Nervous?

Have you ever had a big presentation to deliver and as you were getting ready to stand up, you suddenly thought you might actually pass out? The heart starts pounding, you get tunnel vision, your thoughts of terrifying embarrassment sound like they're being broadcast on the PA system, and someone just CRANKED THE VOLUME TO 11!!! No matter how much I practice public speaking, I can never shake the nervousness that comes up, whether before a big presentation or right before I ask a question at a public forum on how to reduce corruption in the Republic of Kerplunkistan.

This happened to me on the other day when I had to give a presentation to my organization's board of directors. I knew I was about to be introduced. My brain got word down to my heart and then to the rest of my body. Sudden dizziness, a cold sweat, deafening thoughts about impossibly horrible and embarrassing scenarios, like how I could become that guy who passed out during a board meeting.

A trick someone once showed me is to squeeze your fists tightly under the table. I'm not sure it works though. Its more of a distraction than anything. But I recently learned another way that is worth giving a try.

The technique, like many meditation techniques, is all about touching in with how you feel in your body. First you acknowledge the feeling, which, believe it or not, might be the hardest part. Recognizing how you feel and how your body feels is a practice in awareness, and awareness is something that develops as you stick with your meditation practice. Most of the time we are only semi-consciousness of how we feel, since we are so busy up in our heads, thinking and thinking and thinking. As you continue meditating, you become more keenly aware of many things, including your surroundings, your thoughts, and sensations in the body. I like to think of it like Jedi mind training.

Someone said that it is good to recognize your state of mind, but to recognize your state of mind while you are midstream in doing something else is even better. I imagine that is the awareness noble warriors once cultivated.

Touching into sensations and feelings in the body is important during moments of stress. When you focus on sensations you move your awareness from your monkey head to your human body, thereby tapping the wisdom of your present experience. Moving from the thoughts to the sensations, you notice your heartbeat, your shaky hands, you notice what it feels like to be afraid and you can be curious about that experience. I won't give away the rest of the practice, because I think it is important to get a teacher and learn these things according to your teacher's advice, but touching in and recognizing the feeling is really the main part. After that it can probably go in a few different directions. When you are scared it is useful to feel what it feels like to be scared as opposed to what your mind thinks it feels like to be scared. It may take some work, but with practice an aspiring Jedi can learn to let the thoughts slide and then walk through the fire of nervousness, coming out on the other end, relatively unscathed, feeling like a gentle warrior, ready for action.

1 comment:

  1. Meditation and insight practice certainly has a lot to offer here but what I have found, although YMMV, is that it is was more useful in making me aware of what I was feeling rather than giving me concrete tools to help me overcome social anxiety. When someone pointed me to some online material based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I found that it was saying many of the same things but by integrating insights from cognitive research was able to give me a set of concrete exercises that I was able to apply and see immediate improvement. So I would not dissuade anyone from using meditation and mindfulness but I would encourage one not to stop there and integrate more modern tools directly tied to studies of the brain as well including CBT.