It started out with something so small that I didn’t expect it to amount to anything, but it has changed my life. Exploring a slight constriction in my throat led to revelations about an early childhood experience and has left me feeling more deeply connected to the people around me.
As I gave feedback to a colleague after teaching a class, I noticed a small constriction forming in my throat – an almost imperceptible tightening as I spoke. She had said something in class that had taken the conversation off topic and I felt mildly uncomfortable as I fulfilled my Senior Instructor role of giving her coaching. No big deal. Minor, temporary tightenings and inhibitions like that are just a part of daily life.
Normally I would have barely noticed it and let it go without a second thought, but not this time.
As I was focused on designing the Self-Confidence Made Easier and Easier course, my awareness was already tuned to notice anything that restricted my full self-expression. I was curious to see how the Transform Your Fears guided meditation I had just designed would work on such a minor fear. I was amazed by what unfolded when I followed the guided meditation.
I lay down on my bed and started following the guided meditation, listening to “Mark’s” voice – my voice – guiding my awareness internally; first to body-felt sensations of my throat constricting. (When I first recorded my first guided meditations back in 2003 and followed them myself, it was a bit disconcerting hearing myself speak, but over time that has become something I don’t notice anymore. I just follow along like anyone else using the guided meditations.)
As Mark’s soothing voice brought my attention to the feelings underneath the throat constriction, I was surprised by what came to mind. Seemingly out of nowhere I had a flash of a feeling-memory from when I was seven years old.
My much older sister, who played an important role in my upbringing, was quite a rebel. She would challenge authority and speak out at any opportunity. Although it had never been stated explicitly I had come to the conclusion – outside of my conscious awareness – that in order to have her respect, I too needed to be valiant in speaking out whenever I saw any wrong that needed to be righted.
At first it was a vague sense that I needed to – had to – coerce myself to speak out. No matter how uncomfortable it was for that little seven year old, I must be vocal in order to gain the respect of my family.
As Mark’s voice continued to guide me deeper into my unconscious, body-felt memories, another, more specific memory flashed in my mind: The disastrous day that I built a rocket car.
My parents were both medical researchers, therefore we grew up in a scientific family. They valued academic achievement and scientific experimentation. When I was a kid, we had an old-fashioned soda fountain that used little pressurized carbon dioxide canisters to carbonate water. As children the magic of screwing the green aluminum canisters into the fountain and having fizzy water come out was pure delight. Of course my parents explained it to us in scientific terms, but to us it was still enthralling.
As our parents encouraged experimentation, we found that we could drive a pin-nail into the soft seal of the gas canisters – the spot that was automatically punctured when the canister was screwed into the fountain. To our even greater delight, we discovered that if you removed the nail and let the canister loose, it would shoot around the floor like a wild, undirected rocket.
Taking the idea further, I decided that I wanted to make a rocket propelled car. I used Lego blocks to build a simple four-wheeled base with a compartment in the back to hold the gas canister. Sure enough, with the gas canister in its compartment, when I removed the pin nail the car shot around the dining room floor like a mad scientist’s invention in some crazy kid’s cartoon.
I beamed with delight and did a happy dance.
My parents were proud of me.
In fact, they were so proud that they insisted I do a demonstration of my invention to my entire pre-school. So one morning, with great trepidation and nervousness, in front of the whole school, with the strict headmistress looking on with her mouth pursed down in frightening disapproval, I drove the pin nail into the gas canister and let my Lego rocket car loose.
It careened straight towards the headmistress. I vividly remember the spectacle of the old lady’s low-healed black shoes and thick stockinged legs scampering to avoid my unruly rocket car.
As the blue and white car crashed against the wall and disintegrated, she glared at me with more disapproval in her eyes that even she usually expressed.
I was mortified.
In front of my entire school.
The teachers hated me for causing such disruption in their usually orderly morning assembly. My classmates hated me for being such an egg-head show off.
At age seven.
As those unexpected memories and feelings bubbled up into my conscious awareness, tears welled up in the corners of my eyes.
I hadn’t acknowledged it to myself at the time, but I really didn’t want to do that demonstration in front of my class. The rocket ship in our dining room with my family was fun, but I never wanted the public exposure and the potential public humiliation. I did it because my parents and sister wanted me to be on the public stage.
As these revelations flooded into my awareness, I felt a constriction in my ascending colon, the place where we hide things from ourselves. It was like gas cramps, although I did not have gas. I had been hiding this truth, that I had been pushed onto the public stage by my family, since I was a kid.
These days my life is very public. I teach around the world. I have this blog. I work with thousands of people every year. I’ve made coaching – speaking out in difficult circumstances – an inherent part of my career.
A new thought came into my mind: Is my current, public life my own choice, or is it a result of self-coercion to gain my family’s respect? My liver, the organ that resonates with life purpose, started twisting below my ribs as I pondered whether I had chosen my life path or whether I pushed myself into it in order to please my family.
As this revelation settled in, Mark’s voice continued gently guiding me to the next stage of the exploration with the question, “What is it you would rather have? What do you really want?” My first answer was that I wanted the love of my family without having to perform to earn it.
As he continued repeating the same question several times, “If you had that, what would having that do for you?”, a later answer was that I wanted to feel connected with people.
And as Mark’s questions continued further I realized my ultimate positive intent was to feel connected as an innate state of being, rather than being dependent on performance. With the guidance of Mark’s voice, I felt a growing sense of being connected to everyone around me, unconditionally. Others could choose to connect to me or not. They could choose to like and respect me, or not. But my sense of belonging and connection in the world has no conditions.
It felt like a form of enlightenment. A sense of being at peace in the world as it is. A feeling of connection and belonging as a pre-supposed state of existence. Individual people can respond to me as they will, but I – at my core – experience belonging.
What a relief!
As Mark started to wrap up the guided meditation, my mind wandered to the day I had just had in Jakarta, Indonesia. Alone in a new country where many people don’t speak English. A group of school kids in a public square in the Old City asking to take a photo with me simply because I looked different from everyone else – the sole white man. My struggle ordering dinner in a restaurant where none of the staff spoke English. My life as a nomad, often alone with enormous barriers to connection and belonging flowed into my awareness.
Did I choose this lifestyle because I love it, or because my experiences with my family taught me that belonging (as a smart academic who speaks up for the truth) meant not belonging in the outside world (as an annoying over-achiever who sent a rocket car shooting towards a headmistress)?
Mark closed the guided meditation with “And when you are ready, bring yourself back to normal, waking awareness.”
I opened my eyes and rolled onto my side, astounded by how such an innocuous starting point could have led to such profound discoveries.
I was left with many insights and one big question: How will these revelations change my lifestyle choices? Will I keep traveling and inevitably be an outsider in foreign environments, or will my desire for adventure be replaced by a desire for familiarity?
It will take months for me to mull those questions and discover what the implications will be. As I write this article on the morning after the exploration, the answer actually does not matter.
Sitting in a café surrounded by people who look different and don’t speak my language, I feel profoundly connected and at peace in the world. There is warmth in my heart and an appreciation of my life that is almost unbearably wonderful.
This is a good day to be alive.
Self-Confidence Made Easier and Easier
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