This past weekend, I was teaching at the Providence, R.I., Shambhala Center. We spent the entire time talking about fearlessness -- what it was, how fear maintains its grip on us, how to loosen it, and how to manifest fearlessness in our lives. My final talk was on confidence, and it was meant to be a culmination of the entire program.
As I prepared, I thought about my own plentiful experiences with fear and doubt. What right did I actually have to discuss such a topic? How could I find something genuine to say that wasn't merely parroting what I had been taught without any inner connection to the teaching? The more I thought about what I could say that would be true and honest, the more anxious I became. I pictured myself flubbing the whole thing, confusing my students, dishonoring the dharma. I could feel my heart start to pound and my shoulders tighten.
That is when the teaching came clear to me. The opposite of confidence is nothing other than anxiety. Anxiety arises when? Not in giving the talk, but when I was thinking about giving the talk. I'm not saying there was nothing to worry about, but I am saying that my anxiety occurred the moment my mind and body separated, i.e., my body was sitting at my table preparing a talk while my mind had raced ahead a few hours to preview my certain humiliation.
The principle works like this. Have you ever had to have a really difficult conversation with someone, something so potentially upsetting that you put it off and put it off? The longer you wait, the more nervous you become and the more reasons you come up with to delay yet again. This has certainly happened to me and, interestingly, the moment I decide, "That's it, I'm jumping in" -- and sit down to face the person -- something amazing happens. My anxiety recedes. I'm not saying it feels good or easy, but all of that stomach-gnawing, brain-racing, nerve-shaking anticipatory dread recedes. Of course. My mind and body are synchronized. They are doing the same thing at the same time.
We all do things that require synchronization of mind and body, from cooking, to driving, to yoga, to making out. These are things that require your mind to be on what you're doing, sometimes with great delight. We tend to find such things relaxing, not in the take-a-nap sense, but in the refreshing, invigorating, renewing sense. That's just how we're wired -- when our mind and body are synchronized, we relax.
When our mind and body are synchronized, we are present. When we are present, the value plays out in two arenas: within ourselves (we can actually know our own minds from moment to moment) and between ourselves and others (we can read signals and connect honestly).
When we know our own minds, we can be genuine -- which is another word for confident. When we can trust ourselves to interact intelligently with others, there is nothing to fear in reaching out to our fellow humans. We can be open, which is also another word for confident.
And where does all of this good stuff come from? From the synchronization of mind and body, which comes from, you guessed it, your meditation practice. Please know that as we sit together and train our minds to rest on breath, we are doing nothing more or less than sowing the seeds of primordial confidence.
So the next time you face certain anxiety, check your mind. Has it raced ahead to the future or buried itself in the past? Please try to let go and return your mind to what you are experiencing right now. It's always good to begin with your body. What sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel? Turn toward your anxiety rather than away. Open to yourself without hesitation. Greet your experience. What exemplifies confidence better than this?
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