Awkward, superficial encounters with strangers - my favorite way to k(f)ill a morning. Not really, but I'm gonna go ahead and try it on for size anyway. I'm going to approach this whole forcing of self to interact with a small group of people whom I don't know and whom don't know me (all parties equally content to keep it that way) as if it were the most brilliant idea I've ever had. I'm going to pretend that I have nothing else better to do - which honestly won't involve any actual pretending.
After meeting with a vocational counselor and a psychologist, whom performed a battery of psychological and intelligence tests on me, it's been suggested...well, technically required...that I attend a roughly two-month-long social skills training group. If I plan to continue in their vocational program, that is. Now, during my days of silence awhile back, I came up with the emotionally idyllic life for myself and have been taking strides towards making it happen. This program is something that I inquired about earlier in the year before I knew the direction I was going. At this point, I'm not sure if it will be able to hook me up with the sort of work I'd like, but the way I see it, it's still in concert with my dream, just another avenue the Universe can use to help get me where I want to go. Peace in social situations IS a part of that dream and here's the most suitable practice right on time, right at my feet.
Our first meeting was last week, and I walked out of it with an inner confidence I've not felt in awhile. Earlier in the week, I'd attended my first college class in quite some time - which went well! - so I had a little morale booster behind me; a fresh chunk of proof that I can do things like this; a nudge to keep on going. So truth be told, I wasn't very nervous come the morning of my first meeting. I smiled at people and made eye contact. And when asked to introduce ourselves, I volunteered first (though mostly to get it over with). I added soundly to the discussion. I made a witty comment that made people laugh. I even made small talk with a classmate during break while he smoked. I felt my charm unequivocal. Afterward, I began to wonder what made me think all this time I'm a socially inept person, when I am so obviously equipped to handle harmless strangers. What's the big deal, I thought.
Well, Mr. Cocky - Dr. Naive if you like - the big deal is that you hadn't yet been challenged. You hadn't yet felt threatened. You hadn't yet had to face in other people's eyes the things you despise about yourself. You hadn't yet let Life reveal why you were there.
And for that, all I'd need is a little more patience.
During the series of exercises in communication, we were supposed to face our partner and make direct eye contact to practice our "attending skills." Well, one look across the table at my partner, one look in to his "judgmental" eyes in this contrived fashion, and I couldn't hold it, that small gesture. My adrenaline kicked in. My face grew red. My fear of being seen was exposed and I felt the stress all over my body. Forcing myself to "actively listen" to his "blah blah blah" felt impossible and I blurted out, "I hate this!" The instructor said some reassuring thing or another and asked the class if anyone else was experiencing discomfort - which was only answered with silence. Thanks, guys. The sound of crickets was deafening. I felt stupid. It's one thing to inwardly be nervous, but to show it all over your red face and to actually say it out loud, that's when you can't go back. From that moment on, I'm that guy. I'm that nervous, awkward, blushing loser. Once it creeps in to the minds of others, I can't stop it from spreading or being "True." Who I think I am and hate about myself is public knowledge and it's impossible for me to be redeemed. Because now I know they know what I'm afraid of. I could mentally see all of these people concluding who I am, one by one. "Of course," their collective psyches said, "this is who this loser is. This is what he's about - and he's pathetic." Luckily our break was right about then, so I got to go outside and breathe myself back to Now. I was able to walk around in Morning some and bring myself back to a saner, truer place. It helped. Breathing really is a Friend. The second half of the class went much easier once I'd felt my blood vessels relax and my cheeks cool off. Reminding myself I'm not that important - or unique (they're in the class with me after all) - was helpful too.
As uncomfortable as it was, I am not running scared. It was a fleeting episode in an otherwise perfect day. I am not going anywhere. Yeah, my ego got a little dented - but oh, well. The world didn't end. I'm still here - period. That's what matters. Yeah, it didn't feel good. It sucked. And it's gonna suck again and again until the day it doesn't. It's the painful gift of being humbled; it's a process of learning how to embrace your jackassery and of actually learning to be cool with it, for the simple fact that in the moment, there's nothing else you could possibly be. It's making peace with the fact that you have to learn to walk before you can run - and in my case, learn to crawl before you can walk. I need to lose the idea that getting where I want to go will end up being effortless, or that I'm going to be the exception to the rule and somehow get from point A to point B without getting dirty. Life itself is dirty. But a soul can get dirty and still experience the Joy throughout.
The dirty is where our grace is found.
And that's why I'm here doing what I'm doing.
To prove it. To me.