Shy evolution

Years ago I worked at a large corporation which had, of course, a lunch room. I used to dread using it. Because I knew that it was very likely that, if I walked into the room, I would be engaged in conversation, and have to make Small Talk. I had no idea how to do that.

But I’d have to enter that room at some point, if only to get a coffee, or put my lunch in the fridge. Of course someone would be there, or come in while I was there, and so it would begin.

“Hi Vikki, how are you?”

Oh gawd. Now I had to answer that question. How am I. I didn’t know! There had to be a million answers. No one wanted the truth, really. Whatever I said, it would be dumb.The little chorus of voices in my head would shout at me internally: “You’re boring! B-o-r-i-n-g! Nobody wants to talk to You!” With a nervous giggle I’d finally say: “um ok-kay th-thanks, gotta g-go.” Escape as quickly as possible, almost spilling my coffee, back to my desk.

“Hey Vikki, how was your weekend?”

Oh my gawd. I didn’t know!! I couldn’t think of how it was! Eyes were looking expectantly at me, waiting for the reply of a reasonably intelligent human being.The little chorus of voices in my head would shout at me internally: “You’re an idiot! You’ll say something stupid! S-t-u-p-i-d!” A hundred answers would go through my mind while I stood there, like a stone, dismissing each one, finally… my eyes would go to the right and up to the ceiling, my tongue would cleave to the top of my mouth and I’d literally stammer, “f-f-f-f-f-f-ine.”

I hated how I felt at those moments. Weird. Awkward as hell. Like a hundred piranha were chomping at me. All I wanted to do was run away, be invisible. Everyone else seemed to know how to be, what to do, what to say. Not me. I didn't get the manual.

I avoided people as much as possible. If I was walking down the street and spied someone I knew, I’d duck into a store or something, just to get out of having to talk to them. They could be the nicest, sweetest person you could ever know. They still terrified me.

How did I go from that acute state of social phobia and debilitating stage fright to speaking on panels at music conferences and being interviewed on radio shows about shyness, singing, and voice?

I believe I was led to walk a path of healing that worked for me. It worked because it involved music, it involved creativity, and it involved singing. My mentors at the start had no inkling that what they were teaching me would help me to heal. They were simply trying to help me to sing.

But because part of singing is to look at what you are thinking just before and during your execution, over time I began to see the kind of thoughts that went through my mind as I attempted to sing. As I recognized the negative things I told myself, I was then able to begin the process of replacing them with something more positive. Something more tangible. Something more effective. I had to practice this, a lot. And I mean, a lot. For days, weeks, months, years. Slowly, unexpectedly, my consciousness was raised.

I started to recognize the programmed voices that repeated judgements and negativity to me… I began to awaken to the realization that these didn’t just occur when I was singing. They happened to me everywhere in life.

Six years later, I’d begun to teach a few other shy singers in group classes and private lessons. As I worked with them, I truly began to realize I was not alone. That there were many others that felt fearful when asked to perform or present themselves socially. My students taught me more about what it means to be human. How complex we are. That what seems easy to some can be terrifically terrifying for someone else for all kinds of reasons.

One morning, about eight years after my first tentative steps on the path, as I lay in my bed, I had this sudden epiphany: I wasn’t so scared anymore.

When I look back, it seems to me that, in the throes of my most shy moments, all my thoughts and energy were focussed on myself. My own angst, awkwardness, thoughts and feelings would overwhelm me and leave no room for anything else.

But, eventually, I found myself anticipating social interaction instead of dreading it.

I went into classes, lessons, panels, and coffee hours with a different attitude. In social situations I hoped to help others feel welcome and comfortable and respected. As I focussed on them, I found my shyness had less power over me. I could answer their questions and ask a few of my own, create a dialogue, and come away feeling that I had enjoyed myself learning about someone else.

It didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t even know, when I began to take voice lessons after shying away from singing for so long, that I would be starting a road-trip to freeing my Self.... the work continues, the path has twists and turns. I have not yet ‘arrived’, I probably never will, as life is an ongoing journey to growth.

Today I am grateful for the synchronicity and creative process that led me in the direction of healing, for the students who have honoured me with their trust and shy voices, and for the world-wide web which allows me to share my thoughts with you. May you have peace and beauty in your life this Christmas season.

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