Newburyport Wellness Day: Stage Fright Revisted

2001 Graduation from Newburyport High School- I'm the front left.

2001 Graduation from Newburyport High School- I'm the front left.

As a young student in grade school, I could not get up and speak in front of people without incapacitating fear. I wrote an entire speech in high school on, "How to look ridiculously nervous while public speaking," and illustrated it perfectly with my strained shaky voice and nervous laughter. I avoided the stage as much as possible, and performed only in large musical groups where I could hide behind others. But today I stood twice in front of over 150 adults and shared what I had learned about mindfulness.

Today I went down to Newburyport, Massachusetts to deliver two keynote addresses and lead four breakout workshops in the very school district from which I graduated fifteen years ago. It was a surreal experience to stand in front of a stage where I sang a Pocahontas medley and played orchestral pieces with my middle school classmates. Even more, to have an auditorium filled with past classmates and teachers of mine. My favorite math teacher, Mark Littlefield, was there, and we commiserated on students' addiction to cell phones. My favorite English teacher, Debbie Szabo, introduced me and delighted in learning something from one of her former students. My middle school math teacher in one of my breakout sessions said she remembered my face from 21 years ago. It was an honor to be able to offer something back to these educators who helped shape me. And still...

I will not deny that for the first 10 minutes of my first keynote address, I was shaking in my boots. Literally, my legs were vibrating as I had everyone arrive in their bodies. But I used that nervousness to share more about the nuances of mindfulness. I explained that we could notice internal cues in our bodies, like my shaky voice and fluttering heart, which was a result of my nerves. I shared that mindfulness does not necessarily rid us of uncomfortable emotions, but does help us be more comfortable in the discomfort. We don't necessarily get rid of our foibles with mindfulness, but we can be with them more gently. 

And so, by not denying or fighting my anxious energy, but acknowledging and embracing it, I found it dissipated on its own accord. And for the rest of the day, through four break out sessions and a second keynote, I felt a greater sense of ease and lightness. This is what the practice offered me today: alleviation from the added suffering I heap on to challenging experiences, space to honor what was, rather than needing it to be different, and trust that the emotion would subside when it was ready. 

So I hope the teachers of Newburyport gained a deeper understanding mindfulness today. I hope they understand that it does not eliminate thoughts and emotions, but brings us more clarity around them. It is a tool that takes a long time to develop, but ultimately bears fruit that is worthwhile. It allows a woman who was terrified of presenting anything in front of any size audience to return to her old school and speak openly about her passion. 

For more information on the wellness day, please see the article in the Current, "Newburyport Teachers to Host Professional Development Day."