Years ago I was invited to do a Gospel reading during Catholic Mass. I want to say what drove me was my love for the divine liturgy, but naturally, I’m anxious. Combine that nauseating feeling (I call it persistent-gut-wrenching-impending-doomism) with a social gathering and I’m basically no longer able to make coherent decisions.
Somebody asked me to do it. I fear rejection. I impulsively said yes and lived in an eternity of fear and torment until I was called to the pulpit.
The process commenced.
So far, so good.
I was trying to read and make eye contact with the audience. Like one of the greats 🙂
Then, I fumbled my words. I tried again, but stuttered and verbally tripped and face dived into the pews.
Panicked, I simply craned my neck and sputtered: blalalalallalallalala (you know when you roll heavy R’s and flop your tongue up and down).
Unexpectedly, everyone laughed. It calmed my nerves. Lightened the mood. Set the tone. And then I killed it.
That’s the moment I discovered the reset button.
My humor and silly side were inviting. Other people’s space always makes me uncomfortable, but the invite brings them into my space.
I never made the invite explicit. I learned soon after that the quickest way to comfortably share space with another is through the power of the invite.
The Enlightened Slightly Anxious Monk
I had the honor of spending a few summer months under the tutelage of a Catholic monk – well, it was actually a group but one of which really shined in my eyes.
For starters, he wore civies and certainly wasn’t the stereotypical monk – if anything, he was the street renegade variety; a teacher and a man of the people.
What was so striking about this guy was his humanity. I know, big whoop, right?
But when my mind drifts towards monks – or anyone pursuing a religious vocation, I envision someone other than, somehow different from the rest of us.
But he was one of us – this made him relatable and personable.
How did he do it?
Well, he constantly shared his struggles and difficulties. It was a breath of fresh air.
Anyway, to the point…
The Power Of The Invite
While observing him I identified a pattern.
In nearly every group encounter, particularly when he was teaching, he would pause frequently and invite everyone to take a deep breath with him.
Curious, I questioned as to why he continuously did this. I thought he was going to tell me the intended effect was constant stimulation of the vagus nerve to ensure everyone remained in the parasympathetic rest and digest mode.
Yeah, he didn’t say anything remotely close to my little sophisticated rat brain.
His explanation was simple:
“Public speaking has always made me anxious – it’s not something I have a natural knack for. Naturally, I’m actually introverted and somewhat of a loner. Since public teaching is an ‘against-the-grain’ type of exercise for me, I often sense my anxiety building and building to potentially monstrous heights. So, since I know myself, the sensation informs me that it’s time for a reset. Therefore, I invite everyone to take a deep breath with me. I do this for two reasons:
- It resets me and consequently others emotionally
- It deepens the space between us for more fruitful interaction
He remarked, ‘that’s the power of the invite.’”
The Non-self & The Space Between
Much of anxiety has to do with fear of judgment, worries of being societally castigated, and left to fend for oneself (emotionally speaking).
This is due to believing we are all somehow detached and disconnected from one another.
Some have termed this the ego, which has been aptly described as the “conscious feeling of separation from.”
Chuck C provides this brilliant illustration for those with a more visual bent:
The possibility of being “separate from” rests solely upon the concept of individual selfhood. Namely, we see ourselves as distinct and other than.
However, this isn’t necessarily the general consensus amongst us globe trotters. Notably, some religious scholars and philosophers believe this to be an illusion, particularly of the Eastern persuasion (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc)t.
Rather than postulating a self, they argue for a non-self as the key to emotional and spiritual health.
To be frank, I struggle with the concept of non-self, it’s not easy if even possible to understand. However, the idea of a full-self, that is one which breaches the tormenting parameters of individual selfhood, I can certainly grasp.
Ontological Addiction Theory sums it up wonderfully:
“The human body exists in reliance upon the wind, rivers, oceans, plants, and animals – we breathe in others’ out-breath and they breathe out our in-breath. The fact that phenomena are fundamentally interconnected (i.e., to the point of being without identifiable boundaries) means that they are of the nature of ‘non-self’. In other words, we are ’empty’ of an inherently existing self, but we are ‘full’ of all things.”
This is the space I speak of. The power of the invite rests on the demolition of the distinct individual selves and the incorporation of sharing an interdependent fuller self.
Find your reset button.
Use the power of the invite.
Discover the space between.
Crush your anxiety.