The other day, I had the most incredible experience.
I went to a workshop in East End – the other side of town, a place I rarely go to anymore. The workshop was in a tiny dark community theatre space in Leslieville. I knew none of the other 20 people in the room except for the facilitator – the Fabulous Tracey Erin Smith (I will always refer to her in this way). Tracey is the founder of Soulo Theatre, which runs workshops on helping people to tell their personal stories. It is narrative, performance, and healing at its best, and she has the skill to bring it out.
This workshop was called “Wildfire - How to Make a Living Doing What You Love.” Who doesn’t want to attend a workshop like that? I certainly did! So much so that I trekked off to the East End of town. No small feat for a West–Ender. (It's a Toronto thing…)
At the beginning of the workshop, we (the participants) formed small groups and introduced ourselves by telling three absolute un-truths about ourselves. Then we did a “Park Bench” exercise where some members would sit together and talk about another member of the group, who was sitting facing the opposite way, as if eaves dropping on the other side of the park bench. We were to make up a story about who the other person was, based on what we knew of them. We had only met 5 min before and only knew the lies which we told about ourselves. The other caveat was that we could only say positive things about the other person.
It was easy for me to do this for the other people, almost natural, I didn’t really think too much about it. I just said stuff I felt about them. They all seemed like genuinely nice and interesting people. But then it was my turn, and I had to go LAST.
I hate going last. All my nerves built up. My thoughts started to race, and I was becoming overwhelmed with fear of what they thought of me. I mean, it takes me awhile to connect with strangers. Was I coming off as cold? Saturday is supposed to be my day to be “off”, to recover, my “I don’t have to be social and pretend I like everyone” day. What are they going to say about me? My fear of criticism was so strong that my own inner critic jumped in to lead with the punches, so that the punches of others wouldn’t hurt so much.
"Why did you put yourself in this situation!” KA-POW! "You idiot!" BAM!
So, there I was sitting with my back to these people and who had only known me for 5 min and here is what they had to say about me.
“The first thing I noticed was her smile.” (Ok, thank you.)
“She has a warmth” (Well, I was glad for that 'coz I felt really cold in that theatre..)
“She’s really authentic, and she has a radar for seeing authenticity in others”
"She has a calming presence, compassionate and receptive of others”
“She watches and can see”
“She is really well-read” (I do like to read)
“There is a depth and seriousness to her”
“She is kind to others without needing anything back “ (Well, that is a recipe for burnout and I have certainly burned out...)
“You want her in your life cause she will have your back” (Ha! Yah, watch out if you hurt my friends!)
It was weird to hear other people's thoughts of me. A part of me was uncomfortable and a part was flattered. There was truth in their thoughts, yet those are not that thoughts I have in my own head about myself.
Next, they were supposed to say something wild that they could imagine about you.
“Shailla is well-travelled. She travels around the world teaching others to pole dance while reciting Sufi poetry ... Yes ...Sufi poetry, while posing on the pole”
(Hahaha...That made me smile. It's an interesting image, and truthfully, not so far off…)
“She carries with her an ancient tradition which she is bringing forth and making new, to help people”
(Ok, Seriously? What the F***??? How did they know that? Did they read my blog?)
I couldn’t believe that they could form such a strong and positive impression about me in such a short time. It is certainly not the impression that I have of myself, and I live this life!
Yet, as our facilitator, the Fabulous Tracey Erin Smith so rightly pointed out:
“You hear the Fear and Doubts, and those Demons are only in YOUR head. Other people don’t see or hear them. They aren't clouding other peoples view of you. They just clearly see YOU - You and Your truth.”
I would not have believed it to be true if they had not said the "Ancient tradition thing." I mean, seriously, that blew me away.
Yet, I know it is true because this is how I saw them, and how I see other people. Somehow, I just did not think it applied to me as well. I mean, I spend my days helping other people fight their demons (Yes, I got your back) and trying to make them see their demons, so they can fight them off too. Seeing and fighting off other people’s demons is easy. I am often blinded by my own demons, and fighting them off is exhausting. It is unsustainable, and they are coming from within my own head!
I am learning to be aware of my demons. Sometimes they are hidden away in my subconscious and they pop up and try to hijack how I think about myself with their crazy misperceptions. Telling me what to do or not do. Making me afraid of things that do not even exist. Telling me I am undeserving, or at fault for everything. They block me.
Well, I have had enough of it. I do not want to be a slave to their stories anymore.
When those crazy internal demons present their thoughts and stories now, instead of hijacking my safety, I am noticing them. Then, I am doing the same thing I learned to do when my older brother would pester me as a kid. I am learning to acknowledge their presence, and ignore them. It worked well with coping with my older brother. Eventually, he got bored and did something else. It seems to be working well with my internal demons too.
As the Fabulous Tracey Erin Smith Said: "You live into the story you create for yourself, so you might as well pick a good one"
She is right.
Now to write my next chapter...