The holidays are upon us with many gatherings of family and friends. Picture this – you are heading to a party, sitting in your car and getting ready to go inside. What do you notice happening in your body? Butterflies in your belly? Tightening of your shoulders? What are your thoughts as you walk through the front door?
In my early 20’s, I loved going to parties. I wouldn’t go so far as saying I was the life of the party, but pretty close. I laughed easily and loudly. You would find me deeply engaged in the latest: “Have you heard that Sarah…? Can you believe that Tom..?”
I don’t remember being too concerned with what others thought of me. Probably a drink or two added to that sense of ease, though I have never been a big drinker. Maybe I suffered from lack of self-awareness? It would be hard to believe that I was simply confident. If I were, why did I become more self-conscious and insecure as I got older?
At 53, I have successfully raised two children and helped guide them into young adulthood. I have a degree in Psychology and a thriving career. However, in social gatherings, I often start getting nervous and insecure, having feelings of being an outsider, of not belonging.
Not long ago, a friend invited me to her daughter’s 18th birthday. We gathered around the living room coffee table, with homemade chocolate chip cookies, fresh from the oven at hand. Mary, the birthday girl, was sitting amongst us with a big smile. We, the 10 women gathered are her so-called ‘aunties’; women other than her mom, who love and support her flourishing in the world.
Jeni, Mary’s mother, wanted us to impart words of wisdom before Mary went off to college at the end of summer. We told Mary things like;
“I want you to know that you can count on me.“
“Make mistakes and be kind to yourself.”
“Call me anytime for brainstorming or problem solving, or a hug over the phone”, I said.
As the evening progressed, instead of feeling more at ease, I felt more separate. I doubted my words, and was sure others were judging me. I wanted to get up and leave, though I forced myself to stay until the end.
A few weeks later, I experienced similar feelings at a friend’s movie release. After the film, friends gathered around Giorgia as she discussed the movie.
I was horrified when I caught myself thinking, “I don’t know what I’m talking about. I should just be quiet so I don’t make a fool of myself.” Where had such self-doubt come from?
I recently went to a meditation weekend with Deborah Eden Tull (look her up, she is amazing!) Eden is 4 foot 9 inches, with a delicate frame, long dark hair and piercing eyes. Despite her small stature she is a force of clarity and wisdom. Though I have meditated for years with the help of a meditation app guiding me through the basics of mindfulness, I am new to meditation retreats. Eden’s passion is “relational mindfulness.” Eden claims, and I fully agree, that our relationship to ourselves, forms the basis of all other relationships.
During the retreat, Ellen, a fellow participant, spoke about her own discomfort in social situations: “I like to be seen as competent and easy going. Sometimes I am so preoccupied with this desire that it can be hard for me to enjoy other people.” As you can imagine, her story deeply resonated with me.
Eden responded by saying, “As we have explored today, one truth about being human is that we are all inherently connected. We all belong to each other. However, our ego wants us to feel separate. The ego’s agenda is for us to be preoccupied with wanting to be liked, funny, confident, intelligent or beautiful. While trying to convince others that we are these things, how can we ever be fully present?”
I thought of Giorgia’s movie release, of how my ego had convinced me that I was not smart enough to participate, robbing me of an experience of connection. At that moment, I vowed that before going to a gathering I would pause and remind myself that I belong.
It wasn’t long until I had an opportunity to practice my new commitment. Michelle decided to celebrate her birthday by having breakfast with 15 of her women friends. On the car ride there, I gave myself a short pep talk; “Ok, Rudi, enter the restaurant as if you belong “
There were a few moments when I had to take a deep breath and remind myself of my new mantra, but overall, I did well. I left the breakfast smiling, and feeling connected, not only to the other women, but also to myself.
With the holidays, I will have more opportunities to practice my new skill and so will you. Don’t abandon yourself to the ego that wants you to feel separate. Connect to yourself and enter the gathering knowing that you belong.