Preparing for the actual public talk I was to be giving, I mentally returned to my time in college when I was required to take a course that caused me great fear and anxiety. It was a speech class, so I should not have been shocked by the sheer number of presentations we were required to give throughout the semester. My struggle centered around the public aspect of giving a talk. I think I can best sum up my experience by sharing a true story from that class. When we were each assigned to present a persuasive speech, I happened to be the first one chosen to begin. Keeping in mind that I had to convince my peers to agree with my point of view, I took a full breath and boldly stepped up to the podium. The truth is I wanted to appear bold and in charge, when in reality my knees were so weak that I could have tripped over that full breath that I had taken. I attempted to have my voice drip with confidence because I believed a tone of self-assurance would certainly assist me in persuading the listeners to agree with my strong convictions.
About halfway through my speech I noticed a few strands of hair that had fallen across my forehead into the upper corner of my eye, and for some unknown reason I felt the immediate need to brush those pesky little annoyances away. Much to my astonishment, I saw this wobbling, fear-enhanced, out of control hunk of flesh (aka my hand) come sweeping into my view, as it ineptly attempted to clear those wisps away. So many thoughts flooded into my mind as to how to best handle this very obvious show of fear...forge ahead and ignore was the solution that came through loud and clear. That was the one shot I had to keep my mind focused, with whatever level of confidence I could exude after that "bump" in the road had challenged my composure to its core.
I smile as I tell you that after all the silliness, I received an A for the speech and an A for the class. Wonders never cease, it's true. Maybe to me what seemed like a show of obvious fear, was not as obvious to those listening. This memory was held onto quite tightly as I began my journey to a new and different podium and audience. The team of adults who would be sharing their stories throughout the retreat met several times in the evening to practice presenting in front of real people. For me, that experience felt as unappealing as walking on a bed of hot coals. Since it was mandatory, I practiced along with everyone, though I don't have any memory of the feedback I received. I just had this deep belief that each of these steps led me closer to my final goal of surviving the event.
The retreat was a powerfully significant time for the students and adults. I felt a vibration of growth and a deepening connection with my faith flow throughout the weekend, and I was able to enter into the fullness of the experience until Sunday morning. Since we were all sleeping with our groups in the classrooms around the school, a good night of sleep was a far stretch of our imagination. But I awoke that morning extra early with a knot the size of my fist in my stomach. I knew it was fear rearing its ugly head, and it took every ounce of self-awareness to keep it from taking control of my body.
I took a walk around the school to calm myself and I ended up in the quiet of the chapel which was located at the far end of the building. I stayed there throughout the time for breakfast . The peace and stillness welcomed me in and I simply sat and breathed in the sense of total wellness surrounding me, until it was time for me to return to the group and give my presentation. That environment in the chapel was a gift I will never forget. On that early Sunday morning I learned an essential key to living ...some of our most beautiful presents don't come wrapped in the distraction of shiny paper with big bows.
You've already figured out the ending to this piece of my journey, haven't you? More important than my survival of the speech was the deep understanding that I can touch into the stillness that is always available.