Dancing with Self-doubt Uncovered a Valuable Audience

screen-shot-2017-03-17-at-10-40-00-pmMy body and I have not always been on the best of terms. For most of my life, ignoring the anxiety, fear and self-doubt that I faced in my day-to-day was a second full-time job. I constantly looked to my colleagues to determine which face to put forward in different settings. Work meeting? That’s confident, decisive Kelsey. Party? That’s friendly, open Kelsey. I became so adept at being the person I thought I was supposed to be, that I forgot who I really was. The anxiety, doubt and insecurity continued but I Hulu’d and Facebook’d these feelings away. I thought I was the problem.  Everyone else seemed successful,  confident and happy.  If I tried harder, did the things they did, wore the right clothes, said the “cleverest” things, I would be happy too.  Right? Wrong.

Head-to-head with my constant companion

Grace lead me to a meditation practice.  The first time I landed on the cushion, I encountered so much anxiety that I could not sit in the open, hands-on-thighs posture that was prescribed. Instead, what felt “safe” was to fold my arms across my chest and sit in a kind of hunched, protected fashion. There was much awareness that I was doing it “wrong” and, for a girl who’d spent much time imitating others, standing out in this way was painful, but I couldn’t help myself. After 5 minutes, I jumped up ready to do anything else. That was enough of that.

But, I was curious. What was all that anxiety? How long had it been there and why? I kept trying to meditate and found a meditation instructor.  With time my posture slowly began to unfold. The anxiety remained, but I was learning to be with it.

That was 8 years ago. While I wish I could say that years of meditation have resulted in a decidedly more confident and secure self, this isn’t entirely the case. Some days yes, I do feel some freedom from my neurosis, but many days they greet me first thing in the morning like old friends. Oh, hey self-doubt, insecurity and fear, I wondered when you would arrive.

I brush my teeth and wash my face, and then sit with these reminders of my humanity for 25 minutes. I watch them move and unfold. There’s an open inquiry: What am I bringing into the day? What do these parts of myself need? If there’s tenderness, I might say, ok, go gently today. Take your time. Be kind.

Discovering “body-wisdom”

Then, I move.

I put Spotify on shuffle and ask my body to do what feels good. That’s the only directive. What is my body saying yes to? What is true? Maybe that’s laying in surrender at the foot of my shrine, or maybe it’s swinging my arms in wide circles. I notice when the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” arrive. They sound like, “oh, I should stand up now and be more energetic.” Or, “heck, maybe this stomping is too much. I should it tone it down.” Sometimes these thoughts get the best of me. I’ll make some adjustment and then realize, wait, I don’t want to do this. This is not right.

As I’ve done this practice, I’ve become more adept at noticing how easy it is to fall into some expectation to be something other than what I am. As a lifelong dancer, initially I couldn’t dance for just myself. I created an imaginary audience and saw this audience clapping vigorously after I executed something particularly impressive. Yes! They love me. I am winning. I am great! When I flubbed, they looked down in embarrassment.

I began to see how this audience appears in my daily life – in meetings, leading conversations, at the grocery store, and how easily I abandoned my needs in hopes for applause by appeasing some perceived (likely inaccurate) expectation — hence, my chameleon-like ability to cheerfully adapt to any situation.

When these adaptations are based on something outside my truth, my confidence in what I know erodes. The only way to secure myself in my world, to know that I am ok, and good and loved, is to continually look outside myself. This need is unwavering.

It is still baffling to me that all of this unraveled by simply playing two songs every morning and allowing myself to do whatever I wanted. The body is a mysterious and wise.

If you’d like to do whatever you want

Becuase this has been so helpful in my life, I’d like to extend such an invitation to you. In the morning, put on two songs (you can follow me on Spotify if you’d like access to my movement meditation playlist) and allow yourself to move in any way that feels “right” to you. Notice any judgments, insecurities and fantasies that arrive and continue to come back to your body. Think of it like a practice. If this is new to you, it’s bound to feel uncomfortable or maybe even silly. Try to stick with it. Notice if moving in the morning in any way impacts the rest of your day.

The wisdom that comes from the body is not something that can be rushed. It doesn’t speak on demand. I consider it like whale or bird watching. You arrive and wait patiently. If there are expectations, there’s a good chance a sighting will not occur. Instead, enjoy the scenery and allow for surprise.

I’ve found this grounding in movement to be essential for helping me enter my world with a sense of respect for what I hold and how to honor it. My audience does still appear, but less and less is what I offer for them and more and more is it becoming what is right for me. I’ve found that this honest engagement  (even with all my vulnerability and insecurity) has created openings for others to meet me with their own truth.  We can be squishy, imperfect and human together and connect in a way that is real. Personally, that’s the only audience I want to dance for.

Kelsey BlackwellAbout the author: Kelsey Blackwell is the lead coordinator of Oakland Shambhala, a satellite meditation gathering in Oakland, California that offers meditation instruction, discussion, and experiential activities incorporating mindfulness and “bodyfulness” to experience our fundamental human worthiness. As a dancer, she has studied ballet, modern, and African, and she currently practices and teaches InterPlay, body-wise play for all humans incorporating movement, storytelling, and song to unlock the wisdom of the body. On her blog, TheMarvelousCrumb.com, Kelsey celebrates the uncertain path of living a purpose-filled life.