It’s a good day at work when I cry, or at least tear up. I’ve had some great days recently as that was my reaction to several students’ presentations.
One person was doing all she could to stick to non-emotional subjects and her resistance was keeping her from being able to be completely at ease or conversational. It’s always interesting to witness this because it seems like the speaker thinks if they open up at all, their deep dark secrets will explode out from their deepest core. It’s subtle, but even those not looking for it can feel that “they’re holding back” feeling. It’s impossible to connect that way as much as you can when you aren’t afraid of being you.
The speaker was in the middle of an exercise we were doing where she only had 5 minutes to put together a short speech on a certain topic. Her speech was good, but she said, “I didn’t want to add what I was really thinking because I knew I would get emotional.” Aha, now we were getting someplace! I asked, “If you weren’t afraid of getting emotional, what would you have added?” She immediately shared a very personal, moving story of when she was a little girl and she and her family depended on food banks to eat. Many days they got to the front of the line only to find there was no food left for them. She described in detail some of what they had to endure just to get something in their stomach. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. We all felt more connected, and she felt relieved she had said it out loud. At times like this, I always think of Brené Brown’s quote, “When shame is spoken, it loses its power. Shame can’t survive empathy.”
Not long after that her classmate shared that her family had also experienced homelessness and hunger when she was a child. When I asked if she had ever shared that before, she emphatically said, “Never!” I thanked her for honoring us that way and we all recognized, out loud, that the first one who shared gave the others the permission and courage to share. When we realize what a gift it is to ourselves and others to share our truths, we won’t continue keeping them shamefully to ourselves. That realization is also when the lightbulb goes on and we can clearly see that we’ve been carrying shame that doesn’t belong to us. We also see how as we continue to protect our secret, we create a wall between us and others to keep them away from it. Add to that the times we need to stand in front of a crowd, feeling vulnerable and exposed, it easily brings up a throbbing fear that the audience will be able to see inside us and find us out. When we step out of the darkness and into our light, that light can’t help but shine on others and lead them out of their darkness, one step at a time.
Not everyone shares their never-before-stories in my classes, and it’s not expected and certainly not demanded. But many who don’t share there tell me later that they wish they had or that they went to a person or place where they felt safe after my class and shared there. It’s impossible not to see the freedom and relief that changes a person’s energy immediately upon finding their voice and you can’t help but want that for yourself. And it’s yours to have. Find your safe place, speak your shame, enjoy your freedom!
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