May 3, 2012   |   17 Comments

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This past weekend, I was teaching at the Providence, RI Shambhala Center. We spent the entire time talking about fearlessness—what it was, how fear maintains its grip on us, how to loosen it, and how to manifest fearlessness in our lives. My final talk was on confidence and it was meant to be a culmination of the entire program.

As I prepared, I thought about my own plentiful experiences with fear and doubt. What right did I actually have to discuss such a topic? How could I find something genuine to say that wasn’t merely parroting what I had been taught without any inner connection to the teaching? The more I thought about what I could say that would be true and honest, the more anxious I became. I pictured myself flubbing the whole thing, confusing my students, dishonoring the dharma. I could feel my heart start to pound and my shoulders tighten.

That is when the teaching came clear to me. The opposite of confidence is nothing other than anxiety. Anxiety arose, when? Not when I was giving the talk but when I was thinking about giving the talk. I’m not saying there was nothing to worry about, but I am saying that my anxiety occurred the moment my mind and body separated, i.e. my body was sitting at my table preparing a talk while my mind had raced ahead a few hours to preview my certain humiliation.

The principle works like this. Have you ever had to have a really difficult conversation with someone, something so potentially upsetting that you put it off and put it off? The longer you wait, the more nervous you become and the more reasons you come up with to delay yet again. This has certainly happened to me and, interestingly, the moment I decide, that’s it, I’m jumping in–and sit down to face the person, something amazing happens. My anxiety recedes. I’m not saying it feels good or easy, but all of that stomach-gnawing, brain-racing, nerve-shaking anticipatory dread recedes. Of course. My mind and body are synchronized. They are doing the same thing at the same time.

We all do things that require synchronization of mind and body, from cooking, driving, yoga, and making out. These are things that require your mind to be on what you’re doing, sometimes with great delight. We tend to find such things relaxing, not in the take-a-nap sense, but in the refreshing, invigorating, renewing sense. That’s just how we’re wired—when our mind and body are synchronized, we relax.

When our mind and body are synchronized, we are present. When we are present, the value plays out in two arenas: within ourselves—we can actually know our own minds from moment to moment and between ourselves and others—we can read signals and connect honestly.

When we know our own minds, we can be genuine, which is another word for confident.

When we can trust ourselves to interact intelligently with others, there is nothing to fear in reaching out to our fellow humans. We can be open, which is another word for confident.

And where does all of this good stuff come from? From the synchronization of mind and body, which comes from, you guessed it, your meditation practice. Please know that as we sit together and train our minds to rest on breath, we are doing nothing more or less than sowing the seeds of primordial confidence.

So the next time you face certain anxiety, check your mind. Has it raced ahead to the future or buried itself in the past? Please try to let go and return your mind to what you are experiencing right now. It’s always good to begin with your body. What sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel? Turn towards your anxiety rather than away.  Open to yourself without hesitation. Greet your experience. What exemplifies confidence better than this?

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  • Posted by:  Kate Crisp

    Since I was there in person for the above mentioned talk, must report you delivered it with clarity and brilliance. Bravo.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Wow, thanks Kate! It was a pleasure to teach with you. Hope we can do it again sometime. xo S

      • Posted by:  Donna

        I think confidence is knowing where you are…

        • Posted by:  Susan

          That sounds good to me!

  • Posted by:  erin melugin davis

    Ahhh, Susan. Your posts are always important to me, and many of them I save to revisit later. This one might be the dearest to my heart so far, and I thank you.

    I have always tried to maintain the notion and appearance of being a confident person, though I surely have not always believed it. I have suffered the serious physical and mental effects of anxiety since early childhood, and now in my mid-thirties, I am only just beginning to get a grip on it. I understand that core keys to this are awareness and self-acceptance; the recognition and belief that I am good and okay just as I am. I know my meditation practice is helping me with this, and and as I learn to synchronize my mind and body, I feel calm. Still. Both new to me – and the fearlessness grows.

    On a sometimes lonely road, I really do feel like you’re walking with me. Thank you for opening your heart to me – to all of us.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Erin, I’m so happy you liked this one. I’m really touched by your bravery, generosity, and kindness. It sounds like you are on the path and we really can’t ask for more than this. Glad our paths have crossed. With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Shawn

    I’m so grateful for the beautiful synchronicity of messages received at just the right time.

    As for what confidence means to me… Similar to what you wrote, one of the characteristics I’ve noticed is that there’s a knowing that I can handle anything that comes my way. It embodies the knowing of my mind and trust that you mention. I hadn’t thought of that in terms of mind and body being synchronized but applying that to my slightly anxiety-colored day today, you could certainly say there was a disconnect.

    Thank you for this project, Susan. It’s such a lovely breathe of fresh air in my inbox =) XO Shawn

    • Posted by:  Susan

      So glad our paths have crossed, Shawn.

  • Posted by:  Sandra / Always Well Within


    I find this idea that confidence comes from the synchronization of mind and body, which is cultivated in meditation fascinating. It seems many people meditate from the “neck up” so to speak precisely because they don’t want to be in their body. Depending on how we approach meditation, it can help us synchronize with the body or exacerbate our hidden wish to remain disconnected from it! I vote for #1 and being genuine and confident too.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      I agree, it IS fascinating. And I vote for the same ticket!

  • Posted by:  Vicky

    Good Morning Susan and Sangha,
    I must say, the part of this talk that resounds is about anxiety taking over when body and mind are not in the same place at the same time. We probably all have handy the lipservice about remaining “present”, and I know that I so often hear this lipservice used in self-chatizement (is there such a word?). So to hear the idea of presence put in this way – body and mind in the same place at the same time – shines a new light on an old thought.
    Thank you for that dear Susan.
    May your day about with blessings.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      So glad our minds are working together, Vicky. And thanks for taking the time to comment–I really appreciate that. With love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Sheri

    Thank you so much for this post. I have been awash in anxiety — horrible, gnawing, terrified anxiety. It’s all situational (new job, new city, new love (long distance)) but the anxiety is as old as I am. So much of what you say rings true — in fact I want to commit this sentence to memory: “When we can trust ourselves to interact intelligently with others, there is nothing to fear in reaching out to our fellow humans.” This is where I get hung up — I don’t trust myself. But reading your posts and hearing what you say about meditation as a route to the kind of confidence that comes from deep inside, well, this gives me a lot of hope. So thank you. 🙂

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Oh, Sheri. I feel for you. Sometimes it seems like anxiety is written in our genes, but it is not. Some kind of goodness and tenderness is–and this is the basis for tremendous hope. Wishing you well!

  • Posted by:  Cristina

    You make it so clear and beautiful. Thank you!

    • Posted by:  Susan

      You are so welcome!

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