At least once a week someone corners me for a variation on the same urgent confession: how much or for how long they have wanted to come to a 5Rhythms class. This revelation is followed by some version of a fear story and, if they talk long enough, the word self-conscious usually emerges. They shrug their shoulders and wonder if they will ever get over it. I don’t say much in reply, just that it is a common story with no magic solution except to show up, be with it, watch it change…or not. Here’s what we know from experience: it almost always shifts after a class or three.
I see you there, shrinking near the wall, struggling with the whole life-sucking polarity of not wanting to be seen/desperately wanting to be seen. Incredulous that all these other folks are moving, some of them in the craziest ways, apparently unconcerned that somebody might be watching, judging, even condemning their ridiculous behavior. Being excessively aware or embarrassed about being observed by others is a curse, drilled into us when we were sweet and oh-so-defense-less children.
And when you think about it, this negative connotation is a pretty narrow definition of self-consciousness. If we take a broader view, a richer meaning reveals itself: self-consciousness is actually a desired outcome of many a spiritual practice. When we are self-conscious in a healthy way, we are a skilled and kind witness to our thoughts and feelings, actions and behavior. And a good witness has a better shot at integrity and alignment than an unself-conscious being.
There is a raw power in negative self-consciousness that begs to be harnessed. Recall that old image of the malevolent devil on one shoulder and the benevolent angel on the other. Really, it comes down to where we choose to bring our attention. The devil on one shoulder is shouting stuff like “stop being foolish” or “you look ridiculous” or “what would (fill in the blank) think?” He is generally quite loud, very entrenched, and clearly knows what he is talking about.
When we slow down, breathe and feel our feet on the ground, we encourage the quiet, tentative, fresh spirit on the other shoulder. This one offers a different wisdom: “just check it out” and “wow, this feels so good” and “what the heck, you made it this far, might as well move!”
If the devil is always in charge, if we are forever second guessing and judging and comparing ourselves, chances are we bring that same energy, subtle or not so subtle, into other corners of our lives. It’s a friggin’ energy eater, definitely something worth tackling. Take a moment. Look in the mirror. What does the devil have to say? And pray tell, what does the angel say? Who would you rather pay attention to?
I never had a chance to experience the self-conscious thing on a dance floor, just felt like I had come home the moment I arrived on my first one. But I have certainly felt the self-conscious thing in public speaking (translate: teaching). Can’t say I’ve always been a skilled witness, know I catch myself sooner and more often than I used to and maybe that’s as good as it gets. Come to class this Thursday and bring every bit of your self-consciousness with you. Come practice fortifying your benevolent skilled witness.
Thanks to Jennifer Burner and the powerful community tree who showed up this last Sunday. So good to be out there dancing and feeling such great ju-ju. I felt immersed in an enormous gratitude spill-over. For having a body, for teachings to guide us, for safe space to practice in, for the luxury of time, for precious community. This Sunday is the last Sweat Your Prayers until after Labor Day, September 7. Come ready to embody gratitude, dance our way together into a big old thank you. There will be a special visual backdrop and the invitation is to bring something from home to place on the altar…your personal expression of gratitude.
Wherever you are, it’s good to remember that our time here on earth has an expiration date. Why not dance like nobody’s watching?