Creative Cauldron Watercolor painting on paper by Katelyn Mariah
At the center of the self is a secret garden and only you have the key that opens the door. Is it Pandora’s box of shadow and demon or is it a clam shell holding a precious pearl? You will never know until you dive in and explore. When you are willing to take the risk you are greeted with unexpected surprises. You may fear the worst and discover the best. Pearls await you if you are willing to dive deep.
I have stood at the edge of my own darkness, on the rim of the creative cauldron, at the cave that leads to my inner landscape many times and I have trembled. I have experienced fear pushing me to walk away and not look, while at the same time my curiosity was calling me to enter. Most people see the darkness and they run the other way.
A dark place for me in the past was fear of being judged. It is human nature to judge because that is how we figure out our place in the world. It is a primitive survival skill which served us in eons gone by. Who is stronger than who? Who is more beautiful? Who is more desirable? Who wins and who loses. The weaker, unattractive, less desirable ones lost and often died in days gone by. We read about it in myths and fairy tales all of the time. And so we judge and our judgments become the story and we begin to think the story is real. People create stories about us based on the past and hold us hostage to those stories. We shouldn’t have to defend ourselves from stories others create about us. They have nothing to do with who we really are.
I had an opportunity to face this fear…to dive into my darkness and find the pearl…
Some years ago I was participating in a week long Mind-Body Skills training workshop on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. On the second to the last day the facilitator had what is called a “fish bowl” exercise as a way to teach us how to lead a group. He formed groups of 8 people and actually facilitated the group while 150 participants watched so we could see how it worked.
I knew ahead of time that he was going to do this exercise and I had a feeling I would be one of the participants even though I didn’t want to be. I couldn’t stand the feeling of judgment that I perceived would happen. Even though it was only in my head it felt very real to me. It was an old story created long ago that got activated in this situation.
When it was time for the exercise, Jim asked for volunteers and my hand went up. Trust me I didn’t want my hand to go up and yet it did. Some part of me really wanted to bust through this fear of being judged, but it wasn’t a conscious part of me. The conscious part of me wanted nothing to do with making a fool out of myself in front of 150 people.
The first time he called for volunteers he didn’t see me. I felt like I had just dodged a bullet and was relieved. I watched as people in the first group went through the interview process in front of the group and I was glad I hadn’t been picked. When he called for volunteers a second time my hand went up again as though someone else was lifting it. This time he spotted me and asked me to stand up.
I stood in front of 150 people, all professionals like I was and it was more intimidating because professionals at that level are suppose to have it all together. At first I couldn’t put 2 words together and I stood silent. I felt foolish and was filled with a sense of dread and embarrassment. There was no way out. Finally I talked about how I was afraid to look foolish and that made me feel even more foolish. I was out on a limb and I knew it. My fear of judgment was growing by the second. I felt myself plunging into my inner darkness, in front of a room full of people and there was no turning back.
I was joined by the rest of the group of 8. Once I was in the group I didn’t have time to think about what people might be thinking of me and I was able to just be myself.
I sat down with my seven colleagues and the group began. When it was my turned to talk I stumbled for words and judged myself harshly. When Jim told me to just be silent, I was overcome with sadness and I cried. I remembered how my brothers teased me as a child and how I felt judged. I was still carrying the shame and it was holding me back. It was keeping me from being visible and authentic. I was afraid to be me because when I was a child I was judged for doing that. I was carrying my brothers insults and I had become my own harsh critic.
At some point the room full of people watching us became less important and the group became my focus. I was able to relax. It was interesting because all eight of us in the group shared the same issue. After we all processed this issue Jim asked us to stand up as a group and dance in front of everyone. The point was to shake off our inhibitions and break through the restraints that were holding us back. I couldn’t believe I was dancing in front of all those people and I didn’t care.
I had a breakthrough in that group that changed my life.
My fears of being judged didn’t manifest. I didn’t get tomatoes thrown at me or stoned to death afterwards, not did anyone come up and tell me what and idiot I was. I was in a group with seven other people and we all had the same fear which said to me that it is probably a universal fear. Part of our early programming. A coping mechanism.
I had dived in and discovered the pearl…
After the group was over several people came up to me and said how courageous it was to volunteer and how I was talking about what they were feeling. I realized that most people in the room probably had an issue with being judged and that is why there weren’t 150 people fighting for a place in the “fish bowl”.
In reality when we think people are judging us, often times we are making up a story of what we think they are thinking in our heads and so we are really judging ourselves.
When you start to have thoughts that someone is judging you realize that it is just in your head and probably not what anyone but you is thinking and let it go.