written in May, posted on instagram, transferred over here.
This week I travelled to London and presented to a crowd of colleagues.
Talking to groups has always triggered a deep-rooted physical reaction. Nerves, sickness, utter fear. Looming for the week, then building through the day. How can I turn from seated observer to the one up there? Holding their attention, pretending to speak naturally, as if there is no difference?
It went ok. In one way, it went well. I know the theories. I’ve read Amy Cuddy’s Presence, and van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. They describe the body in these circumstances, and the negative feedback loop with the mind. But the knowledge doesn’t, in itself, help. If you’re in the mind, you’re in the mind, and you’ll spin the body and its complex systems into a soup of self-destruction.
So what did go well? I felt the nerves, in the week, when I woke, through the day. But I also noticed the arising habitual thoughts. I stepped back from them, let my mind sink into my body. Standing in the tiny hotel room, I did my stretching, then my standard 20 minutes of wuji. Then a bit of cloud hands. All morning I settled back into body tissues, keeping the gentle stretch from the top of the head that’s fundamental to tai chi. Not obsessively so – but even while speaking with people, I was clocking the way tension built up, in shoulders or sides, and letting it go.
And the talk went ok. It didn’t set the room on fire, but that’s all right – my victory was staying in myself, just about. I stayed in the room. It’s a weird sort of achievement – a subtraction – removing those layers that we add and inhabit. Leaving just a person in a room talking to other people for a bit. Which isn’t much – but at the time, it was everything.