I'm standing at the front of the room, about to run an interactive session about failing and getting up again, being real, and living your life with your whole self.
It's Saturday. There are about 30 people sitting on chairs facing me, in a school classroom just north of Newcastle, for the Spring ChangeCamp. They are mostly therapists, change-makers, coaches, and people who are interested in human behaviour and change.
I make up that they will have high-expectations.
I want them to feel something really powerful - the truth of this work and this way of being. I know I have the courage to be seen, I know I am good at this work, I have prepared some stuff for them. I kind of know where the session will go and where it'll end up.
I'm playing my own 'arena' playlist as they come into the room. I know music makes me feel really good. I try not to mind that 'sexy and I know it' is playing as the bulk of the people come in. I wonder for a fleeting session if they will mind my eccentricity and occasional-bursting-into-dance, just cos it feels good.
I start talking. I welcome them into the room and tell them a little of my story. Perfectionism, can't-be-with-failing, disowning those parts of myself I judge as undesirable, blah blah.
My heart is pounding right out of my chest.
My mouth is really dry, suddenly.
I notice that my armpits are sweaty (oh no, did I shave my armpits this morning?) and I feel the pulse and force of the present moment, as I stand before these lovely people. The moment, the space of anticipation, where they have no idea what will come next - I am the guide, the midwife for the unfolding of the next hour and twenty minutes.
I am talking but I have to stop and breathe. I realise I can barely catch my breath!
A few years ago, I might have tried to create the very best impression possible. One of the super-composed, well-prepared and holding-it-together presenter/facilitator. The one with dry armpits, a steady and calm heartbeat, poised and ready to develop a brilliant presentation that will wow them and won't make me feel too exposed and uncomfortable in the process. A good distance in the connection between me, and Everybody.
These days, I know too much about how that way of being doesn't deliver RESONANCE, and MAGIC, and allow us to be MOVED by our humanity and vulnerability.
That way of being is small, and held-back and careful.
So these days, when I'm presenting or facilitating, I just 'do' real, and messy, and whole, and magnificent.
[Come back to the presentation]. So I don't pretend.
I tell them what I don't want them to know about me, in that moment.
I tell them I can barely breathe, that my heart is pounding, that I've got 'sweaty pits' (sorry, audience. It is entirely possible that was an 'overshare').
I tell them I love this work, and that I want to be brave with my life and work and in sharing my message with them.
I tell them I want for them the feeling of freedom that comes with being who we are, mess and sweaty pits and all.
I offer myself to them, in that moment, just as I am. I surrender to the moment, because it feels so good, I feel so free, and I can give myself to the moment and give all I have, because I'm being topped up with a constant source of inspiration and presence, in that moment.
Because I'm not trying to work it out or thinking. I'm just being, sensing, responding to the dance in the room, and creating from that.
And then they do an exercise where they help each other focus on moments of success and flourishing, and moments of disappointment and failure and the gifts they brought to those moments, helping each other see where they shine, naturally, with no effort at all, even where they would normally have judged themselves as failing, or in not being able to own their gifts even when they were shining.
And within a few minutes the room is abuzz with laugher, some tears, hugging, deep connection, brought about by compassion, and empathy, and being seen in their humanness as magnificent, and messy, and real, and amazing. Every one of those people had a story. Stories of sadness, and tragedy, and heartbreak, and love, and wonder, and dreaming, and power, and wanting to create.
They are magnificent.
And I know that they were more able to be magnificent because I was able to let them see me, in mine, even in my exact messy state in the moment I started my session with them. I know it because I see it and feel it on every single Daring Way and Rising Strong workshop I deliver. And the more I experience it, the harder it gets to be the old way, where I have to look good or competent, and be perfect, and prepare, and need-to-know.
And I wanted to move them along quickly, since this exercise had not been intended as such a big part of the main session, but the group told me 'no'. We want to have this conversation. We will not be moved on quickly.
They told me this with their words, with their energy, with their eyes, and their pleas for 'more time'. They told me by the way I could not enter the small group discussions. They were on 'lock-down' as they created deep connections and sharing together, just like I had invited them to do.
So I just stayed at the front of the room, standing and resting against a desk, for another 25 minutes, and noticed what was happening. What happens when we create a strongly-held intention for healing and miracles, and then get out of our way and let it come.
When we notice when our usual industriousness-in-preparation for something feels like more effort than is required (as it had done for me in the weeks leading up to ChangeCamp), and that we feel like if we just show up and create a space for people to connect at a deep level - they will do the work of their own healing.
We will create connection, with those conditions, because we are human and we are hard-wired for connection.
Whatever's wanting to happen will happen.
I sat at the front of the room, revelling in the ease and synchronicity, and what can happen when we are fully who we are, when we don't hold ourselves back with fears of being seen a certain way (perfect presenter with calm heartbeat and dry armpits) and we say 'look! I'm really really here with you in this moment. I'm willing to be truly seen, because I care more about this other thing, and feeling FULLY ALIVE. And I think you want to feel that way too.'
It's possible that some people didn't have a rich or deeply-touching conversation, I know that.
But people came to me afterwards and said that they had experienced some magic. That they got the sense of 'doorways opening'. That they had goosebumps. That being around me 'did something' to them, that they felt a magnetic force.
One lady told me that she felt like I was talking about her, just to her, as I shared my old way of being around wanting to be perfect, wanting to know all the answers, wanting to look like I know what I am doing, never wanting to get things wrong or fail. For those who resonate with this work, the feeling is really really strong. I think that's the power of the research - because it's so rooted in people's lived experience. Anyway. It's powerful, and undeniable.
All I know, is the more I show up for this work, the more magical it feels, the more ease I sense in the delivery of it, and the more I feel like I just have to give myself permission to be real, be present, and trust the transformation to unfold. It's challenging at times, and I feel exhausted afterwards, as I learn to rest more, to recover, after being that channel, but I can't stop now that I feel the power of being real, and messy, and being seen in my wholeness.
And if I have to do it with sweaty pits, so be it.
I would love to know about your experiences with being real, and feeling 'seen'. Feel free to share in the comments below.
I run workshops around topics like these - please see the Daring Way pages for details!
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