Life can leave many of us with heavy hearts. Heavy hearts hidden under layers of repression, guilt, shame, hurt and sadness. We project facades to help pretend everything is alright and on the surface, it appears that way. But we sit with darkness in our hearts and sadness in our eyes. I have had a heavy heart for a long time and on Wednesday night I made peace with it.
I wrote previously about my fear of public speaking and how I was completing a Craft of Public Speaking course with Clare Elizabeth Dea to help become better at it. I thought I had signed up for a public speaking course. Well, that’s what I thought anyway. It was so much more than that.
I learnt that I’m not afraid of public speaking. I actually enjoy speaking in public.
I’m afraid of the feeling of being judged in public.
I’m afraid of letting go and not being in control.
The fears like all fears are just in my head.
Over the nine-week course, we explored different speaker archetypes and how each can add to our genuineness on stage. The teacher, the lover, the joker, the storyteller are just a few and each week we would unpeel a layer of our facade and explore stories and feelings through these archetypes. The sessions were raw, fun, full of flow and a highlight for me each week. At the beginning, the thought of completing a 3 and a half hour session after a long day at work was daunting but that shifted quickly. Throughout the day I would throw up excuses…I can’t be bothered…I’m not feeling it today…I have a crazy day and all I want to do is go to sleep…but every week I showed up 100%. I learnt that presenting from where I was at was as genuine as I could get. If I’m tired, that should show up. If I’m stressed, that should show up. We don’t use the specifics of the story, we use the energy and channel it into our exercises and presentations. Then as the layers peeled back, I was exposed to how heavy my heart has been and how much I was carrying following my brother’s death. I spent time sitting with the raw emotion of Kev’s death and emotion poured out of me. I sat with that darkness, sharing intimate stories about the day he died. Stories I have never shared. Stories I have been holding onto for 12 years. But it wasn’t all sadness. The dialogue opened up memories that I hadn’t thought about in years. Stories that made me laugh and cringe. The dialogue also helped transport me back to key memories and moments in my life. It unlocked feelings that had slipped away. How I loved being a big brother. How I was shy and awkward as a kid and struggled being the first to do things. How I used this to help my brothers and sister to not feel the same. I thought about how my vivid imagination has led to overthinking and the creation of inhibiting internal stories devised to protect me from judgment and to keep me under control.
On Wednesday night, I unleashed. It was the rawest I have ever been in a public space. Before my performance, fear was swallowing me up. Old demons rising up to protect me from judgement and losing control. But we grow at the seams of our limits. We thrive at the edge of our capacity but only if we learn that creative, emotional, intellectual and social risk can be our friend. It brings us into the now. Performing in front of an audience is what Steven Kotler would call a high consequence environment. For action adventure athletes, this may be a huge wave or a black diamond run. For me and I know for many, the stage in front of a crowd is a high consequence environment. But I stepped towards it with 100% commitment.
Once danger becomes it’s own reward, risk moves from being a threat to be avoided and a challenge to be risen toward. An entirely new relationship with fear begins to develop. When risk is a challenge, fear becomes a compass, driving you towards flow.
Steven Kotler – Rise of Superman
The structure of my talk required 100% commitment from the beginning. Like dropping in on a huge vert, I had to just go…and I did. The stories in my head stopped. Dopamine released into my body and it increased my attention, pattern recognition, heart rate, blood pressure and I just let it flow. Sexy structure is one of Clare’s eight key elements and my speech wasn’t typed up and memorised verbatim. It had checkpoints that I had to hit on but the rest was improvisation, engaging with the crowd and letting the present moment drive the next. It felt like a conversation with the audience and not a person on stage presenting. It was a performance for others and therapy for me.
It was an awakening and I felt like I shook off the shackles of my own stories and the trauma of Kev’s death. Recovery is the fourth phase of flow and the next day I felt flat. I felt down. Recovery is designed to re-equip and re-energise you but it is the bottom of the run. I did, however, feel really light with a clarity that I haven’t had in ages. I felt more present. My attention and focus were greater than they have ever been and I felt really calm. To get to this point has been an extremely bumpy journey. And it got me thinking about how many of us carry the weight of our past each day. We walk past each other and nod, exchanging superficial statements and then move on. We move through each day transactionally, never really stopping to check in on each other. Never stopping to look into the eyes of each other and say ‘how are you really doing today?” Today, more than ever, we need to stop and check in on each other. We need to stop and deal with our own fears and trauma. We need to engage with those feelings and let them wash over us…and then we need to let go. To give into the present moment. To be free.
A huge shout out to my friends who shared the journey, Oz Alima, Kimberly Kifun, Gemma White, Brooke Lumsden and David Belfer, you are forever in my heart and this is only the start of our journey together. To Clare Elizabeth Dea, thank you from the bottom of my heart, you have freed my soul.