“Let’s play a game, let’s make it a bit unusual!” My last mindfulness lesson started like this.
You can easily imagine the looks on our faces, we – those poor souls attending a mindfulness class in the evening after a tough day of a tough week, hoping to taste some peace of mind while quietly meditating, breathing in and breathing out.
Some of us smiled, I definitely did. Some of us tightened a bit, I did that too. Some others raised their eyebrows with surprise sparkled with some preoccupation, I bet a did that as well.
“It’s going to be about relationships and how we feel in our place within the group. Each of us is going to set up the rules and decide what the rest of the group is going to do for the following 30 seconds. Of course, if anybody doesn’t feel like to, they won’t have to be part of the game. Feel free to participate or stop doing it whenever you wish to.”
Ok, good, there’s a way out then.
“In the meanwhile, each of us will pay attention to how we are feeling, to what’s happening in our mind and body while the 30 seconds go. No matter if you are the one who’s setting the rules, or not. No matter if you are being part of the game, or not. Just pay attention to how things are making you feel, just listen to your mind and body and notice what’s happening.”
Well, I think I can do this.
“I’ll start: I wish you all sit down on the floor, while I stand on my chair for the next 30 seconds.”
You really must be weird to come up with such an idea.
I sit down like all my mates. The teacher climbs on his chair and stands up there looking down at us with a smile on his face.
How does that make me feel?
That’s weird, but it makes me feel good. I look around and I feel part of this group. All my fellows mindfulness trainees are sitting in a circle and most of us are looking up at our teacher. I would have thought I’d hate to sit down there and that I’d silently blame him for his choice of towering on us. I don’t, instead, I perceive him like someone who’s providing his guidance. And I like it.
This experiment is getting interesting.
I’m sitting almost opposite to the teacher, I’ll have time to pick my rules, or better, to even decide whether to be the group’s leader for 30 seconds or not.
Since the first moment he explained the rules of the game, I had one single image in my mind: I step in the middle of the circle and let everybody stare at me.
The only thought of it makes my heart start beating faster. I know that’s one of my greatest challenges. I naturally tend to hide myself, my comfort zone is the most distant place from the spotlight. Having eyes on me makes me uncomfortable and anxious.
That’s why I want to do it. That’s why I don’t want to.
It starts an internal struggle between the part of me that knows that our fears confine us into invisible cages and the part of me who just wishes to relax her shoulders, breathe properly and have a comfortable heart rate.
30 seconds after 30 seconds, one after the other, 5 or 6 of my mates have already performed their part of the game, while I’m still ruminating about what to do.
When the guy next to me is up for his turn, he proposes us to just sit down in our chairs, find a comfortable position and be as relaxed as we can, breathing deeply and closing our eyes.
“Just relax” he says, while my heart is racing like crazy. It’s going to be my turn in few seconds and I’ve already made my resolution to try the scariest thing I can think of: walking into the spotlight.
What will they think of me? Of that weird girl who decides to put herself in the middle of the circle and be looked at. They’ll think I’m an attention seeker, at best. They’ll think I’m a bimbo who likes having eyes on her. I’ll look like a self-satisfied, pretentious narcissist. Or most probably, I’ll just look like an idiot.
What the heck, I’ve got a challenge to win, I’ve got my fears to overcome, so I’ll do it. My resolution is set, but my heart is still racing.
I hear the silence right after the guy next to me has thanked the group for participating to his 30 seconds exercise. It’s my turn.
I start to speak, my voice is calm but not too loud.
“I wish we all stood up, while I get in the middle of the circle.” I walk the couple of steps that lead me in the middle of the room with the rest of the group surrounding me and as I walk I realize that I will not simply be looked at, I will look at them too. So I decide that while silently standing in the middle of that circle, I’ll slowly rotate counter clock wise in order to face each of them, I’ll stop for few seconds and look at each of them in their eyes, one person at a time.
I start facing the teacher, he’s smiling. Maybe he’s as surprised as I am for my choice, maybe he’s not, but it feels nice to look at him in the eyes and exchange a peaceful smile.
I pause for 3 or 4 seconds, then slowly turn a bit to my left and look at the next person’s eyes. And then I do it again, and again, and again.
We’re 17 people tonight, we’ve rarely been so many. Nobody said my challenge was going to be easy, after all.
I keep looking at everybody’s faces, a smile on mine, a smile in theirs. By the mid of my exercise I start perceiving some tension in my body. I’m proud of what I’m accomplishing, I’m proud of the courage it took me especially, but exchanging sights with 16 people proves to be quite demanding for a shy girl like me.
I notice that they are all looking back at me, both when I’m facing them and when I am not. I have more 32 eyes on me and I’m surprisingly still alive. Only one person avoids looking back at me. When I finally face her and realize she’s looking away at some point on the wall behind me, I’m tempted to switch immediately to the men standing next to her. I do it for a moment, but I’m soon dragged back to her. I’m not treating her any differently. They all had my share of time, they all had my smile, she’ll have that too, whether she’s looking at me or not.
With some relief, I finish my exercise and complete my 360 degrees rotation. I slightly nod, even bowing a bit, thank my mates and get back to my seat.
I have a look at my feelings and find there a mix of pride and satisfaction for the mission just accomplished and some discomfort for what I think my mates are probably thinking of me. I’m annoyed by the idea of being considered vain and cocky. I’m not, but they have no clue about that. They can only judge me for what they’ve just seen.
And what did they see actually?
As the round is complete and everybody has had their chance to be a leader for 30 seconds, our teacher gives us a moment to let emotions settle a bit and then asks if anybody wish to share their feelings and what they experienced during our game.
The first one to comment is a lady sitting two seats away from me.
“I was touched by some of the exercises, especially by the one you performed.” She’s pointing at me. I’m the you she’s talking about.
My heart skips a bit.
“You stood there and looked at us in our eyes. You took time to look at each of us. And it made me feel good. It made me feel protected, like having my security blanket with me. It made me feel like there was someone there ready to take care of me.”
As she speaks I look at her with the greatest surprise, I try to sync up with my body and realize that emotions are pervading me completely. I feel a shiver down my arms and back and tears are filling up my eyes. I’m touched, I’m warm and I’m happy.
A lady I hadn’t met before, is telling me that she felt protected by me.
Few minutes ago, I was ready to blame myself for behaving like I was urging to be at the center of the attention and now I realize that – at least for someone in the group – my little personal challenge became a reason for comfort and evoked positive emotions of feeling cared for, of feeling protected.
She moved me.
I couldn’t have imagined to get any positive feedback from my mates. On the contrary, I received the best possible feedback I could have ever dreamed of. Getting out of my comfort zone gave someone else a sense of protection. Giving someone else a sense of protection gave me joy and warmth.
That’s where miracles happen then: out of our comfort zones, in the space where two looks cross each other.
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