To be at ease means to be in harmony with circumstances.
When we’re at ease we’re unselfconscious and confident. We feel connected. Our body is soft, natural, fluid, and graceful. When we are ill at ease we’ re self-conscious and tentative. We feel isolated. Our body is uptight and unresponsive. But the more we try to be at ease, the more we feel anxious and self-conscious. In the following I suggest three ways to escape self-consciousness.
Let’s look at situations which tend to make us feel ill of ease:
Performing in front of others.
When we’re ill at ease, our mind is filled with thoughts about how others see us, and that maybe we’re not good enough. I remember the first time I was Ino (chant leader) at one of Robert Aitken Roshi’s sesshins in Honolulu. As I was getting ready to chant, I looked around the room and recognised at least 10 really experienced chantleaders. I felt petrified and thought, “They’ll think I really suck at this.” In actual fact nobody was thinking about me. I was the only one! It took me two days to realise this. Then I settled down and started to enjoy the role. I learned that a good way to regain ease is to focus on the task and let go of evaluating one’s performance. I found that the easiest way to focus on the task is to experience the sensations in one’s body as one performs.
Being the centre of attention.
My partner, David, is a tango teacher. He loves dancing. When he hears music he likes, he’ll jump up, grab me, and start dancing. That might happen in a restaurant or even in the middle of the road. As we rotate, people’s faces float into view: mouths open, eyes agape. At those moments David is caught up in the trance of the music. But I’m not. Or not at once. I’ve learned how to relax and start enjoying myself half way through the dance, though. I’ve found that the way to more ease in such moments is to resolutely let go of self-reflective thoughts, like ‘They’ll all think we’re crazy’ or ‘I really suck at this’, or ‘
I wish I could disappear into a crack in the floor’ and so on. It also helps to focus one’s senses, and to pay attention what one hears, sees, smells, feels and so on.
Feeling isolated at a party.
Imagine that you are at a party and don’t know anyone at all. You are standing alone, clutching your glass and feel self-conscious, wondering why you came. What do you do? Look around and spot someone else who is ill at ease. Go up to them and start talking. Focus on getting to know them. Ask open-ended questions (ones that can’t be answered with ‘yes’ and ‘
no’.) Set yourself the task to connect with seven people at the party in this way. As your interest in others is kindled you’ll begin to relax and forget yourself.
The royal road to ease is meditation.
These practical tips will help you relax in stressful situations. But it’s important to develop a deeper sense of ease with oneself. This is what meditation can help. The reason it helps is because the focus of life slowly changes from the me-tape of ‘I, me, myself’, to attention on whatever the present moment offers. When we are fully immersed in the moment, there is no room for the ‘