Last weekend I got up in front of 200 people and led a guided meditation that I created as part of my final exam for the graduate program I’m in at the University of Santa Monica.
I consider myself a seasoned presenter. I’m a fashion designer and in my job I have to present to literally hundreds of people every couple of months. However, I only present to 20 or so at a time. I realized that it’s a whole different experience to present to 200 people at once.
At first I was only scheduled to present to 20 of my fellow classmates. Even this seemed a little daunting for me. I can talk for hours about handbags and fashion, where I consider myself an expert, but leading a guided meditation that I wrote myself was outside my comfort zone. I did well enough in my small group that they nominated me to represent them to the whole class.
I’ve wanted for some time to challenge myself and speak to a large crowd. I offered to speak at the World Domination Summit last year about my experiences in Africa with my non-profit but they politely declined. I knew that even though this really scared me that I needed to do it for myself. I needed to challenge myself, to step outside my comfort zone, and to take a chance.
13 of us were chosen to present to the whole class, I was scheduled to be 12th. Second to last. So I watched 11 other people get up in front of the class and give everything they had to entertain and delight their fellow students. As my time got closer and closer I realized that I was really nervous. I adjusted my scarf over and over again. Surely if my scarf was perfectly arranged I would be fine on stage.
Finally I was handed a microphone and gently pushed on stage. My name was announced and the class started uproariously clapping for me. I hesitated before stepping towards my chair. I had a small moment of clarity. I had asked for this, for this moment, for this opportunity to present itself to me. It had arrived. It was my time.
I took my seat, made a small joke, and had them all close their eyes to begin the meditation. I wasn’t reading from a script, I was reading from my heart, I had rehearsed this multiple times but every time was a little bit different. The words flowed easily from me. I felt the support and love of everyone in the room. I saw tears in the audience as I led them through my material. I saw a few of my friends in the room open their eyes at different times and look at me. I realized that they were sending me their support but I also saw that they were seeing me in a different light, in a different way.
I ended quietly in a space of grace and peace. Then, just as they had done for all the other presenters, the entire room leaped to their feet to enthusiastically applaud. When faced with his situation in the past, I have bowed my head and dismissed applause; I’ve never been comfortable associating myself with this kind of appreciation. But I had the intention when I went on stage that I would stand there as myself and accept with grace that applause, that appreciation, that gratitude. So I stood there for a couple of seconds and looked out at the crowd and really received the applause. It shook me to the core in that moment, to be seen and appreciated by so many as my true self.
On my way out of the room after all the presentations were over a classmate grabbed my arm to talk to me. She told me that I probably didn’t realize that I have an incredible gift. I stammered something about how I talked too fast and that it was really next to impossible to do a guided meditation in such a limited amount of time. She agreed that I had gone too fast but looked me dead in the eye and again reiterated that I have a gift. She could see it, she knew.
Throughout the rest of the day I had so many people come up to me to touch my arm and tell me how much they enjoyed the meditation. People told me how they had cried, how deeply they were touched. 3 or 4 people emphasized how they thought I have a gift. I had people wanting to know where I teach, offering to be my first followers.
I realize now that the reason the day felt so foreign to me, the reason that all the praise was uncomfortable and surreal was because this may have been the first time in my life that I received such outrageous praise for really truly being myself. Just me. Just Laura. I didn’t pretend to be anyone else on that stage. I went up on that stage and opened up the most vulnerable part of myself and shared it with everyone in the room. And instead of the ridicule or the embarrassment I’d always assumed I would receive if I dared to do something so reckless as show my true self to hundreds of people, I received nothing but praise and appreciation.
Is it really this easy? Do I really just have to be myself to be truly seen and accepted by other people? Right now, today, I’m going to believe that it is.