Sunday, 25 February 2018

Shyness and Invitation

The Smith’s famously sang “Shyness is nice, and Shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life You'd like to… Coyness is nice, and Coyness can stop you from saying all the things in life you'd like to. So, if there's something you'd like to try. If there's something you'd like to try. Ask me, I won't say no, how could I?”

Rather cute lyrics, to a lovely and funny song.

...I love the people who are courageous enough to ask me...

I’m not so sure it’s so nice though, shyness can be excruciating debilitating at times. It has affected my life negatively over the years. How many times has shyness stopped me accepting the invitation of life, too many.

Some folk might find this hard to believe, but I can be quite shy. It takes me time to feel comfortable enough to be myself in new environments. There is a shyness about me. I’m better than I used to be. I'm sure folks who see me in my work find this hard to believe, but it is true all the same. It takes me time to feel comfortable in my own being, in new company and new situations. Thank God though that these days it rarely leads me to turn down the invitation.

There have been times when I have hidden myself from view, literally hidden my face, afraid to pop my head above the parapet for fear of being shot down. My mother knew this and saw how different I was to my siblings on my first day at school. She walked us all to school on the first day, but I reacted differently to my siblings who just joined the other children. I did not, I walked through the gates of Birstall County Primary School, swallowed hard and sat down in the corner utterly overwhelmed and bewildered by it all. I did in time adjust and found a level of comfort in the crowd, but it took time. It has been the same throughout my life. I do eventually become a part of the whole, but it takes time.

I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings, in fact I know I’m not. We all experience shyness in some form or another, especially when invited and take the first steps into something new, particularly if is something that might be wonderful, but will definitely make them feel vulnerable. By the way we are always vulnerable, that is the nature of life.

Think about how you felt the first time you walked into a new community you bacame a part of. It takes time to feel you belong and can be wholly yourself. I know it does for me.

Shyness is a beautiful thing, so long as it doesn’t stop us doing those things our hearts desire. It’s ok to feel the trembling excitement of shyness, but it can become unhealthy if it enslaves us.

David Whyte writes that “Shyness is the sense of a great unknown, suddenly about to be known. It is the exquisite and vulnerable frontier between what we think is possible and what we think we deserve”.

This is an exciting feeling actually. Yes there is fear there, but a kind of anticipated joy too. It is not in and of itself a negative feeling.

To me these feelings are the essence of the spiritual journey, which is not a safety first way of living and breathing by the way. No it compels us to deal with powerful feelings and discover new ways of being in the world. This can feel quite daunting at times, but should not cause shame. It is natural, healthy and necessary actually. To brashly step into anything without any shyness can lead to problems not only for ourselves but others too. These uncomfortable feelings are needed as we explore the great new mysteries life is offering us. This is the invitational nature of life. That said we are not alone in these feelings, no matter how alone we might feel, and this is why it is vital to be a part of a community that journeys on through these adventures, inviting us onto the great unknown that is our lives.

There is a place for shyness when it comes to spiritual growth. Carl Gustav Jung claimed that folks tend to be either introverted or extroverted. Now whether a person had an introverted or an extroverted personality depended on whether the individual increases in energy from being with others and is therefore an extrovert; conversely an individual who recharges his or her spiritual and emotional energy from being alone and recharging through solitary activities such as reading, prayer and or meditation tends to be introverted. I think ministers and those who serve tend to be introverts by nature. Yes we get meaning from giving to others, it is our purpose in life, but it’s not necessarily where we get our energy and connection with the divine from. Yes we have our peacock moments when we are listened to, but the solace and energy tends to come in those alone times.

Many of the great sages were introverted in nature and often highly sensitive individuals who needed time alone in prayer and meditation. Think of Jesus going off alone to pray, or the Buddha, Mohamad, Gandhi.

Now while they were introverted in some ways this did not stop them accepting their invitations by turning down their calls. The spiritual life is all about invitation. It’s about stepping out of ourselves, no matter how shy and or introverted, to serve our world and to fully become a part of the whole.

I was recently asked, by one of the folk I serve, why I don’t often talk about my understanding of God. I remember saying at the time that it was primarily about humility, how can anyone really speak adequately about the Divine. A bit of an evasive answer if truth be told.

So what do I think of when I speak of God? Well the truth is I see God as invitation really, that God offers itself to us, invites us to walk with. I cannot accept that God has pre-ordained everything that occurs in life and controls our every interaction. I do though believe in the Lure of Divine Love, that God invites us into life and love. An invitation I sometimes turn away from, although less so these days. I do not believe events are laid out before myself or others and yet I do experience synchronicity when I am truly in tune with life around me and spirit within me. Some days if feels like the whole of life is communicating with me, compelling me to follow. At such times it feels impossible to refuse such invitations. This year it has been immensely powerful and as it has been impossible to ignore the invitation, there really was no choice. It has been so powerful at times that it has felt like I have been directed. I’m not sure I truly believe this. That said my belief either way is irrelevant as to whether it is factually correct or not. Whether I believe something or not doesn’t make it true or not. I think it is important that we all remember that. I have felt powerfully directed at times and I have never known the presence of God more intensly.

The core of the spiritual life for me is invitation and I have discovered that the way to truly live this life is to became an invitation myself. It has mostly allowed me to transcend my own shyness and given me life deep and rich in meaning. It’s amazing what we can invite into our lives and encourage others to do the same. Do you know what, the invitation is often written all over our faces.

Our faces reveal who we are you know. In many ways our faces shape who we are and can actually shape our futures by what we invite into our lives through it; David Whyte in “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship” states that:

“We do not often admit how much the shape of our face can be an invitation to others or a warning to keep away. Our face influences our future by what it invites or disinvites. The way we face the future actually creates our future as much as individual actions along the way.”

He illustrates what he means by telling the story of two guests at a party that he hosted at his home. He stood at his door with his eight year old daughter welcoming guests. He described his daughter as being very shy with strangers and of hiding behind his legs and just waving a hand at the guests as they arrived. This apparently all changed as one guest Satish Kumar, a former Jain monk arrived, a man who had achieved great things through his presence and openness and welcome. Whyte writes that:

“At sixty, his face was so full of life and happiness and welcome and happiness that my daughter ran out spontaneously from behind my legs and held her hands out toward him. I was taken aback by the sudden courage of my hitherto reluctant daughter, but I could see what she was running toward. Satish’s face was an invitation to happiness itself. Seeing him always makes me want to practice the set of my own face as a kind of daily discipline. I only have to see him and I want to be as naturally happy and appreciative as he is, and more importantly he makes me want to show it.”

Whyte then describes another face that was the polar opposite of Satish’s that sent his daughter scurrying once again behind his legs. Whyte writes:

“A man whose face seemed to carry not only past disappointments, but also a sense that it was only a matter of time before it was disappointed again. This man’s face seemed almost hungry for circumstances to betray him.”

Whyte writes that as he observed these two faces together, all night long he could see with absolute clarity that these two faces had radically different futures in store for them. It mattered not what they did or would do, or what would happen to them. He could see it in what they invited or disinvited into their lives. One was open and welcome, while the other was closed off and disappointed. He could see it, because it was written all over their faces.

Our faces say it all...

Yes shyness is nice, there is a cuteness to it, especially in the young. There is a healthy place for it too as we step over the threshold into something new. That said if it leads us to refusing the invitations of our lives, it is not helpful at all.

So I offer you the invitation to openness, an invitation that begins to be expressed through our all too human faces. May we become the invitation that encourages others to overcome their shyness and step over the threshold and join in the courageous conversation that is the spiritual life.

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