God doesn’t mind asking His devotees to serve in ways that are uncomfortable to our egos. In fact, I think He gets a kick out of seeing our little selves squirm! Needless to say, when we consciously embark upon the spiritual path, we are asking God and Guru to help us transcend the ego. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised by some obstacles – or as Paramhansa Yogananda referred to them – opportunities for further growth.
One such opportunity is overcoming nervousness or fear of public speaking. Studies show, that apart from death, public speaking is the most common fear. So, what happens if you fall into this category but are being asked to share with others?
A friend asked me this question recently and since I have a lot of experience in this realm, I felt very qualified to attempt an answer. I’ll start by giving you a little background lest you think I’m exaggerating my “qualifications.”
I was born and raised in a small town in middle Georgia. When I grew up, I bought a house in an even smaller town, on a dirt road, completely secluded. My dream job was to man a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere, but when I turned 18, the last manned lighthouse was closed down! Alas, God wanted something else for me.
I started to tune in to that something else at the age of 26, when I said the sincerest words I’d ever expressed to God: “How can I serve you more?” Very shortly after, I was on my way to India to visit my spiritual family for the first time, including my dear teacher and guide, Swami Kriyananda and my soulmate, Narayan. It was the first time I’d ever been on an airplane!
After returning from India, I moved to Santa Monica to help, in my small way, get Ananda LA started. I began teaching myself to play the harmonium. I took to it right away and thoroughly enjoyed expressing my devotion through Yoganandaji’s chants. One day I was playing at a friend’s house when my hands started uncontrollably shaking. I stopped to figure out why and realized that my friend had snuck in to listen. Even though I didn’t know it, my body reacted to playing in front of someone else! That’s when I realized I had some obstacles (or opportunities!) to overcome if I was ever to share Master’s teachings with anyone in person.
Very shortly thereafter I was asked to co-lead a meditation class. My half of the class was to share on affirmations, which I did… for a total of 5 minutes. The other teacher was left to share for the other 85! That was the last class she asked me to help her with.
Years passed and with them, many opportunities to share that were met with inner anxiety and uncontrollable nervousness. One day, I was preparing to give an online broadcast on one of Swami Kriyananda’s class series. My anxiety was at a peak. I tried all the tricks I knew – deep breathing, lifting the energy to the point between the eyebrows – nothing worked. Ironically, the class I was to give was on Overcoming Nervousness & Fear and there I was, a total basketcase!
Suddenly, I realized, it was the Satanic force that was trying to keep me from fulfilling my sincere desire to serve God. So, with all my willpower and calling on Yoganandaji and Christ, I said: “GET OUT!!” To my surprise, it worked! Not only did all of my physical discomfort go away but I was flooded with a tremendous amount of energy. I think that was probably the best class I’ve ever given.
I would love to say that was my last opportunity to overcome nervousness and fear, but no, God is generous and the gifts continue to this day. I will say, however, it has gotten much easier, especially as my resolution has gotten stronger.
As I said to my friend, there is no quick fix for overcoming nervousness and fear, we just have to continue to say, “Yes!” to what is being asked of us and to follow through and do it. Fear’s power lies in how much we allow it to control our lives. When we make up our minds to push on, no matter what, fear takes a backseat. As Swami Sri Yukteswar said, “Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.”