Jan 27, 2011

Overcoming shyness, a personal account

A miracle has happened! After twenty seven years of life—two years to thirty in March—I, for the very first time in my life out of complete and total free will and choice, went out running: I went out to run, to exercise! I have seen Jesus baaaaaby ♫♪! Oh my god! A miracle ♫♪! Hallelujah! (Insert upbeat gospel music here sang by a fat Afro-American lady). Yeah that’s right… a miracle happened! A true miracle! I’m crying of happiness for this glorious achievement.

A few months ago I wouldn’t have considered at all the idea that I, Tanai Cardona, would go out a winter night to run. When people asked me, “hey T, you should do some exercise, it’s healthy!” my standard answer usually was, “Me? Exercising?” wide-opened eyes in surprise, mouth open in bewilderment! “I’m a scientist! Scientists don’t exercise!” I used to say in a dramatic way… yet I know very clearly that if I want to live a healthy lifestyle, avoid stupid diseases later on, and add some extra years of world domination to my life, I should do some exercise… it’s not going to kill me! The point is that in my mind there were one million reasons, excuses, and obstacles that stopped me from doing something as simple as exercising. As a matter of fact, those mental obstacles have been very abundant within me; those mental obstacles stopped me from doing a lot of things I wish I have done leaving my soul plagued with regrets and fears... overcoming those obstacles has, to certain extent, defined my life and my path.

Am I making any sense? Let me take you a few years back to the past in order to make myself as clear as possible.

I was then 17 years old and it was the last night of a field trip to the Caribbean coast with the invertebrate class at the University. The entire class was back to the city of Santa Marta and it was time for celebration! It had been scheduled a visit to a nightclub to party, hang out with our classmates, and have a pretty good time dancing. However, things were not so very simple for me since I have never been to a nightclub before—as I recall now. My first experience in a nightclub was kind of traumatic I must say; it freaked the hell out of me and I just ran away! The music seemed to me so excessively loud, I think I became dizzy and disoriented until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Then I left the club and sat down outside in the sidewalk waiting for the party to be finished, while I condemned humanity and the world.

At the time I didn’t dance. I had totally refused to dance ever since I was a kid; and I always opposed myself vehemently against someone trying to teach me, why? Well, that was because I felt extremely embarrassed. And why would someone feel embarrassed of dancing or being taught how to dance? That’s a mystery that can’t be explained, it’s an incomprehensible mystery of the human mind. Then, my rationalization was: ‘I don’t want to dance, because I don’t like dancing’, and I believed it, I was fully convinced that I did not like dancing; yet deep inside I did wanted to dance, although I only admitted it later when I had matured some more and understood myself better.

Such feeling of embarrassment and discomfort went far beyond the issue of dancing. Not only I refused to dance but I also refused to like, listen, or tolerate music in general. In other words, I felt embarrassed or ashamed of liking music! How is that possible? It is absurd. But yeah, I was afraid of letting myself like music. The only type of music I actually allowed myself to enjoy was classical music.

Besides music and dancing, I was obviously afraid or embarrassed of things like talking to the lady at the administration office to ask for whichever paper, asking for an appointment to the doctor, making the line for whatever reason—for god’s sake! Making the line? Add to the list: asking the time to an estranger, speaking in class to ask for a question, making eye contact, making a phone call, talking to a girl or flirt was completely and utterly beyond my capabilities. I was totally afraid to speak up for myself or argue when needed, I was embarrassed to use formalities like Mr. or Mrs. which in Colombia are quite common (I rather avoided using proper names altogether)… and I could go on forever and ever, because pretty much every single aspect of my life was dominated by a sense of fear or embarrassment that stopped me from enjoying my life… and for many years I sulked in my sorrows, that was my reality, I held the firm belief that I was not alive. I had arrived to the conclusion that I was dead; that my body though moving around, my soul had perished, withered. Get the picture?

I did have some good qualities though; among those there was one quality that usually becomes highly developed and sharp in some particular types of introverted personalities… this quality is self-awareness, a self-awareness that is enhanced by a powerful introspection. What I mean with self-awareness is the capacity to be aware, to be conscious of who we are, of our feelings, of our actions. All of us possess this quality, it’s what allows us to recognize ourselves in the mirror, and it allows us to distinct between being sad or being happy. Self-awareness, as all human qualities can be developed… in me it developed to such an extent that I have a very clear and precise view of who I am, I understand very well my defects and my positive qualities, I know what I’m capable of and I’m aware of those things about me that hold me back. I understand quite well why I am the way I am, and I know exactly how I want to be. I have a comprehensive understanding of my feelings; I know how I feel and how I would feel about things… crystal clear and not clouded by pride, arrogance, hatred, jealousy, and other nasty feelings that distort our self-image and our realities. I understand why I behave the way I do, why I act or react in one way or another. I’m aware of the true meaning behind my words and of the deepest impulses that motivates me. In other words, I have a capacity of being very analytical and very critical about myself… very very very analytical and critical, in a positive and empowering way though…

So as I was mentionning above, I used to say that I didn’t like dancing… if I had accepted that rationalization of my acts, I would have never discovered how awesome and joyful dancing is: today, nightclubs and parties would still freak the shit out of me. I had to go through a very troublesome mental process to discover what truly lied behind that rationalization: “I don’t dance because I hate dancing”. The true feelings behind my actions, the true explanation of my absurd behavior was that I was afraid of dancing, I felt ashamed, I felt embarrassed, I felt embarrassed of let anybody teach me how to dance. Arriving to this conclusion wasn’t easy and straight forward because I believed that I hated dancing, over, period, end of the discussion. Thank you to my enhanced self-awareness I started to notice that my rationalization was kind of superfluous and incongruent; little by little I realized that although I said that I didn’t like dancing when I was in a situation that I needed to dance, say I was invited to dance (either by friends or relatives) instead of feeling disgust or dislike as I was claiming, I felt something else… something else called embarrassment and shame. It was hard to admit to myself that I did want to dance… that all that “I don’t like dancing” was just bullshit: I had to break through my own pride and accept the absurdity of my behavior—that was truly painful, believe me. It was even more painful because dancing in the ‘Latino World’ is so fucking important, everyone in Colombia knows how to dance, it’s ridiculous.

So then, finally I came in terms with myself and after much analyzing I knew I wanted to dance. Yeah, but just because I wanted to dance doesn’t mean that the next day I was going to a nightclub with my friends and do some salsa! I was mentally conditioned to feel embarrassment when dancing, like a dog salivating when it hears the bell for some meat: there was a strong association between fear and dancing that I had to break. The mere thought of dancing freaked me out! It was a great ordeal for me to finally throw my first steps in the dance floor and overcome this fear, it took me years…

[My dancing teacher was Bob Marley; I used to practice my dance moves secretly in my room watching videos of Bob Marley dancing and singing live in concerts, and then I would replicate some of his movements… I actually did… and for a time I was only doing reggae moves when dancing any kind of music.]

The point I’m trying to make is that because I was aware of my self-defeating believes and behaviors I was able to overcome such mental obstacles as fear to dance.

The moment I finally understood my feelings and my reactions towards dancing was incredibly important in my life, it was the turning point in my path to awesomeness. Because I understood then, at that moment, that the same feelings I had towards dancing, those irrational fears permeated every single aspect of my being, of my actions, of my thoughts, of my reality… I had not come to this realization and it could have ended up with Tanai committing suicide after losing all hopes for life.

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