From a very young age I learned the difference between being seen, verses being heard. I discovered that unless I open my mouth to say something people will assume what I am thinking just by looking at me.
This realization hit me one day when I was perhaps 6 or 7 years of age. I was at a family function desperately wanting to play with this one girl. But being painfully shy, I had my back turned to her in pretense that I didn't care.
As I stood there wishing she would come up and talk to me, I heard an adult ask her, "why don't you go play with Ruth?" I smiled privately... excited and hopeful.
However her response is one I will never forget.
No, she doesn't want to play with me. Look... she's got her back to me!
My heart skipped a beat.
My smile instantly erased as the earth shattering realization engulfed me.
My actions just stole from me a chance to play. They had silenced my inner voice making my true feelings invisible.
I had been seen, but not heard.
Fast forward 40-something years and what amazes me is I still struggle with this. With speaking up and sharing my thoughts. I still worry about rejection, what other people might think, still seeking acceptance, approval, permission. And to be honest, it's an exhausting way to live.
Personally I'm ready to care a little less, and to let go.
Which bit by bit, I am working on...
Last month for example I decided to shake things up, leap out of my comfort zone, and truly challenge myself. I'd heard good things about the Good Life Project's summer camp for adults and thought why not? How difficult could it be?
Well. Me on day two...
Curled in fetal position on the bottom bunk, red eyed and sniveling, cell phone pressed to my ear whispering in hushed, barely audible tones. My poor husband on the other end making valiant attempts to comfort me.
Somehow, between breakfast and lunch, I had become 6-years old all over again. My inner child convincing me that no one wanted to play. She led me right back to all of my insecurities, dashing my high hopes for the "camp experience". I was nothing but the shy, quiet weirdo that no one wanted to talk to.
Perhaps it was the overly excited response a fellow camper gave me during breakfast when I admitted to being an introvert that triggered it? Because all I heard was,
Oh wow, you're one of THEM?!
Or perhaps it was that no one spoke to me (nor I to them) during my first workshop of the day? During which I sat at a table with about 8 or 9 others, in silence, feeling more and more isolated with each passing minute.
Whatever the case, my inner child took over and upon my release (as if I'd been imprisoned) I walked very fast to my cabin, pulled a day old turkey wrap out of my bag, curled up as small as I could on the bed and dialed my husband, shoveling food into my mouth as I simultaneously released the waterworks.
Not the prettiest visual, and certainly not my proudest moment at camp.
Did things get better?
Sometimes hitting rock bottom is the only way to truly shake things up (it was my reason for going to camp after all). The remainder of camp confirmed in me the age old saying, what we give out is what we get back... and that I was not the only one with crazy, insecure, 6-year old feelings!
Day three. The Talent Show...
This was the night I had been waiting for. My biggest challenge of all.
Clutching an original piece of prose, heart pounding, I sat in the audience popping mints and watching performance after performance, awaiting my turn. It was like sitting on a speeding train with my stop fast approaching, wishing the destination had already passed.
In no uncertain terms, I was terrified.
But when it came time for me to stand at the foot of the stage, with just minutes to spare, an unexpected calm gently washed over me. And rather than hyperventilate, somehow, I managed to gather my thoughts and find comfort in repeating one simple line.
You are not doing this for you, Ruth.
Over and over, I calmly and firmly convinced myself that someone out there needed to hear my words... my inner voice. That it was time.
I then walked on stage, stood in front of the microphone and read my original prose (I'm Incubating) aloud. My heart no longer pounding, my hands steady, my voice speaking with unusual determination and strength.
It was a strange feeling, as if I had given myself purpose. Like I had something of value to say, something worth sharing, something that could possibly touch others. Maybe even help others feel less alone, more connected perhaps?
But ultimately it just felt good to do.
It made me feel more connected to myself, and to every other person in that room. It reinforced that at the core of it all we, as human beings, are intrinsically the same. There is no thought, no feeling, that I can have that hasn't already been experienced by someone else.
People let me know afterward how much they resonated with my words. And I got to leave one happy camper!
Happy that I finally let myself be seen... and heard.