As part of my Spiritual Practitioner training (which is the first part of my ministerial training), I’m learning how to pray. Out loud. In front of people. Which is terrifying for me.
See, I’m a writer. I can take all the time I want to say something in writing. I can write it, think of new things in the shower, edit throughout the day, and refine it over weeks, months, or years if I want to. When I put it out to the world, it’s been polished. At least a little.
With speaking, you can’t take those words back. You can’t edit them. Once they’ve left the lips, they’re out there forever.
But this is prayer. I’ve never really prayed out loud before now. We never even said Grace before dinner when I was growing up. Prayer is something I’ve always done internally. At first, I’d recite to myself the usual Catholic prayers. Later in life, prayer became a silent, wordless conjuring of a certain state of being. A focused inner-awareness of aligning with Source more along the lines of meditation.
The kind of prayer that I’m learning now (called affirmative prayer) is more like an improvised, customized, poeticized form of spoken word. When sitting in the midst of someone who’s been doing this for years, it’s a beautiful, palpable, soul-shifting experience to behold.
However, for an introverted-leaning writer like myself, it’s proving to be a challenge. I’m putting in my hours with my mentor and every time is getting better. More natural. More authentic.
But at first, I sounded exactly like Ben Stiller saying grace at the table in Meet the Parents (to refresh your memory or for anyone who hasn’t seen the scene, click here, you can thank me later).
A horrifying experience, indeed.
Seth Godin nailed it in his blog post the other day. He said that, when we’re on the spot, we do many of the things most people associate with lying. We sweat, stutter, talk too fast, avoid eye contact, etc.
This is because, when we try something new, we’re almost always on the spot. Whether it’s writing, speaking, praying, trying a new sport, talking to someone new, etc., at first, it feels like we’re faking it because, in a way, we are.
We emulate at first. Emulation is a (mostly harmless) form of lying. We’re modeling those that inspire us. This is why we exude these traits.
It’s almost as if we’re automatically inauthentic at first. It’s awkward. We stumble through. We blush. Our palms get sweaty. Our hearts race.
But with practice, if our intentions are pure, we kick the habits that make us feel and look like we’re lying. We learn to calm our nerves, face our fears, and trample down our hesitations. We stop shouting into the microphone and, instead, we slow down, and make eye contact. We create our own literary mechanisms and idiosyncrasies.
We connect with our audience once we make it past the beginner’s stress and connect with ourselves.
That said, this process still really sucks. In a good way, of course:)
P.S. If you’re looking to connect with an audience of your own, I’m hosting a free online training at noon PST on Friday titled: Authentic Audience Building Through Medium. If you care to join in, click here. (If you can’t make the live training, I’ll email you a recording a day or two later.)