Music, Wandering in Circles, and Presence

I had a big interview coming up, and I was deep in my own head.  Did you know that when people are lost, they tend to walk in circles?  Uncertain of my direction I was wandering in anxious-brain wilderness, distracted and unproductive. Around and around, retracing my steps.

This wasn’t like me – I usually focus my energy on preparing and arrive to the table with a reasonable level of confidence, but this time I just couldn’t get my feet underneath me.  The prep work was done, but if I couldn’t mentally show up, I was afraid I would read as false, flat.  (I’ve been on that side of interviews and it is painfully obvious.)          

How fortunate that I was reading the book Presence by Amy Cuddy as part of my 2019 literary “Board of Directors.”

Five books
2019’s “Board of Directors”

If you want a quick introduction to her work, her Ted Talk is a great place to start.

“By finding, believing, expressing, and then engaging our authentic best selves, especially if we do it right before our biggest challenges, we reduce our anxiety about social rejection and increase our openness to others.  And that allows us to be fully present.’  (Presence, Amy Cuddy, 2015)

Great, now if I could just… do that?

Reading on, Amy describes her love of live music:

“I don’t think there’s anything I find more blissful than a moment of perfect connection at a live concert.  But what makes it a moment of perfect connection?  (…) When a musician is present, we are moved, transported, and convinced.  When musicians are present, they bring us with them to the present.’  (Presence, Amy Cuddy, 2015)

Suddenly this wasn’t hard at all!  I knew exactly when it was.  September, 2018:  standing with the crowd in a darkened theater, singing along with Neko Case , resonating on every word.  My heart swelled and I was deeply present, funneled down into the moment, aware and alive.  There’s something elevating, transcendent about her music – it’s the closest thing to magic I can describe.

Now that I identified the state of mind (present, grounded, awake, fully inhabiting my physical person) and the circumstances that lead to me there  – how could I intentionally recreate this mindset on the day I needed it?

Another perfectly timed interaction happened:  I was chatting with a friend from Code4PA about some interesting work he does called Dance Meditation.  It was a perfect confluence of exactly what I needed, right when I needed it.  I really like how Aniket says:

“When we roam around in our society, we are mostly part of the persona which defines us. We set ourselves with certain assumptions and metrics which represents us. We are sometimes prisoners of our thoughts or principles for example.”  (Aniket Gode, 2019)

The morning of the interview, I closed my office door, took off my heels (shh, don’t tell HR), and planted  my feet, feeling the ground underneath me.  I plugged into my favorite Neko Case album with songs from her recent concert.  And I had a ten-minute private dance party like a complete weirdo.

One of the best feelings is knowing you represented yourself well, whether you ultimately get the job or not.  Where before I was wandering in unproductive mental circles, full of anxiety, afterward I felt grounded, present, funneled down into the moment and acutely connected.  I felt real again.

Do you have a story about navigating a personally stressful experience?  How did you pull yourself together?  How about an example of when you feel deeply present?

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