"If ever I have a moment of 'stage fright' it happens sometimes just before I start to teach a large audience in a city far from home I look out at the group and think, first of all, 'I love you.' I really do. It's a shorthand reminder to myself that everyone who has come is planning to enjoy hearing what I say. They have not come as critics. They've come as friends. They are 'on my side.' I look at the people in front of me as if I expect to recognize someone and, in fact, everyone looks like somebody. As soon as I smile, people smile back, and my sense of 'Uh-oh, I don't know anyone here' changes to 'We are familiar strangers.' Then I relax, start to tell a story, and feel quite at home.
"Of course, the easiest teaching situations are ones in which I don't need to remind myself that people will be glad to hear me because the community itself reminds me. The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, in Lenox, Massachusetts, where I've been a guest teacher for more than a decade, does appreciation as a spiritual practice. The program brochure doesn't say that yoga classes and psychology seminars are the listed offerings but you feel a definite texture of goodwill in the air as soon as you arrive there.
"When I took my daughter Emily with me to Kripalu for her first visit I was to be a speaker at a conference there on yoga and Buddhism she could feel the communal good mood immediately. 'Something magic is going on here,' she said. 'People are incredibly nice to each other.' Our hypothesis was that the yoga and the meditation there were practice sessions all day between the conference program presentations, and Emily and I did them together relaxed everyone's mind so that natural appreciation, everyone thanking at every opportunity, participants as well as presenters, took over. 'Thank you for that class.' 'Thank you for being such attentive participants.' 'Thank you.' 'Thank you.'
"Also, every conference speaker was introduced with abundant praise for his or her talents, and each presentation was followed with immediate praise for its most outstanding points. After I spoke, Emily asked, 'Did you get nervous, Mom, with so many people there? You didn't sound like it. You looked like you were having a really good time.'
" 'I was having a great time,' I replied. 'By the time Kavi finished introducing me, I was so pleased by the great things he said about me, I felt like I couldn't make a mistake. I was thrilled to be teaching, and I think I taught better than I ever have. It never occurred to me that I should worry.' ”