You would find it difficult or even impossible to connect these two terms. But for me, it’s easy. I have to begin by reliving the life I led in my formative years and up to 1995. (Why 1995 ? I’ll come to that later.) So please excuse me if this piece is too personal or revealing. It’s painful for me to remember my disability, by which I mean my semi-pathological fear of relating to other people.
At this point, I realise that anyone who knows me now will find this hard to believe. If I say so myself, I have every appearance of confidence. I can speak to groups or even large audiences. I have no obvious symptoms like panic, stuttering, trembling or anxiety. Shy ? Never !
But in my younger years, meetings and interviews filled me with dread; I would do anything, give any excuse, to escape them. I walked the streets with my head down. I felt that I was worthless, an embarrassment, a pain to myself and others. I suppose my ailment could be called an inferiority complex, which is something that non-shy people can never understand
What was the cause of my ‘social phobia’ ? I have no idea. I had a happy childhood. My parents loved me as their only child. There may have been underlying conditions but I lacked the self-awareness to discover them. I knew that I was different. All I know is that suddenly I felt crippled by shyness.
My ‘solution’ was to take up a profession which required talking to large and small groups. A strange idea ! Maybe this was an attempt to face shyness head on. To some extent it succeeded. I coerced myself to present a facade of confidence and extroversion. But of course this brute force method was just a patch to ‘repair’ my identity.
Enough of this introspection. What’s the connection with Buddhism and the year 1995 ? This was the year when I discovered the Dharma and learned for the first time about the Buddha’s revolutionary approach to the issue of ‘self’. Of course my ‘self’ was at the heart of my suffering. I felt obliged to protect my self/ego/identity. With Shakyamuni’s emphasis on diminishing the ‘self’ to the minimum necessary to function as a sentient being, everything fell into place.
What happened next ? I hardly thought about myself. I was no longer overshadowed by the worry about people’s opinions of me. I was free to talk, decide, work, play without fear. This opened a new realm of activity for me in the areas of politics, relationships and ethics. This was a dramatic change of perspectives in my life. Looking back at my previous timidity and over-sensitivity, I can hardly recognise the person that was me.
We are all in the same vehicle travelling through time into some kind of disappearance. For this brief moment our obligation is to show loving kindness to our brothers and sisters of whatever colour, species, age or orientation. Our differences in the context of the cosmos are trivial, infinitesimal and invisible. The differences in perspective are profound. All sentient beings are my friends. Why should I be afraid of them ? My ‘self’ has shrivelled so all beings are my ‘self’.
Some of the other side-benefits of following the Dharma are less dramatic. They may include feelings of relaxation, confidence and inner peace. But it would be a mistake to take up Buddhism expecting some kind of therapy. The historical Buddha described himself as a doctor for the sufferers of the world but this shouldn’t be taken too literally.
So now you understand the unlikely connection between my disability and my devotion to the Dharma. Maybe this piece will help others who are suffering similar disorder. May all beings be well. May all beings be happy.