Quietness around other people is not necessarily a sign of spiritual calmness. It could be contempt. It could be shyness. As a child and teenager, I was very quiet and shy. Apart from a naturally introspective personality, the quietness was primarily driven by fear. This was deliberately overcome when I made a conscious decision, at age fifteen, to stop living in social fear and started trying to reach out to my school peers in a proactive way.
One day, while sitting in class at school, I asked myself, “Why is it that some girls are popular and seem very happy and confident and I, on the other hand, am far from popular, confident, and happy?” I looked around at the other girls, searching for the answer. My eyes fell upon a girl who was confidently engaged in a conversation with one of her friends. The friend was genuinely enjoying her company. My classmate looked balanced, carefree, and engaged with life. I then asked myself, “What is this girl doing that makes her companion enjoy her company?” I looked closer and for the first wonderful time, I could see what it was. The girl was looking outward not inward. My classmate was reaching out to her peers in an enthusiastic, positive, and lively way. She wasn’t waiting for someone to talk to her as was my, generally, unsuccessful approach to peer relationships. She was taking the first step and she was carrying the conversation along in a calm and bright manner. Ah, outwards not inwards. That was the secret. Make an effort, be brave, reach out, stop being such a scaredy-cat.
From that moment, something important in my life changed. As soon as the bell rang to end the class I made my first, faltering move in a new direction. I turned to the nearest girl and asked her, with way too much enthusiasm, how her day had been. Although looking somewhat taken aback at my no longer silent voice and the exaggerated enthusiasm with which I spoke, she nevertheless spoke with interest in the ensuing conversation about her day. Such was the beginnings of a bright and bubbly personality and my growing understanding of how to win friends and influence people.
The whole thing gained momentum and went from strength to strength so that, I would say, it was completely mastered by the time I was twenty-two. I had more friends than I needed and I could usually attract the attention of most people who I had an interest in befriending. Seven years of practising to overcome shyness and fear and I reached a point of graduating from the course in advanced interpersonal proficiency. Once mastered, I utterly lost interest in it. I began the serious quest of spiritual, not interpersonal, mastery. I said good-bye to the bubble that had served me so well for seven years and returned to the quieter persona. However, this time it would not be driven by fear but, eventually, by a conscious, calm equilibrium. I had only just opened the gate to this new domain. At twenty-two, I indeed had a long way to go. However, like my previous challenge at fifteen, it was step by step. We just take that first faltering step.
A balanced, inner calmness radiates from a peaceful centre. It neither craves others’ approval nor rejects others’ presence. It neither pulls towards nor pushes away. It has a reverent attitude towards life and all its inhabitants. It has compassion for the inevitable weaknesses of the human condition. It has nothing to gain from others’ approval. It is not self-seeking. It is not needy, grabbing or manipulative. It embodies gracious respect for everything beautiful including other human souls. It has a lively freedom, a happy composure, a quick and engaging wit, and an intelligent, interested, and interesting mental attitude.