I had an interesting observation today, regarding judging and feeling judged, and the need to always be doing something in public, or perhaps just to validate yourself.
I was about a half hour early for my Arabic class today. The entrance is an unassuming back door to the Language Lab situated in a high-traffic intersection of hallways. I stood there like a rock in a riverbed, the only person standing still in an evermoving surge of humanity.
Doors creaked, heels clicked. Teeming cliques echoed coarse, forced laughter through the linoleum and concrete. I could see the psychodrama of anxiety, guilt, fatigue, and the pressure to succeed playing out on all the wandering faces.
I began leaning against the wall, looking at my phone. I started writing on a pad of sticky notes, before I realized I had nothing informative or pressing to write down. Then I started looking at my textbook, but I wasn’t actually reading anything, I quickly realized what I was doing, mechanically…
I was doing something, anything to appear normal and valid in this situation, to the presumed opinions of onlookers. I was the odd man out. The stranger. Why is he waiting there? What is he doing? I’m not a mind reader, this dialogue was all auto-generated.
Is it impossible for me to just stand here calmly and wait? Every moment a new face, a new stranger would pass by me and I would subtly tense up, preparing either to be engaged, judged or spoke to. I began to get frustrated, a mild despair at the situation.
Why am I leaning against this wall? It wasn’t as comfortable as just standing in a relaxed posture. For a moment I stood quietly amidst the crowd, without motion, looking at no particular thing. Something strange began to happen: I began to feel an immense force to do something, anything. Any action that would define to the crowd my purpose here. Anything but just stand and buffet the crowds quietly.
Touch your glasses, crack your knuckles, look around! Shuffle your feet, take out your pen, look at your phone. DO SOMETHING! The compulsion to do anything but stand silently was immense. Mounting like a boiling riot. I was able to dissuade this mental anguish by firmly rooting my Presence in the sensation of my body. Arms, legs, breath, heartbeat. I tried to sense my whole body at once, feeling the necessary and unnecessary tensions as they arose, and how it was linked to my excited emotional state. I began to relax into this, to not need to move. It felt energizing.
I noticed something else interesting. At that exact moment, other people began giving me a wide berth. Perhaps the sheer heresy of someone just standing still, quietly, not attending to anything phone or book related seemed so strange that I looked like a madman. My zone of personal space expanded with my will to just be here, and people began tracing a large semicircle around me and sticking close to the corners.
Eventually, the moment passed. Other students began to filter in and the door to the lecture hall opened. I feel I am stronger because of what happened. That I got insight into just how pervasive it is to seem normal and busy. Anything but just waiting quietly.