Steven H. Flowers directs the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at Enloe Medical Center in Chico. He is no stranger to "social anxiety" but now considers it a gift: "Without shyness I may never have found compassion and loving-kindness. My feelings of shyness led me to meditation. . . . Shyness has become the source of empathy and compassion in my heart for others who feel frightened and alone, because I can see that their suffering is no different from my own."
Flowers is convinced that one can move beyond shyness; his practical prescription is given in "The Mindful Path Through Shyness: How Mindfulness & Compassion Can Help Free You From Social Anxiety, Fear & Avoidance" ($17.95 in paperback from New Harbinger Publications). Drawing on a Buddhist form of meditation called "insight" or "vipassana," Flowers writes that "mindfulness meditation can be described as creating a space in your mind in which you can witness thoughts and emotions enter and leave."
None of them is permanent. By observing this, he writes, "you may find that even emotions as difficult as fear and anxiety are more manageable. . . . You acknowledge or note 'anxiety,' give it some space, and feel into it with gentle curiosity. You stay. You breathe. You let the feeling of anxiety just be there. You acknowledge your anxiety with acceptance: 'Ah, my old companion anxiety.'"
Rather than give way to "reactionary emotions" and thoughts of "future calamity," the shy person can attend to his or her bodily state at the moment, shifting "from self-blame to compassionate presence, from avoidance to acceptance," challenging "the thoughts that are creating such an emotional uproar and inquire to see if they're absolutely true and whether it's necessary to heed them or even believe them." With continued practice, Flowers writes, habitual patterns can be broken. The shy person may then be able to use the freedom of the moment to interact socially rather than seek to escape.
The book contains a series of guided meditations, exercises and case studies that illustrate the author's approach, which is called "Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy" (www.mbct.com). Flowers, who recently held a book signing at the Chico Barnes and Noble store, concludes that freedom from debilitating shyness promotes loving-kindness toward others--who may well reciprocate.