One of the benefits of practicing mindfulness through meditation is noticing when your mind is distorting reality. Many times, this distortion causes some sort of discomfort – anxiety, stress, craving. Simply taking yourself back down to earth can often relieve the discomfort, even if only temporarily.
My mind is especially prone to reality distortion in crowds. When I’m at a social gathering, a concert, walking through the office, walking across the street, etc. Whenever there’s a crowd of people I get this sense of being at the center of the universe. Everyone’s eyes are on me. They’re watching me this whole time. They’re judging me in some way. At a glance they can see my flaws, see straight through my armor.
Neuroscientist and author Sam Harris would categorize this as my sense of self – “I” am sitting in my head behind my eyes looking out at a world that is distinctly separate from “me”. He would also point out that this sense of self is imaginary and it can be demonstrated as such using meditation techniques or psychedelics. He describes this in his book Waking Up.
This feeling is at its most intense and destructive when playing soccer. In college, I often played underneath the stadium lights in front of thousands of people. When I had the ball at my feet, it was much easier to feel like I was at the center of the universe. If I made a mistake, suddenly there were thousands of people judging me and thinking I’m a fraud out there. I was always at my worst when this feeling showed up, and removing it, even when there are no crowds watching my Sunday old man’s league, makes me a better player.
Call it social anxiety, call it being introverted, call it center of the universe syndrome. Call it whatever. The name and cause of this phenomenon are interesting but not important. The important thing is the skill required to remain mindful and cut through these thoughts as they occur. Often, it’s as simple as noticing them and watching them float away. Other times, I need a little bit of self talk to reason with myself that these thoughts are fucking absurd, not useful, or just batshit crazy.