Question: When I see acquaintances, mostly in class, I sometimes just don’t know how to respond, because I have been ignoring them almost every other time. It is as if my auto-reflex would be to freeze, and I have to force myself to smile to them. However, after joining Dharma camps and other social activities, I began to become more friendly towards people. Right now, I want to be this new self whenever I am in school.
However, as I have already been in my ‘dormant’ state since school started, I find it hard to suddenly behave differently. This problem has existed for a long time and I have been searching for ways to overcome it. The inability to behave the way I want gives me stress as I keep forcing myself to do what I could not. Do you have any advice?
Answer: Why not start small by changing gradually? E.g. make brief eye-contact and smile. There is no need to talk much at first. Later, say ‘Hi’. Even later, chat a little. It all begins with baby steps. The truth is, almost everyone behaves differently in different social contexts. Sometimes, we are less interested in some social circles that we are obliged to be in, such as being stuck in a class, which leads to less interaction and a sense of uneasiness. However, there is a high chance that others are just as bored as you, and would appreciate some friendly smiles and chatter.
To summarise, to overcome shyness, gradually interact more and more, to befriend more and more. You can add this to your practice too – when you practise loving-kindness meditation and/or share merits after any Dharma activity or good deed, think of the people you want to interact with and wish them well. When you do this sincerely, the next time you bump into them, you will naturally be more genuinely friendly. More on this can be learnt at http://thedailyenlightenment.