Q. I've always been shy to a fault. I recently began dating someone with a great group of friends, but my shyness keeps me from joining in on their fun. I want to feel like I'm part of it all. How do I get over my awkwardness?
--Shelly P., Newport, Rhode Island
A. You "get over" it by practicing kindness toward yourself, particularly when you feel like a bashful, fumbling, nervous goof. In his book "The Instruction Manual for Receiving God," Jason Shulman suggests that the only way to experience wholeness is by loving your cracks and dents. In that spirit, try seeing your shyness as a kind of uniquely designed spiritual practice. Turn your withdrawn moments into opportunities for personal insight -- priceless occasions to tune in to your bodily sensations (sweaty palms, constricted throat, desire to flee) and your thoughts ("I should be talking"; "I wish I were funny"; "I feel so awkward"). But rather than reacting to them, try observing them with a sense of compassion instead. By bringing loving attention to the very moments you wish you were different, you will eventually free yourself to actually be different.
On that note, were you born with "shy" tattooed on your forehead? (If so, please send a photo.) You're not marked for life by certain qualities or inhibitions, and your past doesn't determine your future. Change takes practice, though, and this requires breaking things down into small steps. The next time you're hanging out with friends, ask yourself, "What would I be doing if I were not shy?" Imagine how your body would feel -- relaxed, alert, light? Choose one action to take, perhaps hugging goodbye, making a joke, or even just smiling. Take a deep, grounding breath and give it a go. And remember, small, self-loving steps really can get you there. Let your desire for connection help you conquer this fear.
Author, creative catalyst, and coach Jennifer Louden leads retreats around the United States. She has written six books about creating a life you love, including her newest, "The Life Organizer." You can learn more at lifeorganizerbook.com. If you have questions about life issues such as finding balance, managing time, or handling difficult personal relationships, email them to email@example.com.