Charlie Morley, author and teacher
Photo credit: Jerry Syder | Courtesy of Charlie Morley.

Sink or swim: How author Charlie Morley abandoned his comfort zone to speak in front of large crowds


Speaking in front of a crowd, whether a handful of colleagues or hundreds of strangers, is a daunting prospect for many.

For best-selling author and teacher of lucid dreaming and shadow integration Charlie Morley, the moment he knew he was ready to teach large groups of people came after he gave a talk in 2008.

How it happened felt a bit like he was in a movie, he tells CNBC Make It.

A decade ago, around Halloween, Morley was giving his first public talk alongside his Buddhist teacher, an event he describes as one he'll "never forget."

"I gave my first talk and I had planned for it for months. I had a script and because I was an actor, I was like: 'As long as I learn my script, I'll be OK.' So, it was totally un-improvised, I knew exactly what I was going to say, even down to the pauses — I was way too over-rehearsed," he said, recalling a key turning point in his career, when he started focusing more on teaching and stepping away from his performance-based background.

At the end of this talk, however, Morley's Buddhist teacher, who was considered popular at the time in comparison to Morley, said to this big workshop crowd, and without asking Morley, "'Who thinks Charlie should run a six-week lucid dreaming course, starting next Tuesday?'"

"And then, everyone put their hands up," Morley told CNBC over the phone. "And he turned to me and smiled. And I was like 'Oh my God.' If you had put that in a film, you would say it was too cheesy — but it happened."

Charlie Morley, author and teacher
Photo credit: Jerry Syder | Courtesy of Charlie Morley.

He added that if he had been asked beforehand, he would have declined out of fear and a lack of confidence.

"(What the teacher did was) he threw me in the deep end. I spent the next two weeks, putting together this program and trying to reread all the books and stuff. The course (ended up being) alright — if I look back on it now, I'd probably think it was terrible, but I managed to do it.

"He pushed me, and it was a big turning point."

After Morley had studied Buddhism for a while, his teacher thought it would be a good idea for him to start giving talks. "He knew I could speak well and was used to being on stage and stuff like that. But it was strange, I didn't ask to do it."

Morley was "authorized to teach" within the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism in 2008 and has gone onto write three books and run retreats and workshops in over 20 countries. In 2011, he delivered a TEDx Talk in San Diego on lucid dreaming and embracing nightmares.

With the benefit of hindsight, Morley said he's really benefited from trusting his teacher and from being pushed to go further than he felt necessarily comfortable with.

He added that, typically, when qualified teachers or mentors figuratively push an apprentice to stretch himself, it's because they tend to know that it's the right time to do so.

"So I'd say, yes, it's great to embrace the kind of Buddhist feeling of 'Do what the teacher says,' but you've got to make sure that the teacher knows what they're talking about."

Ultimately, being thrown into the deep end can force people to learn to figuratively swim very quickly, Morley added.

Sometimes they won't be ready and sometimes it depends on timing, but there's only one way to find out.

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