Saturday, 9 June 2018

There is only perception

I exist in the light,
and in the darkness too.
There is beauty in the world,
but also things that are ugly,
and yet there is nothing.
There is only perception of these things.

I carry anger, and I carry peace.
I am the quiet one sat in the corner,
but inside I scream at the volume
of a thousand claps of thunder.
Beneath a dispassionate indifference
is a great passion.

Beneath my mistrust
is a need to place my trust in someone.
There's a fire burning within,
but the surface is much calmer and cooler
than the raging inferno.
There is only perception of these things.


Saturday, 2 June 2018

How does it feel?

I have a serious weakness as a dancer. Well, I have more than one, but let's focus on what gives me the most trouble. I've been trying to think of a way to explain it, and I think I finally have it.

I know very few moves, or at least I can't remember many. If I take part in a class, I'll struggle to remember a sequence that's being taught, and embarrassingly, I often get a little extra attention from the instructor. So, I'm weak as a dancer but, strangely, it's also in some ways a strength.

If you were to ask me about a very basic Salsa move, for example - let's use Kentucky - I would struggle to explain it to you. I know I go into it from guapea, and that I wrap the lady to my right side initially. I think I have to keep the left hand high and the right hand low at that point, but from there I'm lost. Ask me to demonstrate the move, though, and I'll show you. Ah yeah, I'll say to you, that's Kentucky - that's how it feels.

When I'm watching an instructor demonstrate, I'm trying to absorb what I'm being shown. Was that turn clockwise or anti-clockwise? Where are the instructors hands and elbows? What about the footwork? Whoa! Wait a minute! I'm not actually getting a lot of this stuff.

I'll try to mimic the movement, slowly, and eventually I'll know how it feels. Yeah. Remember that feeling, and recreate it. Then, one of the ladies will stubbornly hold her arm in the wrong position or turn the wrong way, and I've lost any sense of how the move should feel. Back to square one, with the minutes ticking away.

One of the ladies, who developed a good measure of contempt towards me, recognised this weakness after a while, and exploited it. She would stubbornly and deliberately react in entirely the wrong way during a class - Modern Jive at first, and then she started showing up at the Salsa club I frequented. It was easy to get me to leave two dance clubs, just by making sure my progress as a dancer came to a screaming halt.

I mentioned it could be a strength, didn't I? Well, if I've practised something enough times to know how it should feel when done correctly, or at least my version of doing it correctly, then it just comes naturally. I may not dance with a high level of technical competence, but I dance with feeling, because I'm constantly using how everything feels as a reference.

I blame Tai Chi. What I realised during my practise of Tai Chi was that the movements were performed slowly for a reason. At every position in the three dimensional space around me that a movement travelled through, my brain picked up how that movement felt. Something about the soft, flowing nature of Tai Chi also transferred to my dancing.

If other dancers had seen how I trained the basic footwork of Salsa, they might have found it strange. No music - just me counting, and counting slowly as I moved equally slowly. Actually, I was placing my left foot forward, stepping in place with my right and so on, at the speed of a Tai Chi form and with the same flow.

What I'm describing is an example of the Zen concept of mushin. Literally translated, it means "no mind", but it actually means to have practised something so many times, and have become so proficient, that we are barely aware of any conscious effort. We simply do the thing. I've found that this state requires a certain level of confidence, and a certain level of relaxation.

Anyway, that's it. I dance with feeling, literally. That's good with something I've practised hundreds, or even thousands of times. With something I've learned over the course of an hour? The feeling isn't so deeply embedded in my memory. I'm a good dancer, I'm told, but a bad learner. I accept that.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Pushing against a door labelled "pull"

A friend said recently that I'd changed in the time she'd known me. I wanted to deny this, and say it was simply her perception of me that had changed, or that I had only stopped hiding so much of myself. She was correct, though. I have changed, or at least become more fully myself.

Dancing connects with my emotional side, somehow. I don't know whether it's the music, the movement or being so close to another person, but the sensitivity I've spent most of my life trying to hide is no longer hidden. To be honest, I don't know if I was ever really that successful at hiding it. My way of dealing with that part of my character was simply staying away from other people as much as possible, so I wasn't vulnerable.

When someone I work with heard that I was learning to dance, she laughed at first. A lot of people laugh at first. After a few minutes, however, she said she thought it was wonderful that I was connecting with my inner passion. Hmm.

Suffering as much loss, dealing with as much change, and having to cope with the amount of uncertainty I've encountered over the past few years has meant that I've had to change. Even now, I think that I still need to find other ways to cope. As a part of my training, I had to go for personal counselling, and it brought things into focus I would rather have continued to push to the back of my mind, so to speak. It took a long time for the counsellor to understand me, so maybe we didn't cover things as fully as we could.

I'm starting to think I should go for more counselling. There are so many things that are unresolved. If you know anything about the process, you know that we work most on our issues in the time between sessions, and also in the time after the sessions have come to an end. There are things I know I have to talk about, and yet a large part of my reluctance to return to counselling is being afraid to talk about them.

I've started practising martial arts again. I'm learning some Muay Boran sets. As usual, I'm not rushing my learning, because I want to understand everything thoroughly - to gain better understanding and to refine the movements. To be honest, I'm doing it mainly because it feels good to move this way again. It feels like an antidote to the emotional pot being stirred by dancing, or at least enables me to better deal with it.

So, yeah, I'm changing. I hate using this phrase, but I suppose I'm finding myself. I'm aware that every time I've been through difficult times, I've started practising martial arts again. There's something in that.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Finding my path

Sometimes I feel a hand on my shoulder. If I hadn't won it as a prize, I probably wouldn't have gone to that big dance event. If I hadn't been there, I probably wouldn't have heard about the things that were being said behind my back, and I wouldn't know why, less than a year after the loss of my sister, people I'd thought of as friends were turning their back on me.

If I hadn't been there, I certainly wouldn't have done the stretching classes, which were an optional way to start the day. As is my habit, I arrived early, and the instructor informed me that dancers usually arrived for the last ten minutes of her class. She was right. For about fifty minutes, I essentially had a private lesson. As we were alone, she asked about my experience as a dancer, and I told her that I hadn't been dancing for very long, but had already found trouble heading my way. After she drew the story out of me, she gave me her take on what had happened, and also gave me some advice on how to deal with it.

The second morning, I did the stretching class again, and the instructor asked how my lessons the previous day had gone. We talked again, and she explained a few things about the dance scene, as she saw it. After about thirty minutes, other dancers started to arrive, and her focus shifted more to instructing. I decided to leave early, so that I might get to my first dance class on time. As I was leaving, she said she would be conducting a yoga class that afternoon, if I was interested.

That yoga class, and the two stretching classes, were little spells of calm in what was mostly a trying weekend for me. As it happened, I'd won two passes to the event, and had brought a good friend with me. Those moments were good too, but I found that stretching in a relatively quiet part of the venue was particularly restorative.

This morning, I ordered some books relating to martial arts, and particularly stretching exercises relating to one South East Asian martial art. I did two yoga classes since my experience at the dance event, but fate decided that back problems would put me out of action for a while. The yoga classes had been good, and again the feeling of yoga being restorative was repeated. During the practise, though, there was also the feeling that it was drawing me towards something familiar. Pieces of the puzzle were still missing, and it was for me to fill in the blanks.

I still don't have all the pieces in place. Maybe parts of the puzzle will always be missing, or maybe the puzzle keeps changing. What's clear is that I'm a martial artist and, however much I try to diminish the influence of that aspect of my identity, it's a fundamental part of who I am and who I'm meant to be. I just have to work out what being a martial artist means for me - there are so many paths leading through that forest, and the journey taken is arguably more important than the destination.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The dark side

I must admit that I'm on the fence right now, regarding this idea that there are 16 basic personality types. I'm talking about the whole Myers Briggs thing. It's based on the theories of Carl Jung, who is something of a hero of mine, but I don't know just how seriously to take it all.

Apparently, I have the INFJ personality type. If we take the root of the theory, this means that I have certain preferences in the way I process things and use cognitive processes described by Jung. This, accordingly, affects how I express myself, and therefore what people perceive as my personality.

When I look at other INFJs, I see areas of commonality. Actually, I see so much that I have in common with them that it's difficult to outright condemn the whole Myers Briggs thing. What I see as a difference between the greater INFJ community and myself, however, is how much they are connected to their spiritual side. Furthermore, there's a darkness to so many of them that seems absent from my own life. I wish I could put that darkness into better words, but I can't.

What scares me is the realisation that what I see in other INFJs, and deny being present in myself, are things that I've learned to suppress. As a private counsellor said, I've learned to hide my power. I pretended for a while that I didn't understand what she meant, and I almost fooled myself into believing it.

The darkness doesn't scare me so much. What I have come to recognise is that the darkness is an INFJ simply expressing their authentic self, and this includes what Jung called The Shadow. It should scare no one, really - least of all me. Well, actually, it should be of concern to anyone who's screwed me over, but that's another story. Accepting our darkness makes us strong. I don't know how true that is for other personality types, but it's true for an INFJ.

The spiritual aspect may be more of a challenge for me. I was once told by a new age type that I had a purple aura, which meant that I was inherently spiritual. I don't believe in that kind of stuff, but I found it strange that more than one person said the same thing to me. I don't know how it would feel to fully connect with my spiritual side, or what the outcome of that might be.

Here's to finding ourselves!

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Achieving balance

In terms of my progress as a dancer, I seem to have hit a wall. When this happened to me as a martial artist, taking a break for a while seemed to help matters and, as much as I love to dance, I can't discount it as an option. The other option, as I see it, is to move down a level in the lessons.

It's known that some of the ladies in dance classes anticipate what the lead is going to do, rather than just following it. Obviously, this goes wrong when they guess incorrectly. Unfortunately, some of them manage to convince a lead that he or she was the one who erred, and a minority even try to instruct a lead on how to improve, though they may never have learned to lead. I often forget a sequence during a class, and it is most often for these reasons.

The key point is, this will probably always happen to some extent, and other leads seem to cope with it better than I can. I should be sure enough of what I'm doing to be able to offer some resistance, but I'm not. Clearly, some of the ladies have areas where they could improve, but so do I.

My worry about moving down is that I'll be seen as a poor dancer (which is what I feel about myself right now anyway), and the ladies who like to instruct, correct and otherwise advise leads on how to lead will do so all the more. Right now, it happens enough to make me question my continued involvement with learning to dance; if it worsens, the question will have a definite answer.

I've worked out why I have such difficulty with learning new sequences of movement. A full explanation would involve a lot of explanation of cognitive functions and personality theory. In layman's terms, dancing connects with parts of me that haven't been needed so much in the past, and therefore haven't had so much time to develop. The same can be said about the social aspects of dancing.

So, what I've come across is a weakness or, to put it in less negative terms, an area in which I'm not so strong. Let's not forget that I was asked to attend that first dance class, and did so under protest. Me being there is something of an anomaly.

As recently as a few months ago, I believed that a big event in Liverpool would mark the end of my involvement with this relatively new hobby. Now, I've realised how much it challenges me, and that's exactly why I should continue with it. I also feel, however, that it can no longer be as big a part of my life as it has. The challenge of it has pulled me in, and the reality is that I'm not able to dance often enough to progress in a way where I'll feel that I've met the challenge.

There's certainly the feeling that I should learn to walk before I run. Taking a break is still a possibility.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Today's random thoughts, or maybe feelings

I listen to a lot of people, most of whom aren't at peace with themselves, and some of whom are incapable of making peace with themselves, or anyone else for that matter. You'd expect that, with the work I do, but I'm not talking about my work.

I had to go for personal counselling. That's an expectation of those of us who are training to do what I'm training to do. I talked mostly about how I see myself, and how I interact with others, and I'm still coming to terms with the implications of what came out in those sessions. Fate, the universe, or some higher power decided I would be a sensitive soul with a philosophical mind. Neither of those things make me the kind of guy that people seek out at parties.

I once said to a friend that I felt no one really understood.

The anniversary of my sister's death is coming up. It will be my birthday soon after that, and then my current course of study will come to an end. The last few years have left me with a sense of things not just being temporary, but ephemeral, uncertain and ever-changing.

I have to accept it all. I have to learn to accept myself. My experience of Zen tells me that it is not people, things or events that cause our suffering, but the meaning we attach to them. Well, maybe I have the bad habit of searching for meaning in everything.