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.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Burning out

Towards the end of January, I was at a big dance event in Liverpool. At that event, I learned that things were being said about me behind my back. It doesn't matter what was said or by whom: what matters is that I'd usually cope with such news much better than I did. Before I even got there, though, I'd picked up a few people I knew through this hobby, and they had the misfortune of seeing me become disproportionately angry about the difficulty we were having with finding the venue.

It's important to note that there were many other things in my life which were causing me to feel stressed. This is not the place to discuss them, but let's say I wasn't at my best.

I'd won two weekend passes to the event in a raffle. As the woman I love wouldn't be in the country, and isn't a fan of partner dancing anyway, I'd had to ask someone to accompany me to the event. In the end, I chose to bring a friend who had been one of the few women in the room who hadn't suddenly changed her attitude towards me due to my good fortune. Obviously, I wanted the weekend to be good for her, but I was also aware that it would quite probably be the only one of these big dance congresses I would attend. I wanted it to be good for me too. When things started going wrong on the first evening, I started to go wrong too.

Going into the first full day at the congress, where I'd be taking part in some dance lessons, I decided to start with an optional stretching class. As is my habit, I arrived early, and for most of my time there, it was just me and the instructor. In effect, I was getting a private lesson. What was important about this time was that it left me feeling a lot calmer.

The following morning, I attended the stretching class again, before the dance lessons started. As on the first morning, I arrived earlier than others wishing to do the class. Again, I felt calm. When the instructor said, as I was leaving, that she would be conducting a yoga class that afternoon, I said I would be there.

The yoga class had already started when I arrived. Even so, I felt the same sense of calm come over me. I promised myself that I'd join a regular yoga class on my return home.

On the way home, I was driving with just one passenger: the friend I had chosen as the recipient of the other weekend pass for the event. As I was leaving, to drive the rest of my way home from where she lived, I gave her a hug, and I didn't want to let go. In truth, I didn't know if or when I'd see her again. At that moment, I didn't know if or when I'd carry on dancing. Actually, I was pretty sure that I wanted to take a break.

I didn't realise it at the time, but I'd burned out. Going there, I didn't know what to expect. Arriving there, I realised there were more people than I had expected to be present. The hotel room wasn't great, to be honest, but it started to feel like sanctuary. There were times when I got to spend a little time with a good friend, and that was good too. Actually, it was great.

Some time ago, I got to spend some time with another friend I knew through dancing. A class ended early, due to circumstances beyond anyone's control and, as I drove her home, she told me she hadn't eaten before she came out for the evening. It didn't matter that we ended up in a fast food outlet, or that the wind kept blowing the door open, meaning we were hit by frequent blasts of cold air. What mattered was that there were few customers, it was relatively quiet, and we talked so much that it took us much longer to eat our food than it should have.

It's commonly thought that introverts like to be alone. I certainly prefer that scenario to the company of a lot of people. The sweet spot, however, is spending time with someone with whom I feel I truly connect. Yoga, meditation, and simply spending time in a quiet environment play their part too. All of these things help me to avoid burning out.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

One Sunday

A few weeks ago, on a Sunday, I drove East along the A55 with the intention of stopping at one of the service stops. Once there, I went into a branch of a well-known coffee shop, and ordered a cinnamon swirl and a hot chocolate. After a few bites of the pastry, I thought that I'd take a photograph, to remind me of something important.


I realised that, the last time I had been there, I'd had company. On that occasion, the stop had punctuated a longer journey: a journey that had been, for me, all about spending time with a dear friend. As the memory came to me, I felt conflicting emotions.

Being there was an example of self-care, and I'd taken the photograph to remind me of the importance of this. These service stops, to me, feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the world: they are visited by various people coming from here and there, going to here or there, and it's unlikely that anyone will know or care who I am. Somehow, that's important to me.

Still, the memory of being there with a friend, having one person I knew with me, and both of us being unknown to everyone else there, struck me. On one hand, I liked the solitude, the relative peace and quiet. A part of me wished that someone was sat at the table with me, though: someone I felt that connection with.

I finished the pastry and the hot chocolate, and left. I'd learned something about self-care. I'd learned that, even for an introvert, it's not always about time spent alone. Sometimes, it's about spending time with the people who make you feel that you're not alone.