Monday, 2 July 2018

Compassion through acceptance

A great Buddhist teacher said that we can feel compassion for others through understanding. Compassion for those who have wronged us, he continued, can be achieved by understanding that the other person suffers too.

I don't consider myself to have any particular wisdom, but it strikes me that the aim is acceptance, possibly without first understanding. How can we truly understand another? We're subject to our own frame of reference, and see others through the lens of our experience. We project the things we find unacceptable in ourselves onto others, and see them as failings of that person's character. We transfer feelings we had for someone in our past onto someone in our present, simply because they are in some way similar.

Our understanding of others is limited, especially when we make assumptions rather than asking the questions which might correct our initial impression. Yes, we can achieve some level of understanding through putting aside our preconceived notions of who that person may be, but there's a point where we have to accept what we don't understand.

The inability to accept what we don't understand has real consequences. It troubles me to hear the way in which people from other lands are described by our print and broadcast media, and discussed on various platforms on the internet. I see fear, hatred and anger, rather than the compassion that our Buddhist friend rightly advocates.

How fully can we understand the experience of someone from another land, another culture, with values, beliefs and attitudes which may vary greatly from our own? Our understanding is likely to be limited, so we may ask them about their experience, their way of seeing the world around them. How likely are they to be open, though, if we don't first offer acceptance? How likely are we to listen, if we don't first offer acceptance?

Saturday, 30 June 2018


I'm glad that I went to Theatr Clwyd (not a typing error - it's the Welsh spelling). It took more courage than usual to get me into the place, but one thing I've started to recognise is that I don't lack courage. I'm glad I was there, because it stripped away any illusion that I have friends within the Salsa community.

At another table, the group who were trying to eject me from the dance scene were enjoying their popularity, as bullies often do. I'd gone there with the intention of showing no reaction to this, because I'm old enough to know how these things work, and for once I also had an agenda that was separate from just being there to dance. I wanted to confirm things I'd long suspected.

I watched as ladies who knew about the bullying, and who was responsible, spent a lot of time in friendly conversation with the bullies, while I sat alone for most of my time there. I reflected that they were part of the problem, and had been responsible in no small way for the ease with which I'd been ejected from what was once my regular Salsa class. These same ladies later asked me to dance - some of them intercepting me on the dance floor before I was able to get back to my seat. I counted seven dances without a break, most of them to faster tracks, before I stopped counting.

You'd think it would be good to be so popular. You'd think it would be appreciated. My legs disagreed with that sentiment: after a while, they stopped working correctly. The requests for dances reduced in number, because I was no longer useful. This changed when I got up to leave. Twice I put on my jacket, and twice I removed it, as ladies asked me for one more dance.

Again, you'd think I'd be flattered. You'd think it would reinforce that thing which is said so often about me being a good lead. No. None of the above. Even now, I can't shake the feeling that it was no longer about dancing with me. Remember, the requests for dances had reduced in number, until I wanted to leave.

It was about control.

I'm not in the habit of refusing dances. It's not in my nature. I also know what it's like to be refused a dance, and it's an awful feeling. On this particular Saturday evening, however, this firmly held principle became a medium for self-sacrifice. So, I now see accepting or refusing a dance as a boundary issue. I still hope that I don't feel the need to refuse a dance, but it's no longer a given that I'll accept.

Actually, Mold reminded me of the realities of being a man in the dance scene. I'm not the first man about whom rumours have been spread within the community but, like all those others, there's nothing I can do about it. If you're a man, and a woman is saying that you're a despicable human being, then you are, simply because you're a man and she's a woman. You will get asked to dance, if you're any good, but you have no worth other than that.

There's likely to be a time where I grow so tired of it all that I leave it behind me. I've been there a number of times already, but I'm stubborn enough to tell myself that no one's ejecting me from the scene, forcing me to give up doing something I love.

Enabling the bully, and then stopping me taking a break from dancing until I'm exhausted? That feels like abuse.

Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe the dark place in which I'm currently residing, mentally and emotionally, is affecting my view of things. The alternative is that I'm just seeing things how they are, and going to Theatr Clwyd removed the blind spots. Maybe I need to take a break, or I'll start to feel enough contempt for the scene that I'll leave and never come back.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Thought for the day - devaluing ourselves

When we devalue ourselves, we make it so much easier for others to do the same.

There are times when we find ourselves vulnerable, either due to sustained emotional distress from external factors or, more commonly, through neglecting some aspect of our physical, mental, emotional or spiritual health. The mention of the last of those often provokes much eye-rolling, as it is linked by so many to the notion of religious belief. Some express their spirituality within a religious tradition, but to me it seems to be something bigger than, and often separate from, those traditions.

The point I'm trying to make is that we often devalue ourselves by neglecting ourselves, and then we search for something that has always been within us by finding fragments of it within other people. When they also devalue us, we question our own worth. We might be better employed asking ourselves what is really missing, and where we might find it.

Maybe we search for kindness and compassion, and desperately cling to any sign that we are receiving these things. Maybe we do this because we haven't been offering these things to ourselves. Maybe we give freely of ourselves, to people who give just enough back to ensure that we keep giving. What clearer example could there be that we are failing to see our own value?

There's little more to say. If we feel that our relationship with others is unequal, and very much to our detriment, then maybe we invited a lack of respect by first refusing to acknowledge our value, or the value of our time and presence. If we don't see what these are worth, how do we expect others to see it?

I'll leave you with a thought about depression, and it comes from my own experience of the illness. Some of us continue to give a whole lot of love to the world, but direct a whole lot of anger and loathing towards ourselves. The effects of this imbalance are catastrophic, and the truth is that our anger would be more usefully directed towards another target, whereas our love and compassion would be more usefully directed toward ourselves.

You're worth something. You have value. You deserve love and compassion. Please remember that.

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.