The third incarnation of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche died in a car crash in 1992. He was only 38. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak, during his lifetime. This was in the 70s. Rinpoche was a vigorous, warm speaker, young but clear and precise. During the question time after the lecture, someone asked him to talk about the difference between Hope and Prayer.
His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Third, Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge (Click here for some of his teaching).
Prayer, he said, is strong, filled with intention and energy.
Hope, however, is a weak passive thing. There is no action in hope—it is a wish without substance. But Prayer—prayer gets things done.
Rinpoche did not mean personal goods or recognition. He meant to benefit all sentient beings.
This is the only thing I remember from that lecture so long ago. It drove home to me the power of intention, of directed energy. I am not particularly religious, but prayer, to me, has great power. I do associate it with protective entities, in that I visualize their intercession and assistance as part of the package.
For example, when my kids were out late and I worried about them, imagining all sorts of terrible things, I chose instead to put out protective energy, to envision them safe and sound, in the embrace of protectors, in a glow of love. It gives me a sense of purpose, of action. Any time I find myself worrying about someone, or something, I do this.
I view this dance practice much like prayer.
Not in a religious way, but as filled with intention and energy. It gets things done. Not physical things like a million dollars or a nice big house (nam myoho renge kyo, anyone?). More like things that are not things—healing, connection, and joy.
I have a mission.
Awaken people to their own beauty and power
Enable them to express their unique individuality through art
Bring honor and appreciation to belly dance
Enjoy a life of creativity, adventure, mystery, abundance, and ease
Cultivate a radiant oasis of warmth and delight
Everything I do has this intention. It’s not just for me, but it is partly for me, so that I can do the other things. A leader is not a boss. A boss tells people what to do. A leader goes first, so that others see what can be done. A leader gives permission through their own actions.
When my ex was going to Alcoholics Anonymous, I was struck by the way they counted days of sobriety. If you fell off the wagon, you started over. Back to Day 1. That seemed rather harsh to me, that ten years of sobriety was out the window after a single beer. It took a while, but I got it:
Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Not like it votes for Bernie Sanders, either. In this case, it means that even when one does not drink, the disease progresses. If you stop drinking for ten years and then start again, you’re as bad off as if you never stopped. And one beer increases the likelihood that next there will be two beers, and then… So they want people to stay sober, since backsliding can be disastrous.
Dance practice is different.
Habit does have a lot to do with it, and not practicing today may make us less likely to practice tomorrow, but it’s not a life or death thing. Still, folks manage to make it a chore, and to beat themselves up if they miss a day. Many of us are so hard on ourselves, we take any opportunity to tear ourselves down. This is not cool.
All of us are at a different stage in our development. We are in a progression of healing and becoming (unlike alcoholism’s decline) Part of health for us is the development of self-compassion, of self love. We’re not all ready to to do this every day. And that’s okay.
Part of our practice is the development of self-compassion.
This brings me to this book presentation I attended a while back.
I loved the author—tall, skinny, gray pony tail, plaid shirt and blue jeans. Diffident, sweet, and brilliant. The presentation was during my nap time, and I was falling asleep at the beginning, but once he got going, I snapped to attention and listened in awe. I’m glad I went with friends, as all of us were equally blown away.
It was a long talk, extremely well-designed and beautiful organized. Even though I took (terribly tilted) pictures of many of his slides, I can’t begin to recreate its complexity.
The book’s premise is that our sense of God stems from an “innate neonatal model” of—Mommy.
Yes, this is genetic. This is the God is Love side. Mommy is always there. She loves us. She protects us. If we call her, she is there for us. As God is believed to be. The devotion to Mommy (or whatever caregiver), is innate, so it doesn’t make a difference if we had neglectful or absent caregivers; we still have this yearning for Her unconditional love and acceptance.
The OTHER side of God, the punishing, judgmental side, is the Social manifestation of God. God in the image of man, demanding obedience, sacrifice, atonement, etc. This one is a social construct—it is learned. The Love side is innate—we are born with it. Nature (Love) vs “Nurture” (Social), so to speak.
I’m having a hard time writing about this because it is so huge.
Here’s a (badly tilted) slide that looks at the social vs neonatal faces of God
Please note that when I say religion or religious I do not mean Christianity, but religion/spirit in a general way. Spirituality is important to me (or whatever I can call it without pushing new Age buttons). And apparently to women in general. This is one of the puzzles of religion.
Worldwide, women are more religious than men.
Wathey suggests that if the true root of our spiritual longing (our wish for the Beloved, in Sufi terms), is a wish for Mother, that it may help explain women’s religious leanings. Women give birth, so they have innate protective impulses.
I do not suggest that women are innately better suited to clean a house, wear a dress, or bat their eyelashes. Gendered behavior is a social construct—something we learn (like the angry God of righteousness). Men and women both can be excellent (or terrible) caregivers. But in animals that care for their young, particularly those in which mothers feed their young from their own bodies, there is instinctive behavior that feeds, that protects, etc (or woe betide the babies). It complements the neonatal impulse towards the mother.
Gerda Lerner suggests that, in part, the rise in patriarchy came as folks figured out the babies didn’t just magically appear—that it takes two to tango, as it were. And then all that righteousness took center stage, and women were reduced to breeding, housekeeping, and childcare (don’t get me started on this…).
Anyway, here’s my point.
We’ve all internalized a lot of angry righteousness.
We apply it to ourselves indiscriminately. This is the tearing ourselves down for every perceived error. Yet Buddhists, who believe in reincarnation, say that we have all been each others’ mother or child in one life or another—that we must look at each person with the love that we have for our own mother.
My mother’s relationship with her mother was not so warm. She preferred to view each person as her own child (she liked us ; ). Another friend reimagined her entire childhood, giving herself loving parents who were there for her and cared for her. We Westerners, with our complex, difficult family relationships, may find these approaches helpful. But I’ll go a step further.
Last week we talked about feeling safe. What, I ask you, is the deepest root of feeling safe, if not the love of a parent? Even if we had sh*t parents, we still yearn for that love.
I suggest that we give ourselves that mother love.
That we give to ourselves the caring, love, and compassion for which our biology has prepared us. That we provide the loving protection, the comfort that we needed in the past and did not get. Our own mothers may have been wonderful—or not. That’s not the point. The point is that we have been encouraged by society to judge ourselves and find ourselves wanting—we can balance that with self-compassion and care.
How do we do that? Hold ourselves close and send ourselves love. Cuddle that difficult inner child. Tell her you love her. Remember when she didn’t get the love and protection she needed. Be there for her now. Just love her. Tell her you are there for her forever more. Mean it.
So that’s why I say props to you no matter what. Because you, me, all of us, as human beings, are worthy of love and care.
This weekend, April 27: Aisha Ali in Vermont!This is a RARE event! Asha Ali did field work back in the 1970s with the Ghawazee in Egypt and the Ouled Nail in Algeria (at great personal risk). She is an excellent teacher and the real deal. There are a few spots left–if you can make it, this is HIGHLY recommended:
Saturday, May 18th: Boston area folks–Soumaya MaRose’s 7th “Thé à l’Oriental” with Tamalyn Dallal and Amar Gamal Garcia, and features a traditional Moroccan Iftar fest. Soumaya is a brilliant Moroccan Oriental dancer, and she does things right. This is a do-not-miss if you are in the area.
Saturday-Sunday, June 8-9:Cassandra Shore in midcoast Maine. Cassandra is exceptional. I can only remember one time she was in New England–and that was decades ago. Do not miss! Hosted by Kay Hardy Campbell, so you know it will be good.
Sunday, July 14: I’ll be teaching improv and group composition in Northampton MA (and performing that night at Cairo Cab). Limited space!, Registration is now open.
Last week, the toilet in my house backed up. It wasn’t the toilet, exactly, but some obstruction between it and the septic tank. Which hadn’t been pumped in over twenty-five years. Which is generally a Bad Thing, but it has worked perfectly all this time. The simple solution was to open the tank and snake backwards from there to break up the obstruction (and pump it, because, why not).
There was only one problem.
I only had the vaguest idea where that dang tank was (it had been decades since I last saw it). On top of that (so to speak), two feet of fresh, heavy, wet snow covered everything. We managed, but it took three guys several hours of intense effort to do the job. It would have been a lot easier if we’d known where to look.
Finding our authenticity is a lot like this.
We know we have an authentic self down there somewhere, but danged if we know where (or how) to find it. Why is that?
I wonder if it is connected to how the dance is currently taught.
Most of us are taught through choreography. We focus on how we look rather than how the dance feels in our bodies. We learn stylized versions of each move and copy the teacher as we fit them together in chains of movement. Chains is an apt metaphor here, because when we are constantly doing what we are told, what does that make us? Yeah. Not cool.
So what’s the alternative?
One of the key aspects of our dance is Agency. We belly dancers don’t need no stinkin’ badges. We are not anyone else’s to direct. We have all the power–we make all our own decisions in the moment. This is pretty heady stuff. But when all we do is pre-set choreography (even our own), we don’t have much time to engage with the moment–we are too busy remembering and executing an exact set of steps. For many of us, this pushes us away from power, confidence, and the authenticity that comes with them.
When we do our own creative heavy lifting, however, we regain our agency. We have creative control in the moment, at every moment. We become skilled improvisers. But improvisation often scares dancers raised on choreography. And why is that?
Perfectionism is the bane of our existence. Yeah, yeah, we all want things to be good. Blah blah. Whatever. I’m not talking about quality control. I’m talking about the serious problem of dancers hating on themselves to the extent that they are afraid to take the tiniest risk for fear of Making a Mistake.
First off, there is no true learning without mistakes.
It just doesn’t happen. No one can be Little Miss Perfect all the time, try as we might. Remember that thing about omelettes and broken eggs? Yeah. Can’t have one without the other. There’s a reason it’s called a Comfort Zone. Going outside it is uncomfortable.
Though you may feel frustrated at first, after a while, you get used to the feeling of learning and start to welcome it. And yes, you can do all this on your own, but it’s nice to have (or be) a teacher who empowers students’ artistic growth. But how to do do that?
Teachers empower authenticity by providing Opportunity, Scaffolding, and Practice of creative agency.
This means they make space for student creativity in performance. They provide opportunities and create a series of baby steps to walk the student through the process. And they do this over and over again, tweaking the process and providing practical, productive feedback along the way.
Practice doesn’t make perfect–it helps us recover more gracefully from mistakes. That graceful recovery, where we surf over all the weird, effed-up random stuff that happens in a show (or in life), while laughing with our guests? That’s where we want to be.
I’ll be teaching a one-hour video class on Empowering Authenticity for the Belly Dance Business Academy’s Online Teaching Summit, May 22-26, 2017.
The Summit will run 25 classes in 5 days with leading experts in the belly dance community. You can participate from your computer anywhere in the world. There will be 30 minute versions of each class available for free during the summit, but you can also purchase the entire package at a ridiculously cheap early bird price. Then you OWN ALL the classes and can watch at your leisure, AND you get bonus interviews and pdf extras from each teacher.
For many of us, this past election cycle triggered a lot of pain, outrage, and fear. Our friends, family, and selves are divided, by turns angry, frightened, sobbing, or all three, amplified by the rage we saw around us and in sensation-grabbing headlines. In the USA, half the population now wonders if they will live through the next four years. Of course, many perfectly nice people voted for Trump despite his more unsavory fans. But those unsavory fans have been validated. The stories already have begun.
A dancer went into an appliance store. She had always shopped there and been well-treated. On this day, however, she wore hijab, the headscarf Muslim women often wear. She was shocked to find herself followed around, condescended to, and generally treated like dirt. This was before the election.
A gal in LA going to the market yesterday reported getting her crotch grabbed by a guy with a MAGA hat. He whispered, “Are you scared now, you liberal cunt?” Yes, she was. She took the Bernie sticker off her car.
Many friends report rioting, threats, and unrest in nearby towns. Children are afraid to go to school.
Muslims, people of color, LGBT folks, and women all wonder what is next.
These are nothing. Shaun King is chronicling myriad such stories on his twitter: twitter.com/ShaunKing
Yes, this election is an American problem. But racism, sexism, intolerance, and bias are worldwide problems.
So what do we do? How do we go forward in the face of fear?
Stay in the present moment, focus on the good, and dance–but not just any dance.
Stay in the present moment
I went to a rough, scary school back in Junior High. It was in a neighborhood far from mine. I was a shy, quiet kid who got threatened regularly and hit or beat up more than once. I skipped school constantly to get a break. A few years later, I got a job in that same neighborhood. I had to take the same bus and walk on the same streets. I realized I was shaking with fear at the thought of going back there. So I developed a strategy.
I told myself that 99% of people are normal people who just want to get through their day (this is true). They have no interest in me. They don’t want to hurt me or harass me. I’m also different now. I’m older, smarter, more confident.
I made all that my mantra. I got on the bus, and I went to work. It took a lot of effort, but it helped that my mantra was demonstrably true. When I looked around (staying in the present moment), most everyone was just people, on their way to or from wherever they were going. And honestly, even at school, though I looked, acted, and dressed differently, the vast majority of kids never bothered with me.
Over a fairly short period of time, I was able to relax and stop being afraid all the time. When I got picked up in Cairo by a Muslim Brotherhood cabbie last year, I used the same strategy. It worked. I add long exhales now, and that helps, a lot. But the truth is, most people have their own problems. You are the last thing on their mind.
I know, that 1% of crazies are still out there.
They are angry. And they feel empowered. We may find ourselves in dangerous situations. But the more we learn to release fear, to keep our heads, the better a chance we have of getting away from them. And most of the time, we are worrying about them more than we are in front of them. This is key.
It’s waaayyy too easy to get into a downward fear spiral. It’s familiar ground, an addictive headspace, and it’s very hard to get back out again–and to stay out. But that’s what we have to do. Ninety-nine percent of the time, no one is attacking us. We are actually fine. But we feel like we are under attack. And worry feels useful when in fact it is destructive. Save your adrenaline for real emergencies. The rest of the time, breathe, open your eyes, and ground in the present. How do you do that?
Look around. Feel the safety of your space. Exhale for twice as along as your inhale. Keep doing this. You will feel calmer. Use your eyes. Look from side to side, up and down, focused and unfocused. Keep exhaling. You may feel shaky and weird, but then you will feel better.
People are mostly good. They are mostly trustworthy. What if we remember this, and repeat it to ourselves when we feel anxious? Studies show that we will be happier and have better health. When we focus on the good, we get the good.
Focus on the good
Dr. Kelly McGonigal wrote a thoughtful piece on finding good in this election cycle. She suggests that we do something, look for the good, and be the good.
Do something: Read about what’s going on and be informed. You can start with Matt Taibbi’s engrossing (and meticulously researched) book, The Divide. You can find this in your library or as an ebook via OverDrive.
Look for the good: There are good things happening all over, but they are hard to see when bleeding leads on every network channel. For example, Minnesota elected Ilhan Omar, a Somali Muslim woman, to their legislature. That’s pretty cool. Catherine Cortez Masto became the nation’s first Latina Senator. We also have a first Native senator (plus a Native federal judge, and the first disabled woman Senator to be elected (she’s also a veteran). http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/historic-firsts-achievements-election-day-2016/
Be the good: A friend subscribed to several quality newspapers to support objective journalism. I donated recently to Standing Rock’s legal defense fund. Whatever is important to you, do something to help that thing along. Teach a class, make a video, or donate to a cause. Take some time or some money and put it to work for good. Or just be nicer to people impacted by hate and intolerance. Smile and be genuinely welcoming to people of color, LGBT, women, and refugees. Make someone’s day a little brighter. Little acts of kindness have a huge power to ripple outwards.
Dance (but not just any dance…)
Improvisational belly dance is one of the best things we can do to feel calmer, brighter, and more grounded. Especially when we couple dance with breath, when we let go of our cares and let the body just move and relax with the music.
Play easy music, relax, and enjoy yourself. Even a few minutes will help. And if you take 20 minutes to just play and relax, the effects last for hours. Click the purple button for a free booklet on how to release fear through belly dance. [sdm_download id=”3134″ fancy=”0″ new_window=”1″ color=”purple” button_text=”Release Fear through Belly Dance”][sdm-download-counter id=”3134″]
Take time to consciously relax.
That’s a hugely revolutionary act all by itself. Being kind to others, being kind to ourselves, dancing and having fun, all of these are far more subversive than they seem. Reject fear. It doesn’t feel safe to do so, but that is a self-perpetuating function of fear.
I send you my love and all my strength. I am here, holding you close in my heart, every minute of every day. Remember this.
PS last call for the Compassionate Critique Salon!
I’ve been reading a lot of novels in the last few weeks, since I discovered OverDrive, which lets me take ebooks out from the library and read them on my phone. I am ridiculously happy reading on my phone, which, as a book person, I never thought would happen. I’ve been binge-reading Ursula Le Guin, Richard Kadry, and Neil Gaiman. It’s been such a pleasure to read beautifully written books!
The other day I read a passage in Gaiman’s book, American Gods that just floored me. Sighing, I thought, “I will never be this good, no matter how long I write.” Oddly, this didn’t depress me–I get such a lift from great work. More oddly, the rejoinder that came right to mind was, “No, but if I put the effort in, I can certainly be good enough.”
It’s funny to think that, isn’t it? “Good enough” is kind of second best. It was was a catch-phrase a friend and I enjoyed over the summer. “I’ll never be as amazing as you,” one of us would sigh. And the other would kindly respond, “Well, if you work reallly hard, someday you might just be good enough.” And then we would laugh our heads off.
Good Enough has a lot going for it.
When I had to make a lot of repairs to my house so my insurance wouldn’t get cancelled, we worked like dogs–but as the hour of the inspection approached, I realized we would never be finished in time. I almost just gave up. Then I thought, well, it won’t be done–but maybe it will be good enough to succeed anyway. And it was. So many times this has happened. It’s not perfect. But it does what it needs to do. It’s enough. And that’s good. And next time it will be better.
It’s like this with the book too–which is so close to done, it’s scary. What if it’s not good enough? But it will be. It won’t be perfect. Nothing is. It won’t please everyone. Nothing does. I’m sure it could be better. Everything can. But it will be good enough.
We are so hobbled by the notion that if we can’t be the BEST we might as well stay home.
That anything less than perfection is failure. Every artist struggles to reconcile the image of what they wanted to create with the reality in front of them. Even Neil Gaiman finds a typo in every book he publishes, yet American Gods still won every award in sight and is being made into a TV show. I don’t have to win every award, nice as that would be. I just want to make work that satisfies me and that readers buy and enjoy.
It’s the same with dance.
You put in the effort, and you get better. But there will be mistakes, errors, disasters. That’s how you know you are learning. After a while, you have fewer, but each time you put yourself in the position of being a novice again, you go back to that awkward place of beginner-dom. but there is nothing better for us than to be thrown periodically back into that place. Real learning is a difficult, messy, uncomfy process. But that;s how we increase our intelligence and gain new skills. By putting ourselves outside of our own comfort zones, taking risks, and–failing.
It’s not the failing that’s important–well, it is.
Failing means that we tried to do something new and difficult. We put ourselves out there. We went for it. But there is more to it than simply falling on our faces. There is the getting back up again. There is the continuing. The keeping going. Persistence. Perseverance. That is what makes a difference. So many of us have had dreadful setbacks–but we continue on. Not everyone gets to do that. Some of us are unable to go on. Those of us who can have something for which to be deeply grateful.
I will never be Neil Gaiman.
Or Bill Watterston, who created Calvin and Hobbes. Or Elena Lentini, queen of our dance (and that one does sting). Here she is, thanks to Tarifa Salem (Bobby Farrah’s niece): https://youtu.be/regqBiXdLrc
But I can be me.
And I can be a pretty darn good version of me. Maybe not the Me I see shining in my mind’s eye–the Platonic Ideal of me. I’m just too damn tired for now. But I can keep going. I can keep learning. I can keep challenging myself. I’ll fail. But I’ll also succeed.
We spend so much energy bemoaning our failures and not nearly enough appreciating our strength, good fortune, success, and persistence. Let’s cut ourselves a little slack. Let’s be grateful that we are all here, together, and that we can dance.
Let’s try liking ourselves.
I like you. You like me. Why not like ourselves?
PS I’ll be teaming up with Rosa Noreen and Nadira Jamal for another Compassionate Critique Salon. We will celebrate each dancer’s strengths as well as some suggestions for growth. Get some feedback for yourself or watch and learn. It all happens on November 15th. http://www.bellydancegeek.com/compassionate-critique-salon/
Thank you all so much for the CompassionateCritique event! I appreciate your discerning eyes on my dance, especially I have had no outside critique in over 12 years. I have just been bumbling along on my own, doing my best to apply what I learn as I can. I also took copious notes on everyone else’s critiques too because, as it was pointed out, there is so much to learned from other people’s critiques.
All 3 of you were great at articulating what I see in dancers but can’t always explain. So it was also very useful to me as far as being able to give better critiques as a teacher. I also really appreciated the different perspectives that each of you brought to this salon.
Thanks again for offering it. I hope you will do it again.
Wednesday, November 23-30: Sausan’s Raqs Al-Masriya, Internet Choreography and Belly Dance Challenge www.raqsalmasriya.com
Everyone makes a dance to the same piece of music (available on the site) and posts it online. Register with the Challenge to display your video with the others and let the open web view and Like favorite videos.
Friday and Sunday, December 2 + 4 Tarifa Salem (Bobby Farrah’s niece and protege), teaching in Danbury CT.
Thanks to everyone who wrote back to me last week.
We have quite a cross section of walls. People cited finding community, performance freeze, practice habits, illness, student readiness, and where to sell vintage vinyl (ebay or FB groups). We will get to all of these.
But the number one wall?
“I’m not good enough.”
Many of us believe we are not good enough, will never be good enough, or worry what others might think of us. This fear is so common, so pervasive, we don’t even realize the Bad Voices are lying. This destructive perception colors everything–it hijacks our happiness, short-circuits our success, and corrodes our souls. And it’s a perfect opening, since we planned to talk about Confidence as one of the 3 prongs of Old and Hot. But it also raises an important question: Not good enough for what? Belly dance?
Belly dance isn’t about being “good enough.” It’s about sharing a physical and emotional enjoyment of the musical moment. Traditionally, it’s a casual, loving, dance of the people, not a tour de force for highly-trained professionals. Sure, there have always been professional dancers, but relaxation is a virtue–plus millions more folks do this dance at home for their own enjoyment, with friends and family. It’s not rocket science. It’s a fun, playful dance. You are already good enough—seriously. But you still feel bad. Wtf?
That feeling won’t go away—until you see through it. For most of my life, I was the poster child for Not Good Enough (and it’s twin sister, Perfectionism). I believed every disheartening word the Bad Voices said to me. I just thought they were the truth. Subsequently, I have spent a lot of time and energy exploring this. I believe that dismay at our perceived lack of quality is largely an artifact of trauma. The way I see it, perfectionism, self-censure, and other control issues are all about staying safe.
In the past, others hurt us, found fault with us, or shamed us. So now we are going to beat them at their own game. If we judge ourselves first, if we point out every flaw, we will pre-empt those who might burn us with their critical flamethrowers. We will hurt ourselves first. We place our own flies in the ointment. We disappoint ourselves so we will not be disappointed. How sad is that? Pretty darn sad.
What can we do about it? Many things help. Dance and breath are among them. But there is one shift that helps all the others to come through: Mindset.
What is Mindset? Mindset is the set of beliefs that people have about themselves or the world. The researcher Carol Dweck coined the term to characterize the beliefs students held that caused “smart” kids to fail and less “smart” kids to succeed http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/.
What does mindset have to do with dance? Our belief that we are not good enough is just that: a belief. It is a mindset and nothing more, a sad, Eeyore-like conviction that “We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.” Well, that’s not all there is. And the secret is NOT working harder, practicing harder, or otherwise punishing the body for its supposed infractions. The secret is changing our mindset and developing self-compassion.
How do we change our mindset? By observing, challenging, and releasing our previous beliefs. Full directions are here. We CAN change from self-blame to self-compassion. Remember last week’s self-compassion quiz? Go back to that aliathabit.com/old-hot/. Then come back to this. Mindset shift is the first step. Self-compassion is our new mindset.
Next, we need strategies. One of the first strategies is breath.
Breath grounds us. It calms, energizes, and heals. It cures performance brain freeze, helps us develop confidence and resilience. It is a miracle drug! And it is available to all of us. Numerous breath strategies help with our assorted needs.
Try this, right now: Inhale a count of 4; Exhale for a count of 8.Do this a few times. Slow down your count after the first few breaths. Keep going until you feel calm and grounded. It won’t take long.
Remember this for next time you feel stressed, anxious, or negative—in life or performance, alone or with others. It works because we are biologically wired to connect safety with long exhales. This was the first exercise I learned in my trauma resolution journey. Now it is yours.
PS Interested in more?
Remember that Small Product Challenge from last week? What we most need is Confidence—but let’s go a step further: Joy would be nice, wouldn’t it? The Road to Joy. Now, this is a huge, huge topic that includes pretty much everything that interests me. So we have to start small. One of the primary strategies is Breath. This is where we start.
The Road to Joy, Step 1. Breath
The Road to Joy: Step 1. Breath will be ready to roll on May 16. But if you want to get in on Trust the Chef early pricing (and you know you always get the best deal), feel free to jump right now.
Suddenly panic sets in. GAH! What about this? That? No! Quick! Do it! Fix it! Now!Now!Now!
Many of us get so jacked up on anxiety there is no rest. We wake up in the morning to crisis mode–and it never slows down.
Those alarms blare all day long. Our tempers fray, our self-care goes down the tubes–even our ability to think balks and stutters like a rusty car on a cold morning. It’s pretty scary. For many of us, it’s a struggle to keep from screaming–never mind being focused, pleasant, or positive.
Stress damages the body and corrodes the soul. It wears us out, it works fast, and it often doesn’t go away by itself.
What can we do?
The good news is that stress and anxiety are not the boss of you, even though they may seem to be. But stepping back can be very, very difficult. And, yes, some of us live in terrifying or crazy stressful situations where stepping back seems dangerous. However, even when our lives are in danger, a clear head is still an asset.
Staying in panic mode is more dangerous. To the body, Stress = Fear. This is how our reptile brain interprets stress. And Fear really is the Mind Killer. Those clamoring alarms can keep us from managing our situation creatively–or at all. Plus the constant stress eats away at our equilibrium, so we are short-tempered, too. A winning combination, right? Fear and Rage. Woo!
For many of us, those bells aren’t even current. They are leftover alarms that never got properly reset after whatever disaster started them up. We go through our lives freaking out because we never got to resolve our earlier freakouts. We are still upset inside from things that happened forever ago. It’s not as simple as telling ourselves to suck it up and get over it.
Here are four strategies to settle down, breathe, and develop resilience.
Believe that you can step back. It is possible–and safe–to breathe and relax. That alone is half the battle. Take some long exhales, twice as long as your inhale. Exhale the stress.
Let go of worry. Worry feels valuable, but it just wears you out. Send positive energy to the object of worry instead. Visualize it safe, resolving, protected, whatever would be the best outcome. It is a far more useful effort.
Focus on the present moment. We get lost in our cascade of anxiety. Grounding ourselves in the present helps us stay focused and clear. We do this by focusing on the exhale and noticing our toes. Avoid things that heighten stress. Look at things that help you feel calm.
Belly dance can help. When we use Rhythmic Breath we help the brain turn off the scrabbling anxious mind. Dancing free improv for 20 minutes with Rhythmic Breath and Slow Movement can help reset the alarms and give us a clean slate for the day.
We don’t have to live in fear. These strategies can be used any time. Keep them handy. Remember them. Use them.
There is a story in the Thousand and One Nights called The Ruined Man who Became Rich Again Through a Dream.
A rich man from Baghdad became so poor he had to do manual labor all day long to make ends meet. One night he had a dream–a voice told him to go to Cairo, where he would find his fortune.
So the man set off to Cairo. It was far away, mind you, and not an easy trip back then. It took a long time, and when he finally arrived, it was nighttime. He crept into a mosque, and curled up to sleep.
Unfortunately, a band of thieves robbed the mosque that night. While Our man slept, the thieves stole everything they could grab. When the police arrived, they found the sleeping man, beat him furiously, and threw him in jail.
A few days later, the police chief called the man from his cell and asked where he was from. Baghdad, the man replied. The police chief then demanded, “What were you doing in the Mosque?”
The man said, “A dream told me I would find my fortune in Cairo. But all I have found so far was a beating from you!”
The Chief burst out laughing. “You fool!” he chortled. “I have had a dream three times, telling me to go to a certain house in Baghdad,” (here he described it in detail), “with a fountain in the garden–and underneath the fountain is buried a fabulous treasure. But I am not so stupid as to go there!” He gestured towards the cells and warned, “You follow the voice of a dream, and this is what you get!”
The Chief then took pity on the poor man and gave hime some money. “Go back to your home,” he said. “Listen no more to the voices of dreams.”
The man went straight back to Baghdad, for the house the Chief had described was none other than his very own! When he got home, he dug under the fountain in his garden–and there he found the fabulous buried treasure!
This man’s treasure was right in his own backyard. That wealth was within his grasp the whole time, but he needed to gain greater perspective before he could find it.
As artists, our creative treasure is also in our own backyard–but sometimes we, too, need greater perspective. Artistry and creativity exist within us all–but sometimes we can’t see them.
We are all intuitive, creative, and beautiful. But life is hard sometimes, and we lose sight of our treasure. What with the struggle of daily life, the superficial models around us, and the discouragement showered upon us, we may never realize our dreams.
It’s so sad.
We’re so tired, so hemmed in by our obligations and responsibilities.
How do we nurture our creative soul?
Self compassion is NOT self esteem, self pity, or self indulgence.
Self compassion IS self kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” –Kristen Neff, self-compassion.org
What if we try changing our perspective? What if we try being kind to ourselves for a while?
Maybe when we stop raining on our own parade, we might be able to rediscover our treasure more easily.
I went to a party this weekend. It was my friend Nathalie’s 40th birthday–a truly badass woman. I drove 7 hours to get there (and 7 hours back–in the rain). The guest list was small. Everyone there would be a rockstar. There was only one problem.
I’m an introvert.
I am the gal at any party sitting in the corner reading the bookshelves. I like being alone. I’m quiet, shy, and reserved. How was this to work?
The din was unbelievable; upwards of 50 people gabbed and laughed in happy groups at top volume. Gah! But the space was beautiful; a high end salon converted into a cosy nest of sparkling lights and sparkling drinks. I found a comfy seat, settled in, and checked out the scene. I saw some great clothes and a lot of interesting-looking people.
But I wasn’t talking to anyone. Plus I was exhausted, because 7 hour drive. This was not working for me. Hmm. I thought about leaving, but the drive home was too daunting. And I was so looking forward to this. I loved Nathalie. I was honored to be among the invitees. I wasn’t going to back down. Then I remembered my #1 party rule for introverts.
The #1 Party Rule for Introverts: Wait it out. The riff-raff will all leave after 2 or 3 hours. The cool people stay. You stay, too. Your real people will be there late.
So, okay, I would stay. I would find a way around this. I looked around more closely, and noticed several people sitting alone, like me, watching the room and/or checking their phones. More introverts. Clearly we were all in the same boat, lost and uncomfortable, yearning to be part of it all. Maybe we introverts can’t do much for ourselves, but we can do things to help other people. A strategy revealed itself…
Party Rule #2: Befriend Other Introverts. I turned to the nearest phone-studying woman and introduced myself. Hi, I’m Alia. Hi, I’m Nina. And then the magic question of the evening, How do you know Nathalie? I introduced myself and Nina to the gal on my other side, then pulled in the one next to her. Pretty soon our small group were all chatting. Score!
Rule 2 has a postscript: Change Your Location. Get up, walk around, and hold up the wall in a different corner. There will be other introverts over there, and you can then chat them up, too.
I know, you don’t chat up people strangers. But the truth is that you do. All the time. When you are comfortable doing it, you don’t notice. Gaining any new skill, however, requires a level of discomfort. It’s scary. Learning is, by nature, going outside of one’s comfort zone. But then you have a new skill, so hey. The first time you do this, maybe even the second or third, it may feel very uncomfortable. But think of being able to enjoy a party and make new friends. Win!
I did one other thing that was important. At this party, the decree had been no physical presents. But stories, poems, and performances were welcome. We had all been asked in advance to present something live or write a love-letter to our birthday girl. There was even a sign-up sheet at the door. I signed up to dance. Which brings me to….
Party Rule #3: Take one risk. When my name came up, I jumped up, raised my arms in a victory Power Pose, handed off my cued-up phone, and put on my zils and hipscarf. And then I danced, in a small room, with 50 people who were far more badass than you can imagine (the past president of Planned Parenthood, a gal who saved Roe v Wade–twice, the ceo of the fastest-growing woman-owned business in the usa, artists, movers, shakers, one and all–and me).
Yeah, I got up and danced for them. I chose one song, both upbeat and trad (Fatme Serhan’s Tahtil Shebak, if you want to know). I made a point of connecting with individual people. I got Nathalie, her best friend, and her party co-hosts up to dance.
I wasn’t even at my best. I was bloated, tired, and stiff. None of that mattered. I brought the joy. That’s my job as a dancer, and I did it. And for the rest of the evening, people came up to me and complimented me on my performance. And I went up to other people and complimented them on theirs. More friends.
We introverts dread parties, small talk, and meeting people in general. Inundated with extrovert business advice, like give your card to 10 people at every meeting, we’d rather stay home. So we need other ways of going about our business. The above 3 models all work wonders. Because, for introverts, here’s the most important thing of all.
You won’t meet everyone, but you will meet the right people. Most people, frankly, are not worth your time. They are superficial, petty, and insincere. They are exhausting. Why bother with them? Introverts have magical strength and powers. Slide under the radar. Be choosy.
Meet the right people.
Like you ; )
PS Coming this fall: Dark Star: How Introvert Artist
There were great highs–the 90 Day Dance Challenge. A Mardi Gras road trip with Tamalyn Dallal. Teaching in Egypt for Leila Farid. The Small Product Lab. Sufi Camp with Dunya McPherson. Ziltastic. Open Heart. Effortless. Performing at Amity’s birthday party. I took some classes, too, and met some wonderful people.
There were also some lows. Life chaos ratcheted up, week after week. It was pretty scary. I ate carbs, freaked out, and felt helpless.
What lesson am I to learn from all this? Maybe it has to do with the irony of being completely undone by stress while writing about belly dance as a venue for stress relief. It would have been easy to dance for the lousy 20 minutes a day that would help me stay together. But I didn’t do it.
How does stress do this? How can we know exactly what would help, have it free, easy to do, and yet not do it? This response does not serve me.
So now what? How do I keep myself together and do what I need to do?
Something is brewing in my head. It has to be simple. It has to be consistent. It has to work. It’s probably going to involve video, so it has to be dead easy.
I’ll be back with a plan. Simple, consistent, effective. A daily dose of serenity. You might like to join me.