When I look at this photograph, taken at the precise second that a thousand rose paper petals exploded into the air around me on February 11th 2010, I see the power of now (for more of what I mean, read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle). The cracking bang, the shock of flying pinks, friends laughing and bursting into Happy Birthday to You… and me, without a second’s thought for the past or the future, filled with utter joy. It’s there in the picture. Proof that in the moment, if my mind is shocked out of thinking about anything at all, freedom can be mine. This is a photo of my spirit soaring, on my 47th birthday, along with that of my friend, TangoCherie.
Forty seven is a big number. I’d like to think that after those many years on the earth, I’d have worked out how to access joy (or at the very least, peace of mind) in any given moment, regardless of circumstance, without the use of party bangers. But I haven’t. The past weeks have shown me that I can still be buffeted all too easily by life situation. Unexpected or unwelcome happenings (real or imagined) can wake up VOD (my Voice of Doom, driven by fear) and he can fast imprison Barbie (Goddess of my self belief and Great Creatress) in the darkest of corners with his relentless and paralysing spiel on the subject of the disastrous nature of my past and the certain gloom of my future – all utter rubbish of course. Thank God that forty seven years alive equals forty seven years of life experience. I’ve been round this Loop of Doom a few times, you see. I therefore know that at least part of the way out of the confusion, is to step outside my over-active mind and get back in touch with the now.
Last night at La Milonga de Los Consagrados, in Centro Región Leonesa, presence in the moment was also mine. I settled into the closest of close embraces of one of my favourite regular dance partners, shut my eyes (because I trust him even on the most packed of dance floors), and allowed myself to forget even the mini-world of that room. It must have been forty degrees under the useless air conditioners and the ineffective overhead fans. I felt his heart beat into my chest and his breath hot near my ear. It was slightly embarrassing to have to peel ourselves apart, clothes kind of sticking to each other, as the fourth tango finished, but during the tango, did I care about that? No. We melted into one, literally with our sweat (sorry if that sounds grim, but truly it is horridly humid in Buenos Aires this summer), but also with our energy. And, in the moment of the melt, nothing else mattered. Bliss was mine. I don’t have photographic evidence of this one, but I do have the memory of having to ‘come round’ and work out the direction to my table when the tanda ended. Oh yes, good tango is one of the things that can put me firmly in the now.
But are party-banger moments, or even whole tandas, of being in the now, enough? Well, not for me. Thing is, I believe that when I am in the moment and nowhere else, I am closest to my core. There I can know my true essence. There I have the opportunity to sense my mission. And the more often I am there, the clearer my life purpose will be to me.
Being fully present when I dance tango, comes easy these days, because I’ve had a lot of practice. However, in the beginning (2006, UK) it was not so. Far too wrapped up in my own ego: worried about how good I was, what steps I couldn’t do, what my partner was thinking of me, what the people sitting around the walls of the room were thinking of me, how I wished I was a better dancer, how I was going to go to Argentina and come back and show everyone how brilliant I was… blah, blah, blah. To start with, I had to learn how to ‘void out’ of all that mind stuff and focus on my partner’s lead so that I could feel what to follow. Now, the physical side of dancing comes far more naturally to me, so I don’t have to think about the how, and tango is more a question of a total surrender to the possibility of my soul touching another. I find my tango bliss in a place far deeper than a dance, in a place far beyond the music or the surroundings or the people watching, in a place of pure energy between two exquisitely matched dancers (and the music), that perhaps I can never explain. Back in the days of consciously trying to ‘void out’ in order to follow anything at all, I had no idea of the bliss to come, but I clumsily practised seeking my own absolute presence in the dance anyway, until one day in Buenos Aires, it was mine and I understood.
Today, out there in the world of things, I’m concentrating on setting up a company to publish Happy Tango, I’m considering returning to the UK to promote the book, and along the way I’m learning fast about what it really means in practical terms to try and build a sustainable and workable life between Britain and Argentina. Meanwhile I’m doing my best to step out of my January 2010 Loop of Doom, while building a BubbleWrap-like protection of strategies around myself in order to decrease my chances of hitting such internal lows again.
So how to enjoy life, whatever crops up? I think tango can teach me something here. Quite simply, I need to focus on the now of whatever I am doing, and not allow my mind to head off somewhere scary: writing this blog post but not thinking about how crap it is at the same time; wandering to Barrio Chino with Carlos to enjoy a licuado, while not worrying about the email I need to write to my accountant later; going to sleep listening to my Relax App on my iPod, rather than letting my thoughts run over the list of actions I need to take in the next two weeks so that I can close off the final, final draft of Happy Tango and send it to the designer. These are miniscule examples of times when I need to actively stop myself thinking, in order to enjoy the now. I could offer you hundreds of far more overwhelming tales, but I’m too embarrassed to admit how completely ridiculous my mind can be, once it gets started down a terror filled route… and anyway, maybe you know what I mean, without me saying more, because your thoughts are probably capable of the Loop of Doom too. In any case, I’m actively practising this particular strategy on the smaller stuff, so that the next time my mind wants to latch on to bigger fry, I’ll be able to handle it.
Sometimes in this endeavour, when I find myself in a biggish situation filled with uncertainty, I feel that I am very much at the novice stage: consciously having to force myself to focus in the moment rather than be sucked down the path of negative thought about something that hasn’t happened yet. If I keep at it though, perhaps there will come a day when being present in the now of life will come as easily to me as being present in the now of tango.
What do you reckon, is there a chance of it? What strategies do you use to practice living every moment, regardless of your life situation, in joy? And does dancing tango help?