The Rollercoaster and the Raft

I have all this tension in my body.

My left shoulder is really bothering me, as are my hips and my neck.

I’ve tried stretching and using a foam roller to do self-myofascial release but so far it isn’t helping. I’ve made an appointment with my favorite massage therapist but it’s not until Thursday afternoon. But I’m not gonna let it stop me from dancing, at least this is what I tell myself. You see, the tension may not stop me from going to a dance lesson, but it is preventing me from really dancing, if you know what I mean.

Before I get too much further in this post, I want to say that I’m officially out of my funk. It took a while, and a bit of a cry, and some quality time with my friends. I’m so grateful for my friends, by the way. Having authentic people in my life who love me, see the best in me, want the best for me, and believe in me is such a treasure and I cherish more that I can say. Also, life is a roller coaster. Just like a roller coaster, you don’t want to get off at the middle of the ride! Some times are up. Others are down. I can’t be in the “on” position every moment of my life. So, this post is winding and twisting, in terms of emotions, but that was what I was feeling for that particular section of the ride. For this moment, right now, I’m coasting happily along. I don’t know what loop-de-loop may be coming, but I’m grateful for this moment of contentment and satisfaction.

In any case, two nights ago I went to Marieta’s syling class at Dance Starz. It was a really good class, and many of the other girls mentioned that they felt they learned more in this particular group class than in many others they had taken. We did a little warm up, a little bit of a lock step around in a circle, and then on to Samba. In the beginning, I rocked it. But as the class progressed, I got more and more sweaty, more and more out of breath. Now some of this I attribute to asthma. Since I got sick in New Zealand the congestion has been lingering and I was audibly wheezing last night. The stupid HFA rescue inhalers they’ve mandated to save the environment (HFA’s replace CFC’s) just don’t work. I’ve got a doctor appointment tomorrow to try and get this under some more control but this doesn’t change the underlying issue which is that I’m fat and out of shape. I’m probably better off than I was a few months ago, but still, the hole I’ve dug myself into is deep and it is gonna take a while to get out of it.

It was like a mini-Inna class. At one point, doing voltas, I had to stop. I felt that if I took one more step I’d have fallen because my legs would have given out. I was gasping and frankly it just really pissed me off. It sucks so hard to be in this bad of shape. I can’t do what I want to do because my body can’t tolerate it.

I’m sick of hating how I feel in my own body. I’m sick of hating the way it looks. I’m sick of being the biggest girl most places I go.

Sometimes, when I’m in my Greatness and feel good about me, who I am, I can just say forget about the physical stuff and go out there and rock it. Right now the phyiscal stuff is severely limiting me.

So is the tension in my body.

I showed up for my lesson with Ivan and we decided to work on the Rumba showcase piece. First we warmed up doing the basic steps.

As per usual I’m working very hard. Glistening pearls of sweat formed upon my furrowed brow while my lungs worked on overtime. We completed a song’s worth of dancing and Ivan said, “Not bad, but you stopping and starting.” He demonstrated how my hips do not continuously move but rather tilt choppily. Also, shrug my shoulders in an effort to move my hips. It is a constant issue in my body, my shoulders. I store a lot of tension there and they tense up while I’m trying to force a movement.

It is counterintuitive, I know. If I tigthten up, I actually block the movement’s flow. Also, I can’t generate any movement if there is no space for the body to move. And yet automatically, mindlessly, it is what I do.

So Ivan says, “Breathe. Relax.” We practice “doing nothing” dancing where I’m not trying. I start to feel emotional and tears well in my lower lids.

He tells me it is better, that I’m dancing on my own two feet and not using him to move myself but I seriously can’t wrap my head around it. There is something in me that’s convinced it needs to be hard…it must be hard…it must be work. I’m much more comfortable with that idea, so much so that to “relax” brings tears to my eyes.

What is this fear to really let go? What is the fear that prevents me from comitting 100%?

In any case, last night when I left the class, Marieta told me I did well. I think she could tell I was feeling defeated. But I couldn’t hear the praise. I could only hear the loud voice screaming in my head of what an idiot I am for letting myself get into such a horrific health state, that I am lazy for not doing more, that I’m spineless because I caved into old habits and patterns. Great, I got a compliment, but it means nothing because I failed to complete the class. I coudln’t even hang in for the entire thing. Another lady who had been on a private lesson also said to me that I was great. “Yeah,” I responded, “for 30 seconds, I was awesome!” We laughed, but to me it is not enough. I want to be able to dance that way for as long as I desire, not just 30 seconds and then be completely spent.

Like, what is it in me that won’t let me win at anything? That no matter what I do or how good I do it always has a criticism, a judgement, a denial of happiness to share.

Marieta was really sweet, though. She told me to enjoy the journey – to quit making it a horrible torture, like she used to do to herself. She said that I’m not the only one who wishes her body could do more. She said she wished her body was more flexible, and that she could stretch and do some things, but at some point her body is built how it is built. That I should try and enjoy the journey, every step of it.

I have do admit that I did’t shift that night, but it still meant a lot that she took the time to try and help me refocus on the blessings contained in the dancer’s journey. And even then, while wallowing in my self-generated pit of dispair, even then I knew that the feeling of being defeated wouldn’t last. Nothing ever does…whether it feels good or bad.

I am so attached to how I am feeling. When I prefer or like how I’m feeling, I want to hold onto it forever. When I dislike how I am feeling, I want to push it away, make it disappear. Neither is possible. Yet I try and hold onto how I prefer life to look, even when life has other things in mind.

It reminds me of a Zen riddle. If you use a raft to cross a river, what should you do with with it once you reach the other side? Carry it with you? Of course not! It has served it’s purpose. To continue to carry it would only burden the carrier. Why then do we carry our wants or dislikes with us for so long?

Well, I’ve finally let go of this particular raft but I’ve been dragging it behind me for a few days now. It was exhausting. But now, I’m feeling lighter and happier. Glad that particular portion of the rollercoaster is behind me.

The River And The Desert

Sometimes life takes us in directions we didn’t think we’d go. Little did I know today when I awoke that I’d be releasing a little bit of my life and the income that went with it. It made me feel as though there was an empty hole in my middle. I had the same feeling about 20 minutes after being in my first car accident as a teenager. You know, that burst of adrenaline followed by a shaky exhaustion.

I suppose I should explain what I’m talking about. I am a woman of diverse talents. I went to school to become a pharmacist. I got completely burned out doing this and quit. I was convinced that I never wanted to be a pharmacist again! I sought other job opportunities. I began to tutor high school kids.

It was great! I loved being with them, helping them, and helping their families. I got to do math problems and science and Spanish. It was so much more fun and less stressful than my previous job. I dove right in and have been doing it part-time ever since.

But this past year, I’ve really reconnected with the part of me that has been with me since age 5 when I began dancing. I started this blog, and also getting out into my dance community. My focus has shifted. This is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but the passion that I had been pouring into my tutoring was now being applied to dancing.

I didn’t recognize it, but apparently others around me did. They were so happy at the positive changes flooding into my life, but my fire for the tutoring had waned. I was fully prepared to finish out the school year but I was called on this change in desire. I had a choice: choose in, fully commit and really show up for the kids or release it, create space in my life, and embrace this newfound passion and connection to dance, writing, and the dance community. One path was practical, and guaranteed a certain amount of income. The other was veiled and promised no obvious road to riches.

But the practical choice felt flat. I knew, if I was very honest with myself, that I couldn’t be there for the kids like I had been before. The more responsible and compassionate choice to both parties, I believe, is to get them what they need rather than to than hang on when I can feel that my passion has shifted.

It was simply time to move on. I just didn’t know it.

Honestly, it was about the least traumatic, most loving parting-of-ways I’ve ever experienced. There was mutual respect, trust, and gratitude on both sides. But I still grieve it. Sometimes we even grieve things that are gone that aren’t good for us, for heaven’s sake! This part of my life had been a Godsend.

I just know that this was the right thing to do for me now. I shed my tears and said goodbye and thank you to this portion of my life. Kinda like how I felt when graduating from high school. I knew things would never be the same. I knew the chapter was closing on one part of my life.

Yet I choose to believe that all things happen for a reason. I also believe that nature will always fill a vacuum.

I now have a vacuumed space in my life. I am believing that amazing and wondrous things, people, and opportunities now have the space to flood in. Before my life was jam-packed – every moment accounted for. Now, I have more space and time.

The flip side of that is that I don’t have as much money to put toward dancing.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling okay about this. I will need to be much more disciplined about my spending. I will need to participate in more group classes and less private classes. That, or get paid to be on a reality show that follows me and Ivan around because we are so dang entertaining! lol. Hey, it could happen!

But in all practicality, I am going to be fine. I will have to save my pennies and will probably be putting a few things on Ebay, but that is okay. I already told Ivan that we have to do single lessons from now on until I win the Power Ball. He said that the most important thing is that I just keep coming, however often that needs to be.

So after releasing this particular aspect of my existence, and processing all the emotion that came up as a result, I was left with a hole in my stomach. In my old days, I probably would have poured a glass of wine and made a nice comforting meal, and curled up with the tv remote for a nice sedentary evening. But “new” Stef, the one who wears the way-too-high-to-be-practical-cherry-red-heels-that-scream-look-at-me, she chooses differently. Even though she feels like she’s been through a battle, she grabs her gear, gets in the car, and drives to Imperial studio for a good old butt-kicking from miss Inna.

As usual, I am exhausted and shaky, sweaty and beet red, gasping, cramping, etc, etc, etc. As per usual, I’m the biggest girl in the ballroom. But not as per usual, there is a larger class than before the holidays and one of the participants is a high school kid (I think). His mom is watching the class while waiting for her son.

We do Rumba, then Samba. I mostly make it through but have to bow out during one of the last Samba exercises…something was gonna blow if I didn’t. Grabbing my water and Gatorade I glance over and smile at the mother watching her son. She smiles sympathetically at me.

Finally the class is over. I’m spent. As I’m packing up, the mother comes over to me and says, “You looked great out there. I could never do that.”

I thank her, and I really appreciate the fact that she took the time to say something. It feels great to be acknowledged, for sure. But I actually disagree with her. It’s kinda the point of my blog and, by extension, my life. If I can do it, ANYONE who wants to can do it. If that guy at the dance studio that coaches with Ivan’s mother-in-law and is an amputee can do it, ANYONE can do it. If Kristie Alley can do it….just kidding. She was great.

But don’t you see? We make up excuses as to why we can’t do something. I did it for 12 years. I abandoned dancing, this thing that feeds my soul, keeps me healthy and happy, this thing that I love, and I left it because I didn’t think it was a practical life choice. I got miserable and fat and damaged my health because I made up a story about why I wasn’t a dancer, why that couldn’t be my life path, denying my very essence, denying my true identity.

Thank God I finally woke up!

And so, life gave me a beautiful opportunity just now. I could choose to settle once more. It was even a great way to do it…seemingly. I would have gotten to be with others, help them, and make a little money on the side by continuing to tutor. But I would have been making that same choice I made so long ago to do what is expected, even if it’s not what I truly, deeply, want to be doing with my life. So this time, I chose differently.

It reminds me of a parable I once heard (I’m paraphrasing here):

There was a great river. The river could go anywhere it wanted and it wanted to return to the sea. Nothing could stop it. It could even penetrate through stone. But one day the river met the desert. The desert pleaded with the river, “please don’t try to go through me. It won’t work.” “But I am a great river. I have made my way through stone. No sand can stop me.” It replied.

So the river poured into the desert. And it poured and it poured. And it poured until it was exhausted and the desert had become a swamp.

“You are right, desert, I cannot make my way through you.”

“You are partly right, river, you cannot make your way through me in your current form.”

And then something happened. The warm air of the desert caused the river to evaporate. And it arose into the air where it became a cloud that floated over the desert. It traversed the desert and rained down into the ocean, finally arriving at its destination. The only way for the river to make it there was to transform.

My decisions in life have been like the path of the river. For a while, my mechanisms of moving in this world worked. I was able to navigate many situations. But at some point, I reached my own desert. I tried my old tactics and began to pour and pour and pour myself into it. It has gotten me exhausted and yet no closer to my dreams. It is time for me to transform, indeed it is the only way I will reach my destination. Choosing differently this time is one piece of that metamorphosis. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out just yet, but I’m trusting the process, just like the river had to trust the process of evaporation. I will make it to my destination, though I will do it as a woman transformed.

It’s even kind of exciting, huh?

Yes, I think it is.