Turning arrows to flowers



"Songs are born from memories, our own pains and from others; joy that we [have] not lived but someone lived with us; tears that we do not cry but someone cry near us. A song is a piece of life; a suit that is looking for a body to fit altogether well. The more bodies to be for that suit, the more success will have the song. Because if everybody sings it, is a signal that everybody lives it, feels it, suits it well." Enrique Santos Discepolo

The things we do to avoid pain . . .

Pema Chodron, in many of her writings, talks about the things we do to avoid pain - and why we do them.

"Devaputra mara involves seeking pleasure. It works like this: when we feel embarrassed or awkward, when pain presents itself to us in any form whatsover, we run like crazy to try to become comfortable. Any obstacle we encounter has the power to completely pull the rug out, to completely pop the bubble of reality that we have to regard as secure and certain. When we are threatened that way, we can't stand to feel the pain, the edginess, the anxiety, the queasiness in our stomach, the heat of anger rising, the bitter taste of resentment. We react with this tragically human habit of seeking pleasure and trying to avoid pain." (When Things Fall Apart)

Until I started listening to tango, and learning to dance, PTSD had made me a master at avoiding pain. Distraction and avoidance were constant companions helping me to avoid suffering in my past and in present, and cope with the fear of pain in my future. It was like a subconcious chant - keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. Not realy physically, but mentally. Emotionally. Don't linger too long in one place, on one thought. Keep moving.

For me, tango, much like yoga and meditation, quiets that impulse. It keeps me in the moment - whether the moment is pleasure or pain, or as is so frequently the case, when it is both. Chodran, and other Buddhist writers, teach that if we run from pain, distract ourselves from it - we learn nothing. We learn nothing about ourselves, nothing about the situation that brought the experience. We cut ourselves off from the moment and from our own wisdom - from all the things we might gain by feeling what we need feel, and really looking at the ways we try to run. It's been a long journey for me. While I still catch myself running away - at least now, I see it. I feel it when it happens. And, most of the time, I stop. I listen to what's going on.

Yet, old habits die hard. This past weekend there was a farewell milonga for one of my favorite tangueros and I almost didn't go. I dreaded going - even though I knew it was going to be a beautiful milonga. I'm not good at goodbyes (is anyone?) and I was afraid of being upset and sad, especially in public. Afraid of pain.

I went anyway.

I felt all of the things I was afraid of feeling - sad, angry, embarrassed, self-conscious. I'm not one of those discreet, "dab my nose, and blink away the tears" sort of criers. I'm a full on, red-faced, puffy eyes, sniffling, sobbing sort of criers that you can always hear in the theater during the sad bits.

And occasionally during Kodak commercials.
. . and pretty much all of the Armed Forces ads.
. . . also, any ads with animals or babies . . . or especially baby animals . . .
I go through a lot of Kleenex.

Anyway . . .

I went and I stayed in the moment, for as long as I could anyway. A couple of times I found myself almost trying to be annoyed at different things. Building walls. Distracting myself. And then I stopped. Listened. Found the moment again, and allowed myself to feel it. It's next to impossible to lie in the embrace and every time I danced, everytime I hugged someone, I let the walls fall away. In doing so, I got to connect with others who were also sad, and recognize (again) the very unique world that tango creates. Where it's okay to be sad, to be angry, to resent the world a little bit for changing around us when we're not ready for it to. And again, I was enveloped in metta - in the arms of leaders and friends and community. It was a wonderful milonga and I'm so glad that I went. Still, I wonder how many times I will have to relearn this lesson.

"…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are."
— Pema Chödrön
(NOTE: For information on the reference of turning arrows into flowers, see the chapter in "Comfortable with Uncertainty" on Google Books. )

2 comments:

Jarle Stabell said...

A beautiful post! Thanks! :)

Mari Johnson said...

Jarle - thank you for your comment, and for reading. :)