There is one more thread I want to tug at before I finish this writing on the topic of being good enough.
These past few week’s have been a time of introspection and reflection and it has been hard making myself sufficiently vulnerable to write these deeply personal reflections. Earlier this evening I was putting the finishing touches to a first draft of this blog and my unconscious somehow managed to delete the whole piece!
I ended the last blog looking back at myself at the age of 60 with a sense of having taken a huge step forward in my life challenge of feeling ‘good enough’.
My success in accepting the challenge of being seen both in the preliminary Moving Art group work as well as in my dances gave me the impetus to take up my teacher’s suggestion that I start attending Biodanza classes. I had been tempted to join a class almost a decade earlier, but it felt that now was the correct time even though I was now in y 60’s! Biodanza was developed in South America and is also known as the Dance of Love – an aspect of my life that I had totally neglected in my pursuit of perfection. Once again this move took a leap of faith but I had an immediate feeling that this was exactly where I needed to be at this time. .
Each Biodanza class lasts around 90 minutes and consists of a tightly structured set of dances which the facilitator has chosen (with appropriate music) to take us on a planned journey with a specific theme. In class we are asked to step out of minds into silence. Instructions are given for each dance – sometimes with a demonstration – and then we are left on our own to interpret the dance in our own way. Each week we are invited to let go of our barriers and trials and tribulations of life and connect with each other with open hearts and joy.
The emphasis on connection with our fellow dancers in the dance brought about some huge challenges to my openness to others. I had to let go of the familiar and safe defences and armour that I had successfully put in place to keep others at a distance. I had to surrender to spontaneity and to tenderness with people who I might be meeting for the first time – something that my protected always-helping-others self found extremely difficult.
The two pictures below were taken at one of my first annual Biodanza Encounters for experienced dancers where we were invited to go even deeper. Both pictures show me partnering people who I had only just met. In the first I have taken off my shirt in the presence of many which until shortly before then would have been inconceivable. I obviously feel safe that I will not stand out and I am able to respond to the call of the music to be spontaneous and creative in our dance. The second captures a challenge of another dimension where we are asked to totally surrender into the arms of our partner. It was so much easier when I was the one doing the holding as the carer than it was to surrender control and let myself be held. Needless to say, after sharing such challenging intimacy both of these women have become very dear friends since then.
The experience was amazing. Something ignited in my soul and I started feeling as if I was actually inhabiting my body for the first time in my life. My movements became freer and I felt myself becoming progressively more at peace and able to surrender to the connection and the dance. I soon found myself traveling to Brazil to meet the founder in person. This experience was so impactful that I subsequently signed on for the two year journey towards qualifying as a Biodanza facilitator.
After going through a deeply transformative first year of a personal development course where we focused on the five major themes of Vitality, Affectivity, Creativity, Sexuality and Transcendance, the second year turned our attention to the didactics of designing and running a class. My teaching schedule was such that I had to go to Johannesburg for one of the first sessions and join a group who had been bonding with each other for 18 months. I had met some of them briefly and had occasionally danced with them at the annual Encounter. One of the first tasks that weekend was to split into pairs and with your partner choose two pieces of music and then interpret them in dance. My partner and I encouraged each other to push ourselves and chose two very different pieces of music. The first was upbeat and triumphant and we danced with expansion and joy as I think the first photo below clearly shows. The second dance was far more sensual as we tried to surrender and enter into a space of intimacy.
Unbeknown to us, one of the group filmed the second dance. When I later watched this film I was amazed to see how far I come in just 5 years from the tentativeness and staccato movements of my Moving Art tango piece. I have taken off my shirt between dances even though we are being carefully watched and evaluated by a group of critical student peers who are part strangers to me. I do this despite the extra weight that is blatantly showing itself around my waist. I clearly am not worried about being good enough. The dance has taken over and I am not afraid to surrender and let my body move with freedom in union with my partner. It is an amazing experience. I let go and open myself to softer, gentler, more intimate movements in the dance. I feel my strength and feel enormously proud to have had the courage to go on this extremely vulnerable journey of heart and body.
In the midst of all this growth and love and connection there was one aspect of my Biodanza experience that both intrigued and disturbed me. There was one particular dance where we danced with yang (masculine) energy and pushed against each other. I felt this was a powerful dance that really helped me connect with my strength and ‘good enough’ energy. I was surprised when the Biodanza teacher told me that I looked a bit too fierce when I did this dance and that some people were frightened of me. She suggested that I should smile from time to time during the exercise to dispel any partner’s possible disquiet.
I was shocked to hear this. It made no sense to me as my setting of soft boundaries had been the source of enormous pain in the past. I’d tried and failed miserably in my early married days when I tried to set my boundaries with a smile which attempted to take away any sting. Inevitably my ‘boundary’ was not taken seriously and I could not blame anyone for that but me.
Shortly after this incident, one of the personal transformation participants came privately to my dance partner at the end of a yang activity and asked if she was scared of doing the dance with me as I looked so fierce. My partner later told me that she had just laughed at this and said she had especially chosen me as her partner for that particular dance because my strength allowed her to step more fully into her own strength and power. This was beautiful feedback to get and affirmed the success of my Moving Art work.
If I needed further assurances that I was on the right track, they came at that year’s Encounter. Our attendance that year was so large that we had to split into three groups to allow each couple enough space to get into their yang dances. I partnered someone in the first group and obviously sat down when the dance ended. When the second group started to dance someone came up and insisted I dance with them and the same thing happened when the third group started their dance. Both women involved later told me that they wanted to dance with me as they wanted a partner who would not be threatened by the full force of their own strength.
These various strands all came to a head in a very difficult year when I turned 65.
During the previous year I had realised that the flame of my soul was once again in danger of going out. My good enough journey had clearly not been as successful as I had thought as I had once again compromised my essence in order to please and avoid conflict. This growing realisation was instrumental in bringing about the end of my second marriage after 16 years together. It also meant that I had to look another failure straight in the face. So much for my promise to myself that I was not going to go the same way as my parents and get divorced!
The year I turned 65 started off in early January with my leaving home and I ended the month I went straight into a powerful and demanding Vision Quest where I spent 4 days alone in the mountains (part of a group but with no interaction with others in that time) with only water for sustenance.
Four days on my own really pushed me to face the truths of my life. I could spend the first day or two in my head making plans and avoiding looking at myself by shifting responsibility onto others. By day three this was no longer possibility and I stepped into the deep grief of facing my wounds and mistakes and start to take responsibility for the betrayals and pain I had caused others through my avoidances and inaction.
Later that year, I grasped the opportunity to participate in the major Biodanza workshop of facing your fears in what was called the Minotaur experience. Before the event, we each had to complete a questionnaire and own up to our deepest fears. The intention was that our answers would assist the facilitator choose the appropriate activity for each participant. The reader will not be surprised to read that it was abundantly clear to me that my greatest fear still lay in setting boundaries and limits and in expressing anger.. I was nervously hoping that the activity chosen would make a difference in moving me forward. Imagine my surprise when the facilitator took it on herself to ignore my answers and instead gave me an activity where I had to move around a circle asking for love! How had she missed seeing the growth in this area when she witnessed my sensual facilitator’s training dance?
My concern grew at this familiar foregrounding in Biodanza of Love as a theme despite my personal experience of needing to face my ongoing personal fears of Power. That same year I decided to use the task of writing a monograph (as the final step in becoming a Biodanza facilitator) to explore the themes of Power and Love. My conclusion was that Biodanza’s strong emphasis on Love meant that Power was kept in the shadow to the detriment of balanced growth. My challenge of standing in my Power was not going to easily be helped through an interpretation of Biodanza that seemed to reify Love .
In writing the monograph, I came across Martin Luther King’s speech on Love and Power and suddenly my disquiet found its voice. He claimed that Love without Power is sentimental and anaemic and Power without Love is reckless and abusive. He went on to say that Power at its best is Love implementing the demands of Justice and Justice at its best is Love correcting everything that stands against Love.
I’ve given this rather long description of my Biodanza experience because I think it has serious implications for the ‘good enough’ journey that started in the first blog over a year ago.
Wendy Palmer is an Aikido expert who has written a book called Leadership Embodiment. I was drawn to the following table which I have adapted from her work.
My interpretation is that the first column is the place I go to when I am scared, and my little child is acting from a wounded place. In that place, all I want is to feel safe, be liked and feel in control! I panic when anything comes along to threaten one of these three necessities of my current existence and I will do anything to hold onto them. I will scheme and duck and dive and over-react with rage or under-react by crumbling and disappearing.
The second column shows where I go to when I am aligned and standing in my grounded adult being. In this place I feel good enough, am compassionate to others and am deeply curious.
It is striking that each of these aspects is related to one of the three centres of head, heart and body, and this insight leads me to introduce the final piece of the puzzle that I want to work with in this blog – the four major Archetypes. While the Sovereign resides in a three dimensional outer witness position, the other archetypes take their places in one of these same three centres: the Warrior in the body/gut; the Lover in the heart; and the Magician in the head.
As Wendy Palmer’s second column shows, being ‘good enough’ lies in my body/gut and this is also where my Warrior energy resides. It is the Healthy Warrior who shows up and chooses to be present. It is the Healthy warrior who sets clear boundaries and respects other people’s boundaries. The Shadow archetypes of the Warrior are the Savage and the Victim – so similar to my two polarities of behaviour when I ‘lost it’. These two Shadow Warrior Archetypes also represent the mirror the two behaviours I tried to represent at the start of my Moving Art dance described in the second blog.
Angeles Arrien in her book called The Four-Fold Way says that the healing energy for the Warrior is dance, and I have previously quoted Confucius as saying ‘never give a sword to a man who can’t dance’. He goes on to say that ‘the dance is the ideal. People must not be given swords – before they’ve learnt how to enjoy life and its movement; before they’ve discovered the inner strength required to publicly and foolishly dance with judgemental gazes thrust upon them… ‘ These two quotes shine a confirming light n so much of my journey and also offer a reason why I had to follow a path of dance to do this ‘good enough’ work.
I think this is the core aspect of my life’s journey that I have been describing in these three blogs – the challenge to feel ‘good enough’ has been one of stepping as fully as possible into my Healthy Warrior archetype.
Wendy Palmer’s table shows what happens to me when I do not feel ‘good enough’ and revert to my wounded child state – I don’t feel safe! Looking back, feeling unsafe has been a constant companion throughout my life so this really resonates for me.
Then I think about my experience of marriage and the important role of the Lover whose open heart should be filled with compassion for others when aligned.
If I do not feel ‘good enough’ and hence do not feel safe, how on earth can I be in a healthy relationship with anyone? How can my Lover turn up safely let alone flourish? How did I think that I could make a good husband or father? If I can’t keep myself safe, how can I make it safe for my wife or my children? No wonder I failed!
As I write this, I feel the pain of not living up to and fulfilling my best intentions in getting married and then failing hopelessly which caused deep hurt and pain to both wives and my dear children.
What I have written makes it sound as if it is only when I have fully stepped into my Healthy Warrior that I will be able to embrace my Lover and be worthy of being in deep relationship. Such thinking falls so beautifully into the achievement straight line algorithmic approach to life.
I have largely learned to embrace and embody a new Healthy Warrior self. This has allowed me to be far more clear in my work life at ensuring that I only accept work that is aligned with my purpose. I have also withdrawn from work when I can see that my purpose is not aligned with that of the course convenor or client. I still feel the tension when I am in situations where another might be critical of my actions but I am far better able to stand in my authenticity. This arrival of a stronger Healthy Warrior self has opened the space for my Healthy Lover self to stand tall and I have been able to fully embrace my relatively new (almost 5 year) relationship at an extraordinarily deep level. The flame of my soul burns brightly and I feel grounded and at peace.
Looking back over this burst of writing and the journey I have taken, I can see that there has been a complex interplay between the heart and the gut – the Lover and the Warrior. There is no logical sequential process but rather a complex continual interplay between the two. It’s also clear that the Magician (and the head) need to be backgrounded while this work was being done. My education and society in general had already over-privileged my head and thinking.
And even now as I end these two extra blogs on the ‘good enough’ theme, I am reminded of the experience that started all this reflection. It happened on a morning when I had spent a difficult four hours with my Magician crafting and then sending a healthily boundaried email. It took longer than anticipated and I rushed off to lunch with a friend without taking any down time to prepare for this move between microworlds. Suddenly during the lunch we hit a bump and I found myself back in a very old place where I do not have the resources to stay grounded and my Healthy Warrior disappears. I ran for safety.
It seems that my being human journey has turned into something like a 12 step programme for recovering ‘not good enoughers’. It’s clearly a life long challenge and I need to be wary of becoming complacent that I have found complete resolution.
My plan for the years to come is to keep acknowledging and embracing my wounds while I move forward with fierce determination to optimise my ability to enact from an authentic place of conviction. It is not an easy journey but the rewards are great. I take comfort and inspiration from these two poems by Charles Bukowski in which he challenges me to go all the way! I hope the gods are indeed delighting in me!