Are They Happy?

Our first day in Varadero, Cuba we were standing on the sidewalk outside an outdoor café listening to lively Latin rhythms. Seven musicians, squeezed into an alcove against the building, projected loudly into the patio and the sound spilled out into the street. A woman walked over from her hotel, beer in hand, on the way to the beach. She stopped to listen. Since I was sharing the same general space as her, she commented in my direction in Spanish with a tone of surprise. “Look at that – seven musicians, even a contra-bass, and all of them happy. It’s so unlike Argentina.” Her foreign language just kind of washed over me, not sticking, until she mentioned my beloved Argentina. I wanted to know more about what she thought, to engage her in a dialogue well beyond my limited Spanish skills. With bits of the two languages we had in common, we briefly contemplated together. Why did music with the same black roots, evolving in two different countries, but with the same language, within different (but both difficult) political situations, turn out so different? One was simple and happy; the other, complex and melancholy. Maybe the threat of being ‘disappeared’ was far greater in Argentina and the angst was expressed in tango lyrics. Maybe the sun and rum makes one just want to gyrate on and on to monotonous salsa rhythms.

The woman repeated over and over, as if awestruck, as if she couldn’t quite believe it, how happy they seemed … how happy … Are they? What makes people happy?

Candombe, canyengue, milonga, all still showing their black roots, all up-beat, lively and joyous, took a turn about a century ago and became ‘white-washed’. The more staid and less life-positive tango survived. And, in the warmer island atmosphere tango was introduced in the 20s but eventually fizzled out while the Habanero rhythms lived on.

Music (and subsequently dance) is a creative expression of the heart and soul of people and their culture – whether happy or tortured. Although it makes one feel better to express in any form, those who create and express don’t always necessarily appear happy nor live a happy life. Making music of any kind makes one feel better for the doing of it, the listening of it and the dancing to it. Music is the universal language. Music helps build community.

The fellows in the alcove looked like they were enjoying themselves. Later, they expressed much gratitude when my partner (a musician who likes to support and appreciate other musicians) generously tipped them. Two main members of the group came over to us to introduce themselves and extend their thanks and wishes for our continued good health.

During a short visit to Havana I made a pilgrimage to the Casa del Tango. It shares a space with Salsa. We were greeted by a young woman from the Salsa side and when I told her I was only interested in the tango she went back and sat down without a word. There were a handful of young people on the Salsa side chatting and dancing. The Tango side was filled with memorabilia from almost 100 years of history in the city, but no music playing and no schedule of lessons. A web search promised a weekly performance on Monday nights. We had to return to Varadero so I never discovered if the demonstration occurred.

One evening, my partner called over the trio serenading in the dining hall and tipped them to play while he scrutinized a guitar, method and chording the likes of which he, in all his years of music, had never seen. The four became fast friends. The two guitarists didn’t seem particularly happy nor unhappy but the Afro-Cuban percussionist appeared quite unhappy, apparently suffering from sciatic pain.

There seems to be a belief (maybe it’s propaganda) that Cubans are happy people. Most of the Cubans that I came in contact with were in the tourism/service industry and dealing with impatient foreigners with attitudes of entitlement. I witnessed a lot of patience, not so much happiness. Our tour guides, drivers and hosts seemed as pleasant as people you’d find anywhere else.

We all make our own happiness; it has little to do without our external circumstances. It’s an individual characteristic and/or state of being. It’s not a ‘national’ state of being. Maybe musicians, as a group, are happier than most because they have chosen something to do that they love. But, I don’t think that Cubans in general are any happier (or unhappier) than people anywhere else in the world.

Five Ways to Improve Your Relationship Without Talking About It

Words can hurt. The wrong words can damage a relationship. Honest, open communication is important in any relationship but sometimes we’re just not capable of it. When we’re upset we revert to familiar patterns of bad behavior, often founded on old unresolved issues, and we can’t see our way out of it. We’re likely not even aware that we’re doing it. We may be from different planets, or at least had different upbringings, so we often do not communicate in the same manner or on the same level. Inevitably, problems arise and are often made worse by attempting to talk them through. So don’t. Not just now.

INSTEAD:

1) Bite your tongue and swallow your words. If it’s complaining, sarcastic, critical or otherwise hurtful – don’t say it. Do you really benefit from making that smart remark intended to get a leg up – show who’s better? Does one of you seem to have a need to always be right? Does one of you need to have the last word – even in your head? Is massaging your ego more important than being in a loving relationship? It takes two to argue; be the one to turn away from a fight; come back when you’ve both cooled off. Also, do not disrespect your partner to, or in front of, others; negative energy breeds negative energy.

2) Do something nice for yourself. Always take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating properly, exercising, breathing fresh air and enjoying regular relaxation. Every now and again do something special. Go fishing, spend time with friends or enjoy a day at the spa. Drive out to the country by yourself, read a trashy novel, go to a game, take yourself out for a nice meal, engage in a hobby. If you feel good about yourself you’ll have more positive attention for your partner and renewed energy to deal with whatever gets tossed at you.

3) Take time each day to relax and meditate on what is going well in your life and your relationship. Perhaps keep a gratitude journal. List anything, no matter how small. Maybe she has a good sense of color – decorating the home with flair. Maybe he’s a playful father. Maybe she loves to walk the dog daily. Maybe he is always on time for work. Maybe her nails always look fabulous. Maybe he’s kind to the waiter and tips well. When you focus on what’s going well, it expands – bringing to you more of what you like. So, stop paying attention to what’s not going well and instead, pay attention to those little things that you can appreciate. Get yourself in a good feeling place before you have a difficult conversation with each other – if you still need to.

4) Do something nice for your partner – without being asked and without expectation of acknowledgement, appreciation or reciprocity. Do a chore or errand that’s not usually your responsibility – not just once, but daily. Don’t keep score.

5) Sleep naked. I know some days it can be way to hard to be that vulnerable. Sometimes situations call for the most difficult measures. At least make physical contact – even if it’s side-by-side or back-to-back. Start wherever you’re most comfortable but start – and make it a nightly habit. Skin to skin body contact releases important chemicals in the body that have to do with feelings of love, safety and bonding. This is a way to rebuild intimacy and trust. This is not an invitation to engage in sex. Make an agreement to that effect so that one or the other of you isn’t left wondering. Do not expect, force, nor feel obliged, to have sex. And if it happens (and is mutually satisfying) – even better! But, if this is a sore point in your relationship (as it often is), best to agree to abstain until you both willingly agree to engage again.

Once you’ve rebuilt a certain level of trust and compassion in your relationship, and you still need to speak about an issue, do it when neither of you is upset. Perhaps deal with serious issues with an unbiased third person (like a therapist). Only say what needs to be said without blaming, shaming, claiming the victim position, or dredging up old stuff as ammunition. It’s not useful to be arguing against each other for your right to be right. You’re supposed to be on the same side fighting together for the survival of your relationship.

This article was originally published at: http://www.yourtango.com/experts/maraya-loza-koxahn/5-ways-improve-your-relationship-without-talking-about-it#.VMVWTy6rjQ4

 

Tango Your Way to an Oxytocin High

Most of us understand that hugging is beneficial to our health. Family therapist, Virginia Satir stated that, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” Based on that – many of us are barely surviving.

We had nine months of close physical human contact before we were thrust out into the world alone to rely on the nurturing of others for our survival. The quality and quantity of the nurturing we received during our early years is directly related to our adult social IQ and our ability to cope with stress. Children who have bonded to at least one caregiver and received adequate loving touch and closeness have better self-esteem and grow up to be healthier, better adjusted adults.

Positive touch stimulates the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone in humans. It is responsible for feelings of connection and referred to most often as the ‘bonding’ hormone. It is produced primarily by the hypothalamus gland in the brain but was recently discovered in the heart. Oxytocin has a baseline of zero and a half-life of three to five minutes, which means that it doesn’t occur without a stimulus and it degrades rapidly. We can’t store it.

Oxytocin is released during natural childbirth in order to facilitate the birth and subsequent bonding between mother and child. It is also secreted during nursing. Psychologist Matt Hertenstein states that “It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.”

The hormone has a powerful positive influence on social behaviors – improving social affiliation, feelings of trust and devotion, calmness, contentment, and security around a mate. Oxytocin helps to improve mood by controlling anxiety and facilitating optimism. It helps reduce stress, improves immune function, modulates inflammation, increases pain threshold, and facilitates healing.

Touch and warmth, ingestion of food, eye contact, hand holding, hugging, kissing, sex, massage, dancing, giving and receiving appreciation, praying, rituals and other social gatherings like weddings and even the use of social media have all been shown to facilitate the release of oxytocin.

There is a lot of research that concludes that dance is beneficial for overall health. Dr Paul Zak, known as “Dr. Love”, did a study where he drew blood before and after a night of dancing and found that oxytocin levels rose 11% regardless of age or gender. It is a physical activity that combines emotions, social interaction, sensory stimulation (including physical contact with another), motor co-ordination, neurotransmitter stimulation in the brain, and music. Zak says that we’re a connective species, “the more interaction, the better.”

El Tango Abrazo – The Extended Hug

The basic premise of the Argentine Tango as a dance is that two people enter into an embrace and walk together to music. El abrazo is Spanish for embrace, or hug. Unlike other forms of partner dancing, the chests of the two dancers usually remain in contact – maintaining a heart to heart connection – as the man leads the dance.

The embrace can be flexible ranging from a very close to a more open style. You’ve likely seen the more acrobatic ‘stage’ tango style on Dancing With The Stars. But, in the very crowded dance halls of Buenos Aires, most dancers are of the older decades and dance in the traditional manner with a close embrace. For many – this is the only means of sustained physical contact with another.

Each tango is approximately three minutes long. That’s a good long hug. There are usually three or four songs per tanda danced with the same partner. Dancing a couple of tandas fulfills, and even goes beyond, the basic daily requirement of oxytocin.

Once you’ve learned the simple basics you can dance in almost any major city in the world weekly and several times each day in Buenos Aires. The basics (hugging and walking to music) are simple enough that you can get a gentle work-out and enjoy dancing for the rest of your life. It is a dance that can be more challenging if you prefer and you can continually improve upon it by learning new steps and techniques – which helps maintain neuroplasticity (flexibility of the brain). It’s no wonder that this dance can become somewhat of an ‘addiction’ with all those ‘feel good’ chemicals involved.

If you are in a loving intimate relationship, if you have small children, if you have lots of friends or a pet, maybe you’re able to meet your quota of hugs per day. But, if you’re unattached, or otherwise in a relationship that does not meet your needs for physical contact, you may want to consider alternative ways of maintaining optimal health. Massages are great but not everyone can afford one weekly. Cuddle parties are even becoming popular in some areas. But, almost anyone, young or old, single or coupled, gay or straight, can learn to dance tango and engage regularly in this fun and health-promoting activity and reach a regular oxytocin high.

On Dumping and Being Dumped

I love the idea of a tanda. It’s clear from the outset that you will be dancing with one particular person until the cortina. If it’s good – you never want it to end; if it’s bad – you know that it will end soon and you can stick it out that long. If it’s really, really bad (you should never feel uncomfortable or disrespected) you can leave before your time is up – and everybody on the dance floor will notice.

One night, at Niño Bien, I made the unfortunate assumption that the tanda was three songs long. I was dancing with Raimundo, a very nice friend of a friend who also happened to be my landlord during that time. I was enjoying myself. After three songs we were back at my table and I said “gracias” and sat down. Then came the fourth song. I had committed a major tango faux pas. Saying “thank you” on a Buenos Aires pista before a tanda is over, is seen as a dismissal – a polite way of being rude. I hadn’t meant to dump Rai. I felt badly and hoped that he would excuse my poor manners by chalking it up to the fact that I was a naïve newcomer.

Another evening, at Porteño y Bailarin, I stared across two tables at a handsome man that I wanted to dance with. It wasn’t a typical cabaceo. I probably appeared a little too insistent (blame my impatient North American upbringing). He looked at me questioningly and made a motion that implied he did not know how tall I was (and that this was an issue – fair enough). I stood up. He nodded and we met on the dance floor. He embraced me so tightly I could hardly breathe or move. It was not fun for either of us. After two songs he returned me to my table. Luckily I was able to save face (I thought) because my girlfriend immediately handed me a camera and asked me to film her performance – which was up next. I busied myself getting familiar with the camera and proceeded to take video of Cherie and Ruben’s beautiful waltz. In my frazzled state I had neglected to turn the camera on properly. No matter how composed you think you appear, being dumped can be distressing.

The rules inside a milonga are not so clear outside of Buenos Aires. If your city has not yet adopted the tanda format, you know what I mean. Often, after a song, there is an awkward pause where you look sheepishly at each other, wonder if you should sit down or presume to stay where you are for another. I often say “thank you” after each song, which is still acceptable in North America, rather than stand unappreciatively in awkward silence.

I wish romantic relationships were as straightforward. You never know how long one is going to last. In many of them you wish and hope, and even honestly intend, that it will survive until one of you dies. But, given our actual behavior and the related statistics, we are creatures of serial monogamy. We are, some more often than others, in and out of relationships, and we experience constant highs and lows. Some people enjoy the drama, others wish they could just find one special someone and settle down.

If we could agree to set up our relationships like tandas (with the option to renew) we might be less devastated when they end. Instead we experience a multitude of negative feelings and thoughts, and it often takes us years of healing before we feel safe enough to love and commit again. Some never fully heal from the sting of betrayal and loss, and end up living alone and lonely.

Very few relationships end by mutual agreement – even though that’s how they all have to begin. It’s not always clear who ends the relationship. Sometimes the one who does the final deed is not the one who (maybe unintentionally or covertly) initiated the process. Sometimes things just fizzle into nothing and you never speak to each other again. Sometimes situations result from a simple miscommunication and/or misperception.

Unlike tango, there are no rules in love. There seems to be no good or right way to end a romantic relationship. It always stings. I’m guessing that there are some very mature and compassionate people that have a rational conversation and come to a mutually agreed upon way to move to the next stage of life without each other – or with each other in a different manner. Most of us are not that mature.

Most of us are still in the unfortunate cycle of dumping, or being dumped, and (maybe) moving on ever hopeful that the pain of dissolution will never occur again. Some just become numb and unaffected by what happens next.

And that’s why I love the clarity of the tanda. Whether it’s three songs or four I know approximately how much time I have with that partner and I can make the most of the experience, good or bad, knowing that I will have the opportunity to have a different experience with someone else for the next tanda.

The Sum Of My Sorrows

This excerpt, written in Buenos Aires,  is from my upcoming book:
Love, Death & Tango

It’s not so difficult to find joy in the natural environment; in traveling to the beaches and the mountains and the forests of the world. What’s not to love – to find happiness in – the sand beneath your toes, the sun on your face, the cool crunch of snow, the smell of pine needles, the sound of the waves? It’s easy to maintain a gentle flow of happiness when you’re on your own and your whole life is not overturned by someone else’s wishes. Or, to find joy and hope in the face of a newborn or a new love.

It’s not so easy to find joy in the squishing dog shit on broken pavement. Not so easy to sink peacefully into profound breathing meditation amongst constant traffic noise and exhaust fumes. It’s difficult to feel the natural flow of energy from the occasional tree trying to survive in a concrete jungle. It’s difficult to maintain joy when your friends are dying and your family is crying because you’re not there. New friends, you know, for the most part, are temporary as they drift through too. A new love, a strange and difficult new love, threatens to release its grip on the tenuous chord of life.

Moments of joy fleet by as you reach out to grasp and savor them while weighed down and held back by so many sorrows, so many ties to the past. You long for an unfettered future and a vigilance to maintain  presence in the unmaintainable present. You desire to taste the joy, the happiness that comes so briefly like a kiss on the lips not leaving a trace, no scent. You are reminded always. If it were easy to be happy, easy to discover joy, there would be no search. It’s true that the search is essentially a journey inward and it is true that you can stay home and sit with your twenty-year-old surroundings and patterns and habits and search inside. No matter where you go – there you are – and the only thing that remains constant is what you have inside yourself. It is also true that with each new external adventure you gain new material to add to the inner mix. As you gain, so do you lose. The hardest thing to lose is someone you love. The hardest thing to let go of is a staunchly held belief. The hardest thing to release – is that which you want to keep.

So here I am, having made the journey to the end of the Earth to find something more. This time of mine for searching, for finding something new, for filling myself up has become a time of great loss and of emptying myself out. To lose what matters forces one to consider carefully that which really matters and only, only, only, focus on that. It becomes evident that there is no time to waste on the superficial and superfluous if one is to lead a conscious life. If one does not wish to touch that authenticity – by all means waste away – there is no shortage of ways to do so, no shortage of diversions and no shortage of people satisfied with going that route. I have engaged in diversions repeatedly, as living with sorrow requires regular escapes into fantasy or other forms of numbness.

But, so far, what I have found works best, the most honest, healthy and loving diversion, is dance; specifically the tango. It hasn’t always been easy to drag myself out of the abyss of self-pity and into a dance hall, but when I am successful I am rewarded for my effort. The load of my losses, not yet released from the shackles of my suffering and my restructuring, becomes lighter as I float across the dance floor in the embrace of my (sometimes anonymous) partner. I close my eyes and let him and the music take me to another place. It doesn’t matter who he is as long as he makes me feel safe, happy, young, and beautiful, even if only for one tanda. One short, sweet tanda after another and I make my slow journey back from the dead.

Chasing Our Tails

My friend says I think too much. It’s true. That’s why I need to surrender myself to the dance. But then, what’s the purpose of having an evolved brain if you’re not going to use it? With all the inner chatter I can’t think straight, nor see clearly; noise gets in the way of my vision and I often forget that I ever had one. There always seems to be something new to ponder, ancient ruminations to churn repeatedly as if a new solution could magically spring forth from the arteriosclerotic mind that created the initial problem. If only I had the right information, spent enough time, really believed then, then, then, … ya, then what?

I have looked into the hall of mirrors in hopes of discovering myself and I have seen refracted reflection reflecting off of refracted reflection into infinity. There is no end to self-discovery; there is no one answer. This is good. This is an exercise designed to keep us chasing our tails long after we’ve lost them through the evolutionary process.

The most powerful force on the planet is the human will to survive (the most powerful goal of the mind/ego is to be right). It is the main objective of every biological organism – to maintain homeostasis in order to survive long enough to procreate and proliferate the species. Since most of our species handled the basics eons ago, we’ve moved way up Maslow’s hierarchy. Our minds have evolved to such an extent that they must be entertained with more existential matters. Now, we have to have a ‘good reason’ to survive. We must pursue our purpose, we must be in service, we must understand our past lives and look forward to the next, we must attain enlightenment, and we must strive to live happily ever after. Wow. That’s a huge responsibility and certainly enough to keep us busy for a few more eons. It’s the evolved version of the objective of the species – to survive. If we had none of this to keep us going we’d soon realize that there was nowhere we need to go, nothing we need to do, no one to impress nor even answer to, nothing that matters, and essentially, nothing (no reason) to live for – except that which we choose. And that would never do.

You won’t know this until you have done all of it and come up with your own realization. It is a stupid person who has the soul of a seeker and is stopped by someone telling him there is nothing to be sought. Each must seek. We must all chase our own tail. We’re going to be here a long time and the only thing to do is to keep ascending Maslow’s hierarchy ad infinitum. You can slip back down but you can’t undo what you ‘know’.

If you look at anything closely enough, long enough, it falls apart. If you sit long enough and ask yourself what is true, you’ll end up with nothing. To be left with nothing, to be completely untethered, is too frightening for most of us to imagine. The greatest fear is our insignificance, our non-existence. So we fill up – and what we fill with is judged. Certain diversions, addictions, are deemed bad, and we are in denial – and other fillers – spirituality, knowledge, service are deemed worthwhile. Bottom line – we are the ones doing the judging based on criteria that we created. There is no inherent good/bad, right/wrong. The judging is also a diversion that keeps us in play. We love drama – it makes us feel alive.

So, now some of you might be pissed off by what I’m saying. We don’t like our beliefs challenged. Test it. Sit yourself down and figure out what’s real and what’s true. If you have the guts to stay with it – you’ll come up with nothing. But, seriously, don’t go there. Because if everybody did it we’d likely erase ourselves off the planet. Because, for the most part, if we realized (en masse) that there was essentially no reason to remain on the planet we’d leave and the whole game would be over. That wouldn’t be any fun.

But some of you are applauding and shouting hooray. Like me, you never felt completely comfortable with the guru of the moment, the latest spiritual teaching, the one supplement (or brand of supplements) or the therapeutic modality that was going to cure your illness. You didn’t latch onto anything but instead kept looking. You sustained a belief that there was something out there – something to grab onto while you hung precariously over the precipice; there was still the promise of safety.

Thank goodness we’re hard-wired for hope. It is the driving force of survival at any stage of the hierarchy. Even while the planet and its inhabitants threaten destruction, we have hope and that keeps us here believing that there is something yet to be done, something to look forward to, a piece of cheese at the end of the maze.

It’s only all about moving forward: surviving and evolving the species yet, society supports our arrested stage of development. We’re best controlled if kept stupid and hopeful. I’m less interested now in the pursuit of enlightenment and more interested in finding myself in the company of adults. Not adult impersonators but, humans that have matured out of the ME phase. Humans that have assessed and addressed their fears. Humans that take responsibility for their actions, have good manners, tell the truth, keep their agreements and don’t operate out of assumptions and judgments (it’s okay to have assumptions and judgments but recognize them for what they are and don’t operate out of them). Is it too much to ask that humans spell correctly (or use a spellchecker!) use good grammar, and clean up after themselves? Is it so difficult to treat each other with respect and kindness – say please, thank-you, you’re welcome, excuse me, I’m sorry, I love you – and not be hell-bent on passive self-destruction and the (covert &/or overt) destruction of others? Apparently. Yes, I ask for too much. Undoubtedly, if I were more ‘enlightened’ it wouldn’t bother me so much that humans sometimes act the way they do.

So now, go and find something of your own choosing to hang onto – something that makes you feel like sticking around – if you feel like sticking around. It should be no ‘sin’ to make the decision not to. And do stick around because you seek the entertainment of this amusement park. Sometimes the haunted house is scary and the roller coaster makes you puke but most of the attractions are entertaining in a reasonably pleasant sort of way. Occasionally you encounter something that is downright astonishing and its magnificence leaves you breathless. These are moments worth waiting for, remembering and appreciating.

The Indigo Girls sing  “the less I search myself for some definitive, the closer I am to fine”. My mantra. But, I’m still hard-wired to search and have difficulty giving it up. ‘Fine’ I am not (unless you use FINE as an acronym for fucked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional). I think I may have been fine once upon a time – but I don’t remember. I’ve been asking questions and ingesting  and dissecting answers for a very long time and what I’ve come up with is a whole lot of information, more confusion, and whole lot less knowing, and probably less trust and patience than I started with. At least now I know that I don’t know shit. But maybe somewhere deep, some real simple solid knowing is settling in. I can only hope. At any rate, it’s time to stop the search. And, forgive me, I’ve said too much. So, I think I’ll just circle around a bit, chase my tail, and look for a place to lie down for a nap. Wake me up when it’s over.

Life is Like a Milonga

Dancing tango at a milonga is like moving through life. You start out intrigued by the music with expectations of having a good time. You assess all available potential partners and choose; you hope they choose you back. Once an agreement is struck, you enter into an embrace, sway to the music, and begin to dance. You travel in a counter clockwise direction, with everyone else, trying to turn back time.

Some dance slower, some dance faster, some may stay pretty much in one spot, and others pass you by. Some follow the beat of the collective drum; some express the intricacies of the music exceptionally well; some dance eloquently to their own beat; some don’t have a clue.

You dance the same steps over and over again: the ones you were taught by others, the ones you remember, the ones you feel comfortable with. You may learn a new step every now and then, maybe even think you’ve made up something unique. Occasionally you incorporate those new steps into your dance. But, chances are good that you will forget most of what you’ve learned and continue to dance the same old steps you have always danced. You will continue ‘round and ‘round the floor in an endless loop.

You take a break. You have a drink. You chat with friends. You have another drink. You try to catch someone else’s eye and if you succeed, you get up and give it another go.

You may experience a sublime moment – one you want to capture, contain, and keep recreating.  But, the tanda ends, the partner parts, and you return to your table. You want that moment back. You have another drink.

There are many factors involved in ensuring a rewarding experience. You have control over those factors – you have choice. However, whether you go with the flow, stay in one spot, or take a risk by moving against the line of dance, one fact remains: you never really get anywhere. Still, you’re expected to enjoy it.

Although you always end up back at your own table, you can change partners, you can change venues, you can opt to move only to music that inspires you, you can buy 100 pairs of fancy tango shoes, and you can even choose to sit out for a while. But, eventually, the music stops and the milonga is over. Eventually, there’s nothing left to do but go home.

Magic Words

Your partner needs to be taught how best to love you. He/She didn’t come into the relationship automatically knowing how to do that; it’s your responsibility to teach him/her.

You will not always get what you want. It is inevitable that you will be disappointed. You will feel hurt and you will get angry. By getting what you don’t want that you will become clearer about what you do want and then you can focus on that. Don’t focus on what’s not going well – you’ll just get more of that. The key is to move on – not keeping score along the way, building a case, nor seething with resentment – but remaining unattached to the behavior of the other.

Forgiveness is ‘the renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation, or anger as a result of a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution’ (WIKI) Get over it and get on with what’s important.

Offenses may be small – a forgotten anniversary, or betrayals may be temporarily decimating – like adultery and murder. I know of both women and men who have stood by waiting for their adulterous spouses to realize the ‘error of their ways’ and return home. I know a woman who has forgiven the man who killed her father and has made ‘poetic justice’ her life’s work. We all make mistakes; everything is forgivable. How big are you willing to be?

It’s not imperative that you forget, in fact, keep the infraction in the back of your mind as a lesson you’ve learned – don’t keep it foremost in your mind and don’t dredge it up as ammunition in a future battle. Forgive for your sake – not so much for the sake of the other. It’s not always necessary to  tell them that you forgive them. It will be obvious in your behavior. Sometimes, forgiving someone implies that they have done something ‘wrong’ and although you may have been hurt, they likely didn’t believe that they were doing anything ‘wrong’. Their intent was not likely to harm you but just to get their needs met. Often our desires conflict. Everything is a matter of perception and can be justified. Don’t forgive in order to feel superior but just because that’s what love does.

Your soulmate was sent to expand and enlighten you. Growing each other up comes with growing pains. Love understands that we do things that hurt each other even when that is not our intention. We are in relationship to smooth the rough edges off of each other. In order to do that we need to be a little abrasive and then polish with a fine cloth.

Don’t allow the behavior of another to effect yours, don’t give your power away to your distress of not getting what you want. Stay strong in your commitment to taking the high road, let it wash over you and stand in the power of your absolute love for them.

There are two magic words that facilitate forgiveness: I’m sorry. It’s that simple. Be big enough to use them when appropriate. No need to accept responsibility – if you can’t bring yourself to do so – or if you’re not ‘responsible’. No need to explain or defend. Just an authentic, compassionate apology works wonders to diffuse a situation that is otherwise susceptible to escalation.

Okay, I know that’s a lot to expect. It takes practice and patience and a lot of mistake-making. We all have our limits and we all have our limits stretched. We’re here to discover what matters and we will only discover that if we are tested to the core. When we find that there is very little that actually matters it’s much easier to forgive the small betrayals. When we let something go we make space for something new and more workable to take its place.

 

Go With The Flow

Whether traveling with the line of dance, the direction of traffic, or the current of a river, it’s much easier to go with the flow than against it.

Clearly, it makes sense on a crowded dance floor or street to go in the same direction that everyone else is going. It’s a matter of personal safety and the safety of others.

In a milonga, traffic moves in a counter-clockwise direction – sometimes quickly – on a crowded floor. Better/faster dancers should be on the outside and the less confident dancers should be inside the perimeter. One does not generally start dancing by stepping back. Imagine backing up on the Deerfoot at rush hour – ‘dancing’ backward against traffic can potentially cause accidents – use your mirrors. Your general direction is always forward around and around the floor with the line of dance and when it is safe to execute something, you may do so with caution. Dancing across the middle of the floor, like driving across the median, is bad etiquette, against the rules, and potentially dangerous. And, unless it’s safe, you do not lead a step that would potentially have your partner coming into contact with another dancer. These are the basic rules of the road (autopista) and the dance floor (pista) and pretty simple to understand and follow. And, in Calgary, like anywhere else, it doesn’t matter how big your SUV is, we have to learn how to drive properly, with care and concern for others.

Take that basic common sense and apply it to your life. Why do so many people work so hard to go against the flow? Expressing individuality, bucking the system, railing against mediocrity – all good things to get a society/world to move outside of itself and evolve – but that’s not the issue here. What I’m talking about is this: for the most part, for a great majority of us – why do we insist on making our life so difficult? Why do we work so hard at ignoring the still, soft voice inside – and sometimes the blatant messages – whether outside events or inner health crises – that want to lead us to a better way of doing things? Why do we continue to bang our heads against the wall of what’s clearly not working?

Abraham* calls it traveling downstream (with the flow of creative energy). Paddling a current upstream is sometimes necessary, depending on where you want to get to on the river, but the majority of your trip (unless you’re a spawning salmon) should be a rather leisurely downstream float. Although simple, it is apparently not so easy to hear and feel the guidance to move in a direction that serves us; one that takes us exactly where we need to go and provides us with all that we need along the way. Why is it so difficult to know and trust that and to surrender to it? If you figure that out let me know because I’m finding that knowing and believing it are still a far cry from easily and consistently doing it. The traffic, the water, is rushing by and I often can’t hear anything else. I keep banging up against the rocks and trying to get out of the water before I drown. Hopefully, I’ll relax and figure it out real soon.

Now go – dance through your days – and may the flow be with you.

*Abraham is the energy entity channeled by Esther Hicks.

Gender Reciprocity: You Scratch My Back, I’ll Make Dinner

The following is a dialogue between Maraya Loza Koxahn and David Shakleton – editor of Everyman Magazine.

Maraya: As a leader in the men’s movement, David, you’ve been an advocate for gender equality for several years. To me, the word ‘equality’ implies ‘same’. Men and women are not the same and never will be. I don’t want ‘equality’, I want justice in the courts, fairness in the workplace and harmony in the home – taking into consideration our similarities and our differences. I think it would mean putting an end to the competition and maintaining a dance of respect and curiosity.

David: The social equality I want between men and women is not ‘identically equal’. It is only ‘the same’ in a few basic areas like inherent moral status, and access to basic rights, freedoms and opportunities. In other areas, I agree with you that gender differences are significant and influence outcomes greatly. So, equality becomes, as you suggest, a dance of respect for difference.

Underneath the complex trade-offs of what we want – equality and respect for our differences – lies a whole other complexity of less conscious gender role expectations that come from our cultural and social conditioning and our deep biological imprint (i.e. boys don’t cry, women are more nurturing, etc.).

Maraya: Operating from that complexity with complete consciousness is challenging. The other night my boyfriend and I were going to see a play. As we approached the theatre I said that I would pay my own way. Teasingly he asked, “does that mean I don’t get sex tonight?” Keeping with the spirit of fun I replied, “of course not honey, in fact it is I who should probably be paying you for sex.” He was chuffed.

We can laugh, but for many people the traditional dating ritual still has the undercurrent of these expectations. The assumption is that men want sex (which implies that women don’t) and that they have to pay the way to get it. Conversely, women want to be taken care of, treated special and eventually have to ‘put out’ in return. That’s an outdated notion.

First of all, I believe any healthy woman wants sexual pleasure/physical intimacy as much as a man does. Secondly, most women where we live are capable and desirous of looking after themselves financially. My vision is that we strike a balance where sex is a mutually desired and satisfying experience in itself and dates are traded for dates, each according to their ability/means. There should be a clear understanding and agreement about what the exchange is and no one should feel compelled to keep score.

David: I share the same vision. Consciousness and agreed upon transactions are the way to healthy, fulfilled relationships. It’s difficult though because the old codependent patterns are often imprinted into our unconscious. So, for instance, I, as your date, might not feel entitled to sex unless I’ve paid for dinner. I might think it was unfair that I had to pay but part of me would still think that if you had sex with me without my paying then you must be ‘cheap’. My resentment might show up in how I started treating you. Those kinds of usually unacknowledged and unarticulated thoughts run our lives from beneath our conscious awareness and make relationships confusing.

At present, relationships between men and women are in a strange situation, because the success of the women’s movement means that almost everybody is aware of the ways that men have power over women (i.e. financially, physical and sexual violence), but the relative social invisibility of the men’s movement means that almost no one understands the complementary ways that women have power over men (i.e. shaming, emotional abandonment, manipulative use of beauty or sexual power). We have concluded, as a society, that women don’t have much real power, so their form of power tends to be overlooked and considered less valid than the way men express power over women.

Maraya: I think that men do know, on some level, the power that women have and they’re terrified of it. They don’t want to meet it and don’t feel capable of defending themselves in the face of it. I find that men prefer to avoid it, dismiss it, acquiesce, or leave if it becomes too scary. I also think that women know their own power and are often not admitting it because that would require that we take responsibility for all of it – including the ways we use it to manipulate.

If we’re going to continue this as a gender competition and not engage in honest interaction then why would I want to give up my advantage? I know the power of my beauty and sexuality – throw in intelligence and a sense of humor and I’ve practically got the ‘cat in the bag’ – or the guy in the sack – and that’s usually where I want him. Give him sex and emotional nurturing and he’s mine. As benevolent as I think I am, there is part of me that just doesn’t want to give up control without a good reason. I know surrender is an imperative aspect of this change we desire, and requires radical trust, but I’m reluctant to surrender until I sense that there is enough radical honesty to engender my trust. I want someone to catch me when I jump.

David: We do need to work together to change what’s not working. For a man during the earlier years of the women’s movement, the challenge was getting us to realize that it was right to stop chivalrously protecting women from social power and responsibility and to see that women were fully capable of engaging as equals in the workplace. Once men understood that women truly wanted social equality, and saw the benefits, most became willing to make space for them in the corporate world.

If women can really understand that men want domestic equality – to share fully in child raising and feel they are fully capable – change might happen faster. One challenge is to stop care-taking each other. Women have to let men have their emotions, for instance, rather than feeling they have to comfort or protect them. It’s a similar condescension to what men showed when they chivalrously tried to protect women from dirty and dangerous job-sites.

Maraya: I don’t agree that, overall, men were willing to make space for women in the corporations and the educational, political and religious institutions without a fight. I do, however, believe that men want to be fully engaged in the raising of their children and have an equal say regarding their homes.

I believe that men and women care deeply for, and want to take care of, each other. When the ‘taking care of’ becomes ‘care-taking’ – a form of protection or patronizing – it diminishes the other and can lead to a cycle of codependency. If we can stay conscious about our patterns and challenge each other on our shadow aspects, maybe we can heal the need to ‘manage’ each other.

David: The key to becoming conscious is to recognize the reality of our unconscious. I discovered mine about eighteen years ago. I was dating a woman and I really wanted something from her. I told her, “unless you do this, I’ll leave you. It’s that important to me.” (Yes, I really was that manipulative.) Courageously, she called my bluff and said, “well, if you need to – go – but I’m not giving in.” In that moment – and not until that moment – I realized that I didn’t actually want to leave her. I didn’t know that when I said it. I thought I was sincere. The discovery that I could lie to myself astonished me. I realized that there were two ‘Davids’: one I was familiar with and had thought was complete, and another, that operated from outside of my awareness but still influenced me. Our unconscious self influences us mainly through our feelings about what is right and wrong, and our notions about gender behavior are some of the most deeply planted.

Maraya: It’s scary, and kind of exciting, to think we know ourselves and then find out there is still so much more waiting to be discovered. The process of ‘peeling that onion’ often brings tears to my eyes.

David: Yes, it can be difficult and emotional, but if we can do that work in relationship where both partners are conscious, where both the man and the woman are working to discover and dissolve their codependent gender patterns, it can be a wonderfully exciting and fulfilling process. I think one of the benefits of men and women being different is that we can challenge each other to grow out of the narrowness of our single-gender worldview. It is only ‘together’ that we have the whole story. Men and women have different energies and there is vital wisdom in the merging of those energies into an integrated whole. I’m convinced that we can learn to hold the tension of our differences without negative judgment, seek creative resolution and lead truly magnificent lives.

This dialogue was originally published in Synchronicity Magazine in August, 2005.