I’m a transplant from New York; NYC to be precise.
When I decided that California was indeed the place to be I had to consider that there would be a significant cultural shift for me and over the initial years it was often a real challenge.
Today though I’m thinking of a shift that provided me with a great change in perspective and something which I’ve passed on to a number of clients and friends alike.
Let me set the stage…
It was 1997, I had been living in CA for a while and starting to widen my circle of friends far beyond those I typically would have considered “compatible”. One person in particular, I’ll call him Jack, was pretty much my polar opposite. He was what years before would have been called a hippie but now I thought of as simply “a San Franciscan”. I know, there are many, many diverse San Franciscans but Jack seemed to embody San Francisco to my ex-NY sensibility.
Jack had long, long, long hair and a LOT of it – I mean we’re talking make a blanket and keep yourself warm volume of hair. He worked at a coop food market, meditated for hours each day, seemed to be in synch with the universe at every turn and I’m pretty sure if you looked up “mellow” in the dictionary it would have his picture right there.
Jack and I shared a common bond – we were both survivors of abuse and both intent on being thrivers instead. That was our one point of connection but as connections go, a pretty powerful one.
Jack, a number of other folks and I would often get into incredible, lively debates about…well, pretty much everything…and the subject of dancing came up one night.
While in NY I had been an avid club-goer and was severely disappointed by the club scene in SF. Apparently, once you got past a certain age in SF you simply stopped going to dance clubs (or so it seemed as I was often among the oldest in the clubs I visited). As always, Jack had a different take from mine and suggested that I was going to the wrong places.
He suggested I try what is loosely referred to as “Dance Jam” or “Barefoot Boogie”. I of course referred to it as “hippie dancing”.
The places where these clubs operated were not clubs per se but actual dance studios. There was no alcohol (which suited me just fine), no smoking (also excellent), and no hype…hmmm…
No red velvet rope at the door?
No one saying “you and you, no, not you”?
No knock ’em dead wardrobe required?
Curiouser and curiouser…
Jack said to dress for comfort; it gets hot and you’ll be dancing a LOT.
Sounded good to me.
So I met Jack at what looked to be an old school in SF and was blown away by the visceral thrumming of the music and the diversity of the crowd – young and old, all dancing and when I say old, I mean old by pretty much anyone’s point of reference.
Everybody was into the music which wound its way from ethereal to mystical to funk and jazz to Caribbean and mash ups of primitive and house.
It was awesome except for one small detail – I couldn’t dance to it.
I was so used to the stylized disco and club scene I had left back East that this free form style felt inaccessible to me.
Jack was dancing before he even got through the door and effortlessly morphed along with the music or stayed as he was but still managed to be a part of it all. He drifted by and asked if I was enjoying myself. I said I just couldn’t dance to this stuff and he said, “sure you can; just relax” and drifted away. I told myself he was right and did what I could to sink into the music only to be completely self-conscious that of all these people I was apparently the only one who couldn’t dance. Duh.
Next time I saw Jack I said “Look, I just can’t make myself relax” to which he replied “that’s right!” and was gone again. We repeated that exchange in a couple of ways before it finally dawned on me what he was saying.
One doesn’t force or coerce or create relaxation, can’t be done. But one can allow it.
As soon as I stopped trying so damned hard, the music flowed through me and I remember feeling as if I was soaring on a warm updraft and held aloft effortlessly. I danced with an abandon and ease which felt so good, so right.
I think about that experience from time to time when I find myself breathing shallowly or holding my shoulders up around my ears. I stop worrying about whether I’m anxious or scared or angry and just allow myself to be in the moment as completely as possible.
Allow, not force, not direct, not instruct…just allow.
Sometimes I soar, sometimes I weep, sometimes I ache, sometimes I laugh.
Wherever I find myself, it’s genuine, it’s me, it’s this moment…and that is what allows it to be good.