The experience of being me is challenging sometimes.
Me, after my Aikido instructor complimented me on a specific technique: “I get that I got that, I just don’t know if I can do it like that again.”
Him: “Hopefully, you never will, because every attack and every partner will be different. Even if any of us [gestures around the room] attack at another point, it could be totally different, and you’d need to react differently.”
So, sure, there’s repetition and technique.
And there’s also knowing that, in this case (and perhaps many others), it’s not about being exact. It’s mainly about knowing how to respond appropriately — and recognizing that that may never look the same.
I heard this recently one of the owners of a local pagan shop/community center: “Magic is solving a problem without creating a new one.”
What is magic to you?
I wrote this a few weeks ago. It’s still relevant to my process, and a great reminder.
My Tai Chi and Aikido instructor said this to one of my classmates recently (paraphrased): “I’m kind of envious of the beginner space you’re in. I love being new at something. When I realized, at age 50, that I was basically good at everything I had been striving for, I decided to learn an instrument. I chose bagpipes. After four years, I still suck at it. And I still love it.”
Perhaps there is – or can be – a certain joy in beginning, in being new at something. Yes, it’s raw and vulnerable and full of mistakes. It’s also, for someone who loves learning, a chance to gain new knowledge, experiment, do something in a new way. My instructor practically beams when someone asks him about an inconsistency in his own form; it becomes a learning moment for him and also helps him be a better teacher.
As a recovering perfectionist, there is still part of me that wants to “get it right” in my recent pursuits, from Nia to Tai Chi and Aikido to proofreading legal transcripts. But perhaps the way to get there is through not getting it right, through stumbling, correcting, modifying. Maybe someday my form and movements will be more precise and closer to the original. But the only way to get there is to be new, to practice, to feel how repetition makes my muscles remember. To throw out concepts of good or bad, and learn so I can improve. And most of all, to enjoy how it feels when I begin to feel more at ease, and take that into my practice.
I remember taking Intro to Drawing in college. I went to a college with a block plan, which meant I took one class intensively for three and a half weeks. That meant my mornings were filled with instruction and demonstrations, and I spent my afternoons and evenings doing homework.
At some point in the middle of the course, as we were working on drawing boxes with dimensions, shading, and foreshortening, I began to feel stuck. I wasn’t the only one; the professor commented that many of us seemed stuck within the technique. We weren’t necessarily having fun. I know that I was focused on getting it “right,” and there wasn’t a lot of joy in it.
So my professor gave us a creative assignment, to draw whatever we liked, to draw without a subject, be abstract, whatever we needed to be. For me, it had the effect of shaking off the previous weight and allowing me learn the techniques while being a little less attached to the final result, and most of all, enjoying the process of working with the materials, such as ink and charcoal.
Sometimes, as I continue to deepen my practice of Nia and learn how to teach, I get caught in getting in wanting to be accurate, precise. I’ll get some feedback, I’ll think about it, I’ll take it into my movements. And maybe, as I practice, my movements will become more precise. But sometimes in this process, I lose the sense of pleasure in my movement. And since White Belt Principle #1 in Nia is the Joy of Movement, and Nia is something I genuinely enjoy, this feels problematic and counterproductive. During these times, I feel stuck in a similar way that I did in my college drawing class — in short, creatively stymied.
The other night, I went searching through emails from Nia Headquarters, trying to find a specific phrase that another teacher had referenced. Instead, I found this, a section from a newsletter written by Debbie Rosas, co-founder of Nia:
“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, know this – feeling overwhelmed comes from believing that you have to perform a certain way and at a certain time….Learning Nia has never been about performing. It is about connecting, relationships, joy, meaning, purpose, health, and well-being. And about saying what you sense and know. The result of doing Nia has always been the gift of self-healing and conditioning.
“I’m here to tell you: I don’t care if you miss the music cue or you cue between the three and the six. It is okay if you can’t do all the moves perfectly. It is okay if you can’t find the beat. What is not okay is if you deny what you know and don’t know. That keeps you down and stops you from getting where you want to go and be…”
I read this and felt relieved almost instantly. Yes, it’s important that I continue to learn and improve. It is absolutely essential that I continue to play, be creative, and enjoy what I do. Yesterday, I danced through a routine and focused only on finding and sharing what I sense. I gave myself permission to Free Dance through parts of it, too. Afterward, I felt both more grounded and more joyful. It was good reminder for myself that I don’t have to tackle a bunch of approaches at once; one or two at a time can be more than enough, and that it doesn’t necessarily have to look a certain way.
And some more encouragement for me: Today, I talked to a studio owner about teaching Nia there, and I’m planning to teach a series (likely in April!) to try it out. So here’s to taking steps towards what I want to do.