Perspectives on being a beginner

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.

Friday link roundup 4/7

50 things to say to you child instead of “How was your day?”

In this short film, kids describe their emotions.

How screen time may affect kids’ sensory processing abilities.

How having a transgender child changed this Texas mother’s perspective. Also talks about transgender children in schools, policies, bathrooms, and much more.

In case of emergency: A story (article and video clip) about the seed vault in remote northern Norway, full of seeds from plants from all over the world.

On a matriarchal tribe in southwest China.

In pursuit of a flat stomach? Why having a little belly fat is a good thing for women.

In light of the recent chemical attack in Syria, how chemical attacks impact children.

Recognizing my experience of depression in the pages of the DSM-V

A few weeks ago, my assignment for my Abnormal Psychology class – choosing a disorder and writing about it from a specific therapeutic perspective – gave me a reason to look through the DSM-V, the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I went to the local library, sat down with their reference copy, and flipped through the pages. I skimmed the criteria of different disorders, searching for one that might seem intriguing, but not too triggering or something that I have directly experienced.

Major Depressive Disorder did not meet my second requirement; nonetheless, I stopped skimming and read through the criteria. And as I read, I recognized that two and a half to three years ago, I met nearly every point of the criteria, line by line. Part of me suspected this, but I hadn’t looked it up, not even in my old copy of the DSM-IV that I’ve had for years. If the page had been a checklist, it would have been full of check marks.

On one hand, the realization was sobering: I was severely depressed. That’s scary and serious.

On the other hand, I can also say that it’s factual, it’s true, and that reading the criteria simply confirmed what I already knew. I had a depressive episode, the worst I’d ever had. I acknowledge that before I experienced that episode, I likely struggled with mild depression, or dysthymia, on and off for years, perhaps since I was a teenager.

Alternately, I can also look at it like this: I was severely depressed. I went back to my hometown. There, I got the help and support I needed. I don’t know if I can say that I am necessarily better off because of my depression, but the support I got helped me get to where I am today. I like and appreciate my life now.

There is also something validating in seeing what I experienced written in words on a page. It tells me that other people have experienced this, that people have researched it, that treatment continues to be looked at and further developed.

I do recognize that a diagnosis is primarily a measurement used for medical, prescriptive, and insurance reasons. It isn’t consistently a defining factor in my life; at this point, the main thing is that I take two pills each morning. I also keep better track of my moods and I regularly use skills to deal with challenging situations and emotions.

I remind myself that I don’t have to make too much meaning out of the pages of the DSM; it’s a reference manual used in certain contexts. I know that if I experience and recognize the symptoms of depression again, I am more equipped to deal with it. I am therefore less likely to experience another major depressive episode. And that’s what really matters to me.

Link roundup

I didn’t getting around to posting links yesterday. I did, however, go to an art/open mic-like event and sold some of my art and jewelry!

Now on to the links!

Obituaries of two inspiring women:  Shirley Childress, deaf rights activist, and camerawoman/photojournalist Margaret Moth (this one is from years ago, but still a stunning portrait).

Different types of exercise affect different parts of the brain.

One person’s therapy journey and three tips for finding a good therapist.

How several of the London Tube stops got their names.

Volcanoes have long been the subject of fascination in many different disciplines, from science to literature to art. A BBC reporter investigates why volcanoes are so compelling.

Friday link roundup 3/24

Dedication

Quote: To the girl who reads by flashlight/ who sees dragons in the clouds/ who feels most alive in worlds that never were/ who knows magic is real/who dreams…This is for you.  -Dedication from Hunted by Meagan Spooner

 

 

One woman’s journey from anorexia to body positivity.

A 19-year-old artist confronts stereotypes of black male teens through joyful photographs.

An exploration about the importance of of balance as a sense.

Is it more important to console children immediately, let them cry and express their emotions, or tell them to buck up? This article weighs in.

“One hundred years ago, people had a very different idea of what it means to be heterosexual. Understanding that shift in thinking can tell us a lot about fluid sexual identities today.” – From this fascinating article about heterosexuality.

Is there a high cost and disadvantage to having greater emotional intelligence and empathy?

Research shows that electing more women changes the way government works.

Breaking: the American Health Care Act, the bill that was intended to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, has just been withdrawn in the U.S. Congress.

 

Friday link roundup 3/17

How the color green became associated with St. Patrick’s Day.

A great post on self care strategies.

An “interim parent” — Meet someone who takes care of other people’s babies while they make huge parenting decisions.

Meals on Wheels, AmeriCorps, the list goes on. A list of 15 of the programs that the president’s 2018 budget would cut.

How the Oxford comma — or lack thereof — won a court case.

Pictures from the production of Ava DeVernay’s film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.

According to a recently released report, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than naturally-born U.S. American citizens.

Through the end of April in the Cochella Valley, artists have replaced billboards with photographs of the landscapes that they’re blocking.

Stepping through and past stuck-ness.

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.