Song and Dance
I’ve spent my whole life wondering why things happen the way they do. So far, my life has been pretty chaotic (how about you?), and only recently have I slowed myself down enough to take a closer look. Middle age will do that for you.
I am inspired by the view that in order to keep an open heart like a Buddha, we must embrace the ten thousand joys and sorrows of life. The Middle Way helps us navigate through all the highs and lows, common—in endless creative detail, to the human experience. The opportunities available to us—both good and bad—are unlimited.
And I’m starting to notice the direct relationship between my internal world and my external experience. Trust me, taking responsibility for my life was the last thing I wanted to do! I just didn’t know it. It is clear to me now that we dance with others throughout our lives who mirror our own inner dialogues, each reflecting another aspect of our many facets of consciousness. All my many facets—and yours too—are hiding in plain sight in our everyday relationships.
Compassion – the Great Elixir of Life
To have compassion means to walk in step with, side by side. Compassion caries the purity of empathy, an honoring of experience just as it is. This can be difficult. It is hard to see clearly though a wounded heart. Things get distorted and can be confusing. The common tactics of judgment or pity will always miss the mark. Yet becoming conscious is still possible.
I say dance because we must remember to have compassion for ourselves and others as we all too frequently, perfectly imperfectly, step on each others toes along the way. For me, compassion is a necessary precursor to joy. And the joy comes from a deep reverence for the mystery that we are here at all.
The Cosmic Set Up
I’ve come to believe that we can spend our whole lives working out the details of our childhood. Harville Hendrix explains in Getting the Love You Want that we are unconsciously attracted to intimate partners who have both the positive and negative characteristics of our primary caregivers in order to heal our childhood wounds. The beliefs we form about ourselves as young children are black and white and often painfully pushed underground. And these beliefs tend to inform all of our relationships in myriad ways.
Depending on the details of your particular story, at some point you come to realize that life is messy. Bad things do happen to good people. But there is no point of power while remaining a victim. Becoming conscious is a rocky road. It’s a difficult dance. And it just might be why you are here.
Four Key Relationships
As we move across the stage of life, we partake in many different types of dancing. Through these relationships we can see ourselves as active participants in the web of life.
S – Step one: our dance with ourselves
Humans are the only creature on the planet with the capacity for self-reflection. We can observe ourselves and judge ourselves, just as others can and do. The voice of the inner critic is firmly entrenched at an early age and repeatedly exacerbated throughout culture and the media.
Learning to love ourselves can take a life time! And whether we are conscious of it or not, how we feel about ourselves influences all our other relationships.Yes its complicated but only when you start to see how you perpetuate the old familiar dance can you create a new one. In the wise words of Pink, “change the voices in your head, make them like you instead.”
O – Step two: our dance with others
We learn to dance with others first through our parents and larger family of origin, and move over time into larger circles of influence through our teachers, community, culture, friendships and lovers. Our beliefs about ourselves determine where we fit in the scheme of things. We internalize others’ (often unconscious) attitudes toward gender and race and class and what it means to be right or wrong. The messages are relentless but only through relationship can the self be formed.
N – Step three: our dance with nature, animals, and the planet
Whether we see ourselves as stewards or masters, what we value most determines the quality of this relationship. Believing that the rest of the world is here simply to serve the needs of mankind will yield a different outcome than believing every living thing on God’s green earth should be respected. As our only home, the welfare of our planet is critical to our survival.
G – Step four: our dance with God, religion, the universe, meaning of life
No matter our religious affiliation, we dance with certain beliefs that inform our lives. Religion itself has had a huge impact on civilized (and not so civilized) society. It is a powerful force that can both bring us together and tear us apart. Deeper still there rests the classic philosophical questions, who am I and why am I here. The mystery of life itself is vast and we all wrestle with meaning in a way to make it more manageable. To believe that life is benevolent yields a vastly different experience than not.
What is Your SONG?
Each of these relationships makes you uniquely who you are. And yet most likely, how you are in any one dance is how you are in every dance. How much love and respect you have for yourself will inform how much love and respect you have for others—your partner, your children, your neighbor, your planet.
Everything is on a continuum—this is not black and white. It is quite simple but never easy. We move though the stages of our lives, sometimes gracefully, sometimes not, bumping into things here and there, sometimes over and over again. We do our best—what we can with what we’ve got—and still sometimes our best is not very good. And yet, for the most part we persevere.
Through what scientists call The Observer Effect—we can see that we participate in the manipulation of reality simply through the process of observation. In other words, life as we see it does not exist outside ourselves. Life does not happen to us but through us. And we’re all in it together.
If you’re still with me, you can see, how the concept of projection in psychology makes perfect sense. We project onto others what we can’t yet see in ourselves. And what we notice in others has more to do with us than them. Our beliefs, our mood, our health, and our history all play a part. Becoming conscious allows you to claim your own song in the dance of life.