Monday, 19 March 2018

Today's random thoughts, or maybe feelings

I listen to a lot of people, most of whom aren't at peace with themselves, and some of whom are incapable of making peace with themselves, or anyone else for that matter. You'd expect that, with the work I do, but I'm not talking about my work.

I had to go for personal counselling. That's an expectation of those of us who are training to do what I'm training to do. I talked mostly about how I see myself, and how I interact with others, and I'm still coming to terms with the implications of what came out in those sessions. Fate, the universe, or some higher power decided I would be a sensitive soul with a philosophical mind. Neither of those things make me the kind of guy that people seek out at parties.

I once said to a friend that I felt no one really understood.

The anniversary of my sister's death is coming up. It will be my birthday soon after that, and then my current course of study will come to an end. The last few years have left me with a sense of things not just being temporary, but ephemeral, uncertain and ever-changing.

I have to accept it all. I have to learn to accept myself. My experience of Zen tells me that it is not people, things or events that cause our suffering, but the meaning we attach to them. Well, maybe I have the bad habit of searching for meaning in everything.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Burning out

Towards the end of January, I was at a big dance event in Liverpool. At that event, I learned that things were being said about me behind my back. It doesn't matter what was said or by whom: what matters is that I'd usually cope with such news much better than I did. Before I even got there, though, I'd picked up a few people I knew through this hobby, and they had the misfortune of seeing me become disproportionately angry about the difficulty we were having with finding the venue.

It's important to note that there were many other things in my life which were causing me to feel stressed. This is not the place to discuss them, but let's say I wasn't at my best.

I'd won two weekend passes to the event in a raffle. As the woman I love wouldn't be in the country, and isn't a fan of partner dancing anyway, I'd had to ask someone to accompany me to the event. In the end, I chose to bring a friend who had been one of the few women in the room who hadn't suddenly changed her attitude towards me due to my good fortune. Obviously, I wanted the weekend to be good for her, but I was also aware that it would quite probably be the only one of these big dance congresses I would attend. I wanted it to be good for me too. When things started going wrong on the first evening, I started to go wrong too.

Going into the first full day at the congress, where I'd be taking part in some dance lessons, I decided to start with an optional stretching class. As is my habit, I arrived early, and for most of my time there, it was just me and the instructor. In effect, I was getting a private lesson. What was important about this time was that it left me feeling a lot calmer.

The following morning, I attended the stretching class again, before the dance lessons started. As on the first morning, I arrived earlier than others wishing to do the class. Again, I felt calm. When the instructor said, as I was leaving, that she would be conducting a yoga class that afternoon, I said I would be there.

The yoga class had already started when I arrived. Even so, I felt the same sense of calm come over me. I promised myself that I'd join a regular yoga class on my return home.

On the way home, I was driving with just one passenger: the friend I had chosen as the recipient of the other weekend pass for the event. As I was leaving, to drive the rest of my way home from where she lived, I gave her a hug, and I didn't want to let go. In truth, I didn't know if or when I'd see her again. At that moment, I didn't know if or when I'd carry on dancing. Actually, I was pretty sure that I wanted to take a break.

I didn't realise it at the time, but I'd burned out. Going there, I didn't know what to expect. Arriving there, I realised there were more people than I had expected to be present. The hotel room wasn't great, to be honest, but it started to feel like sanctuary. There were times when I got to spend a little time with a good friend, and that was good too. Actually, it was great.

Some time ago, I got to spend some time with another friend I knew through dancing. A class ended early, due to circumstances beyond anyone's control and, as I drove her home, she told me she hadn't eaten before she came out for the evening. It didn't matter that we ended up in a fast food outlet, or that the wind kept blowing the door open, meaning we were hit by frequent blasts of cold air. What mattered was that there were few customers, it was relatively quiet, and we talked so much that it took us much longer to eat our food than it should have.

It's commonly thought that introverts like to be alone. I certainly prefer that scenario to the company of a lot of people. The sweet spot, however, is spending time with someone with whom I feel I truly connect. Yoga, meditation, and simply spending time in a quiet environment play their part too. All of these things help me to avoid burning out.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

One Sunday

A few weeks ago, on a Sunday, I drove East along the A55 with the intention of stopping at one of the service stops. Once there, I went into a branch of a well-known coffee shop, and ordered a cinnamon swirl and a hot chocolate. After a few bites of the pastry, I thought that I'd take a photograph, to remind me of something important.

I realised that, the last time I had been there, I'd had company. On that occasion, the stop had punctuated a longer journey: a journey that had been, for me, all about spending time with a dear friend. As the memory came to me, I felt conflicting emotions.

Being there was an example of self-care, and I'd taken the photograph to remind me of the importance of this. These service stops, to me, feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the world: they are visited by various people coming from here and there, going to here or there, and it's unlikely that anyone will know or care who I am. Somehow, that's important to me.

Still, the memory of being there with a friend, having one person I knew with me, and both of us being unknown to everyone else there, struck me. On one hand, I liked the solitude, the relative peace and quiet. A part of me wished that someone was sat at the table with me, though: someone I felt that connection with.

I finished the pastry and the hot chocolate, and left. I'd learned something about self-care. I'd learned that, even for an introvert, it's not always about time spent alone. Sometimes, it's about spending time with the people who make you feel that you're not alone.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Getting into Kizomba

I struggled with Kizomba. I'd already been learning Cuban Salsa and Bachata for a while when I went to that first Kizomba class. Most of us there were Salsa dancers, and were told that we were learning a dance that was decidedly African, rather than Latin, so there would be marked differences.

Something still felt off. The first thing I had to get over was close physical contact with people I either didn't know very well, or that I'd come to think of as friends. That's still not easy for me. At least a part of my difficulty with Kizomba is nervousness. For some reason, I just wasn't connecting with the dance. Occasionally, a song would be played which was somehow easier for me, but I didn't understand why that would be.

When I dance, I try to picture where the dance comes from, and where it would be danced. With Cuban Salsa, or Bachata, I may be in a bar or a club in the North of England or Wales, but I mentally place myself in a club in Cuba or the Dominican Republic, or maybe I put myself there emotionally. I've never been to these places, but the feeling of being there is what's important. I don't know if that makes sense to anyone, but at least it makes sense to me.

I have difficulty remembering sequences of movement, and I'm not the most technically gifted dancer, but I try to connect with the feeling of the dance.

I couldn't place Kizomba. I bought a few compilation albums, to try to get a sense of what the music was saying to me, but it didn't seem to match up with the dance. Then, I started listening to an internet radio station which plays this kind of music.

A lot of what I heard was similar to what I'd heard before, and this placed Kizomba in a city at night, which didn't feel right to me. Some of the music, though, had quite a different feel.

I didn't really know the difference between Kizomba, Tarraxinha and Semba at the time. I assumed that what I was hearing was another style of music, but I tried dancing the basic Kizomba I knew to it. This was where I finally connected with the dance. The music gave me the feeling of dancing in the open air, in a town at the edge of a desert, as the sun was going down. Is that Kizomba? I honestly don't know, but the imagery gave me a feeling that I transmitted into the movements, and it felt right to me.

A video by a highly respected Kizomba instructor stated that most of what we hear as Kizomba music in this part of the world is actually Ghetto Zouk. I'll admit that a smile came to my face when I heard that. There had been a valid reason for me not being able to connect the music with the dance.

I'm not for one minute saying that there's anything wrong with Ghetto Zouk. It's likely that, if I danced that style, I'd connect with the music in that way. It's also likely to be the style of music I have to dance to in Kizomba rooms, but that's okay. I know how Kizomba should feel now, even though I'm still not that competent, and I still get nervous about the close contact.

What bothers me is that I bought Kizomba compilations which actually contain little or no Kizomba music. To me, that feels disrespectful to the genre, and a little disingenuous of the people producing the compilations. Getting my hands on real Kizomba music seems to be difficult.

Saturday, 24 February 2018


I got a pleasant surprise today. Reading the blog of a close friend, I realised that she had mentioned me in one of her posts. The reason it affected me was that I hold the belief that no one really thinks of me when I'm not there, and learning that someone had - someone I hold in high esteem - felt good.

What was more surprising was that she credited me with helping her, in some way, through a difficult time. The truth is, I was going through a difficult time myself, so I'd doubted whether I had been much help to her. To hear that I was is great.

Even though it's now evening, and it's dark outside, my day feels a little brighter.

Friday, 16 February 2018


Everything that's going on right now has brought me to the point where my emotional health has hit the floor again. I think about the things I've said, and the way I've been behaving lately, and I know that I'm heading for trouble.

The fact that I don't know how to explain it, or what to say, tells me that this is my old friend burnout, and I probably need to limit my contact with people for a while. I've been giving too much of myself, and it needs to stop, now.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Incomplete thoughts; suppressed feelings

In psychodynamic therapy, there's the concept of splitting, or seeing things in terms of absolutes. It most often presents as a tendency to see others, and ourselves, as either wholly good or wholly bad. When we examine this, there may be a need for us to see ourselves as wholly good, because experience has taught us that being seen as bad comes with consequences. As a result, we might find ourselves projecting those things we find unacceptable in our own character onto others, and becoming irritated by some of the things we see in them but to which we are blind within ourselves.

A more holistic approach would be to recognise that people are capable of being both good and bad at the same time. We are not without either vice or virtue, and the same can be said of others. Also, our perception of what is good and bad has been given to us, at least in part through values we have inherited from parents and others who have had a marked effect of our view of the world, and in many ways will be wholly ours, and ours alone.

Ideally, we will learn to accept our perceived shortcomings, and those we perceive in others. It will quite possibly be uncomfortable for us, but all lasting change has that same quality.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone. During a recent car journey with a friend, I talked about the faults I found in a number of other people, and judged them to be bad. As I'm trained to be non-judgemental, and practise this quality on a regular basis in my work, it seems surprising that I'd act in such a way. The worst part of it, for me, was that I knew my friend was feeling the need to withdraw from the company of others for a while, and my negativity probably wouldn't have helped matters. Actually, I'm concerned that I may have made matters worse.

Within minutes of saying goodbye to my friend, and being alone with my thoughts, I realised how judgemental I had been. Then, I considered that I hadn't been merely judgemental: I'd been downright nasty. I felt bad, and my mood dipped. I felt that I was a terrible friend, and a terrible person. As much as I valued her as a friend, she'd be better off without me. The downward spiral continued, and I ended up thinking that I should isolate myself from others, because I was clearly a terrible human being.

There were mitigating factors, but those aren't for exploration here. The important thing is that I was seeing some people as wholly bad, and voiced this to someone who probably didn't really need to hear it. I then felt guilty for doing this, and immediately labelled myself as a terrible person. I blocked out all the good that I may have done, and focused instead on the feeling that I was bad, wholly bad, with no redeeming qualities.

Again, there were mitigating factors. Again, I'm going to put them to one side, because identifying them will get in the way of what was going on for me in the moment. I went on the attack. That's the truth of the matter. Why did I do that? It was because of a general feeling that I had come under attack myself. In my own way, I was trying to voice this to a friend who meant a lot to me, but rather than owning my feelings, and identifying the hurt I felt, I sought to highlight how the actions of others had led to me feeling that way.

In reality, my friend already knew what had been happening. I didn't need to add any more detail. I didn't need to go on the attack. I still feel that I let myself down there. What really mattered, and what I should have been open about with my friend, was how I was feeling about it all. It was just easier to focus on others.

I have to accept that those I see as my enemies may have their good points, which I'm not able to see. Likewise, I may be blind to some of the qualities my friends possess which are not so good. It seems like a very personal manifestation of a kind of confirmation bias (weeding out things which contradict our beliefs, in favour of those that do).

So, the question is not what happened, but how I feel about it. I feel that other people have let me down, whether it is actually true or not. I own that as my feeling, rather than an accurate summation of what has occurred (it might be, but that is another matter). I feel hurt by the actions of others. Again, I have to recognise blaming, and shift to owning my feelings instead. So, I feel let down and hurt. I also feel alone. Strange then, that my reaction to seeing myself as inherently bad was the thought of further isolating myself. Is there, behind it all, a feeling that I deserve to be alone? Is seeing myself as bad a justification, or rationalisation, of feeling alone? Is justifying my loneliness a reaction against, or rejection of, an underlying notion that the loneliness is fundamentally unjust?

Splitting is a defence mechanism: it is a defence against exploring unconscious processes which may cause us pain. I believe I've given a good example of this. In my case, I concentrated on the behaviour of others, and used this focus to actively avoid exploring what I was feeling.

What is causing me the greatest pain, right now, is the belief that I have to be wholly good and, just as importantly, the belief that my idea of what is good is wholly accurate. As hard as it is, I have to let these things go, and concentrate on accepting the parts of myself that I currently find unacceptable.