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The Koi Milonga

I wish you could have come with me on my mellow trip to the Japanese Tea Gardens, Gentle Reader. I always learn something there. Friday was a perfect day, warm and soft. The tourists strolled in the sun and breezes stirred the leaves on the trees. The first cherry blossoms peeked out from their buds. It was the kind of day that redeems our city taxes.

I began with sencha and a fortune cooky at the tea house. My extremely “with me but on your own” fortune was, “trust others but keep your eyes open.” I believe everything I read in fortune cookies.

I meandered around the ponds, Japanese dolce far niente. A koi was burrowing his way between two stepping-stones. Not gonna work, I thought, but I liked the lazy wag of his tail. I stared as his excavation petered out and he went back to snacking and swimming. Look at how he barely moves, except as a reaction to his surroundings. Look at how he doesn't think about things. He's not thinking at all....

He was feeling. I could see every centimetre of his body feeling the water around him, every moment. I almost felt it myself, cool, the pulse of current casually shifting me here or there. Why did I go here or there? “I didn't really think about it,” my fish-brain said. As a fish, I was even less intellectual than as a cat. I was reactive, instinctive. I didn't think, “hmm, I see my buddies over there having a nibble, I think I'll join them,” I just went, without processing. I knew nothing and was a master of everything. Every piece of me was relaxed, all my movement came from my hara, I did nothing extra—and consequently, there was no “movement” at all, there was just an energetic and dynamic form of stillness. The same as in the trees and rocks around me. My cerebellum controlled my responses in a way my forebrain never could. When a boy splashed a coin into a pack of my fish-homeys, we had already leapt away before any kind of rational behaviour could have begun. Then we were back to total relaxation, drifting, swishing.


I belonged completely to my moment and my surroundings. I didn't know anything about what it was to be some other fish in some other pond. I was this koi, these ponds of these Japanese Tea Gardens were my home, and being in this water took up every gram of my conscience. There was no room for anything else.  That wave, that moss, that rock.

I swam through the open waters by myself. I clustered with my posse in a bunch. All of our energies were relaxed, present in the moment, and swishing around in extremely close proximity to one another. Snacks were available. Sometimes we bumped into each other, but it wasn't a big deal. We were all hanging out at our koi milonga, because that's what we did. That was what “being” was to us.


Sometimes I swam as half of a pair, and we responded in unison to the same impulses of current and moment, as if we had only one mind.


I finally forced myself to stop being a fish. As a woman, I walked through the gardens. “Can you walk through these gardens as a fish?” I asked myself-the-woman. As soon as I tried, I felt my walk taking on the qualities that we think of as “good tango.” My heart rate slowed down. My skin tingled with the currents of air brushing it. There were too many words in my request; I needed something simpler. “Be a fish,” I thought. I moved through space with only the barest forward intention, letting the moment pull me along. Again my thought was too complicated. “Fish,” I thought. I felt my spine decompressing and lengthening and my head floating up to the skies. In my last gasp of rational processing, I thought, “hey, this is exactly the head-trippy place of Alexander technique....” And then I thought no more. I was too busy drifting and feeling and being in the moment. My internal command had been reduced to, “Nnnnn.....”

Because I was so relaxed, I noticed everything as if it were happening slower than usual. As if the world around me were stoned. So this is how the fish react so instantly. It's not that they're remarkably smart. It's that they have eighty times as long to respond as I do, or at least, that's how it feels to them. Everything was larger, more pronounced. As a cat, the world was a sensory assault on my superdelicately tuned system. But as a fish, the same degree of sensory input was just business-as-usual. —I could almost taste the visual contrast of pink flowers spilling out of a turquoise jardinière. I could smell different breezes as plainly as the smell difference between an apple and a banana. I could hear with my fingers. Evidently fish are not very particular about ascribing specific sensations to specific stimuli or body parts. Fish just feel. It's all the same to them. And they never step heavily. Not because they try to avoid doing so, but because they don't try to do anything at all.


I didn't consciously try to be a fish at my next milonga. But I noticed that, suddenly, whoa! There was a whole person's worth of body and energy in contact with my upper half. As a cat, I had thought, “!” but as a fish, I thought, “ “. One thing's for sure: fish feel a bazillion times more than people do.


Being a Tango Beastie taught me to feel the leader with my back. Being a stray cat taught me to feel the floor with my feet. Being a koi taught me to feel the other half of my pareja with my front. And all of them taught me to feel with my whole body, and to perceive energy first and physical reality second.  I keep noticing more and more things. I wonder what I will notice next.