“Just look at how far you’ve come,” Jorge Torres said to me, impressing each syllable into my heart as one would the words, “look after my baby when I’m gone.” He said those words with his whole being. He needed me to do this. He spoke as a man can only speak after he has already lived a heap of living and boiled existence down to its ineluctable essentials. I know hard-earned wisdom when I hear it.
“Yes Sir, Mr. Jorge Torres, Sir,” I thought. Jorge is my Yoda. Tango is merely the vessel that holds his Yodatasticness. If ever anyone knew how to use the Force, it is he, and my hat is permanently off to him with the most profound of admiration and humble respect. I've only had a few lessons with him but he almost puts himself out of a job because each lesson is him handing me the molten core of the universe in its entirety. If I just grok that, I will achieve enlightenment, and float off to Nirvana on a golden lotus. Four years had passed since my first lesson with him, and in some ways every thing I had done with my life inbetween then and now was “work on that lesson.” I had tried to grab him over the years but had failed until now. It just wasn't time. But when the student is ready the teacher appears. And he remembered me and what we had worked on, seemingly as clearly as I did. I suppose since our histories are written in our cells, one who reads bodies like books could also read the history there for any mind-slipping reminders.
I struggled valiantly to look at how far I had come. I am a compulsive Good Student and have to win at whatever the assignment is. But I could not see. I felt the same as the first day I walked into N the Horrible's Beginner Class (which was full of a bunch of counterproductive bullshit...but I didn't know that at the time). I felt the same as I had in my first lesson with Yoda. Here's what had happened in the interim: fancy shoes, thousands of dollars of private lessons, endless hours of solitary practice, ill-starred love affairs, divorce, too much time wasted trying to earn money at things I had no interest in or ability for, too many bitchy judgmental thoughts about other people, loads of all kinds of somatic physical and energetic training, debilitating injuries, poverty, moments of discovery, grief, joy fundamental issues still not changing, travelling all over the world in search of people who would help me become a better dancer, busting my ass, philosophical growth, an aborted attempt at grad school to make other people happy, artistic discovery, teaching, and the mysterious apparent-reverse-development of many of the dancers around me.
So maybe I had come a long way, baby.
But I couldn't feel it.
Yoda's lessons plant themselves like seeds and grow into plants over time. And this one was no different. It just had to wait for the right water to make it bloom.
Fast forward to Now.
I had been struggling with Up, a missing link in my dance. I knew I wasn't going to get any farther until I could Up. But I am not by nature an Upper. I am by nature a lazyass and I like to do what feels good, not what feels virtuous. For me, Down felt good. And easy. And comfortable. Hey man, I've been Downing my whole life, why should I Up just because you say so? Up was hard work. I'm so not cool with hard work, and will do anything to avoid it. Worst of all, Up was hard work with no obvious somatic payoff. It wasn't like I Upped and then had an orgasm. Rather, I yelled at myself to Up and then I...worked hard at Upping. Period. How was this fun or enjoyable?
I never understand anything until I feel it, and like many animals, I prefer to avoid bad feelings and seek out good ones. So, in my mind, Up wasabout self-shaming and inadequacy and having to do what other people told me to do. Because the only ways I had yet found to Up included mental self-flagellation. Not good enough the way you are (said my counterproductive inner demons)! Other people who are better than you are telling you to Up, so you had better do it! Because they know what they're talking about, and since you have to ask them, this indicates that you don't know what you're talking about! Since they can feel it and you can't, they're artistically, philosophically, and morally superior to you, so get with the program, you shameful Downer!
Beating myself up because I couldn't feel a sustainable Up trigger did not help me find the trigger faster.
I am a slow fast study. Once I feel the right feeling, I can learn something in an instant, and then it's mine and I can access it however I want and internalize it without needing any trigger. But finding the right trigger to open the door for the first time can take...years.
Plenty of people had tried.
“Pretend that you have alert animal ears,” said SG.
“Feel that you're falling up,” said ML.
“You're dancing with the giant behind me,” said GR.
“You have a vector going all the way through you, up in this direction and down in this direction,” said NG (sorry for the paraphrasing, the words may have been different but that's what I got out of it).
“Your head goes up to the ceiling from this point here,” said DR and HP.
“Your head is floating up into the sky like a balloon,” said ES.
“You're a marionette and everything is hanging down from a central string that is pulling you up,” said DA.
“You are a proud queen, Queen Jordana,” said SS and PI.
“Think Up! The spine does not want to compress down,” said TS.
Those are just the examples I can think of in the first five seconds. Each one is totally correct. Go ahead and do them, because they're all the right thing to do. (Although I don't personally groove with GR's description of the feeling—but it might work for you.)
I tried to do them and just got mad at myself and felt like a troglodyte who couldn't stand Up. For some reason, other people telling me to stand like a proud queen, even people I respected as artists and liked very much as human beings, made me feel like an embarrassed impostor who had no business standing like a proud queen.
In retrospect, if I had listened more closely to a different piece of advice (that has also come from about a thousand people), I could have solved this conundrum faster.
It's this: “up on the inside, down on the outside.”
We've all heard it a thousand times, in various guises. “Mula banda,” “relax your skin,” “fountain of water shooting up inside and cascading down outside,” “ping pong of energy up from the ground inside and relax the energy down into the ground on the outside,” “expand your spine on the inside and I don't care what you do on the outside,” and so on. If you're anything like me...you may have occasionally beaten yourself up when you caught yourself not heeding the advice. Then, after feeling bad about yourself, you tell yourself that if you just work harder, forever, and remember everything all the time, like a Little Miss Perfect, then everything will be fine.
Here's the thing about that approach. It doesn't work.
Up does not come from grinding yourself Down psychologically.
Lessons are awesome but they can also be counterproductive. Because they teach us that we don't know. That other people know (which clearly makes them superior to us somehow.) That we have to seek answers outside ourselves instead of inside ourselves. That we are somehow insufficient as we are and have to change instead of recognizing what already Is. Lessons have to be part of a balanced life diet, because the most important lessons are the ones we teach ourselves. We have to counteract the Student tendency of assuming that we don't know with a vital Philosopher trust that we do.
We already know a million times more than we think we know; we are storehouses of information that rival the library of Alexandria, each one of us holds endless trilobytes of data. All we have to do is tap into it.
I was walking down the sidewalk, miserably trying to Up again today. Again it was only producing resentment in me. “I hate Up! I hate having to do what other people tell me to do! This doesn't feel good!” And then I just sort of heard Yoda's voice in my head.
“Think of how far you've come.”
And suddenly I saw it all. From a totally new perspective.
“That's right, motherfucker,” I thought, as my ears automatically perked up like those of an alert animal, my neck got longer, the back line of my body decompressed, my spine lengthened, my connection with the ground deepened, and my head sailed through the sky like a fucking helium balloon without me commanding myself to do any of these things. I suddenly saw what Yoda would have seen if he had been following me around this whole time. I saw with his compassion, his love, and his pride. And somehow they were my own, even though the lens of love was on me, instead of its much more comfortable usual focus on others. I saw someone incredibly brave and true to her code, who had grown so much, and evolved so much, and had become so much more in harmony with her inside self…and, as a nice tangential side effect, had also become a totally bitchin’ dancer.
Yoda had also told me something else. “Let go of the bad things people have said to you.” Psychic, he.
Ok...I'm still human, and no saint. I thought of all the people who had done me wrong, who had diminished me, who had successfully made me feel horrible about myself, who had impeded my growth, and who had hurt my feelings. I thought of the parade of porteños who had put themselves up as “too good” to be seen dancing with me in public, some of whom I had been sleeping with at the time that they expressed this uncharitable sentiment. I thought of all of them and saw my journey up to this point in this new Yodagroovy way and thought, “I have come a long way. Bitches. And you guys are still stuck more or less where I left you. Burnt out and rotting away in your sad, pathetic, self-limiting little worlds of denial, condemnation, and fear. I, however, am just beginning, and the world is my oyster.”
“I have come so far.” I thought of my beautiful journey. For perhaps the first time in my life I allowed myself to acknowledge, to steal a line from Marvin and Hamlisch, what I did for love. I had given my whole life to a mission and it had helped me metamorphose into a beautiful shining butterfly. A butterfly with a vengeful side and a Scorpio ascendant, but still, a beautiful butterfly. And not one of those assholes could ever take that away from me.
Up like nobody's business, with no muscular effort at all.
Because Up has to come from the inside. Now go find your own Up. Love it. Make it yours.