Friday, June 21, 2013

Embracing your Imperfection

Tango is a great laboratory for self-discovery.  
Dancing brings out my feelings and insights into myself like no other activity I have known.

Below I have a video clip for you that put some great insights together, a lecture called the "Space between self-esteem and self-compassion" by Dr. Kristin Neff.

From her insights, I realized that the best efforts of educators and therapists have created a world that has less compassion for self and others.  Each year measures of  "self-esteem" rise, but this has become another word for "over-rating oneself."  Perhaps in the misguided world of trying to being special, according to Dr. Neff, we have even created bullies--the need of some people to be better and "extra-special"-- when not merited.

In talking with others about this concept, a visual idea came to mind that you can apply to your dancing or any aspect of your life.  Dr. Neff talks about three elements being in balance:  self-kindness, our acknowledgement of our part in humanity's universal imperfection, and finally, self-esteem.  Please watch the video, but I think this graphic (below) will help you understand the profundity of her ideas:

First look at the bottom of the graph, which describes the bell curve of our shared humanity (that we are all imperfect to some degree).  Using dance as an example, being "too compassionate" with yourself will keep you from getting better, and feeling too much self-esteem keeps you from being present with your partner as you think too much about yourself and being great--especially in tango, a social and partner-centered dance.  The bell curve is a centered "fulcrum":  A mix of knowing your talents and being at ease with your limitations.  Each person is different, but that balance is essential for each of us.*

The top line, balancing on the top of humanity's shared imperfection, is the balancing rod of self-compassion and self-esteem.  If "the space between" is equidistant between self-compassion and self-esteem, the person will be balanced and happier about their expression of tango (or any other subject).

I work at being kind to myself.  I think these ideas (expanded below in the talk by Dr. Neff) have deep meaning for anyone who thinks they have pretty good self-esteem, but are also not very kind to themselves.  That's me.  Being kind to others seems much easier.  But, I realize now something is out of balance, and it is not just me.  I think many around me struggle with this same imbalance.  Perhaps, humanity's imbalance is even the center of our imperfection?

Maybe you didn't need to hear this message, but I did:

How is your dancing?   How is your "space between" self-compassion and self-esteem?  Starting with my first class in tango, I wished now that I just worked on being advanced in "being kind to oneself."  Then self-esteem can truly be because of merit.  Also, I must admit that my self-esteem may have been unmerited, especially as a young musician, as I secretly dealt with my self-doubts.  On a deeper philosophical and spiritual level, self-esteem is very much like the cheap-grace spiritual movement, such as the bully who believes he is going to heaven but is cruel to others.  Or on a more personal level, my own self-kindness in certain areas of my life, I now realize, has had to work overtime to cover over the sins of unmerited self-esteem.

What class are you in for being kind to yourself and others?  Advanced?  Intermediate?  I am glad to be a beginner.  That's better than not even knowing that I needed to start!

*The bizarre bell curve:  The unusual thing about the bell curve that I am proposing out of Dr Neff’s inspiration is that we usually do not think of being at the top of the bell curve as being desirable.  However, in the illustrated graph above, it is extremely important to aspire to the “summit” of the bell curve.  To demonstrate this concept, take the story of Buddha or Jesus or whomever you see as being an "enlightened one."  The story of Buddha is that he was protected as a prince from knowing the depravity of human existence.  Once he became aware, his shock and empathy took him to the bottom his psychological life.  Is not the "space between" a middle point where great people go to help others?  In Buddhism another term for this is “the Middle Way.”  The middle point is the place that suffering people go to receive help, and where privileged people go to help from their strengths.  Jesus’ story is one of a perfect man preaching among sinners and healing the sick.  He also touched the very bottom of human existence by being tortured for being seditious.  His teachings such as “love your enemies” still are seditious—even in the very Church he founded.  The Word becoming flesh is also a middle point.  It must be a great disappointment to inspired teachers that their followers seem to try to find the far right end of the bell curve and look back at humanity with their own hard-earned self-esteem.

Therapist: Thanks for sharing this with us. Your "beginners mind" helps me and I think it will help many.

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  1. Terpsi, thanks for "tuning in" while you are on your busy European tour. Your discussion about the "Alpha Male" recently was very insightful. What German blog was it that you mentioned without name? This blog about embracing imperfection can be wonderfully applied to the unbalanced alpha male. Of course it is possible to be balanced and be the best on the floor, but that is all too rare.

  2. I had to read a few posts to see that the word "therapist" referred to your profession but when I saw the title of your blog I thought only of Therapy: I have just pre-started learning tango, with a partner that I did not know before and I already see tango as therapy in more ways than one. The love of tango music, the sensualness of the dance, the pleasure of wearing beautiful high heel shoes are among the things that took the untalented dancer in me to get past the door of a tango school. It only took me one session to realise that I was going to learn a lot more than dancing tango.

  3. Hola "la Parisienne"... the term "therapist" is a problem because I do not always write my blog from my perspective as a "therapist." More importantly, the name is problematic because I refuse to use the title in my work because it puts the people I would help in a "sick role." Therapy is a word that is counter-productive to truly helping people. However the healing effects of the music and movements are far deeper than I can explain here. If you look at some of my entries on PTSD (the search engine is above on the top left), then you will get a sense of the power of tango and what many realize, as you said, is "more than [just] dancing...."


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