“... and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." T. S. Eliot
Two things happen when we get older. One is slowing down.
Slowing down is not necessarily such a bad thing. In fact, in this age of frenzied lifestyles, it could quite well be considered a desirable, albeit much denigrated attribute.
Some of this slowing down is of necessity, with bodies stiffening or energy failing. But another part of it is choice.
Slowing down creates more time for one to notice and value the little things: the things that we often overlook or take for granted. The critical stuff-of-life things, like the soothing sound of rain or the smell of lilacs or a robin serenading the sunset. Slowing down, taking time to smell the roses, is something to be treasured.
Something else changes as we get older. We value familiarity and sameness more than variety and change.
So the research tells us. My experience concurs. I would just as soon watch a slowly setting sunset as cascading fireworks, or listen to the birds in the backyard as go to a concert, or do a stay-at-home vacation as fly to another continent.
I don’t think this is inertia or becoming reclusive or not wanting to experience something new. I still have a very active mind and body and am forever wanting to learn.
I think it is about seeing increasing value in the common place and finding fascination in the subtle shifts in the world at my fingertips.
Paying attention and being aware mixes well with slowing down, which is why for an outing my wife and I prefer walking or cycling to driving. The faster one goes, the more one misses.
Remember walks with a child, hand in hand? (My wife and I have progressed to grand-children.)
It takes forever to get anywhere! Children are forever stopping to pick up a shiny stone or a twisted stick or to splash in a puddle. Everything is fresh and fascinating. We can’t rush them. We just have to slow down patiently and fret in silence about ever getting to our destination.
Maybe this is what is happening as we age. We are going back to that childhood fascination stage. The slower and simpler, the greater opportunity for enjoyment.
Slowing down allows us time and space to relish every little tasty morsel of life; to be attuned to every sensation; to extravagantly roll every moment around the inside of our mouth as if we are sampling an expensive wine.
My dancing too, has changed as I get older. By choice.
I am still spry enough to do most of the fancy footwork. But my interest in learning new steps is waning. As I age I slow down and turn my attention to the fundamental and familiar. My focus shifts from the intricate and new to exploring in depth the basic, essential elements that allow for connection.
I roll over my tongue the delicate sensations of every step; the closeness of the embrace; the contact; the points of shared balance. I languish in that delicate interplay between movement and stillness, action and pausing to wonder.
This is seemingly contrary to much of the philosophy of much of North American Tango. We squeeze as much fancy footwork into three minutes as possible. Not to complain. This is a lot of fun to watch and to dance, to be sure. And it does a lot for cardio and the ego and general sense of well-being.
But it also tramples on the softness, gentleness, and delicate sense of intimate connection.
Gabrielle Roth, international dance instructor, and author of Maps to Ecstasy and Sweat Your Prayers, teaches a three stage approach to dancing: awareness, attention, action. (Conveniently alliterated. Thank-you).
Awareness: Who is my dance partner and how do I feel about this: Excited? Tense? Bored? Tired?
Attention: How are we joining together? How does the embrace feel: Close? Distant? Welcoming? Cold? How is my partner’s frame, my frame?
Then finally, after all the calibrations, the adjustments, the call and response ...
Action: I risk moving. This is where the fancy stuff gets inserted. I say risk because movement jeopardizes that precious connection that we fashioned in awareness and stillness.
If I follow Gabrielle Roth’s directive, I will repeat those three stages throughout the dance. If I am aware, I will take moments throughout the dance to attend to all those little details about frame and balance and connection, make sure we are connected, and then move into action again.
Slowing down, becoming more aware and valuing familiarity inevitably pulls me deeper into the dance.
I am not always successful. Often I dance as if there is a quota of intricate maneuvers I have to squeeze in lest I fail to impress. (Is this about my partner or my ego? My fear of connection or aversion to boredom?)
Strangely enough, if I dance with awareness and attention, all these insecurities and egoistic preoccupations dissipate. Slowing down, keeping things simple, and paying attention to the fundamentals makes for very pleasurable and satisfying dancing indeed.
The same holds true when I let lose the hand of my dance partner for that of my grandchild.
When I move off the dance floor into the back lane and the world of sticks and stones and mud puddles, the slower, more attentive, more immersed in the moment I allow myself to be, without agenda or expectations, the more delightful and rewarding the experience.
Getting old is not a liability.
Not on the dance floor or in the muck-about world of a child. It pulls our focus into what is really important, what is to be valued and treasured. It brings a wisdom and sensitivity to life and love that comes only with age. It makes me a better companion, a better grandfather and a better dancer.
I hope the above pleases. Now your turn to make me happy. Comment on my blog, or send me an e-mail, or follow me on FaceBook or grab a copy of my book Trauma to Tango from Amazon ( paperback or e-book). Blessings.
Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.