Friday, 28 November 2014

How we thought we would feel (But didn't)

I love this picture. I don't know where it originated and if the original owner sees it and objects, I will remove it. But if that should be the case, may I say that it is a beautiful picture and it, and pictures like it have inspired me to do undertake some wonderful explorations into dance.

Oddly, however, a question arises in my mind to vex me. Allow me to elaborate:
When I saw pictures like this in the past, obviously my first thought was "Wow! That is an amazing thing to do! I bet those people people feel really cool doing that!" And I suppose my innate empathy attempted to inform me of perhaps what they actually were feeling. Looking at that picture, I supposed they would be feeling some kind of moment of artistic and interpersonal stillness and connection, coupled with a general sense of artistry and accomplishment. Inside me, I had some projection of their supposed feelings. And I wanted, on some level, to be those people.

Well, after a few years of Argentine Tango and some diligent practice, I can say with a level of confidence that I can perform a reasonable approximation of what the picture depicts, along with a lot of other almost-cool stuff.
And yet, when doing that, it doesn't feel like how I expected it to feel. It feels less cool, less exotic, more enacted if you like. Oh, the stillness and artistry is there (at least, it feels like it from the inside. An informed observer may disagree, and possibly rightly so). But the "coolness" is somehow not.

I don't say this to discourage anyone from dancing as a passtime, or as a disincentive to activity in general; only to illustrate that when we look at someone doing something we admire, we often think "That must feel...!" (add in your relevant positive adjective here)
But when we find ourselves in that position, somehow, it doesn't feel like we expected it to.

Are we so bad at anticipating our feelings?

A more childlike example: When I was about seven, my mother took me on a bus to Bristol. Two young lads in their teens got on and fished in their pockets for change to pay the conductor. Observing this, I felt that to have uncounted, unspecified amounts of loose change languishing in one's pocket must feel so grown up and louche. I longed to be in a position to rummage about in search of payment in a pocketful of coins. The casual way in which money could be kept in your trousers in unknown quantities instead of in a money box, carefully counted, or seemingly unreachably in a post-office account, seemed unbelievable cool. I wanted to have adequate money that I could jingle a pocketful of change without knowing exactly how much was in there or even really caring, and in a laid-back way, fling a few coppers and shillings over to pay for something with barely a thought. The thought fascinated me. I still remember how I thought this would feel.
Right now, I have change in my pocket. I paid for my lunch with a quantity of it and I couldn't tell you how much is in there now. A few quid perhaps. But gathering a handful of 20p and 50p pieces from the depths of my jeans pocket and handing it over absent-mindedly did not make me feel anything really, except perhaps grateful that I had enough to pay for my soup. It did not feel as my childlike mind thought it would when seeing these lads pay for their bus fare. It felt completely different.

Things rarely feel like you expect. Would winning the lottery similarly disappoint? Would a defined limit on my lifespan delivered from an authoritative doctor be less devastating then we think?(Actually, I can answer that one: Being faced with what I believed at the time to be my imminent death did not feel like I had anticipated at all. There was no fear. Only sadness at leaving people I loved and not doing things I had hoped I would. Like learning Tango and going to Istanbul, for instance).

I think perhaps this might lend a cautionary note to our endeavours: Not to strive for a particular experience, but to approach it, accepting that we probably should be open to accept whatever it delivers us without disappointment or surprise. Or conversely, not to fear something because of how we expect it to affect us. Your prediction will undoubtedly be incorrect.

Or perhaps it is just me. Perhaps the couple in the picture did feel as good as they looked and went home feeling utterly satisfied that they had achieved a moment of connection as profound as it was photogenic. Perhaps when I am a better dancer, I too will feel as cool as they did. We'll wait and see, shall we?

Friday, 14 November 2014

All adventures are really on the inside

There is a place where pinnacles of rock jut out of the sea, guarded by sea birds and hung with vines of ivy. Jagged and green-topped, they can only be viewed from a boat. Once past the breakwater, and into open sea, it feels as if you are now at the mercy of fickle Poseidon. With a whim, he could fling you to injury or death on the rocks. Or merely capsize you with a wave of his hand to drown or drift off as your body heat warms the mass of the sea imperceptibly. When this looks likely, it is best not to taunt him.

On days when the swell is small and playful, one can paddle out and circumnavigate these tiny islands where sea birds, alarmed by the proximity of this unexpected visitor, rush to the defence of their homes with well-aimed  regurgitations of fish. Best not to approach too close then perhaps if one is not to go home smelling like anchovy paste.
But so beautiful are these rocks that a kind of enchantment takes over and bobbing erratically, it is hard not to sit, string at the strata and tenacious vegetation in wonder. The roll of the kayak and the instinctive response of my hips lend a dreamy feel to the place. It is difficult not to feel like an explorer in some strange and exotic land, gazing upon some new habitat where tiny sharp-toothed dinosaurs regard one boldly from atop precarious crags. But it is "only" Devon, a mere two hour's drive from home.

But this misses the point: What kindles the sense of awe and mystery is not the rugged geology or environment of this rocky outcrop. No, it is the feeling inside that resonates - a feeling that I find is always there waiting to alight upon some place or idea and imbue it with a sense of adventure. it looks constantly for new and interesting perspectives, perhaps on the mundane, or in this case, on the difficult to reach and beautiful.

This feeling is one not reserved for places or situations. It prompts internal exploration too. The places and experiences we can imagine can be similarly exciting. Oh, we don't need to venture to inaccessible and dangerous places. No, we can explore the limits of our minds too. There is plenty in there to play with and examine.

This brain works differently to my old one. Not profoundly, but more like when you have had an operating system upgrade and the buttons and widgets are in diferent places to where they were before. And perhaps there are new buttons and some old, obsolete ones have gone.
I don't really know what it is capable of yet. I am still learning, exploring. What has become clear to me though is that there are places and capabilities we tend to overlook due to our focus on our external search for stimulating experiences.

In the last two years, I have rebuilt the broken parts and improved upon that which was here previously. To do this, one needs to approach capability with an open-minded curiosity and no self-reproach or timidity. I have learned to fairly adequately dance Argentine Tango, I have improved my memory immeasurably by exploration of memory techniques such as method of loci. The unicycle I bought I confess still defeats me but I will master it. And with each of the things I have examined, learned and assimilated, I have been delighted to observe the learning process in terms of the action of the neural machinery rebuilding itself into new configurations.

This is exciting. The possibilities, given a finite lifespan are essentially endless. Every day is now an adventure of what new faculties can be discovered and played with. There are languages that can be learned, dance steps to master, skills such as accuracy in woodwork, cooking, brewing. New abilities can be developed and old ones improved dramatically with a bit of application.

This brings joy.

So, don't be down! The world is full of interesting passtimes and activities. Go on youtube and learn how to juggle, get a book on how to improve your memory, dance in your socks in the kitchen and learn Charleston steps. All this is available to you, assuming a standard set of human specifications.

Or, if you would rather, go to the coast and, weather permitting, get in a small boat and explore a beach you can only reach via the sea.

But live! Use your mind and you body and all they offer to live a richer life, as much as your circumstances permit.
Which will be more than you imagined, I promise you.