This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a place I'd wanted to for many years - Colorado! My partner, Sonya, and I attended the Colorado Star Ball and competed there placing 5th in the Rising Star division and 5th in the Open division. We were super thrilled to attend such a well organized and fun event, and the beautiful Westminster scenery was a great relief from the 8000 degree heat of our sunny Phoenix home. Overall it was a great experience that we both will look forward to again, and for myself I can say that my trip to the Rockies gave me plenty of things to reflect on that were, as usual, great reminders.
Probably the most immediately noticeable thing in Colorado was my lack of red blood cells. When Sonya and I got to the practice room to rehearse and "test the air" - in the end it ended up testing us instead. You would think that someone who practices professionally about 10 hours a week, teaches dance full-time and hits the gym another 3 times a week is in alright shape, no? Guess again! Colorado says otherwise, and after our first cha-cha with full speed music both Sonya and I scurried to the free portable oxygen tanks they handed out to everyone frantically trying to get air back in our bodies.
It was going to be the hardest round in history, we thought.
Thankfully, the organizers knew we weren't the only newbies hitting the higher altitude and they allowed the professional events to alternate dance by dance (one style would do a dance and then the other, giving everyone a break). We were safe from getting our asses handed to us by the Colorado air, but what it reminded me was the importance of breathing.
How often are we aware of our breath? And yet how integral it is to every emotional state of the body. Every state has an accompanying breath, and truly if you want to change your state one of the most effective tools is to simply change your breathing through awareness.
In dancing, when we get our steps down, we add many "layers" - styling, counts, dynamics, spotting, and so on. Breathing is another layer, connecting the breath to ourselves, our partners, our movements - the breath is integral to relaxation, being present, connecting and so many vital aspects of the experience. Ironically, for all of its importance it is one of the first things to go (or rather, awareness of it) when we get thrown in the hustle and bustle of "getting it done" - there's just so much to do in ballroom dancing that sometimes we forget to just simply relax, and breathe.
And you could say that about life, couldn't you?
Life is never short on things to do, or say, the "choreography" of your days and weeks - but how often do you take time during that choreography to relax, breathe, enjoy the steps, connect to yourself, to your "partners" and so on. Breathing is such a vital aspect of life in many more ways than the obvious connection, and yet we neglect its value when those aspects start to fail. We like to have complicated explanations for behavior or why things happened, for our problems, for others' attitude. We like to think that meds may be the answer or some other external factor - yet the first remedy to hit is literally right under our nose.
The breath is special, it is an amazingly simple tool for accessing the wonderful parts of life and we must treasure each one for the gift it truly is. Something's value is usually felt only in its absence, and I am grateful that Colorado gave me a little "absence" of my breath during our competition because it gave me a great reminder.
Nature is Awesome
I'd never been to Colorado before, but the moment I landed something about the energy of that place made feel totally at home, relaxed and in the mood to explore. I absolutely loved Denver and Westminster, where we attended the competition, was beautiful, super green, clean and appealed to all my neat-freak inner tendencies. It reminded me of how important nature is, and for many obvious reasons, but particularly in our journey for self-discovery, spiritual growth and personal reflection.
When I landed I had to take a train from my terminal to the baggage claim area and, as usual, my mind likes to run on all kinds of random stuff. I noticed the advertisement panels in the train cab, and then I thought about the future and how those would probably turn to digital ones so they could maximize the space. Then I remembered the movie Minority Report, where advertisements got personal by scanning people's retina and delivering custom messages. And then I thought about how attention itself had gotten monetized into the biggest resource in today's world - literally everything that could be sold for attention is being exploited, even the very space we look at.
There is little to look at anymore in the city that doesn't "hijack" your consciousness, and I wondered about the impact of that for a moment.
What people will universally say about nature is that it is relaxing and that it gives them a "space" to think, be themselves, wonder, be empty or enjoy the present moment. However you call it, nature definitely gives you room for something. Quite the opposite, our action-packed life in the city tends to be full of stimuli left and right and there is little room to do any of those things. People say they need to "get away" or "go up north" because put simply they are just full - full of information, stimuli, action, to-do lists, ads, errands, so on and so forth. In the modern day where attention means currency, companies have become increasingly more ruthless in conquering the realm of attention and people's consciousness itself for as much of it as possible - with the impact on people, their pace of life, their sanity, their sense of self and inner peace taking a toll as a result.
One of the things I am most grateful for in my life is the time to reflect, think about my life, look ahead, create new ideas, connect to the Universe or just plain do nothing at all. These are truly some of life's greatest luxuries, and they have something in common in that they require your attention. You cannot be present unless your attention is present. Just because you are looking at something doesn't mean that your attention is there - this is the same for the old adage about the difference between hearing and listening.
Attention is everything, because attention is what directs our actions. If attention is a constantly dripping watering bucket, then the plants, flowers (or weeds) that you put it over are the ones that will grow. Think about that for a moment. I remember in a talk about something like this with my good friend Elijah, we determined that "all you have to do is look at someone's bank account and you know exactly what's important to them." Money and what you spend it on reflects your attention because that is the source of the behavior, follow the attention and you know where the consciousness is.
In the days before the modern era, man had plenty of time to be out in nature - his attention was not as fought over as it is today. You cannot walk for more than a few moments in any city without being "snagged" into something, and while that's not a huge deal - what is the impact over the course of months, years, in your life? Each advertisement pulls you into its consciousness, and that creates ripples in the lake of your mind generating images and thoughts in that realm rather than the one you were thinking about before. Then you see another one and it makes more waves, and so on and so on. We rarely have the luxury of looking at nothing and allowing that space to help us generate our own thoughts, our own consciousness. This is the value of nature, in its emptiness. It is a canvas for us to spend time with ourselves and paint an authentic future, to discover the colors of our true self in its quiet repose. It invites us to wonder, to observe the mysteries of creation and connect them to our own life. Nature is awesome.
The Value of Preparation
The final thing I made a note about in this trip was on the value of preparation.
I remember watching the TV while waiting for our food at the hotel's restaurant and it was on some racing channel, showing some footage of top people in the world like Tony Schumacher competing for what I imagine was a prestigious event. What struck me about that experience was how similar it was to what we do in ballroom dancing.
I thought about how, to someone outside of what I do, the idea of flying to another state for a weekend just to dance for fifteen minutes and then fly back in the ass crack of dawn exhausted (and broke for that matter) would probably sound ridiculous. All that prep, all that effort for what? Literally a few minutes.
It was worth it, though.
Reasons will always live in our mind, but raw experience obliterates them like the morning sunrise abolishes the night. When we are on the floor and the music finally starts - everything goes by the wayside and I remember exactly why I am doing what I am doing. I feel immortal, I feel free, I feel my spirit come alive.
This is the same for any high performance activity. These guys racing spend hundreds of hours, millions of dollars, have an entire team, risk their lives, fly all over the country...for what? For those few moments of glory and rush of an experience that is not normally accessible in every day life. This is the point to take home, and this is the value of creating these experiences in your life.
Life is ultimately meant to be lived, that is the purpose. Experience the entire range of being human - sadness, happiness, success, failure and everything in between. Experiences are important, being present is important and living life fully is important. You have heard this before. But what about achievement as an experience? What about creating an experience for yourself that isn't just as easy as being present or taking a drive up north, but involves work, preparation, sacrifice and commitment? That is truly something special. I've been on both sides of the dance floor, and while in either case it's a great life regardless, I'd rather say that I lived to experience something that wasn't easy because that's valuable.
Going to Colorado challenged me in many ways despite it being an awesome experience, and one of them was on the reminder of how valuable these types of experiences are. I remember getting annoyed at myself in the airport when I didn't pack any snacks and got stuck for hours starving because I didn't prepare. How many times have I done this competing thing? I thought to myself, wondering when I'd finally have it all under control. I spent so much on commuting, parking, food that it also challenged my reasonable mind and the thought of "Why the hell am I doing this again?" reared its ugly head, whispering soothing words of comfort in my vulnerable mind about how I could invest my money in paying off my condo instead.
But life is too short for comfort, I choose glory instead. Achilles was given the option to live a long, comfortable life as a modest farmer or to die a short one in the glory of battle. I never forgot that story, and it reminds me in times like these that the value of these "hard to obtain" experiences that take work and preparation greatly outweighs the reasons that try to replace them.
So, those are some of my reflections from the good old Rockies this weekend. Which one relates to your life right now? I look forward to visiting beautiful Colorado again and enjoying what life has for me there, in the meantime I am glad to "have my lungs" back in my spoiled no-altitude Phoenix heat. It's better to fry than to choke, I guess!