The Ultimate Thing to be Grateful For

The Ultimate Thing to be Grateful For

Be grateful for your time, it is the most valuable thing

What is gone and never returns has the highest value. 

Tonight marks the end of an amazing weekend for me. I truly believe that the measure of a full life is to experience as many dimensions of it as possible, and the last few days were ones filled with a variety of experiences in many areas of my life — work, social life, hobbies, friends, even just being at home. And while I am grateful to share about these moments, what all of them have in common is that they reminded me of the ultimate thing to be grateful for — time.

I remember one of my students asking me a hypothetical question recently, “What would you do with six hours of time?” It’s rare I get this much time that’s totally free all in one go, so it really got my creative brain thinking. At first about all of the things I actually do with my free time, and then about the value of time itself in my life.

I was talking with my good friend Elijah recently about how lucky we are. It’s easy to complain and lose sight of how high you stand in the greater scheme of the world, but life has a way of reminding you that you don’t have it as bad as you’ve convinced yourself.

I get to work doing what I love and getting paid for it and I have the support and resources to compete professionally and experience travelling and being center stage at national competitions — something few people would ever experience in their entire lives. I can create and experience art with my body to music and having access to those things when so many people don’t have time for music because the sound of guns shooting is much louder — this is a blessing.

On top of all that I live alone and because I’m single I have the luxury of way more free time than my taken counterparts. I go to the gym and work out, have goals like a fitness competition, eat like a pig and take supplements in a world where most of the population has a significant problem with hunger. My free time and lack of pets, kids or a spouse affords me the ability to create music on the piano whenever I want, spend time with myself and relax, create art and new projects, write — or go learn a new dance like Zouk.

Tonight I went to my first zouk group class taught by Joey Lee and it was amazing. I had learned a little about zouk and played around with it, but this was my first formal attempt at learning some material and, of course, putting it into practice.

To be honest zouk really scared me for some reason. In dance I am used to being very competent, very skilled and certainly in control. It’s been a while since I was a “beginner” at anything having to do with dancing, and it definitely tested my comfort zone at first. But thanks to Elijah (and his girlfriend Deenie, of course) as well as our loving friends, I was able to inch towards that growth zone and eventually jump in like I did today.

I was much more comfortable by the time I took Joey’s class tonight, and I finally got to dance zouk socially and conquer my fears — it was amazing to say the least. I didn’t know I had it in me because, like anyone, I have my share of stories about myself and one of them was that I would never be really any good at these impromptu, connection based dances like zouk or kizomba. I always felt like I was awkward, tried too hard or couldn’t get out of my head completely. Connecting authentically with people and not thinking (or talking) was always so difficult for me, but I am glad I am learning otherwise :).

Tonight changed all that, and it was so exciting being a beginner again, discovering something new that was outside my knowledge base and experiences. It gave me a window into how it is to be a beginner again, and that’s important because as a teacher it’s critical to reconnect to that experience occasionally.

I really enjoyed Joey’s class and I think the Universe aligned things just perfectly for me to get what I got tonight. Joey satisfied my desire for being certain about what I’m doing by being very clear about the instructions, breaking things down and that helped me bridge my “structured” style from ballroom into the wild, amazing abyss that is zouk. He also spoke the language of feeling and emotion, and facilitated the space for this dance to happen among us students. Every dance is different, and in that regard the energy of the instructor and how they create the space for everyone to be part of that experience is crucial — whether its an excited zumba class or an intimate, close quarters dancing zouk.

Practicing and dancing in the social afterward was an awesome experience. I am really proud of myself because, as I said before, zouk honestly made me uncomfortable. I have a belief that I try to stand by though and that’s to treat those feelings of discomfort as indicators of growth, so instead of running away I know I need “to go there” and check out what it’s about, at least until it doesn’t scare me anymore.

The best thing about zouk for me is that there is no basic step. “The steps are just guidelines,” Elijah said to me in a conversation about it. Probably two years ago I would have looked at him funny, wondering what the hell value is there in a dance where you can just improvise all the time without an exact basic that’s predictable and consistent. My how things have changed. It was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve had, to just let go of having to think about steps and focus purely on connection. That’s the ultimate experience we want in dancing anyway, the more complicated the steps there are the more hoops you have to jump through to get there, like in ballroom dancing!

Don’t get me wrong, ballroom dancing is still my main love and while I’ll always be attracted to the physical aspect of it, the work, the structure, the impact and achievement — I am grateful to have had my eyes opened to exactly what I needed in my life to compliment who I am and to even take what I am doing to the next level. The level of intimacy in zouk is so profound, so easy to access and so simple — yet in something like what I do for a living it often becomes obscured behind the myriads of steps and technique that are required to “get there.”

Since I had no pressure of a basic step to produce, I was able to fully relax and let go to the music. The beat is tribal and instantly harmonizes your body into a trance-like state where neither cause nor effect between two bodies, two energy forms, is distinguished. You are both, they are both. It is an incredible experience, and even more incredible how easy it was to access it. Where have I been?

I even had my first “foursome” (Thanks Angelina, Deenie and Elijah, that exceeds my ultimate fantasy by one person :P) — getting “zouked” by 3 leads exchanging roles with me as the main follower. It was the ultimate experience of surrender in dance — I never get to let go in teaching, and maybe a bit in my pro stuff, but to be a total follower and without having to worry about basic steps, this was a taste of freedom in a unique and, honestly, therapeutic way.

Through zouk I can say that I truly felt connection in dancing, in the sense that I could observe it and talk about it later. It’s not that I hadn’t felt similar things before in my ballroom dancing, or when I used to dance salsa — but having truly nothing to worry about except the person in front of me, this was the essence of what it meant to dance with another human being. To truly dance, to embrace them and be one with their breath, hold their shoulder blades like you would the wings of a dove, gently shaping their body like you would clay on a wheel.

The zouk experience to me was a palpable intimacy with another human being without all the mental chatter that tends to go along with it, and that in and of itself is healing for anyone. I remember doing all of these eye contact sessions where you would look at someone quietly and just stare into each other’s eyes, into the blackness of the Universe itself staring right back at you. It helped me be present and connect with people tremendously, and now thanks to zouk and my friends another layer of that onion has been discovered.

When I got home to sit and write about this experience I had a strange feeling — even though there was no music in my house, my body and spine wanted to keep dancing. As I sat there at the keyboard staring at my screen, if I stopped thinking about what I wanted to write and “do” at the moment, my body started undulating on its own. It was like I was leading and following myself. It shocked me, mostly because I realized that I had felt this before but only when I would meditate and get extremely relaxed. Now I had a new awareness, and it all made sense.

I remembered getting cranial sacral therapy from one of my students, Susanne, and how she talked about the spine moving and oscillating its own rhythm, and how that varied based on our emotions and what we were thinking about. I also remembered an experience I had doing a newage type of chiropractic treatment called Network Spinal Analysis, which was just like zouk but without music practically. All of these experiences — meditation, chiropractic, alternative healing — they all had a primary ideology and that was that we have a natural rhythm of the spine and thinking, worrying, fear and so on disrupt that natural rhythm. Even now as I type these words, I can stop, breathe and tune into that natural, subtle beat and feel it guiding my body around.

So cool.

I could go on about my experience but I’ll save that for another post. Zouk is a great dance, go learn it. It can transform you, heal you, contribute to you as a dancer or just plain give you a good time with friends. For all of those, I am very grateful tonight.

And this brings me back to the main point — the ultimate thing to be grateful for is time. Why? It’s the only thing that you truly lose. You can never get back time like you can money, energy or anything else in this world. Time is so valuable, and it slips by every minute, every second — so fine like sand but imperceptible.

I am lucky to have time. So lucky. There are so many things that rob us of time spent on our own, time reflecting, time recuperating, time creating new things, even time spent with others doing nothing or dancing — time to do chores, take care of the kids, argue with loved ones, do your taxes, there are so many kinds of time that we do not want but must have.

The value of something is only felt in its absence, don’t wait until the end of your time to realize that it was more valuable than you made it. It all starts with gratitude, this is the key. Any time can be valuable if you are in it with gratitude, and if that’s too hard for whatever time it is right now for you then tough it out until things slow down and then really stop to smell (and thank) the roses because they soon become just a memory.

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