The Past Few Weeks and Five Tenets for Radical Clarification of Self
It’s been over a month since my last blog post, but I have been a little busy freaking out, overwriting a good blog post and also resting, travelling, returning to the places and people I love, and trying my damndest to write another good blog post.
Turns out some of life’s experiences are non-quantifiable, a fact that obviously disheartens me, my whole thing being eloquently quantifying what I originally believed to be life experiences. But after starting and scrapping about 25 different blogs in the past 31 days, I thought it about time to try something new.
The past few weeks have been a somewhat turbulent time for me, I returned from Norway suddenly aware of how long I would have to wait and how soon I would be flying back there. Suddenly the two months between mid-January and early November seemed an awfully long and awfully short time, and nothing I wanted to do quite wanted to fit into it all.
Stuck in this in-between land, a few exciting things happened all at once. Firstly, I went back to Manchester, a place I haven’t been in almost 2 years. I saw the people I loved and missed there and got to talk at great lengths about the beautiful changes to our lives. This time also showed me how, even though a lot of the framing may have shifted, it is maybe impossible to change who we are. We were all a lot better at it than we had been through.
Whilst I was there I also got to revel in sharing my new gained experience. Working with a group of students at The Arden School of Theatre, I spent four days, alone, recreating a piece I had been involved with the previous summer. As my life shifts into a more mentor/teacher/choreographer roll, it was exciting to get that perspective on it all, to be trusted for my knowledge and instinct, and to have to trust myself with those things.
The kids there were challenging for sure, but then, uni is a challenging time, and unless you go back as a mature student with your life in perfect order, I think it’s somewhat inevitable that you’re going to find yourself struggling. They were grumpy, anxious, disappointed. They blamed the school for letting them down, they blamed each other for their tardiness, they blamed themselves for pretty much everything else. Every one of them wanted to be heard and didn’t much mind if the others were silenced in this process.
But in the few days I was with them, I felt them really grow and work. I felt them find something to trust in me, to put their faith in. On the Friday, I started my class with bible verse John 5:2-9, uninterrupted, two days before I hadn’t been able to speak more than a few sentences. My mother is a great teacher, and in those few days, I got to understand more than a few of the things she had been trying to teach me.
I got to bring this newfound understanding back to London with me and into the space with Kerry Nicholls. If you don’t know who Kerry is and you live/work in London, go out and find her, she’s an incredible artist and facilitator inspiring dancers across the world to refine and understand themselves. she has played (and will continue to play) a crucial in my personal journey, as both an artist and a human, not that there’s any difference between the two. Something she also helped me realise.
Part 2 of this blog stems from the creative coaching I received from Kerry that week. As part of our session together we discussed what kinds of strengths and values I would like to inhabit and express in my professional and personal environments. Using the VIA Strengths Cards, we narrowed down the 24 for strengths in 5 values most crucial for me to be content.
Freedom from the future.
I have long believed that hope is the correct response to all human suffering. This belief is in many ways the underpinning of all the philosophical ideas I currently hold. The idea that something as simple as hope and faith will hold you together, not only to the good times but to the bad as well.
Fear of the future has been a big part of my wavering mental health, as I’m sure it is for many people. When my anxiety is at it’s worse, it is rare because of what is happening, and much more frequently because of what might.
Deciding upon hope as one of my tenets allows me to look forward into the unknown and breath. To say, ‘tomorrow is scary, but it is coming, and I am going to be okay'. I’ve been practising this idea for a while now, and it has served me well when I allow myself to remember it. I still get overwhelmed by the tomorrows and tomorrows and tomorrows of life, as everyone does. But I am trying, as best I can, to have some faith in their beauty.
During a 2004 lecture on the structures of stories, novelist Kurt Vonnegut said ‘we don’t have enough information to tell the good news from the bad news’. I think this is statement is mostly true. Sometimes the people we love hurt us and we cannot see any way this change will affect us positively, or we experience a disaster so out of our control we have only fury and desperation in response, even if in the end it takes us to a better place.
Sometimes someone dies. And you don’t get to say goodbye anymore. And there’s no ‘good’ side in sight, not for a lifetime. And in the end, we crown this bad news, even if it isn’t any kind of news at all.
I also think we get to chose though, what’s the good news, and what’s the bad. From now on, with hope at my side, I choose for all news to be good news. Even if it isn’t.
Radical Hope is available to me at all times, in all places.
Freedom from the past.
When my mental health is not wavering over the future, you can bet it is wavering over the past. Often it is actually doing both, of course, the past we know affects the futures we imagine, and many of the fears I have now are founded on similar experiences I once lived through.
I have made many, many mistakes in my life, and I’ll undoubtedly make many more. But one of the blessings of that week in Manchester was that I had to roll with every mistake. There just wasn’t the time to hold myself to those problems. I had to forgive and forgive and forgive.
Kerry came past me during the tendu’s of one of her masterclass workshops and asked me, whilst I was dancing ‘how’s the forgiveness going?’ Have you ever stood under a waterfall and felt the in dial droplets crash into and then smooth themselves against your skin. That is how it felt to forgive myself. It was a Wednesday, my body was achy and I was lost in the things I had gotten wrong already. Forgiveness pulled me out of the past, and set me into the present. Every time I got a little lost, I came back to that word, every time someone distracted me, I came back to that word, sat on the train heading home, I came back to that word. A waterfall of peace in a maelstrom of history.
It’s pretty easy for me to become my own kind of a waterfall, my moon is in Pisces, I’ve been described as a water dancer, a sea lion, a water baby. And I am those things, in part, but I am not the water swept up into a furry by the uncontrollable winds, if I want, if I remember, I can be the burbling pool at the base of a mountain path, content to smooth its way through the earth, back to its home.
Radical Forgiveness is available to me at all times, in all places.
Freedom in my self.
I have been called many things over the years; Son, Brother, Lover, Student, Teacher, Mentor, Boyfriend, Boy, Man, Dancer, but maybe my favourite of all time is ‘Love Lover’. The phrase was gracefully placed before me by the excellent human bean, Alex Cheung. She used it in amongst a bunch of other beautiful comments (she originally said ‘love loving’) after I asked her to ‘describe me at my core’ and it instantly struck me and pulled me in.
The infamous blog post I have mentioned above started with a sentence along the lines of: ‘I have been trying, and failing, to write something concise about Love.’ Some versions continue, ‘In many ways my whole life has been that single exploit, trying and failing, over and over, to express and explain that beautiful fountain of contentment that plagues my waking moment.’
From there each version either dies one line longer, or gets bogged down in a story that is about love, but not really about Love. There are so many beautiful moments in my life that I would cherish the opportunity to share with you all and that I believe could be radically moving and revealing, but like the artist Agnes Martin who found she no longer wanted to paint the traditional symbols of concepts, but instead the elusive concepts themselves, I’ve found that all I currently have to offer of love, are things that look a lot like it, and that is no longer quite enough.
It’s come up many times in the past that you can reread the bible replacing your idea of ‘God’ with your idea of ‘Love’ and find a much more ‘accurate’ reading of the text. This is certainly my favourite way to read it, though it is still often hard to appreciate fully (what with all the cut your hand off, gouge your eye out stuff - Matthew 5:28). because for me, Love is something totally present, something totally, here, right now. And like Hope and Forgiveness above it, it is available to you and to me, all the time. Every single second of the day, Love is right there waiting for you.
Radical Love is available to me at all times, in all places.
Radical Appreciation (Of Beauty and Excellence)
Freedom into the world.
If you know me, you know I Love the world. From the sky to the grass to the magpies to the people, the world is a place of riches and wonder and I am just so excited to be in it all. One of the things I was trying to write, another failed blog post, dedicated that beautiful day, where outside my house, the first frost of the year had set in. Walking down the small trail into town, I was suddenly struck by how the air was filled with twirling leaves. Reds and yellows and browns and green danced gently and in harmony towards the muddy floor, mixing themselves with the dirt they grew out of. Through the branches the sky was the same blue I had adored looking out into the ocean this very summer, the blue I poured my body over my patio for. Of course, it was a heck of a lot colder, but it was just as beautiful. Especially through all the leaves.
I have a somewhat bad habit of derailing conversations to stop and look at, or mention, or highlight these tiny moments of picturesque beauty. it is, in many ways, a form of calling card for me. That blue sky, like many blue things, reminds me of the wonderful and excellent Jen Tufts (Blue Jen), whose commitment to the colour blue is in itself a thing fo beauty. It also reminds me of those summers, and in turn, a summer in my second year sat under a tree in Hyde Park with the then love of my life.
It’s pretty much impossible for me to find the world ugly or drab, partially because I am surrounded by beautiful people, and mostly because the world is a place of infinite beauty. A magpie came and sat at my window as I wrote this, and for those of you who know what that means, I think you’ll agree it’s pretty perfect.
Radical Appreciation is available to me at all times, in all places.
Freedom into everything.
An incomplete list of gratitudes:
That Magpie, for holding me accountable with your presence.
The Sun, for shining.
Theo, for your wisdom and the time we find together.
Juliana, for embracing me as warmly as you did.
David, for your smile and that expert movement practice that keeps me wanting more.
Maddie, for knocking everything over and being perfectly you.
Alice B, for, you know.
Kerry, for supporting me in my fullness and forgiving me always.
Rachel, for being Rachel.
Layla, for encouraging me to actually get to it by starting your own.
Jem, for teaching me a lot about stillness.
Alex, for being the best and giving me such a wholesome identity.
Maybelle, for allowing us to grow together through all of this and for letting me bounce bad ideas of you.
Caroline, for being a great teacher and mother.
Jenny, for being BLUE.
Bridget, for making me care about Kurt Vonnegut
The Students at the Arden School, for being awesome and sometimes incredibly taxing.
Johnny, for trusting me to lead and share my knowledge.
Anna, for trusting me with your work
Pia, for trusting me with your work
Emilie, for being you without fail and for smiling whilst you dance with me.
Therese, for having enough faith in God to have faith in me.
Alice L, for recommending ‘A New Earth’ to me and for being absolutely excellent.
Agnes Martin, for being an excellent role model and striving for something special
John Green, for helping me find the idea of Radical Hope, and for making me want to write a blog in the first place.
Going forward, I would like to spend more time being grateful for the things in my life, so as of this article, each Sunday I will post a list of things I have been grateful for over the week. The aim is to create a space that is filled not just with generous moments, but generous people, so I can always remember:
Radical Generosity is available to me at all time, in all places.
Thank you for reading this and for the generosity of your time. I will be launching a Patreon in the coming weeks/months, featuring monthly poems, movement videos, book recommendations, and a few other bits and bobs. If you enjoy my work and would like further support me, that will be the place to do so! Hopefully I’ll catch ya’ll there in the future.
Image taken by me from my bedroom window of the sky fading into sunset this evening.