Month: May 2019

Birthing the Shadow

We yearn to be whole, mostly unbeknownst to ourselves, but still we do. The part of ourselves we most hate will often reappear in one of our children. Depending on our awareness and commitment toward growth, we can embrace this challenge and grow to love or torment this child for showing us what we hate and refuse to see.

While watching the second season of The Crown, I was deeply moved by the ninth episode: the story of young Prince Charles and his education. Having struggled to be in a regular school, the Queen was advised to send her sensitive and not quite the sporting type son to Eton. His father, Philip was adamantly opposed. Eton, he felt, would turn his son into everything he hated. He wanted Charles to be toughened up, just as he had been. In the end, he won the struggle and the Prince was sent to the frigid and frightening Gordonstoun, where (according to the series) he suffered terribly for six years.

What struck me in this dramatization was the degree in which Philip rejected who his son was – the sensitivity and hurt Philip himself had been forced to push away in his own life. His shadow. If Philip had had another upbringing himself – as the episode revealed the hardships Philip endured at this Gordonstoun – perhaps he wouldn’t have had such a severe shadow. The denial of sensitivity, replaced by the need to ‘toughen up’ is not an unknown story.

Today, this element is acute in the United States. Trump, supposedly, was. tormented by his own father growing up. A year before the election, I was having tea in Berlin with a German friend. He warned that the rise of Trump (similar to the rise of Hitler) would be very much about the shadow. “If only America,” my friend said, shaking his head sadly, “could rise to the challenge and embrace their shadow. But I fear the country is too invested in its mythology and will miss this chance, just as we in Germany missed ours and there will be some very dark years ahead.”

What does that mean to embrace the shadow both on an individual level and a broader societal level? And what kind of maturity does it take? Obviously, in the case of both Germany and the US now, that degree of maturity doesn’t seem to exist.

In my own life, I had a terrible time growing up. My parents couldn’t accept that I was sensitive and moody and more interested in creativity than in their conventional and materialistic practicality. Unfortunately, being the first born, the same as Charles, I came to represent the shadow in my family. I can see that now from the distance of years but as a child I had no clue, only suffered miserably trying to please my parents. Just as Charles did. The only way to please a parent who refuses to see who you are, is to deny who you are.

Years of therapy, Alexander Technique and 12-step support has aided my cause in becoming more my ‘authentic’ self, but even at age 63 I still struggle with this element, still can more easily toss myself and my deepest convictions away, suffer terribly bouts of insecurity and self-hate, before climbing out of the darkness when realizing I’ve yet again chosen first to throw myself away. Especially, in the growing arena of social media where one can be constantly tormented with comparison and not measuring up, it is a challenge to be in your own ‘axis,’ to be your own person, to have healthy self-regard regardless of what other’s think.

Who Cares – When you Feel Wild and Ageless

My husband came with me for a Tango festival on the Costa Brava, in the Catalan town of Sant Feliu de Guixols this early September. It seemed a good way to start our exploration of the Barcelona area, it’s northern coast, a place we’re considering relocating. The weather was unseasonably hot, a steamy hot, not the dry heat one associates with the north of Spain. My husband, not a big tango fan, is fine with heat. He’s from the north of Holland, where the wind blows to make you mad, so whatever the weather, as long as there’s no wind, he’s fine. Me, on the other hand, since menopause, find oppressive heat claustrophobic, strangling.

I dared not moan of the heat, or how clammy my skin was getting. To be at a tango and get to dance as much as I was, you will be struck-dead by the tango police if you dare complain. In truth, there is no tango police, just the eyes of the waiting un-danced women, hating you silently that it’s you and not them on the dance floor. When I first began dancing, twenty-years ago, there were actually more men. It was the men who puffed themselves up, and we women had our glorious pick. Not sure when the switch happened, but I do remember entering a dance hall, a Milonga, and gasping at the row of women eagerly waiting, their breasts heaving forward like melons ripe for the picking. This sadly has become the norm. And once you start sitting, it’s not long before your dance-cells sag, and you look like a desperate dog hoping to be taken for a walk, let alone a dance.

I don’t mean to brag, but there’s a sort of thing I do that helps. I hadn’t even realized I was doing this, until a tango friend pointed out to his then girlfriend to watch me and to do exactly what I did if she wanted to dance with anyone besides him. It had started innocuously during my first visit to Buenos Aires. Always forgetting to reserve a table and arriving too late to get one, I was lucky to sneak a spot by the bar – the place reserved (and the unspoken code) of where the Milongueros (the great male dancers) sat and drank and eyed their next conquest.  

Not just that I wasn’t meant to hang around the bar between dances, but I’ve never been good at keeping still: I was one of the kids at school forever sent out of the room for disrupting the others (the dreamer, the hyper-active dyslexic who in the early sixties teachers didn’t know what to do with). Still can’t sit to meditate. I have to move, like there’s ants in my pants (the song we sang as kids in New York) with or without a partner. Using a nearby chair, a pole, a wall, anything to bounce against, I make my own tango dance, in between the real ones.

When this trend of too many women began, I was already an experienced dancer and quite good at my little game. Not only do I keep in subtle but constant movement – a thing even more crucial in my 60’s; if I don’t keep moving it’s instant hardening of all moveable parts – but if a leader happens to pass by and likes what he sees, he just takes me by the hand and leads me straight to the dancefloor. A thing already in motion is easier to keep moving, than a static waiting blob. And I try to stay in the ‘flow’ of movement.

One young woman at the festival danced non-stop, just as I used to, with boundless enthusiasm, rubber flexibility, and a face smeared with ecstasy, like she was falling in love with each and every man she danced with. Before menopause, I used to get into heaps of trouble with all that love dripping from my face. If a man, especially in Buenos Aires, felt and saw that on you and wanted more and you said no, you never got to dance with that man again. Simple as that. I thought I’d feel jealous of this younger woman, as the older women in Buenos Aires used to years ago loath me. But I didn’t. If anything, I was relieved the dance was no longer about sex (though there’s always a sensuality); the ones who want that no longer bother with me. Yet at this festival, while I danced and sweated across the floor, I realized that the dance still made me as happy as it had always done. Like a magic potion, all troubles vanished. So what if my husband and I have been looking for ages, and still can’t find a common country, it didn’t matter a hoot. So what if Trump is president and the world of kindness has exploding, nothing matters for the delectable three minutes of the dance. So wonderful it is to dance – I’m convinced if everyone danced, there’d be no wars (but I don’t want to be the one to dance with Trump) – it’s the same if I were twenty or thirty, or one-hundred and seven.

The last day of the festival the heat was stifling. With no air-conditioning, it felt like a Finish sauna. We were all soaked through. Even the ladies in waiting had fans like it was a bullfight in boiling Madrid. I felt for some of them who had sat and sat until – as the Argentine so crudely say – the crack in their butt had long disappeared and had to be re-drawn. I wished everyone could be dancing all the time. The final hour, the DJ put on non-tango music like Salsa, and Meringue. Just to move other muscles, I began to dance by myself on the dance floor. I signaled to a few of the un-danced women to join me. No one dared. But when I returned from the restroom, the floor was filled with many of these women, who now smiled at me, encouraging me to join them. Who cares if the younger women were dancing with the few remaining men, we wild and ageless women were having the time of our lives.

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