I had a crazy, fun-filled weekend. The kind of weekend I haven’t had in at least five years.
Five years ago, my friends and I went to a “tango night” at a local restaurant. It was an amazing evening. The teachers were professional dancers, and a lot of the other students were from other countries. There was such a fun, friendly, open vibe to the night.
The evening started out with a free tango lesson, and then afterwards, the dance floor opened up to anyone who wanted to come and dance. Some truly amazing dancers showed up. I was in my element, starting to picture myself traveling through Argentina.
But as the night went, on my knees started to hurt. At first, I tried to ignore the pain, but it got worse and worse until eventually, I had to sit down and watch everyone else for the last two hours.
“We’ll go back,” my friends and I all said at the end of the night. I thought I’d fix my knee problems, and organize another group outing in a few months.
Of course, it never ended up happening. People got busy; the friend who organized it the first time moved away.
And I ended up spending the next five years having trouble walking. My knee problems got a lot worse before they got better, and the months I spent limping and carrying my weight unevenly led me to develop the SI joint issues I still have today. Basically, it’s been five years since I could stand, or walk, or dance without so much as a thought.
Yet somehow, this weekend, everything clicked. I didn’t plan it– I just got caught up in the flow of things, and went where my friends went.
I guess all my strengthening exercises are starting to really pay off, because somehow, I went out dancing Friday and Saturday night. Friday night, I was in one of those loud, crowded bars I normally hate, but the band was actually amazing, and I found myself out on the dance floor with the group.
And then Saturday? Well, it wasn’t tango, but some friends went to a salsa night. I didn’t make it in time for the lesson, but I did make it out onto the dance floor afterwards. I wouldn’t say I wowed anyone with my salsa skills, but I also didn’t need to sit down once the entire night.
But here’s what really shocked me: I was back to where, physically, I had left off five years ago. But nothing about it felt monumental or life-changing.
What was life-changing? Everything it took for me to be okay, in the past five years, when I couldn’t have a weekend like this. All of the restraint it took; all of the patience I was forced to cultivate.
Don’t get me wrong– I haven’t stayed at home for five years, I’ve gone out– but it was never without compromise, never without having to constantly be aware of the nearest chair.
I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I’d be sitting by myself when an amazing song came on and everyone else wanted to be on the dance floor. I’ve had to perfect the art of looking calm, confident, and busy doing things on my cell phone.
I’ve been through so much pain, frustration, and effort with my SI joint, I can’t even tell you. As much time as I’ve spent actually exercising, I’ve spent about three times as much time trying to learn about the problem. Researching the joint, consulting different doctors, chiropractors, and PT’s. Learning what movements not to do, which has been just as important as finding the right exercises.
That’s the thing– and I think anyone with chronic pain and health issues knows this– mind over matter doesn’t work. And actually, it’s counterproductive to push yourself into doing something that isn’t good for you.
You have to listen to your body: fine-tune your balancing act of when to push and when to rest. You have to become still.
Something that’s helped me immeasurably is learning how to meditate. I actually don’t meditate every day, but learning how to be in the moment in that way has really spilled over into my daily life.
For me, meditation is like an experiment. You take everything that’s bothering you– whether it’s physical pain, or emotional, or stress and anxiety– and you just tell yourself, “Yes, this is all happening… but what if I was okay, anyway?” The problems are all still there, but just for a few minutes, you stop trying to fight them. They exist, but you see that underneath it all, you actually are okay.
Even after I’d only had this experience a few times, I felt as though it began to change the way I saw the world. I just felt calmer; more at peace. Somehow, it started to feel easier for me to notice the good in the world.
There are different ways to grow as a person. You can go on a journey through the world– you can travel, meet people, and see fascinating things.
But you can also journey inside of yourself, and that can transform your perspective just as much.
I have had to learn how to find peace in the moment. I haven’t had the option of going out and losing myself in the way people describe when they talk about travel. I’ve never backpacked through Europe… I’ve never even backpacked through the White Mountains, like just about everyone else I know.
But I have been transformed, no doubt.
It’s tempting for me to try to compare myself to other people, to suggest that maybe I have actually learned more by being forced to stay still, compared to people who have been able to leave their problems behind by going out and doing things. But that would be wrong– I don’t know what journeys people are on, or what they are learning.
But I can compare myself to my past self, and say that the things it takes to make me happy now are very different than the things I used to think I needed to be happy.
That night that I was forced to sit down at Tango Night, I thought I was losing a piece of myself that I wouldn’t get back until I could come back and dance again.
Now I see that I didn’t lose anything at all. In fact, I gained something.
And that is a lesson I’m grateful to have learned.
Credits for the photos in this post:
- Couple dancing tango: Praynito
- Woman dancing salsa Vineet Radhakrishnan
- White Mountains: Brian Pocius
- Babbling Brook: Chris Ford