Thursday, March 29, 2012

Somehow we forgot to dance

Somehow we forgot to Dance

Our lives are better left to chance
 I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance
Tony Arata

If you watch youtube videos long enough, eventually you find a gem. This is one of those videos. Music and life. It’s a great metaphor really. All of are involved in some kind of Opera. Some are comedies, some are tragedies, and most are somewhere in between. By the time the fat lady finally sings, most of us have seen plenty of both.

I particularly like what he says at the end. It was a musical and we forgot to dance. I think that is true of so many of us. We somehow get trapped between jumping through hoops and living up to other’s expectations of us, and all of a sudden the record is over. Oliver Wendell Holmes said it like this, “Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.”

Why is that? Are we all conditioned to continually try and unlock the next accomplishment? Having seen a number of teenagers in counseling over the years, I’ve certainly had a front row seat in witnessing this dynamic. Get on the honor roll, study for the SAT, get into college, and on and on. Smell the roses later, but for right now finish your essays.. 

The problem with this idea, is that much like Mr. Watts points out, it doesn’t end with college. Most of us will spend the rest of our lives chasing the next milestone we feel we are “supposed” to accomplish. A lot of this is about what our family and friends think about us. There’s a whole lot of research about this actually. It’s called “Social comparison theory”, and it explains a lot about how we compare ourselves to other people as a basis for our own happiness. When we have what someone above us has, then we can finally be happy. Meanwhile we continue to spin on the hamster wheel, in constant pursuit of targets that never seem to stay still. 

In reflecting on this idea, consider the words of Fr. Alfred D'Souza, “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” These words ring pretty true to me. As we stress about the future and lament the things from our pasts, our time in the present is melting away like one of Salvador Dali’s clocks. Many of us learn this lesson too late.

So how do we extract ourselves from this trap and learn to dance to the music? It’s really kind of a tough question. Regardless of the things we tell ourselves, none of us live in a bubble, and for better or for worse, our lives are intertwined in the same big ball of tangled knots with everyone else. Although we often admire the outlaws and the icons, we are much more comfortable when we are all playing by the same rules. It gives us a sense of order.

In my own life, I’ve come to find that to remember it is a dance, I need to remind myself to laugh. All the time. To laugh even when I really don’t feel like laughing.. To me a sense of humor is indicative of a constant choice to reframe perspective. To keep the music playing regardless of our personal little dramas that constantly threaten to scratch the record. Perspective is a difficult thing, and in my experience something that takes sustained vigilance to achieve. Our minds like to slip back into the tragedies. This is a choice, and one that we can change anytime we gather the strength to accept personal responsibility for our own happiness. Ultimately all we have is our perspective, and by accessing our humor I truly believe we can learn to dance.