Susan's Blog

Monday, January 14, 2019

The (Dis)Comfort Zone

I realized recently that I rarely stray outside my comfort zone. It takes such an effort for me to keep going to classes, for example, or anything at night. Parties on weekends are a supreme effort at times, though I’m usually glad I went. But why is there such an effort behind going out, forward?

Anxiety runs in my family, I believe all of us but Ned suffer from it. Mine comes in waves, where the terrible times make me feel like old wood, about to crack and splinter. I think Nat’s is like this, too. When he was a baby and had some new food in front of him, he said, “Don’t worry hot dogs.” Trying so hard to self-soothe; his poignant efforts still make me swoon with pride and love.

But I don’t allow the same compassion for myself. When my anxiety keeps me inside I feel like a worthless human being. Even though my life’s circumstances allow me to do this, to do nothing, or to do whatever I want, I feel like I should be doing more.

I used to be so different and maybe that was because the boys were still home and I needed to get out of the house. One of Benji’s first sentences was “I go mee-in,” and then he’d hide, imitating his suddenly missing Mommy. That guy has always been able to just nail it, even when he was only two.

This was back when I was on our town’s School Committee and I was very politically active. My whole life seemed to center around my boys and school, and making the school system work for them. There were no autism classrooms at all. There was bullying going on. There were few options for boys who were not into sports. So I never questioned my schedule’s demands, and I was really fulfilled from all that.

Actually my life centered around writing as well — it has since I was 21. I’ve always had a writing progress and mission in my adult life. So when I was not doing politics and mothering — or actually, right when I was, because I’d take out my laptop and write anytime, any place — I was writing. The writing was about autism, parenting, education, so it was all the same loop. But when my first book came out, there was a break in my sense of self. I couldn’t just keep my writing inside my laptop; it was out there now. I started traveling a lot, giving talks and speeches. But I had also started pulling inward more, closing off my more public self. I found bellydance at this time — age 43 — as well as mountain biking.

I guess riding my bike was the first time I ever really enjoyed my own company. The time spent alone, just pushing myself around and up hills left little room in my body for thought. So I was just kind of being, just breathing in my body with no coherent thoughts except, “stupid cars.” I was discovering a new skill as well as the supreme happiness of meditation. Peace. But there was anxiety involved, because the only way to mountain bike is to throw yourself onto the trails, down the hills, over the roots and rocks. Push past or through the fear.

Dance was a starkly different kind of being inside myself. Many bellydancers don’t do it alone, they go to haflas and dance together, they go to the Arab clubs and take classes with each other. And of course they perform. I on the other hand have only performed twice, and both were semi-private recital-type events. And a huge deal for me. Each time I thought about it, I’d want to cancel. And yet I am entranced by performing, by dancing a choreography in front of people, in a beautiful costume. I just don’t know what it takes to let go that way, though. Even when I performed, I was following a script, and there was very little organic flow in it, just moves strung together to music. I mean, I know I looked good and performed well technically, but the performance was not what I want it to be.

I want to be like my teacher Natassia, who is half my age and has absorbed the dance into her skin, her heart and soul. She works so hard, but when she dances she makes it look — not easy, but happy and alive. Showing your happiness and contentment while doing that incredibly difficult movement is the essence of great dance.

She told us yesterday about the importance of understanding the folklore, too, the culture, behind the music and the dance. How important it is to greet the audience first, not showcasing your skills at all but moving around the room excitedly. Then, certain rhythms (e.g., Saiidi, Khaleegi, Chiftetelli) in the music signal certain types of moves, determined by where they have come from. She was transported by her own lesson, she looked like she had tears in her eyes just thinking of all the dancers who have come before her. Everyone in that class felt what she was feeling, and wanted to know what she knew. She makes you want to sink right into those ancient sandy lands and watch from the ground, the dancers from way back. She wants us to feel awed by these intricate moves and melodies, and to know which rhythms indicate which style — humbled but also empowered by this knowledge, to let it inform and color our dance. For we are linked to those people by our love of the dance. She urges you to shed your American shell and try out the shape of a very different place, and time. But she gives you that form with such love that you are not really afraid to try it on.

So those classes are the perfect combination of pushing outwards, of new comfort zone boundaries, with a cushioning of support and even love. But still I feel a small discomfiture when it’s time to go, and I want to understand why, what is keeping me from simply flying off to be part of that world? Maybe there is always a little bit of fear that lights the fire of pleasure? Maybe we need that spark of anxiety to awaken our souls to hunger for the new, and take it in?

Perhaps a pinch of anxiety is what propels us forward, but too much of it weights us down and puts us in a tailspin. So for now, when I imagine performing there’s just too much anxiety and I can’t plunge in.  Just getting out is good. I do wish, though, that I could get to Nat’s attitude of “It’s a different, that’s okay.” Although he doesn’t quite believe it, he works towards that, and often he succeeds. He’s probably out of his comfort zone almost every moment of his life, and yet manages to move forward, and to shine, dancing in the light whenever he can, pushing through the forest, and learning new skills and joys.

1 comment


I remember when you found bellydance, or perhaps bellydance found you.

And the fear that lights the fire of pleasure.

It seems that different is not just OK for Nat.

— added by Adelaide Dupont on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at 2:17 am

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