Friday, 21 August 2009

Sin pensamiento!

I spent a few happy hours with Tete and Silvia in Buenos Aires last winter, struggling to get through things I ought to have learned earlier, and laughing a lot with them. I took away material I'm only just beginning to lead confidently in milongas, as well as a few phrases Tete likes to repeat. Silvia was translating, so I wasn't paying attention to the original, but I'm pretty sure he said 'sin pensamiento' – 'without thinking!', she'd translate. 'You are thinking' he'd observe: 'Don't think!' 'Piensas! No piensa!' – I guess that's what he said. It was a small room and it was hard not to worry about whether there was room for that new line of steps, but he was always right. I was thinking, rather than... rather than dancing, I guess.

There's a wonderful basic Buddhist meditation. After reminding yourself that you aren't doing this to develop superpowers for your own selfish ends, you sit comfortably and stare at a blue flower. (Why blue, or even a flower, I'm not sure.) The first experience is 'the waterfall': you try to stare at the flower but suddenly you find your mind is overflowing with thoughts. They were always there: you just never noticed. If you persist with the flower you find your thoughts are like ocean waves, one after another then, much later, like occasional ripples on a lake. Finally you are 'sin pensamiento', calm water.

I remember the waterfall when I first started trying to dance tango: is the floor slippery, what's my partner thinking, it's warm, what do the people watching think, shall I do the class tomorrow... it was endless. These days it's a lot quieter. I wouldn't want to suggest that Tete might be a Buddhist sage, or that tango is really a spiritual path, but 'sin pensamiento' might actually be a great accomplishment, in dancing as in meditation. Following the music through time and space, without thinking. The mind can give up words for a while, and it's a relief!

PS I'd be grateful to anyone who can correct my castellano...


Tango en el Cielo said...

Interesting comment about tango and meditation. I've long thought that meditation is a great way to approach tango.

Many years ago I used to practice Buddhist meditation (not for religious reasons). On a retreat at a Buddhist monastery in Devon, we learnt to do (more or less) what the monks did, which included a half hour or so walking meditation each morning out of doors in bare feet. The idea was to focus on the feeling of the way the feet made contact with the ground, the feeling of the surface underneath, the way different parts of the foot interacted with it, the transfer of the weight..etc. The intense concentration on such physical sensations that we normally don't notice displaced other thoughts and induced a feeling of calm and connection with the earth.

I tried this with one particular tango student years ago whose dancing felt full of neurotic energy - we started each lesson with barefoot walking meditation and it really helped. She became a calmer and more relaxed (and therefore better) follower. Haven't tried it with anyone else in a lesson- they'd probably think it bonkers. (She and I both knew the other was a bit bonkers before we started so it wasn't a problem. And we became and are still good friends!).

If you'd like to try it yourself at home, I'd recommend in the garden if you have one. As with sitting meditation, you half close your eyes, lower the line of gaze to the ground a few yards in front of you, without lowering the head (good upright posture is important). You can walk in circles, or in a line back and forth. Barefoot.

Haven't done it for while, perhaps I will again now I'm thinking of it. No garden but could try the roof terrace (where Ricardo used to practice tai chi early every morning when he stayed here). He was interested in finding connections between tango and tai chi.

Tangocommuter said...

Many thanks for that very interesting comment. I didn't want to go too far into the meditation side because motive is all-important: tango and meditation don't usually have quite the same motive. Not sure how far tango could take on board the meditator's aim of transcending ego.

Basic meditations seem to try to calm the mind by focusing on something, a flower, the breath in the nostrils, the sensation of walking. I'd guess that someone whose dance felt full of neurotic energy might have a less focused mind, so any concentration would be helpful, and walking would be a great choice for dancing.

But I think generally the idea of spatial, left-brain activity, which is said to be non-verbal, is a more useful description of what happens. Words simply don't move fast enough to think us through a dance. But it can take a while to put aside the habit of verbal thinking.

Very interesting that Ricardo practiced ta'i chi, and was interested in possible connections. I was taking ta'i chi classes in the old City Lit premises, which they shared with the Tango Club. I came out of ta'i chi one day to see tango walking practice, and immediately thought it looked similar, and I have to admit that it looked a lot more interesting. I still haven't gone back to ta'i chi... But I will!

Golondrina said...

I very much enjoyed reading your post as I can certainly relate to this quest for a ‘sin pensamiento’ state of mind. When I first started following, I was constantly bombarded with questions and comments about the dance, how I looked, was I doing the steps wrong or right etc. Eventually, I got to a stage where I was still thinking but this time, it was more meandering and stream of consciousness like (what am I doing tomorrow? did I buy bread etc?) — terribly unromantic and unrelated to tango but somehow, I’d realised that throughout this tangent, my feet had been magically following and answering the signals from the leader.

Now (if I’m lucky) I can drift even further and just sink into a state of images and colours. I still think I’m only in this state quite shallowly (it doesn’t take much to knock me out of it) but I’m hoping that with practice it will get easier and also deeper. I’m now working on seeing if I can always keep to the same set images as then I’m hoping that Pavlov-like I’ll start to associate it with this state and find it much easier in future.

On a related note: I’d be interested to know how possible this state is for a leader? Presumably, he can never completely stop thinking because of the hurdles and obstacle that occupy the dance floor, while as a follower, I can completely trust that I will be protected and guided and just let myself be absorbed into the dance.

Tangocommuter said...

That's very interesting, Golondrina, and much as I'd expect. Many thanks for the description. Leaders need to be in that wordless state perhaps even more than followers because words are really a distraction, and much too slow to be of any use. The situation is constantly changing, you just have to flow with it. If you start thinking you are lost!