Apprenticeship to Love: Towards Authentic Relationship, March 23, 2024

  • Today’s questions: What does it mean, to your body-mind, to "follow the follow?" Have you slowed enough, become patient enough, to feel into that energy or that person who would follow you, if you allowed yourself to be shown the way to your deepest elegance and grace?
  • Today's suggested practice: Day 23 of this month's practice, to pause and feel the sacred space within (see my "Short Practice,” below)
  • My practice today: 2am: 60 minutes: yoga, breath, stillness
  • Did I do my vulnerability practice today? N How about you? Y/N?

★REMINDER, DEAR "1000 EARLY READERS"... The next Apprenticeship to Love virtual workshop, on March 30 with Sarah Anderson, is now open for limited registration at . Free to all Premium, Premium+, and EXTRA subscribers

Some of us are drawn to lead, others to follow. We need each other. In life. And especially in dance. And even more so in the deeply creative and destructive art of marriage.
When I begin my tango classes I usually have these things to say to my students, whether they are new to the dance or not, because these things, it seems to me, bear repeating. At the very least, I need to hear myself say them again, and again.

First, most of us first experience Argentine tango as a performative art. Dancers on a stage. Or in the middle of a festival or a milonga (social dance). The true life, the heart of tango, however is not performative but relational. And it is discovered in the way men and women move together in a social dance, the milonga. It is rarely anything but very subtle, and very powerful in its subtley. Slow down and enjoy how it feels to hold and be held by the one you are dancing with.

Second, tango is an elegant expression of two people moving through the polarity of lead/follow, masculine/feminine, structure/flow. When we first encounter the dance we confuse this elegance with the shoes and the clothes and even the hauteur of the dancers. These all come from the same root: an inner attention to simpicity, to the purest expression of the polarity that is being danced. That simplicity begins in the posture, the embrace, the walk. Keep it simple. Stand in your alignment. Open your front-of-body, and especially your belly and your heart, to the one you hold, the one who holds you. Be still enough to feel into what their body is telling you.

Third, this is an improvised dance. We may have stock "phrases" or movements that are comfortable, but the viccissitudes of the always-changing dance floor, the music and its complexities, the one we dance with and their changing posture and emotions and thoughts —all of this are the ocean we sail when we dance tango. We have to trust our own authority to navigate the seeming chaos on our way to our art.

Fourth, and this flows from the first two points and informs how we manage the third: this dance of polarities is also a dance of paradox: the lead, whether man or woman or otherwise, leads by "following the follow." The most elegant solution to this paradox is the most simple: for the lead to slow down; feel into how the follow's body yearns to move, and guide them into and through that movement—on the way to the "forward" that is your direction. For the follow it is to feel oneself being held, and surrender into one's own yearning and alllow that yearning to flow into the direction the lead provides. The ocean we sail allows for little to no choreography. We are, in our tango, more like jazz musicians, aware of the structure of tango's codes, the music, the lead/follow polarity, and trusting to our capacities to elegantly resolve the endless paradox of following the follow on our way to our few moments of art together.
When we begin to dance tango we can be overwhelmed at the chaos of it. These four qualities seem like the most useless things when confronted with my own lack of rhythm, my incapacity to hear the music, my lack of confidence in guiding anyone, my illiteracy of the follow's body-mind (how the fck am I supposed to "lead by following the follow?" what the fck does it mean to "feel into" their body-mind?).

For those of us who come to tango from other social dances —salsa, foxtrot, waltz, kizomba— the experience can be overwhelming. Most do not stay with it long enough to experience the alchemy of it. How like marriage...
I am listening to Stephen Jenkinson and Kimberly Ann Johnson's Forgotten Pillars conversations. These are long rambles through the derelict woods of our culture. I know these rambles —saunters rather than purpose or goal-driven hikes— are important to me. They help me slow down. They help me to be a moment of wonder, sometimes even awe, at what is possible. What is true. What is forgotten or lost. How to feel it again.

One commentator offered the thought that the forgotten pillars of patrimony and matrimony are the necessary structure and alchemistry that permit the sacred she has experienced in her marriage with her man.
Elegance. Perhaps another word for it might be grace. Not just the graceful in how simply we move, but graceful in how we accept each other, how we dance with the dancer who appears in our arms, the one we —slowing down, feeling into their body-mind— begin to know more deeply in through our art.

Stephen Jenkinson, in re-telling a story of conducting a wedding ceremony, tells of wanting to part of changing the world, and his disappointment that he was, perhaps, the only one in that ceremony who felt that calling. I try to approach every tanda (the set of three-four dances that are the tradition in milonga, tango's social dance) with a partner with that in mind: I am sacrificing myself on the altar of what we will create together. To the extent that my will and my ego are driving this dance, that is the extent to which I will not be able to experience the life-changing quality of tango with this dance partner.
There is a hauteur about tango. I mentioned this earlier. It's part of its aura. Part of it's difficulty. For all that it invites me to sacrifice my ego and make something true, it is also the stage for my grandiosity. And, especially, my pursuit of this truth, this art, as a goal.

And so I limit myself. So I become graceless. Ugly.
A tango teacher, noticing this habit beginning to emergy in our young community, called us to account. She had been watching as a number of us men were assuming we had something to teach to the new-to-tango women. She tried hard to break the momentum of our egos by forbidding us to teach on the practice floor. And offered words this effect: Tango is found in the space you create with your dance partner. You begin to discovering their level of comfort and skill, and crearting art there. Not where you want it to be, but where the art is between you, now, in the 10 minutes of so of this tanda. She was, I think, inviting us to be graceful —full of grace as we feel into the one we are dancing with, graceful in our acceptance of their capacities to create art, graceful in our surrender as lead and as follow into the possibilities for art that are here, now, with this person, with this music, on this dance floor, in this moment.

It was a sobering, and profoundly life-changing, teaching.
I have had a habit of breaking norms that I believe are outdated. Dead. Unable to help me create the art of my life or the art of my community.

Today I realize how graceless I have been. How my habit sometimes stands in the way of who I know I can be. As I write about the lessons of this dance teacher I am reminded of how graceless I was, and how we were as a dance community, with this teacher. Not in the instance described. Here I think at least a few of us, I certainly, appreciated both her wisdom and her guidance as a teacher. But later, when our community had to struggle to become something new, then I was graceless. I allowed feelings of betrayal and hurt and anger to limit me. I regret that.

There are good reasons to mistrust some of the structures our traditions provide. As I become more sensitive to others' experiences —and that is, in many ways, what the "feeling into" the other's body-mind is all about— I begin to feel so many of the structures of this culture as deadly. Not just limiting. But deadly.

But even when not deadly, even when not habits that reinforce privileges and injustices, these structures can limit us by being crutches that short-circuit our inate capacity and desire for love and beauty—our art in this life.

I think marriage can be such a limiting crutch. I think that so many of us, unconsciously, believe that the structure of marriage will elevate us out of our broken or half-formed state. That the ceremonial words and music in front of witnesses somehow magically transforms us into the husband or wife capable of the steps, the art, the dance of something magical called marriage.
I am a "certified Life-Cycle Celebrant™." I am an ordained minister, a Reverend, licensed in my province to legally marry couples. But do I know how to guide them into the always-changing, always-improvised dance of this thing called marriage? Do I know how to call on the one to provide the patrimony, the structure, that, feeling-into the feminine, allows Her to provide the alchemistry of their union?

I feel myself called to answer these questions through my practice, as a celebrant but also as a teacher of tango and of yoga, and as a writer. To create and hold the safe structures that allow those who would wed to become intimate with themselves and their inadequacies when faced with this thing called marriage. To have the grace myself, to accept them as they are, and to offer them the little I know, and encourage them to, in turn, have the grace to accept themselves and each other as never-enough, and yet always-enough to make their art.
In tango a tanda of four songs with an unknown and perhaps unpracticed dancer can feel like purgatory. There is reason for the hauteur: we, in seach of the holy grail of our tango art, give short shrift to those we deem unworthy. What I am so often taught, in these tandas, is that I am the one who is unworthy, if I do not have the grace to accept and feel into the one who surrenders to my embrace.

In our marriages, perhaps we can start there: acknowledging our desires, our yearning, —and our expectations. And, forgiving ourselves for our hauteur, begin to know the grace required to receive another. To receive not only their limits, but also the unknown capacities for greatness that can only be experienced if I surrender, sacrifice at least my expectations, on the altar of our union.
Tango is a simple dance. Only four steps: forward, back, to the left, to the right. All of it hung on the structure of the lead's confidence, the follow's surrender.

Simple. Elegant. And profoundly complicated. And, like marriage, requiring sacrifice, practice, and grace.

From these, an intimacy blossoms. And then there is the caring of this tender flower...

🌀The goal of sacred intimacy is not to "get somewhere" with your lover.
It's to look into your lover's eyes and see the Divine. (Justin Patrick Pierce)

🌀Love is a constant process of tuning in, connecting, missing and misreading cues, disconnecting, repairing and finding deeper connection. (Dr. Sue Johnson)

🌀...Patrimony and Matrimony and how they work together:...First you set the structure... Then and only then the magic, energy work, substance of the ritual, (Matrimony), can do it’s thing with freedom and abandon. Because Matrimony is held by the intentional structure of Patrimony. It is the alchemy of both together that makes it (Kelly Mason, commenting on Stephen Jenkinson and Kimberly Ann Johnson, Forgotten Pillars)

Day 23 of this month's practice, to let these thoughts and feelings move through you, with less resistance:
Please read through first, then ...

  • Set two alarms, for times of the day when you have a five-10 minutes to become conscious of who and how you are in this day.
  • When the alarm sounds, wherever and however you are, take a few moments and:
    • Ask yourself: What does it mean, to your body-mind, to "follow the follow?" Have you slowed enough, become patient enough, to feel into that energy or that person who would follow you, if you allowed yourself to be shown the way to your deepest elegance and grace?
    • Then, follow the short practice here:
      • Stand, or sit, and bring your attention to your posture.
      • Feel the ground beneath your feet or sit bones, tilt your chin slightly to lift your chest open and straighten your neck.
      • Take a deep breath, through your nose, and hold it gently for the count of six. Relax the breath for the count of eight. Repeat three times.
  • When you’re done, sit or stand for another minute or two, breathing gently, slowly filling and emptying your belly. Here, as you breathe into your fullness, ask yourself, Do I feel right? Am I in alignment with the man or woman I am? Do I even have an inkling what that might feel like? Do I even have an inkling of what it feels like to be out of alignment with myself?
  • Notice if your body-mind feels somehow changed. And whether you notice a change or not, be content with yourself, exactly as you are in this moment.
  • Continue with your day until the next alarm sounds, and repeat.

★★If you're interested in ways that I teach yoga and tango as ways to create authentic or sacred marriage, please see