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Dancing in the dark (and the light)

Allowing ourselves to hold BOTH the good and the bad in our experiences opens us up to connection, compassion, and growth

I’m a dancer. Not professionally, but it’s been a part of my life since I was 2 years old. Something in me comes alive when I dance that I can’t access through any other activity. I found Latin dancing in my 30s, post-divorce, and it was better than therapy. 5 years after beginning my love affair, I went to Cuba to study, and got so much more than I anticipated.

© Julian Peters Photography/Shutterstock

There’s a lot of noise around Cuba right now, thanks to the powers that be. But, as with many things these days, you shouldn’t really trust anything you don’t see with your own eyes or experience for yourself. I fell in love with Cuba for its people, its music, its warmth…all while very clearly seeing the price you pay when you’re cut off from much of the world. It’s the perfect place to acknowledge that nothing in this life is perfect – we make choices (or they’re made for us) and we’re left with the good and the bad, the light and the dark.

https://www.flickr.com/kevinirvinechi/25839687895

For every beautiful and unique thing about Cuba, there’s a shadow side. The art, the music, and the dance – the sheer level of talent – will bring you to tears. But it’s incredibly challenging to leave Cuba as a Cuban – so that talent stays confined to this tiny island. There’s no real opportunity or reward for innovation or the striving we see in the US – what there is, though, is an entire culture built around family, connection and relationships. There isn’t really internet, but there are classic cars from the 50s and 60s that are kept alive with spare parts from boats and sheer ingenuity. As I took it all in with a stranger’s eyes, I started to realize…what place isn’t like this?

There’s no perfect place, just as there’s no perfect person. Cuba was a mirror for me. 8 years ago, I blew up my life – I quit my job, then I moved across the country, then I left my marriage…a series of dark moments where the light was hard to find. I tried so hard to run away. But running AWAY from the dark is not the same as running TOWARD the light. I’ve learned that if you want to live your life with no regrets, you need to accept yourself as imperfect – not as “good” or “bad” but as a complex mix of the two. Every choice we make brings some joy and some pain – think about it. Have you ever made a choice that was 100% positive or 100% negative? I haven’t. I’ve IGNORED the positive or negative to justify a choice, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

In my work, I’m often asked about how to conquer imposter syndrome – this fear that others will discover you aren’t good enough or you’re actually a fraud. The first step is to see yourself clearly and accept that you’re unique AND imperfect. You’re also at choice – in our lives, we all have some kind of control. If you’re miserable in a job, you still make the choice to go (or not) each day. If you’re unfulfilled in your marriage, you can choose to fight for what you want, to leave, or to stay and accept the status quo. Rest assured that I’m not judging you – I stayed in my marriage for years telling myself the story that I was trapped because I gave my word. I chose to view myself as a victim of my circumstances rather than to make the hard choice and step into the darkness. I’ve done this countless times in my life – I’m addicted to the light, and my relationship with darkness is new…but also a little thrilling.

If any of this resonates with you, here’s my advice.

  1. Know what you stand for, independent of anyone else’s opinion. What are your values? Name them – understand what they mean to you, and why they matter
  2. Open your eyes – see the choices you make and acknowledge them. Learning to see them clearly is a skill in itself
  3. Play with perspectives – what story are you telling yourself? What’s another version of the story? What’s the opposite of that story? What’s the extreme version of the story? Remember – very few things in life are binary – challenge yourself to see all the different sides

Once you learn to see in the light AND the dark, nothing remains hidden, and everything is available to you.

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