Sunday, February 22, 2009

On Being a Newbie

I love learning. I have spent the greater portion of my adult life seeking out new experiences, knowledge, and places. Nothing feeds my soul greater than the chance to absorb new sites and smells, to delve into deeper ways of being and thinking, and to overcome personal challenges. I have learned Japanese, lived in Eastern Europe, taken up organic gardening, started a non-profit organization, built a straw bale chicken coop, opened a belly dance studio, and become a student of shamanism. Life is short and there is so much to do and see!

In stark contrast to this, I hate being a beginner at something. I am both a major control freak and a perfectionist. Being in a situation that is unfamiliar brings up both fear and frustration. Whether it’s learning to cross country ski or speak a foreign language, I want to be good at it NOW. I have no patience for myself on the learning curve. It goes without saying, there is no room for mistakes in attempting something new in my life. I am after all, my own worst critic.

Welcome to my crazy world!

Quite a few years ago, I became familiar with the concept “beginner’s mind.” It describes the state of mind that one experiences when learning something new, where freshness, excitement, and a sense of adventure prevail. However, this is one state I have yet to visit. Wh
en in a new place, I worry that I won’t know the customs and offend someone; when doing something that is physically challenging I swear like a sailor and get headaches easily; when I make mistakes I revert to childlike whining and blush uncontrollably; and the worst, when everyone in the room has more experience than me, I assume I am holding them back, preventing them from learning more!

This past week I put myself in that oh so familiar and exciting place once again, stepping out of my comfort zone, challenging myself with something new, and attempting to learn some new skills. I was the newbie. And it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew that it was time in my life to finally address my fears and frustration when in a new situation. I was determined to be relaxed, to be easy on myself, to have fun, and not worry that I would be in unfamiliar water.

The Challenge? I signed up, with a friend, for a 3-day belly dance intensive in San Francisco. There were over 20 woman in the class, learning from a woman renowned in the belly dance world for not only her teaching and dancing, but also for founding an entire new style of belly dance, American Tribal Style, that originated from her vast exposure to, and experience in, the many different styles of belly dance.

Now, please understand, I have over 10 years of belly dance experience, have been teaching for almost two years, lead and dance in a performance troupe, and as mentioned above, just opened a dance studio. But the class I was taking this past week was a style that, although I am somewhat familiar with it, is still fairly new to me. It is made up of improvisational moves from a shared vocabulary of dance moves that is both highly intuitive and also physically demanding. There is leading and following, different formations to learn, moves to master, and music theory to tackle. Some pieces to the puzzle are the same, but they are laid out in an entirely new way.

I hate to admit it, but the first two of the three days I had reverted back to my old “newbie” habits. I was shy, awkward, hovered in the back corners of the dance studio, and dreaded the moments where we had to move forward out into the center of the room and dance in front of the others. By the end of each day I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. And I felt not only miserable, but shocked and surprised at how “less than” I was feeling, and amazed at how I saw myself – as unworthy of ever learning this style.

What happened to the other me? The experienced dancer and teacher? The world traveler? The starter of organizations? The Shaman-in-Training no less? Is this how a shaman would act? What happened to my spiritual studies? My lessons on being present, on being the creator of my own reality rather than a victim to it, on healing and transformation? Where was that woman???

I awoke the third day and said, “Enough!” I was ready to start fresh. Ready to reclaim the “power-full” me. To feel good about myself. To be the dancer that I am. And also to be comfortable with being new at something. To relish in and actually enjoy beginners mind! To embody and live the lessons I have been learning, both as a dancer and as a student of shamanism.

And how did it go? Well, I think I actually did it!!! I had fun, I took less notes, I tried to be in the present moment, I laughed at myself, I stepped out of my angst enough to notice that others were learning and that they too made mistakes, I actually listened to the music and entered that place where dance, body, and space meld into a joyful state of no-time and ecstasy. Even if for just brief, ephemeral moments at a time. And this on top of having the “worse thing you can imagine happening” actually happen.

At one point I was out in the center of the room with two other dancers, 19 other students and the teacher watching, and all of the sudden the music came to an abrupt stop -- I had done something wrong, and was corrected in front of everyone! Ack! Now, had this happened on day one or two, in my “less than” state, I would have crawled into a tiny little whole and never come out. But on day three, with my new attitude, with my re-found self-assurance, with my openness to being NEW at something, I felt okay. I felt calm. It actually, believe it or not, felt good to learn to do something the way it should be done. And that it was okay that I didn’t know everything. I stood calmly in front of that room. I was not afraid. I was not embarrassed. Instead, I was calm. I was strong. I was in my center. There is nothing more empowering.

It was for me, clearly a breakthrough moment.
I am proud of it.
And humbled by it.
Life is truly a wondrous journey!
Thank you for sharing it with me.

For more information on American Tribal Style belly dance visit
For more information on Shamanic Studies visit

Sunday, February 8, 2009

25 Bits and Pieces

I have a confession to make. My name is Tracy Carlton. And I'm addicted to Facebook.

If you don't know what Facebook is or have avoided it so far ~ run, resist, stay far away! Don't start!

One of the latest features making the rounds is folks sharing a list of 25 Things about themselves. I jumped in and spent way more time than any sane person should compiling my list. And I was spending SO MUCH time on it that I needed to save it for a later date to finish and post. But, horrors of all horrors, when I went back the next day, it was GONE!!!! All my creativity, my efforts, my self-expression ~ whoosh, sucked into cyberspace never to be seen again. Talk about a non-attachment moment. If only I were Buddhist.

But I'm not, so I started a new list. And put it here instead, in this blog, to share. Smarter and safer I thought. If I feel generous, I'll copy it over to Facebook, we'll see. Actually, it was a fun list to create, to think about all the parts of me and what to include, a chance to take stock, to reflect, to share parts of myself with I'm not sure who. A little bit of a risk, what if people think I'm a freak? Ah well, there ya go.

I've also enjoyed reading other people's lists, the lists are a way for insight into friends and family that we think we know, and who can surprise us with what they share. Or a first glimspe into someone we don't know well at all and would, as a result of reading their lists, like to get to know better. If you take the time to create your own list, I'd love to see it, please share and send it my way!

And let me know your thoughts on mine ~ enjoy!

1. If I had more money I’d have more tattoos (I have 3 currently, a teeny tiny one that hardly counts, the other two quite a bit more significant). Feeding my family, fortunately, does take precedence.

2. I teach tribal style belly dance classes, have my own studio, and am part of a performing dance troupe, and can’t believe that I get paid to do something I love! Shameless plug: (tribal belly dance: redefining belly dance!)

3. I’m SO ready to quit my day job and just do number 3. Working on it…

4. I used to speak Japanese and Czech, could still get by in a pinch, and still dream in both languages, mixed with a bit of high school Spanish (that’s all 3 mixed together in the same dream – talk about confusing).

5. I bake bread to relax.

6. Our very cute, affordable house is for sale and has been for way too long, someone please buy it.

7. I have been and will always be a cat person. I have only 3 at the moment because our house is small (that’s “cozy,” if you’re interested in buying it).

8. My husband and I built a straw bale chicken coop while I was pregnant. Smart? Hmmmmm……. It’s gone by the way, clearly didn’t add value to the home when putting it on the market.

9. I don’t own a TV (that probably explains #8).

10. I tried dreadlocks for all of 6 months. It was very brave, but not very me. My boss never said a thing, but I could tell she was VERY relieved when they were gone (I actually combed out each one, one by one, instead of cutting them off as some people would have done ~ yep, hurt like heck).

11. My favorite place to ever visit was northern Thailand, and I wish I would have stayed longer instead of “keeping to my plan” which meant moving on to the next place too soon. Lesson learned.

12. I’m pretty far out of the box in most areas of my life. You name it, I’ll probably question it.

13. The coolest thing ever to see in person is a giraffe running, preferably – most definitely - not in a zoo.

14. Dark Chocolate. The only thing that defies the concept of “moderation in all things.”

15. I have a very balanced right and left brain: I sew, paint and dance, but I can balance a mean checkbook. This has come in handy many times throughout my life.

16. As I’ve gotten older my spiritual path has become central to who I am. Yet it’s been the one thing I’ve been reluctant to share with others. I’ve kept it very private. But that’s changing.

17. Hands down the grooviest thing I got out of getting an MA in Social and Cultural Anthropology was learning that in many other places and times in history, a woman’s Moon Time (affectionately known here as one’s period, the curse, that time of the month, etc) is when a woman is at her most powerful and intuitive. Women on the same cycle come together during this time and do NOTHING, but be together and connect to each other and their god/goddess/higher power. This is definitely a ritual that needs to be made more popular and mainstreamed here in the U.S. (people, we NEED those days off from work, laundry, child care, groceries, bill paying, etc., we’ve earned it!).

18. My son was in intensive care for the first three months of his life, and I hope that it was the greatest challenge I will ever have to face in this lifetime.

19. I believe every single person is here to do something creative and unique to themselves, all they need is encouragement and support. Something our society withholds and/or places roadblocks to at just about every chance. So what’s your dream?

20. So even though I am all about eating healthy, whole foods, local, organic and sustainable agriculture, the slow food movement, and the connection between our relationship to food and our relationship the Earth, I still crave, and give into, Pop Tarts every once in a while.

21. I’m a Shaman-in-training (see #16).

22. I believe in miracles. And magic.

23. My son is my greatest teacher. May he please grow up to forgive the many stumbles and mistakes I make in negotiating this amazing path called motherhood.

24. I thought I’d be single forever. I can’t believe how lucky I am. My husband really is my best friend and knows me like no one else and supports all of the wacky things I do (see the many things on this list, for example). And to think we met online! He was SO worth the wait! I love you Dave!

25. I am grateful for the beauty and abundance of my life and for all of the people that are in it.