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

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