The dance of WiseFool circus camp and collective creativity continues. Since I last wrote (Thursday morning), we’ve done more conditioning together, learned stilts, clowning and juggling. A common theme throughout has been the importance of the practice of acceptance. In particular, in circus camp, I am regularly being asked to accept where I am in terms of ability and strength in any given moment.
In this context, I’ve starting thinking of acceptance as a springboard. In order to leap from where I am now, I must first sink into where I am now.
I speculate that we’ve each got a set of steps in this circus camp dance that we often repeat. One routine I do is to try something, fail to be able to do it and then get angry with myself for my inability-to-do. A lot of times, this routine is part of a bigger story that goes like this: Ten years ago, I broke my back. I put a lot of time and effort it recovering my strength and developing new forms of strength, e.g. in my core. I’ve fucked up in letting myself lose strength, flexibility and overall physical fitness. I should have been a better person than I have been.
Sometimes, I’ve shared the sentiment of this story out loud at circus camp. Each time, the person who has heard me has said, in one way or another: “Okay. Well, you’re here now. You are getting fit again.”
My fellow campers have shown little interest in stepping into my little story that revolves around self-flagellation.
A variation on this dance is one where I can’t do a particular activity. My not doing it is not necessarily related to lack of strength of fitness – it is just a new activity that is taking me some time to master. Take hula-hooping. Day one that we learned it, I simply couldn’t do it. Day two came, and same again. I contemplated just giving up and sitting down and watching everyone progress on their hooping journey Instead, I went into a corner and while everyone was learning new moves, I just persisted at the basic hula-the-hoop movement.
Eventually, I got there. I still have a ways to go. I can’t sustain it for long and I don’t feel ready to try all the different movements that were taught. Regardless, what supported me to arrive at getting the basics?
The teacher supported me. She gave me tips on posture and positioning. She gave a different size hoop than the one I had grab. She encouraged me to keep trying. My fellow circus campers supported me. One, for example, saw me manage to keep the hoop up for a few seconds for the first time and congratulated me. She did this each time I made a bit of progress. When I managed to sustain hooping for a good long while, the whole class cheered.
I’m still way behind everyone else in hooping techniques. I remember on the day wondering if my inability to hoop was going to mess up the final performance we’ll be doing in a week. I remembering thinking that and then telling myself “No. This camp is designed to allow each of us to be who and where we are in terms of ability. This camp is designed to accept each of us as we are, without judgment or shame. I’m not messing up anything for anyone.”
I’m conscious, that with this circus camp, we have quickly created a culture that nudges each of us to be more accepting of our selves and each other. At the same time, it nudges us to create relationships with our selves and one another that give rise to expansive movement rather than constraining stagnation.
I could easily have allowed myself to be led by frustration at my inability to hoop. I could have made a cup of tea, sat down and given up. I could have thrown a tantrum. I could have done all sorts of things to fight against and berate myself. Beyond a second or two of “Dammit, why can’t I do this?” I didn’t go that route. In part, because I know that “I can’t” isn’t a really popular phrase at WiseFool. In part, because the people around me and the ethos of the camp encouraged me both to accept the reality of my present limits while also trying to move beyond them. In part, because I knew one thing for sure – if I didn’t try, I definitely wasn’t going to get anywhere.
After class, a couple of people told me they were impressed by my persistence. As said, quite a few people shared in rejoicing when I did I manage to get some hoop-action going. We are in a restorative dance together, collectively led by acceptance, persistence, movement and belief.
In this dance, we practice giving nourishment. A teacher held a space for me to keep going at my own little thing while everyone else did the planned repertoire. I chose to bypass self-judgment and criticism for discipline and persistence. My fellow circus campers chose to cheer me on and celebrate my victories with me. Some watched me and wrote a story of the little engine that could, rather than the little engine that lagged behind or the little engine that couldn’t stay on the tracks.
Taking these steps in our dance, we are practicing the art of love, which has acceptance at its core. Contrary to what I think is conventional wisdom, acceptance is not some from of passivity. Acceptance need not lead to resignation. Quite the opposite is true in circus camp. An entwined individual and collective practice of acceptance accompanied by belief, support, persistence and discipline regularly springboards us into a beautiful space of infinite collective creative potential.
I have much gratitude for being able to experience this collective creativity rooted in acceptance as a springboard.
When is the last time you’ve had such an experience?