• Steven A. Smith

Two Vignettes with a Tango Thread

Home Phone

Life Without a Cell Phone

I have never owned a cell phone. I have never sent a text message. I have used a cell phone less times than the number of fingers I have on one hand, and one of those times I wish I could take back. I own one phone. It's a black plastic cradle phone with blue buttons and white numbers with four small yellow buttons on the bottom which read "hold", "redial", "volume" and "flash". I still wonder what "flash" indicates hoping that there would be a secret strobe light which illuminates the room while talking in the dark. No such luck. The phone has a curly cord which connects it to the cradle, and it was designed by Michael Graves. When talking to someone, I am able to hear a radio station during pauses. It actually provides the perfect distraction and comic relief during stressful conversations.

So with all the extraordinary phone technology available today, why do I continue to live in the dark ages of communication? The inconvenience it causes others is very obvious at times, especially when we are trying to connect about where to meet and airport pick ups. I have been asked many times how I survive without a cell phone. And I simply respond saying, "I survive just as I have for the first 48 years of my life." People usually look at me at this point with very puzzled expressions, and I can then see the wheels in their minds whirling away as they scan their pasts. More frequently now, however, when I tell people I live without a cell phone, the response is, "Good for you. If you can, do not ever get one." The younger people who learn of my choice to abstain from cellular technology exclaim, "That is awesome! or "That is so cool!" and look at me like I am some sort of rebel and vestige from a past they only have learned about in books and old movies. I tell them I only have a "land line" and do not even have caller ID. At this point their faces usually go blank as if I had transitioned into a foreign language of which they do not know a single word.

So rather than embracing this extraordinary technology, I would prefer to spend my money on a tango lesson, Thai lunch with a friend or a new book. Plus I value my privacy too much. Walking out the door and having uninterrupted hours with my own thoughts and feelings, the sky, rain and trees is a profound gift I have enjoyed my entire life. I am also constantly looking for ways to simplify life rather than make life more complicated. There are enough distractions in life as it is. So for now I will keep my "land line" with its curly cord, push buttons and intermittent radio broadcasts and savor the varied, sweet expressions on people's faces when I tell them I do not have a cell phone. If I had a cell phone, I may not be able to cherish those moments like I do now.

Transcendent Tango

I had never experienced 'transcendent' tango until last weekend. A friend recently used that ever so etherial word to describe her recent tango experiences while traveling abroad. Upon hearing this, I was initially very intrigued, curious, excited and, I embarrassingly admit, rather envious. Having been a consistent meditator and Buddhist practitioner for a good fifteen years and studied tango for four, I had yet to experience anything remotely close to transcendent anything since racing a bicycle (which is the closest I may ever come to flying).

It is rather funny, though, because there are numerous stories of Buddhist practitioners throughout the ages who isolate themselves deep in the mountains or other remote places with the singular purpose of reaching Nirvana, and yet after years and years of meditation, nothing happens. Discouraged and confused more than ever, they often obtain NIrvana at very unpredictable and spontaneous moments when they are simply going about their daily business sweeping leaves, doing laundry, waking through the market place, etc. I was certainly not sweeping leaves over the weekend, but I was also not thinking about transcendence at all either. Perhaps this is what finally made a glimpse of it possible. I was not thinking about it.

I did not plan to experience transcendence at the Seattle Tango Marathon, but like those practitioners who return from solitary retreats in caves deep in the mountains, I too had an experience which was totally unexpected. It was as if a door spontaneously opened, and by choosing to walk through, a new and deliciously beautiful world revealed itself. One of the countlessly profound and simply practical benefits of meditation is that it helps one be present with whatever is happening from moment to moment whether it is painful, joyful, peaceful, sad, etc. It affords one the opportunity to embrace the whole spectrum of the human condition with all of its infinite colors and textures, and the marathon weekend was definitely full of many different colors and textures.

I had been doing my best to use the marathon as an opportunity to meditate, since I struggle with social anxiety, and trying to coexist at any event with one's former partner is enough to test anyone's meditation endurance. However, every moment is a teacher. Every moment is a chance to meditate. Every moment is a birth, death and rebirth. Every moment has the potential to be a surprise. I had planned on not returning for the last milonga of the weekend as I had reached a point of fatigue and saturation, but after some fresh air, a walk in the the ever elusive Pacific Northwest sunshine, a nap, good food, and most importantly, the warm encouragement from a few angelic friends, I made my way back for the waning moments of the marathon, and I am very glad I did.

It began as I was walking across the ballroom returning to my seat after a detour to the restroom. I had not noticed this person over the previous few days. Perhaps she had been there the whole time. Perhaps not. Perhaps she was an angel. As I looked up from focusing on the green, red and beige carpet (introverts become very intimate with carpet patterns as a way of avoiding eye contact), I caught her eye and she caught mine. We both nodded. It was a completely unplanned cabeceo (visual invitation to dance used at tango events). But as the next song was beginning, I held out my had to walk with her to the dance floor. Just the simple act of taking her hand let me know that I was about to experience something new.

As we embraced one another and began moving to the music during the first twinkling bars of the tanda, and my body, mind and soul instantly felt full of light, ease and effervescent energy. There was no longer any pain of any kind. I felt at home. To say much more about the following 10 minutes would only put the time spent with this person into the confines of language. I would be trying to describe the indescribable, and I fear the experience would lose much of its magic. Some things are meant to remain in our own hearts for as long as they need to. Perhaps one day a medium will reveal itself which will best express the depth, beauty, warmth and joy experienced on that Sunday evening in March. And since I am neither Shakespeare, Mary Oliver nor Rumi, I will simply say that I hope this other person enjoyed herself as much as I did, and if that is what it is like to experience transcendence, then I hope with all my heart that all beings may be able to enjoy that too.