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[中][ENG]在急流中遇見自己——舞者的自我關懷

文﹕馮曉瀅


在陽光明媚的週日下午,我興致勃勃地在布里斯班河划獨木舟。不料,當天水流格外湍急,我被推向下游……「逆水行舟,不進則退」這句話不斷浮現心頭,讓我憶起舞蹈生涯中的自己及同路人。


大多舞者都煉成面對急流的堅忍。在每次超越自我的成功經驗中,我們享受快感,成為別人心目中的「高成就者」(High achiever)。然而,無盡的、對完美的追尋,除了大部分研究(例如Hall & Hill, 2012; Wright et al., 2021)所提到對身心健康之影響外,其最大的代價可能是使人忘卻知足的樂趣。


在進修社會工作、輔導及舞蹈治療的自我探索旅程中,平安滿足常常臨在我心。那跟快樂不太一樣,不像獲得掌聲喝采的痛快。反而,在遇見最真實的自我,承認自身滿有限制,並嘗試關愛自己中感到寬懷、踏實。學習並經歷自我關懷(Self-compassion),讓人開放地反思自己的價值觀及光景,迎向內心深處的恐懼,然後坦然活在當下。要在分秒必爭的職業舞蹈環境中實踐自愛的意識和行動,我自覺面對重複的掙扎,卻也逐步釐清對自我關懷的誤解及其在舞蹈中的可貴。本文將就自我關懷的三大元素,討論舞者可能面對的糾結,並提出在舞蹈和生活中持續練習自我關懷的可能性。

海鷗——讓感受到共通人性(照片由 馮曉瀅 提供


一、「呢一刻,我感到……」:覺察當下(Mindfulness)


美國心理學家克莉絲汀.聶夫提出,自我關懷包括覺察當下、善待自己及共通人性三大元素(Neff, 2011)。其中,覺察當下的概念源自喬.卡巴金教授在治療各痛症患者中引用的技巧,意指帶著開放而不加批判的心,專注地意識當下正在進行的事,包括身體感覺、呼吸、情緒和念頭(Kabat-Zinn, 2005, 2009)。


一般人會從慢下來專注呼吸開始練習。對於應對高強度訓練的舞者而言,帶著疲憊的身體放空練習專注,覺察身體不愉悅的感覺,可能相當困難。作為舞者,我們早已練成全神貫注,把痛苦的思緒和創傷經歷跟舞蹈分割(Compartmentalisation),以達至很多人心中的「專業稱職」。與其駐足當下,留意身心狀況,不如好好「做些甚麼」,反正我應該還能多撐一會——很多舞者,包括我自己也常有這念頭。


大多舞者都知道,肌肉疲勞增加急性運動創傷風險。正如心理層面上,儘管舞動中的身體有時成了負面情緒的避難所,幫助我們暫時遠離煩惱,但長期壓抑這些感受可能導致精神上的疲憊和精疲力竭(Fatigue and burnout)。我們明白這些道理,卻往往選擇忽視它,繼續試探身體的能耐。試想像身體是表現藝術和生命力的管道,我們若容許沙石不斷流入,不及時察覺它,管道最終淤塞超載,出現裂痕,身體失去原初舞動的喜悅。


那麼,在舞蹈的追尋中,我們能否對身體所盛載的一切保持覺察?在布里斯班河上,我聽見「不進則退」這念頭,伴隨急促的心跳和喘息……雙臂酸痛、烈日的灼熱,還有害怕跟不上大隊、被拋離的恐懼。覺察這些之際,我仍求生般掙扎著,但我彷彿從第三身角度看見自己的堅毅,由衷欣賞急流中的她。


今天你若全神貫注逆水行舟,我鼓勵你花一刻鐘,對舞蹈內外的經驗抱單純的好奇,把一切都當作第一次發生去經歷。例如早上候車時覺察呼吸的長短,抬頭看天空及雲朵的顏色和移動,回到舞蹈室感覺地板的溫度。這些感覺可能是愉悅,可能不太愉悅,也可能並未準備好對我們顯現——那不要緊,沒有明顯的感覺也是一種感覺,我們只需要不加批判去覺察,讓它們成為身體的養分,在舞動間流露,感染他人。

海鷗——讓感受到共通人性(照片由 馮曉瀅 提供


二、「我值得被愛…」:善待自己(Self-kindness)


善待自己是自我關懷的另一種表達,從想要愛惜自己的意圖開始。這份無條件對自己身心靈的呵護,就像我們樂意為親友、寵物付出心思和時間,釋出善意。


若我們容易把「照顧自己」跟「懦弱」、「自私」和「懶惰」連上關係,「善待自己」很可能無法實現。在時刻都可能被取替的成長環境下,盡量令自己無懈可擊本是生存之道,也難怪舞者建立了自我批判的習慣,以此為動力。追求卓越、邁向完美成了安全網,確保我們的水平達到大環境的要求,被群體接納 。「我值得嗎?」這問題悄悄地改變了我們休息、進食、被愛與否的抉擇。我們漸漸學會把痛感當成自然(Normalisation of pain)(Magrath et al., 2023)。


然而,退後一步去想,我們生命的價值建基於甚麼呢?


在傳統舞蹈職涯,甚或人生中總會遇上這樣的情景:在師長的鞭策中,我們努力不負所望;在同輩之間的較量中,我們不甘也不敢落後;面對身體老化,要維持原來的體能和面貌好像成了自己與時間的競賽。這一切追逐中,彷彿只要我們不被認同、被拋離、被淘汰,就等於生命失卻價值。可是,你會因為自己的寵物不如別人的聰明、親人不如別人有名望、愛侶不如別人貌美,就不愛他們嗎?


別忘了你就如你所愛的人一樣珍貴。在每一次陷入負面思緒的漩渦(Rumination)時,我鼓勵你給自己倒一杯水,把手心放在胸膛溫柔的打圈,以屬於你的速度、節奏、力度觸碰安慰自己。任何溫暖而友善的觸感都能刺激大腦釋放催產素(Oxytocin),使我們感受愛和信任。在藝術追尋中,我們或許永遠「不完美」,但那無改我們生而值得被愛的事實,正如我們願意無條件地關愛他人。


三、「我們都有過這些苦、這些樂……」:共通人性(Common humanity)


意識到自己的價值不單靠外在認同,而是在於身為人本能呼吸、愛和被愛的存在,就不難發現我們不論作為舞者還是其他身份角色,都生來脆弱……生命卻在面對同樣無法控制的光景下,富有無比的韌性。我們承受苦樂,無分彼此——聶夫(2011)稱之為共通人性。


有趣的是,一旦我們的身體「與眾不同」,能完成一般人無法完成的表現(例如連續轉圈而不失平衡和方向),我們便想要變得愈來愈特別,設法維持優越的狀態。尤其在某些重視階級觀念的舞蹈群體中,突圍而出成了被肯定、被看見、被推崇的條件。只是這樣的規律以尊卑、優劣把人分隔開(Alienation),叫人忘記起初我們樂在同一節奏,在人群中同被舞蹈所吸引。


在布里斯班河上的我環顧四周,看見急流之上、夕陽之下,還有好幾艘獨木舟。舟上老老少少、不同國籍的朋友跟我一樣,氣喘如牛卻迎難而上。偶然我們對上眼,會心微笑。我們都要應對屬於自己的急流,舞蹈室裡無論是師長、學徒,大家多少面對過類似的苦樂,例如別人對自己身體外形或能力的批判。我們可能也共同意識到自愛的需要卻感到無從入手。


「要在專業舞蹈職涯中取得成功,您必須非常幸運,或者將成就置於健康之上,甚至可能兩者兼而有之。」這是好幾位富經驗而知名的芭蕾舞者,私下不約而同對我說的話。他們所說的健康,包括軀體及心靈壓抑的創傷,言詞間充滿無奈。我不願意認同,卻無法即時完全否定這說法。締造允許健康生活的舞蹈文化是我們持續的方向,師長的模範和相互關愛的社交環境對自我關懷的培養至關重要(Kosirnik et al., 2022)。在文化更新及趨向完善的進程中,讓我們選擇自處的方式,從自我關懷出發,理解身心的限制,適時容許自己抽離依賴批判和競賽作為動力的環境;練習用柔和的眼光看見自己此刻的剛強和軟弱;照顧老練的武裝下、那內在真摯善良的靈魂。慢慢地,生命的本質會提醒我們自己真正的價值,內心在坦然面對自己的糾結間變得謙柔而沉穩,承托我們的身體在亂流中仍然活現生命力,感受自己在舞動間純粹而滿足,也看見彼此同樣可愛。共勉之。



馮曉瀅於在布里斯班河划獨木舟(照片由 馮曉瀅 提供


Encountering the Spirit in the Rapids: Dancers’ Self-compassion

Text: Melody Hiu Ying Fung


During a bright Sunday afternoon, I had the delightful opportunity to go kayaking on the Brisbane River. Much to my astonishment, the water surged with great speed, hindering my ability to fully admire the picturesque surroundings. Instead, I found myself engaged in a fierce struggle against the forceful rapids. Throughout that day, the phrase "Sail against the current; you either advance or retreat" lingered in my thoughts, serving as a reminder of myself and my fellow dancers on our own unique dance journeys.


Most dancers have cultivated exceptional perseverance in facing severe currents. We take pride in this quality, cherishing both the challenges we face and the fearless spirit within us. We find pleasure in surpassing ourselves again and again, and begin pursuing excellence, becoming what people called "high achievers". Nevertheless, the relentless pursuit of perfection, apart from its impact on dancers' physical and mental health as mentioned by most studies (e.g., Hall & Hill, 2012; Wright et al., 2021), may come at the cost of forgetting the pure joy of contentment.


Throughout my personal journey of self-exploration in the fields of social work, counseling, and dance/movement therapy, a profound sense of peace and contentment has consistently emerged. However, this feeling differs from the happiness derived from winning competitions or receiving applause after a performance. Instead, it revolves around embracing my authentic self, recognizing my inherent limitations, and finding grounding and solidity through self-care and self-nurturing.


Learning and experiencing self-compassion allow people to reflect on their values and circumstances in the present moment, and to embrace the fear of being disliked, rejected, or abandoned as triggered in daily life. It empowers us to live in the present moment with tranquility and purpose. To practice self-love in the competitive world of professional dancing, nonetheless, I have encountered repetitive struggles. Yet these inner battles helped me dispel misconceptions about self-compassion and its invaluable presence in the world of dance.


This article elaborates on the three key elements of self-compassion and explore common dilemmas faced by dancers, while proposing the possibility for us to continue practicing self-compassion in dance and life.


I."At the here-and-now, I am feeling..." : Mindfulness

Kristin Neff (2011), an American psychologist, suggested that self-compassion consists of three elements: mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity. The concept of mindfulness draws inspiration from the techniques adopted by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn (2005, 2009) in treating patients suffering from chronic pain. It refers to bringing an open and non-judgmental awareness to the present moment, including bodily sensations, breath, emotions, and thoughts.


For the general population, practicing mindfulness often begins with slowing down and concentrating on a few breaths. However, for dancers who undergo rigorous and intricate training on a daily basis, it can be incredibly challenging to instantly clear their minds and become aware of their body's discomfort, exhaustion, and pain. Furthermore, as dancers, we have developed the ability to compartmentalize our pain, emotions, thoughts, and even traumatic experiences from the music and steps in the dance studio. This approach is often perceived as a hallmark of professionalism by many. Rather than fully engaging in the present moment and being mindful of our physical and mental state, we tend to focus on "doing something" to equip ourselves, believing that we can push through a little longer. Many dancers, myself included, harbor such thoughts from time to time.


Through both personal experiences and the promotion of dance health education, many dancers are aware that muscle fatigue can heighten the risk of acute sports injuries. Similarly, on a psychological level, while moving our bodies may offer temporary respite from negative emotions, long-term suppression of these feelings can result in mental exhaustion and burnout, with significant repercussions. Despite understanding these concepts to some degree, we often choose to disregard them and push our bodies to their limits. Consider the body as a vessel for creative expression and vitality - If we neglect the continuous influx of sand and stones, the vessel will eventually become obstructed and overwhelmed, leading to cracks. Consequently, the initial joy of dancing diminishes.


So, is it possible if we remain mindful of everything our body carries in the pursuit of dance? On the Brisbane River, I vividly heard the inner voice "if you don't keep up, you'll fall behind," accompanied by a racing heart and shortness of breath. Alongside the soreness in my arms, there lingered the fear of being unable to keep pace with the group and being left behind. Of course, I also felt the scorching heat of the sun and the refreshing coolness of the water splashing on my face. Being mindful of these sensations did not make my body feel any easier. The river continued to flow, and I still struggled like a survivor caught in a swift current. Yet, it seemed as though I was witnessing my own determination from a third-person perspective, genuinely admiring the resilient girl on the river. This renewed my motivation to persevere, balanced with the understanding and kindness to allow myself a break when necessary.


If you happen to feel like rowing against the current today, please be encouraged to take a moment and try to approach things inside and outside of dance with a sense of curiosity, as if you are experiencing them for the first time. In the morning, for instance, while waiting at the familiar train station, pay attention to the length of your breath, gaze up at the sky and observe the colors and movements of the clouds, feel the temperature of the dance studio floor, and notice the reflection of your inner emotions in the mirror. At first, these sensations may not immediately reveal themselves to us, and that is alright. Even the absence of feeling is a valid experience. We simply let go of judgments as we strive to be mindful each time. The emotions we encounter may be pleasant or unpleasant, but these genuine experiences can serve as nourishment for our bodies, flowing through our movements and inspiring others.


II."I deserve to be loved...": Self-kindness

Choosing to be kind to ourselves is another way of expressing self-compassion. It begins with the intention to treat ourselves with love and care. This involves providing unconditional support and nurturing to our body, mind, and spirit, much like the time, care, and goodwill we readily offer to our loved ones and pets.


Naturally, when we associate "taking care of ourselves" with "weakness," "selfishness," and "laziness," the concept of "self-kindness" may only remain theoretical rather than put into practice. In environments where we constantly feel replaceable, striving to be flawless becomes necessary for survival. No wonder dancers have developed a habit of self-criticism, applying it as a constant source of motivation. Pursuing excellence and striving for perfection become a safety net, ensuring that we meet the expectations of the larger dance community and gain acceptance. Every success or failure in dance auditions can create the illusion that we were rejected because we are not good enough as individuals. In reality, it may simply mean that our performance on that specific day did not impress the judges in that particular context. Yet, the question of whether we deserve success or acceptance can stealthily influence our choices regarding rest, nourishment, and allowing ourselves to be loved. Gradually, we learn to normalize pain and view it as a natural part of the process (Magrath et al., 2023).


Let us pause and reflect on what we use as a foundation to determine the value of our existence.

In traditional dance careers, as well as in life, we often find ourselves in situations where we feel the pressure to meet expectations set by our teachers, hoping to gain recognition. We may compare ourselves to our peers and feel a strong reluctance to fall behind. As our bodies naturally age, there is a sense of competition between ourselves and time to maintain our physical abilities and appearance. In all these pursuits, it can feel as though our worth and value are tied to being recognized, accepted, or not being eliminated. However, consider this: would you stop loving your pet just because it may not be as intelligent as other people's pets? Or would you stop loving your loved ones simply because they may not possess the same level of prestige or beauty as others?


Always remember that you are just as precious as the person you love. During moments of rumination where negative thoughts consume your mind, I encourage you to take a moment for yourself. Pour a glass of water and place your hand on your chest, gently circling it, providing comfort to your heart at your own pace and with your own rhythm and weight. Any warm and compassionate touch has the ability to trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes feelings of love and trust in our brains. In the pursuit of art, we may never achieve "perfection," but that does not change the fact that we are inherently deserving of love, just as we willingly offer unconditional care to others.

III."We have all experienced joys and sorrows...": Common Humanity

Once we recognize that our worth is not solely dependent on external validation, but rather on our inherent existence as human beings – our ability to breathe, love and be loved – it becomes clear that we are all born vulnerable. Irrespective of our roles, whether as dancers or in other capacities, we inevitably encounter various challenges and uncertainties in life. However, life has an incredible resilience that allows us to endure both the joys and sorrows that come our way, without distinction. Neff (2011) refers to this quality as "common humanity."


Interestingly, when our physical abilities excel and allow us to achieve feats that set us apart from others (such as maintaining continuous spins without losing balance or direction), we often develop a desire to be seen as "unique" and strive to maintain a superior status. This tendency is particularly prevalent in dance communities that place a high value on hierarchical distinctions, where power differentials become focal points of attention. The pursuit of standing out becomes a prerequisite for affirmation, recognition, and admiration. However, this dynamic ultimately creates a division between those perceived as superior and those seen as inferior, resulting in a sense of alienation and a loss of joy in group dance. There was a time when the identity of leader or follower did not matter; instead, our focus was solely on connecting with our dance partner through a shared rhythm.


Observing the River, I noticed several kayaks similar to mine, struggling against the rapids as the sun set. On board were friends of different ages and nationalities, all like myself, gasping for air but persevering. We occasionally made eye contact and exchanged knowing smiles, recognizing that we each face our own obstacles. Whether in the dance studio or elsewhere, individuals in various roles - teachers, apprentices, superiors, and subordinates - have experienced similar highs and lows on their dance journeys, including scrutiny of their physical appearance or abilities and the fear of being eliminated for not keeping up with the group. While navigating these challenges, we may collectively recognize the importance of self-love, yet struggle to know how to begin.


"Success in a professional dance career necessitates either remarkable luck or a willingness to prioritize achievements above personal well-being, and perhaps both" These were the words shared with me in private conversations by several experienced and renowned ballet dancers. Their understanding of "health" encompasses not only physical injuries endured but also the emotional toll of suppressing one's innermost feelings, as evidenced by their expressions of helplessness. Although I am hesitant to fully embrace this statement, I cannot dismiss it outright. Our ongoing objective is to foster a dance culture that promotes a healthy lifestyle, where teachers serve as positive examples and a social environment built on mutual care has a transformative impact on dancers' self-compassion (Kosirnik et al., 2022). As we embark on a journey of cultural renewal and refinement, let us make active determination on how we situate ourselves. Begin by being compassionate to ourselves, understand the limitations of our body and mind, and timely allow ourselves to detach from environments that rely on criticism and competition as driving force. Let us practice the art of gently acknowledging our current strengths and weaknesses, nurturing the genuine and kind soul that lies beneath the experienced facade. Gradually, the essence of life will serve as a reminder of our true worth, humbling and grounding us as we confront our own challenges. Amidst the turbulence, our bodies will exude vitality, as we continue to experience the pure contentment found in dance and bear witness to the beauty that resides within each other. May this be our mutual encouragements.


References

Hall, H. K., & Hill, A. P. (2012). Perfectionism, dysfunctional achievement striving and burnout in aspiring athletes: The motivational implications for performing artists. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training3(2), 216-228.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. Hachette UK.

Kabat-Zinn, J., & Hanh, T. N. (2009). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Delta.

Kosirnik, C., Antonini Philippe, R., & Pomini, V. (2022). Investigating the Links Between Performers’ Self-Compassion, Mental Toughness and Their Social Environment: A Semi-Systematic Review. Frontiers in Psychology13, 887099.

Magrath, J., Paglione, V., Morrison, L., & Kenny, S. J. (2023). ‘It shouldn’t be necessary, but it happens a lot’: Undergraduate contemporary dancers’ perceptions of pain, injury, and fatigue. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training14(4), 492-510.

Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. Hachette UK.

Wright, A., Fisher, P. L., Baker, N., O'Rourke, L., & Cherry, M. G. (2021). Perfectionism, depression and anxiety in chronic fatigue syndrome: A systematic review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research140, 110322.


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馮曉瀅 Melody Fung

馮曉瀅博士,香港芭蕾舞團駐團身心康健輔導主任,香港大學博士後研究員,註冊社工。馮氏自小與舞蹈結緣, 早年開展與舞者身心健康相關之研究, 現於大專院校客席授課, 透過研究和實踐舞蹈/動作治療等介入手法, 推廣舞者及社群之身心整全健康 (Holistic well-being)。


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