Tag Archives: positive attitude

Losing Maria and Finding Success

I fit at least one stereotype about black people; I can dance. I especially love to twist my hips, move my legs, and shake my shoulders to the tantalizing beat of Reggae, R&B, Latin, Pop, Gospel, and all kinds of music. I dance at home, in church, in the mall, at the gym, on the sidewalk, and just about everywhere.

When I saw the HBO documentary “El Espirtu De La Salsa” (The Spirit of Salsa), I was drawn to the gyrating music and moves of Salsa. However, I would never have expected that I would gain the dance lesson of my life.

El Espirtu De La Salsa brought people from all over New York City to Spanish Harlem, to upgrade their Salsa. Classes were lead by Latin Dance instructor, Thomas Guerrero, who prepared participants for an upcoming community performance. 

The show was particularly interesting as it went beyond dancing to showcase the individual lives and characters of the participants. As a healthy single woman, my eyes feasted on the police officer, for no other reason other than the fact that he was pretty good to look at. But it was the single mother (for anonymity I will call her Maria), who grabbed my attention.

In one rehearsal, Maria seemed to be having fun showing off her Salsa moves. The problem was that her moves were completely out of sync with her partner, and the rest of the class. With the performance fast approaching, Guerrero expressed frustration with her for not practicing the group steps. Like a bull dog, she barked, in her defence. She said ‘she practiced, she was good, and she was not the problem!’

After some argumentative ranting, Maria apologized to Thomas, and appeared to calm down. I don’t know if the impetus for her apology was the blinding lights of the TV cameras, or the realization that she may be embarrassing herself on national TV.  But I hope it may have been because she saw what she world saw. She was self-centred, hard-of-hearing, and a ‘my way’ kind of lady!

As I watched Maria’s story, I saw an answer to one of my greatest problem. I have never been able to follow a guy in a slow or Latin dance. He just couldn’t get on to my sensual moves, I thought!  The idea of me letting go of me, and following his lead, was not a consideration. Like Maria, I could be a bull-dog, ready to rip apart anyone who tried to push me on that point.

But this day was different. As I listened to Thomas, I saw myself in a Salsa dance, totally glued to my partner, knowing and meticulously following his every move. I saw that dancing with a partner was not about how I moved, or how good I looked. It was about my ability to lose myself in his arms, forget my mind, and trust the leadership of my partner. It was about my ability to follow and trust the leadership of my partners in life. It was about losing Maria!

When I had the Stroke, I lost the Maria in me.   I lost my ability to argue or talk-back to anyone. I lost the ability to run my own life. I lost the ability to say, “I am right.”

My heart filled with happiness, and I seemed to be always smiling. It was a joy to listen to God, my inner-voice, my family, my friends, my doctors, my physiotherapists, and just about everyone. I lost my hunger for perfection in me. I saw perfection in the dance I was doing with the people in my life.

Today, the Maria in me is not gone. However, she is like a visible red stop sign. So when I see her, I can choose to stop my single, know it all dance.  I can choose to be more. I can choose to surrender and dance with the partners around me. In that space, I find knowledge, peace, joy, love and the answer to being all that I can be.

Copyright © 2010 M. Dawn Armstrong. All rights reserved.

Going For Gold

In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I watched South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius (above, left), a double leg amputee, barrel his way down the track in the 100 metre sprint, to a triumphant last place finish. Equally victorious was South Africa’s Natalie Du Troit (above, middle), a leg amputee, who qualified for the 10K swim. Likewise, Poland’s Natalia Partyka (above, right), born without a right hand and forearm, qualified for women’s table tennis. They clearly established themselves as Olympic athletes, thereby the best in the world. The fact that they didn’t take home any medals didn’t matter. More importantly, they represented a huge victory for those of us who need to see that there are no barriers to achieving our goals.

In 2007, I had a no-cause stroke which damaged the muscles and nerves on the right side of my body. It also diminished the functioning of my brain. After a year, I was labelled permanently disabled and unable to work. I had passed the point where most stroke survivors retrieve the vast majority of whatever functioning that will come back. My dreams of being a great business woman seemed impossible. My hope to marry again was dwindling into hopelessness. Who would want me for anything?

I saw Pistorius and I was reminded that God had a great purpose for us all. I knew that I couldn’t give up on my dreams of being an accomplished woman, who achieved great success by helping others be the best of themselves.  I just needed to make a shift. So I did what I always do, I searched for my answer.

In my quest, I saw that disability highlighted the greatness of Olympic stars like Pistorius, Du Troit and Partyka.  It was the heart of people like Michael J. Fox, Christopher Reeves, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Helen Keller, all of whom followed their true paths and catapulted to greatness.  These were ordinary people who achieved extraordinary things through belief, hard work, and an in-conquerable will to achieve.

Self-defeating thoughts didn’t suffocate these role models, and they certainly were not going to take over my life.  I knew deep inside that if God left me here on this earth, he wanted me to be the awesome person I always felt was inside. My stroke was a call to open my eyes and see the world in a different way. Like many, I needed to change my perspective so that I could see my God-given beauty, strength and brilliance, so that I could be what I was meant to be.

Before that point I was trying to be everything. I focused on being a manager, a trainer, an activist for the disadvantaged, and a writer, to name a few. Trying to move forward was like moving through quick sand. For example, working toward being a corporate manager was like banging my head against a solid brick wall. I clashed with my boss’s nasty personality, though I am clear I was also seeing reflections of my own nastiness. I felt no joy, no exhilarated fulfilment in my life.

Since having my stroke, I have been dramatically slowed down and even immobile for a while. I could barely speak for some time, and when I did it was at times hardly intelligible. Through my stillness, I saw my life clearly pulling me down a specific path. People came to me for information about and help with technology, writing, research, leadership, positive thinking and more. I was effortlessly doing what I claimed as my life mission years ago “helping the right people, find the right information, at the right time.” Interestingly enough, I have a graduate degree as an information specialist!

Some say God knocks you down so you can look up at him and see the truth. I looked up and saw my truth. There are no barriers to achieving my goals, but my self-defeating thoughts. When I face my fears and listen to the internal voice which guides me, I stick to my path, and I find my way. It is only then that I see the countless opportunities to make my best contribution to this world.

Choosing to live my life without barriers, without my self-defeating thoughts, I am unstoppable. Months after my stroke I was confined to a wheelchair. One year later, above-left, I was struggling to move around with a quad cane, a brace on my right leg, and a brace on my right arm. Now three year later, above-right, I move fairly well without braces and with the aid of a regular cane; most importantly, I am living my purpose of helping people, find the right information, at the right time.

I am a part of an unstoppable world of people, all going for gold, all nullifying barriers. This blog is about sharing those amazing stories.

Copyright © 2010 M. Dawn Armstrong. All rights reserved.