Tango-dancing Buddhist Falls from Grace

. . . and sees the Light

It was fall in Buenos Aires, which is spring in the States. Late one morning, light poured through my two open terraces into my eighth-floor Recoleta apartment. It was the soft but vibrant autumnal light that always arouses such nostalgia in me. So, before setting to work at my sturdy wooden table, I decided to call an old friend from San Francisco who now lives in Dixie.

As we chatted, I told her what had happened to a guy we both knew, who was just jilted.
“He’s really suffering,” I said.
“Oh, he’s suffering, is he?”
She, who shall remain nameless, echoed me sardonically in her Scarlet O’Hara voice.

“Well, yes, he is. . .” I trailed off and realized with a jolt of awareness that she was not on board with my Buddhist commitment to end suffering, to feel compassion for this guy and . . . Well, this guy, who shall also remain nameless, was connected to some of my own suffering long ago. But I had forgiven and forgotten. He was still my friend.

And, too, there I was feverishly working on my book, Tango, an Argentine Love Story, writing, in part, of my struggle to get over the hatred of the “other woman” that consumed me so much that I had pulled her hair one inauspicious day before leaving for Buenos Aires. So, the day I arrived here, I had set an impossible goal for myself—to unconditionally love everyone and everything in my path, even all of Argentina—and I emphasize all and unconditionally. It was my own self-imposed penance, which was one of the seven sacraments I did well when I was a practicing Catholic, cyclically sinning, confessing, getting absolution, doing penance.

Now I was a practicing tanguera and card-carrying Buddhist and, to be sure, there were some challenges to that lofty goal here in Argentina, a country with a past more checkered than my own, here in this big, densely packed city of three million, where drivers gun the motor when I step into the street. But, with a few insignificant exceptions, I was abiding well with this commitment. And generally, feeling quite rewarded in return.

Until this morning when I heard my southern-belle girlfriend’s mocking voice, Oh he’s the one suffering now . . . Well, poor thing . . . And, the most delicious feeling arose in me and I wanted to, needed to, couldn’t stop myself from indulging in delight. Who’s sorry now? Whose heart is aching for breaking . . . ?

And before I could riddle it out, the rightness or wrongness of delighting in another’s suffering, I was on board with her, mocking, laughing. A whole new—or rather dormant—persona came over me and I couldn’t stop it from taking over the helm, as my good-girl Buddhist took the passenger seat.

I didn’t feel vindictive, though. What I felt was a tremendous release, a rolling away of a rock. The laughter came from that deep pit in my gut, from which it came when I used to watch Abbott and Costello skits. It was not about cruelty and even had a certain purity to it. It was more about a shared moment with Nameless Friend, a far-reaching moment. It felt so damn good to laugh uncontrollably. We laughed till we cried, then laughed and cried more, for all the women, past, present, and to come, who’ve been wronged by so many men; we may have laughed and cried for the men, too, and then we probably forgot why we were laughing . . . Oh, how I needed that.

Afterward, I was bewildered, bemused by my behavior. But I didn’t feel guilty. Which I consider progress, having experienced firsthand how self-recrimination and self-loathing are fruitless enterprises. I have, however, in the months since that peccadillo (a word that shares a root with the Latinate/Spanish word for “sin”-pecado), thought that I may be an accomplished tanguera, but I am not yet a model Zen Buddhist-not anywhere near the likes of great teachers Syliva Boorstein, Jack Kornfield, or Charlotte Joko Beck, say. They would never laugh in a similar situation as I did, these paragons of the dharma. (But, perhaps they would—what I love about these teachers is how they reveal their own humanity.)

And yet, I feel this is acceptable, being who I am for now, loving the best I can. I won’t declare my laughter innocent and free of any darkness. Rather, let me just admit that I still have one foot in the dark matter of the universe. And, a part of me evolves and moves toward the white Light of unconditional love, moves towards the wisdom and compassion of my practices, Tango and Buddhism. I am OK with being a link between the paragons of the dharma and those with two feet in dark.

I meet some of the latter when I dance tango, just as I meet all the challenges to one’s equanimity that exist in the milongas. If this missing link is who I am, I’m comfortable with that. Jung says we are on a gradient toward wholeness, so when I embrace the two-feet-in-dark dancers we move forward not backward. I trust in this natural transfusion of light, just as I trust in the invisible exchange of sweat and DNA. In this way, I keep my Buddhist vow to save all beings. I can occasionally slip into dishing the dirt with the rest of the girls, or into expressing my ire to a milonguero who is hurting me, thus hurting Tango, the force greater than either of us . . . as long as my net progression is toward the Light.

And, my gut-releasing laughter aside, as a committed tanguera, I assure you it is mostly thus.

Viva el tango!


  1. Marion McGrane Hall says

    Camille, I want to come with you. Marion
    email me at the halls3@cox.net

  2. Camille, former student of Jon Gatyas. After a fall in Sorrento, Italy I can no longer dance,but able to walk again, so missed my trip with Jon to Argentina. Have wonderful memories of years of dancing. Had lessons in Argentine Tango and loved it. Now I encourage other women and men to dance and watch with joy from the sidelines.

  3. Marion,
    So great to hear from my Mother-Seton schoolmate who always reminds me how I told Mr. Scott, when he asked if I was chewing gum, “No, the gum is chewing me.” Little did that Shakespeare fanatic know that I was quoting J.D. Salinger.
    Marion, I want to take you with me. Come fly with me, let’s float down to Peru . . .”

    I’m sorry about your fall, glad you can walk, and hope you can one day dance again. And how magnanimous of you to encourage watching with joy from the sidelines. It is one of my pleasures, too, a form of meditation wherein I sit very still, watch, and vicariously enjoy. It helps turn off the “internal judge” and how rhapsodic is that!

    Will dance for you tonight at Esmeralda’s in NYC.

  4. Terry Hennessy says

    Camille, I grant you absolution. Just say two hail marys and make a firm act of contrition or maybe the memorarie (sp?) It’s good to recognize our humaness. Love, Terry

  5. Hi Terry,
    Can’t I just attend the family reunion—isn’t that enough penance? OK, just jokin’… hail Mary full of grace, etc, etc

  6. so lovely….what a great story of yours and I really appreciate…