There’s this feeling I have every once in a great while – I’m not sure there’s a word for it in English (but maybe there is in your language? Help a girl out!). It’s this feeling of being exactly where you are meant to be – not an instance of being lucky, or love at first sight – just a realization of “This experience right now – I was fated to be here. I am meant to be here.” Kismet might get close to it. But it’s more than that – it also has a dash of déjà vu. It is new and wonderful, yet somehow I’ve seen this before..maybe? (Like I said – just a dash.) It is something spiritual, something deep, something that to me embodies connection and roots. But I have no idea what it is.
My experiences of this feeling are seldom, but always happen when I’m with other people, having a communal experience. The very first time it happened, as nearly as I can guess, was early 2006 in a capoeira roda in Chicago. (If you’re confused about capoeira, read my post here.) I wasn’t playing in the roda at that moment, I was just sitting and watching people play. There were maybe 15 people in the room – most of us sitting on the floor in a circle, a few people playing instruments, and two people in the middle playing capoeira. I don’t remember the song we were singing, but I remember that feeling washing over me – that kismet-déjà vu feeling (come on, there has to be a word for this, yeah?). I felt a supreme connection to the people in the room, the music, the game, everything. It was so overwhelming I choked back tears and swallowed. (Because who cries tears of joy at the average Tuesday night class roda?)
Nothing special had happened that day in class. I had not accomplished anything in particular. I was having a good time, but the feeling was more than that. I just knew without a doubt that I needed to be in that room at that moment and that I was fortunate to have made choices that led me there. (And yet…there was also that “fated” feeling too, and that of strange familiarity…)
Anyway. These moments have happened less than a dozen times in my life, but always with people, always in times of community and joy. And unfortunately, I went a long time without this feeling.
Until this past Saturday.
[This is my story of experiencing that feeling again…and I’d love to know *your* story about this kind of feeling. My best friend says she’s felt it, but only when she’s alone and experiencing something big – like driving cross-country. When do you feel it? What do you call it?]
Part of understanding why this experience is so important requires a quick backstory.
I started playing capoeira in the fall of 2005 with Gingarte Capoeira in Chicago, a school in the lineage of Mestre Suassuna’s school, Cordao de Ouro. Between 2006 and 2010, I received the first three CDO cords – green, green/yellow, and yellow. I went to batizados (annual promotions for a capoeira school) in several states. I traveled to Brazil twice, touristing and playing capoeira across the country, and the second time, stayed to teach English in the south of the country for a few months. Because of capoeira, I can dance samba and forró and sort of-kind of-almost speak Portuguese. (I can at least sing you some great corridos.) I can play instruments I had never heard of before. Because of capoeira, I accomplished things with my body and my mind I hadn’t thought possible. I made friends and chosen family that I will be forever grateful for. In case it isn’t clear, during those 5 years, capoeira consumed me.
And then I moved to California and within a year, stopped training.
I can’t give a clear answer as to why. Graduate school and too many jobs was one reason. Trying many schools and never quite feeling at home is another. Being a nomad and feeling rootless for several years is yet another. And some other things, too. After a while away, I didn’t feel there was a place for me in capoeira any longer – I certainly couldn’t wear my yellow cord after such a long break, and I didn’t know how to identify myself – and while I sometimes missed the camaraderie I found there, it felt like something in my past.
But a few months ago, things changed: I got dumped, then a week later the election happened, and I felt like the whole world was full of dishonest, insincere assholes and it was hard to go outside. (Have I mentioned I’ve had wicked, sometimes crippling anxiety since childhood? Well I do.) Thankfully, I saw a Facebook post about a capoeira school near me having a community day of free classes and decided to go…how much trouble could I get in with a 30-minute class? I needed to be with people, I needed to be moving and kicking, and I needed to support something rooted in resistance. Besides, I thought: if they, too, are part of the insincere asshole tribe, I don’t ever have to go back!
Luckily, I found a phenomenal group of people and I fell in love with every single one of them.
Finally training again for the last couple of months with UCA Hayward, a group in the lineage of Mestre Acordeon’s school United Capoeira Association, has been challenging. But ultimately, it’s like my own personal version of How Stella Got Her Groove Back. One day Mestre Recruta, who leads the school and is an all-around fantastic human, asked me in preparation for the group’s batizado if I’d like to receive my yellow cord again. I told him I didn’t feel like I was still a yellow cord – that I wasn’t yet up to my old level. He dismissed my concern by swatting his hand in my direction, “Ack. You’re a yellow cord.”
I think that was code for, “Get over it, sister.”
Despite the fact that I wrote him a really eloquent (thankfully unsent) text message that night, explaining in painful detail why I’m actually really a green/yellow and not a yellow cord, I realized that getting my yellow cord was indeed the right decision. As a green/yellow, I’d feel overly comfortable – too comfortable – and might not feel pushed, but as a yellow, I’d feel challenged to keep improving in order to “own” the cord.
Ok, ok. So this guy knows what he’s talking about.
Cut to: The opening night of batizado weekend – Thursday. The only thing on the schedule was a welcome roda. I was excited about the evening and was looking forward to it…until about halfway through when I started to feel this pang of saudades. It was for a lot of things – my old friends in capoeira, the times we spent road-tripping to batizados, the familiarity of those places and events and people, all the while feeling surrounded by the unfamiliar, and feeling out of place. Essentially, I was blindsided by missing my old school. Then on top of it, I felt guilty for missing CDO while in the midst of my wonderful new UCA friends. The night was a downward spiral of ache and guilt. I went home and cried.
I apparently had forgotten that humans are complex: I am allowed to miss my old school and love my new one with equal ferocity.
Cut to: Saturday early afternoon – workshops before the batizado ceremony. Some fantastic teachers from other schools taught a few workshops, and one was by Mestre Pinga Fogo, a CDO capoeirista who teaches out of Austin. [His game is sick.] I first met M. Pinga Fogo years ago, so he and his workshop helped me “matar saudades” (kill my homesickness) for CDO. After the workshop, I told him just that – even though I was certain he wouldn’t remember me. (“Of course I remember you!”) He was kind enough to give me some advice: “You don’t have to give anything up. You can still keep your CDO foundation and build on top of it,” he began. “It doesn’t matter who you train with – it just matters that you’re back.”
Then I almost started to cry but pretended not to, and cleared my throat instead – the international signal for “I am crying and pretending not to.”
Cut to: Saturday evening – the batizado ceremony. The other times I received a cord, I don’t remember much about the actual time in the roda, except being terrified and shaky. But I went into Saturday night with a different mindset: I was in the very unique position of receiving my yellow cord for the second time. And this time, I wanted to soak it all in. I wanted to be alive and in the moment and to feel everything. I’d spent too much time that weekend feeling less than great about myself, my feelings, everything, and I was done with that. This was a celebration and dammit, I was going to celebrate.
I felt more excited than nervous as the ceremony moved on to our yellow cord group – and p.s. “more excited than nervous” is something I rarely feel – so I purposely put myself first in line to play for my cord. My excitement hit new levels when, at the other end of the bateria (the line of musicians at the front of the roda), I saw M. Pinga Fogo get ready to make his way to the foot of the berimbau to play with me. He gave me a nod from across the bateria. [Cue the nerves.]
The music began and as I slowly made my way from the edge of the bateria to the center, I caught Mestra Suelly out of the corner of my eye, playing the pandeiro. (If you don’t know who she is YOU NEED TO.) She grinned broadly and yelled out YAAAAAAAAY! as I passed her, and while I tried to be super cool about it, WHO CAN BE COOL WHEN THE FIRST AMERICAN FEMALE CAPOEIRA MASTER CHEERS FOR YOU AS YOU ENTER THE RODA? Like, I could’ve fallen dead at the foot of the berimbau and died a happy woman. I can’t even form coherent sentences around this spectacular woman (<- and she’s all too aware of this) BECAUSE SHE’S A SUPERHERO IN HUMAN FORM AND I HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT HER IN ALL CAPS.
Anyway. So that happened.
Cut to: I’m at the foot of the berimbau with M. Pinga Fogo and the bateria is playing and they are starting to sing and I just watch them for a few seconds. I soak it all in. Then M. Pinga Fogo and I touch our hands together briefly, cartwheel into the roda, and everyone else in the room disappears. Really. How many people were there – 100? More? Still, they vanish. Other than the driving beat of the drum I can feel in my chest, we are in an empty room.
Capoeira is a conversation between two people – something with anxiety I sometimes forget – but thankfully, in this game, I remember. I try to be a good conversationalist during our game; to talk, to listen, to joke, to laugh. And after some time – either 30 seconds or three hours, I have no idea – I throw a round going-upside-down kick called meia lua de compasso and while I am upside-down, I look for M. Pinga Fogo to see what he will say back to me…except he is not there.
And I know I am in trouble. ☺
Then I’m rolling and tumbling across the floor, and I hear chuckling from people around me, and suddenly those 100 people are back, and the game is over, and I am walking out of the roda with M. Pinga Fogo, who is carrying my yellow cord.
“I’m so honored that you…that I played…that my cord…” I squeaked out as he tied my cord around my waist.
“After our conversation today,” he began, “I thought it would be good to go into the roda with you here.” (<- Probably paraphrased a little because I was overwhelmed by the moment.) He shifted the cord’s knot tighter around my waist. “Congratulations,” he said. “Now don’t stop.”
(The significance of this is like, right up there with M. Suelly’s cheering.)
As I watched the rest of the ceremony, that feeling started – that feeling of being in the right place, on the right path, with the right people, feeling connected to them, being grateful for the choices I’ve made – with a dash of feeling like I’ve seen it before – and I started to cry. But no throat-clearing to disguise it this time. Full-on crying and hugging.
Cut to: The end of the night. Celebrating with new and old friends. At one point, I am happy to find M. Recruta next to me. He high-fives me. Then I spill out the story of my weekend: of feeling CDO homesick, of feeling guilty about it, of my conversation with M. Pinga Fogo.
“But you don’t have to throw that all away,” he said. “You can make your game whatever you want…” (And here, I think he included a car metaphor. The details escape me now, but it was super on-point and involved rims and spoilers.)
I was thankful that he reiterated M. Pinga Fogo’s words, but I wanted to make sure there was no confusion about my feelings: “I really love being a part of this group,” I said. We hugged as I continued, “I’m so glad I’m here.”
“We’re glad you’re here too,” he said with a squeeze. “Welcome home.”