A couple of people have casually asked me what the title of my blog, “The Dancing Paladin,” means or implies. It implies quite a lot, actually, and, I’ll devote this post to talking about it. In a nutshell, it is, for me, an idealistic, romantic symbol of how I aspire to live.
I’ve always been fascinated by the names of pubs and taverns in the U.K. and Ireland. The Blind Beggar. The Merry Ploughboy. The White Hart. Ye Olde Mitre. They contained a certain literary, medieval mystique for me. And pubs are also apt metaphors because all of life is really a kind of pub. We stop in, have a drink, meet people and interact – sadly, all too briefly – and then get up, pay the tab and leave, hopefully with a smile on the face.
I think the highest purpose that this blog can serve is to be a kind of “pub” in cyberspace where people, whether regulars, occasional or one-times, drop by for a brief moment in their busy lives, quench their thirst – be it for inspiration or ideas – and then be on their way. I prefer the light-hearted metaphor of a pub to something more solemn like a temple or haven because I make no claim of being a minister of any truth. I am, rather, like the contemplative bartender who will listen to your troubles and then offer his twopence, which you are free to take or leave.
Hence, I wanted a blog title that resonated that kind of British-Irish pub feel and also have a separate, profound meaning of its own related to the actual content of the blog.
Now, for the actual name itself.
Let’s begin with the “Dancing” part. I have worked in dance so, yes, there is the literal meaning of dancing as in moving your body to a rhythm or music. But literal dancing isn’t the one of the main topics of this blog. So why use the word?
It has to do, first, with dance as a symbol and metaphor. Dance is one of my favorite metaphors for life as there are so many things about it that apply so well to so many diferent situations. I’d give you a concrete example right here but it would take us on a tangent and make this post too long. I think I may write more about how one can apply various principles learned in dance into one’s life in a future blog.
For the purpose of this particular post, I only want to mention just one principle, and that is this: dance is fun. A hell of a lot of fun. In fact, personally, though I unfortunately didn’t continue it for long, the couple years during which I took dance lessons were among the funnest in my life. And those of you who do dance or have danced – professionally, as a hobby or just on weekends at the nightclub – know exactly what I’m talking about.
So, the first point is this: Dancing is fun.
Next, it also has to do with a certain common thread that runs through science, philosophy and mysticism. You see, to me, life, our world, indeed the entire cosmos itself, is just one great, big dance. And here, this time, I don’t just mean this symbolically. I mean this literally.
“Many things in nature wiggle and jiggle,” wrote a physicist named Paul G. Hewitt. It’s a cute way of putting it, but what he really meant, I’m sure, is that actually ALL things, at the core of their existence, wiggle and jiggle. In other words, they dance (in a certain manner of speaking). If you get past the purely superficial visual appearance of human beings dancing and get to the core of what dance in its purest state actually is – choreographed, rhythmic movement infused with intent – then the universe and everything in it, right down to the sub-atomic particles, are literally dancing. Again, maybe I’ll devote an entire post later just on this one idea so people don’t think I’m off my rocker.
Second point: dance, as both metaphor and fact, connects us to the entire universe and all of life. And since dance is the funnest thing in the world, life should be too, since life is dance. You just have to first realize that it is, symbolically and literally, and approach it as such (even or especially when it’s tough).
Let’s move on to the next word, “Paladin.” A paladin, originally, was an elite kind of knight – possibly fictional – who served Charlemagne in his war against Spain as portrayed in an ancient work of French Literature called The Song of Roland. In this context, a paladin is basically a Western, Christian instigator of jihad – an ambivalent and problematic figure, at best, from a modern, multicultural viewpoint.
But I’m not so interested in the archaic meaning of the word. The “paladin” I’m interested in is a more generic meaning which evolved over time in which the word came to imply a warrior who simply dedicated his life to God and lived a life of virtue and service, the ultimate idealization of the myth of the chivalrous knight.
Because I am such a great lover of symbols and symbolism, I have taken this symbol and appropriated it for my own use. To me, the paladin represents any person who devotes his life and actions to what he believes to be a higher cause, often spiritual in nature though not necessarily. It is certainly not necessarily Christian as the original historical paladins were. It can be almost anything, really, big or small, so long as it is larger than the person’s own individual ego and needs.
Pursuing, supporting or struggling for this cause, whatever it is, often comes at significant personal sacrifice, challenge and often heartache, for if it did not the paladin would not be the appropriate symbol. A viking or barbarian, perhaps, might be the better symbol for those whose lives are full of struggle but whose main priority is to first gratify their own egos at all costs.
Now, what’s important is that this Paladin of my imagination isn’t warring. Not in God’s name, not in anything’s name. He’s dancing. He most certainly has a mission in life, and more often than not it involves intense struggle against great odds such that it can often feel like a fight. But he would rather approach this fight in the spirit of a dance. He tries not to let the gravity and importance of his mission make him a somber drag. If he can help it, he tries to keep the spirit and energy of his struggle closer to a “dance battle” than an actual fight. A dance battle is a kind of fight, yes, but it’s a non-violent one and it is still first and foremost a dance, which implies a sense of fun and enjoyment rather than aggression and strife. For even at its darkest, dance is ultimately joyful because the negative energy is being metabolized and exorcised, not becoming stuck and stagnant.
And so you have the Dancing Paladin, a “warrior” who commits to a higher cause and fights for what he believes in but in a positive, non-violent, non-divisive and, if possible, even entertaining and joyful way. There are many great causes that people struggle for, but often they fall into the trap of giving off so much negative energy (anger, bitterness, guilt) such that they can undermine their own cause by the negative vibes they give off.
Imagine, for example, a well-known newspaper columnist – conservative or liberal, it doesn’t matter. What matters in this example is the aura he gives off. Is he contentious, acerbic and confrontational? Does he get off on having vicious arguments? If so, then most likely as popular as he is, he is only preaching to the converted. Most likely, even with his sound logic, people who don’t share his opinion don’t want to listen to him because he tries to make them feel like idiots. On the other hand, if he was calm and composed and explained his reasoning in a civil – even playful and joyful – way, then they might be more inclined to listening to his sound reasoning and even come to agree with him.
This is the Way of the Dancing Paladin. Spread your gospel as if it were a dance, not a war.
By now, you may have guessed that I like to envision myself as a sort of Dancing Paladin, figuratively speaking, of course. It’s a metaphor I created for myself to symbolize what I aspire to be and how I choose to try to live in this chaotic, confusing world: to commit myself to ideals that are larger than myself and thereby lose myself in them, and, equally important, to do so in a way that does not fall victim to the trap of poisonous rage and bitterness that so many modern day crusaders of various causes fall into (as I, too, once did).
So welcome to The Dancing Paladin. Sit down, have a drink, share some stories and then, once you’ve had your fill, be on your merry way.