Meditation is all about sitting still, right? When you learn to meditate, you are taught a specific posture, and you sit in your best approximation of it for as long as you can, then you stealthily switch. Even laid-back American Theravadan teachers make suggestions for how to sit and ask you to limit movement. And those Zen meditators – they whack you with a stick if you slump! (I’m told that many zendos now do it only if you indicate you want it and that it feels good because it releases the tension in the muscles.)
It’s about stillness, though. Stillness in the body helps us achieve stillness in the mind, which leads to relaxation and stability and makes inquiry possible and ….
True that. But sitting in stillness, shedding personas that come up to request that you engage with them, also may uncover inner energies that had been held down by the weight of the masks we wear.
And some of them might be dancers.
Here is my story:
This summer I went to Jacob’s Pillow, a seasonal home for modern dance. I go every summer because it calls me. I would go twice a week if I could, but it’s usually once or twice a season. I usually see whatever’s in the smaller theater on whatever weekend I can get there. (Smaller theater = more intimate experience + more experimental companies + cheaper ticket.)
This year it was David Dorfman Dance performing "Prophets of Funk" to music by Sly and the Family Stone. When I walked into the theater, a couple dancers were on the stage (which is the floor, the seats are on risers) teaching a short combination of steps to audience members of various degrees of expertise as Sly blasted on the sound system. I smiled.
They finished, and it was time for the performance. But the dancers invited later arrivals to come down and learn the steps. And here is where the sitting becomes dancing. In the past, I would have longed to dance but felt pinned to my seat by self-consciousness. I am not a professional modern dance performer, and everyone would know that.
But this time, I had a quick flash of the open sky of possibilities. I had seen the combination and felt I could follow it. This was not an audition and the likelihood was that I would never talk to any of the other audience members let alone hear their criticisms, so let them judge away. Just being in the room put me in touch with my heart’s joy, so why not ride that wave?
So yes, I kicked off my shoes and walked down to the stage and learned a dance combination. I danced on stage at Jacob’s Pillow, doncha know.
And if it ended there, with an experience of unjudged joyous performance, that would be sweet enough. But it doesn’t. At the end of the fabulous performance, the dancers pulled people on stage to dance to the music (although the song was ‘Lives of Everyday People” not “Dance to Music.”) My ego said, well, nobody pulled me on stage to dance, and my heart responded, shut the f* up and go dance. So I got funky with the dancers and a third of the audience while the critics watched.
And THEN … the dancers started doing the combination we’d learned earlier. Of course, it looked totally different – they didn’t appear to be counting steps in their heads and the movements just flowed. But they were doing the same steps I was at the same time. It was glorious and outrageous.
What does this have to do with sitting practice? I believe it's my meditation practice that let me dance by showing me that I don't have to take my"self" so seriously and letting me see the joy in letting go and being in the moment. The ego does not always speak in your best interest; it speaks in service of preserving itself. When you see that, once in a while you can step out from under, feel the lightness of your true nature, and fly.
Letting go of thoughts as we watch them rise and fall in meditation, we've become familiar with the space beyond our discursiveness. With practice that space gets bigger -- so big that it can accommodate whatever our day presents. ... Knowing the reality of change, we accept gain and loss -- no hope and fear attached. When we do this, we become naturally and spontaneously light-hearted. We are no longer trying to cure change by applying fixation. Rather, we accept what the moment presents and use it to expand our heart and mind.
See if your own inner dancer wants to come out tonight at the IDP's Dharma Art Silent Auction followed by drinks, snacks, and dancing from 7: 30 to 11:30 p.m. (Oct. 1) Check out the awe-some art by IDP members and friends, acquire some, help the IDP raise money for a space of its own, and party. click here for details.