I love dancing in dualities.
In the expressive movement classes I facilitate, I often ask my students to imagine dancing at one end of a sensory spectrum (“How does your body move if you imagine yourself in the middle of the Sahara, your bare feet in hot sand?”) and then during the next song ask them to switch to the opposite (“Suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a blizzard. How does your body move to the cold, biting wind?”)
It’s an easy and fun experiment to see how many ways individuals can move, a chance for them to be creative and extend their movement beyond their “usual” dance. Ten bucks says the way your hands and feet respond to blistering desert heat is different from the way they are compelled to move during a mitten-less sleet storm.
My 5Rhythms teacher asked the same of us during a recent Waves class. During the final rhythm of Stillness, he proposed that we shift between movement that was open and that which was closed, our inhalation expanding us into one shape, and our exhalation leading the way into the next.
All he had used were the words “open” and “close,” but without much thought—more reflexive than mindful—I instantly translated these movements to “good” and “bad.”
So, for the first couple of minutes, my dance was a back-and-forth between shapes that looked like “Yes!” and “Halleljuah!” and “Here I Am!” to “Oh noooo” “Ow,” and “Woe Is Me.”
I even got a little upset. Before the teacher’s instruction, I had been feeling really alive. Now, he was asking us to be sad and withdrawn. How dare he…!
Fortunately, my Buddhist-in-training brain switched on before I got too far in the blame game, and it occurred to me that maybe these terms don’t need labels.
Why did I have to assign “good” and “bad” qualifiers to actions that were just that—actions?
It helped that earlier that day I had been listening to a talk from Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, in which she was talking about the dangers of labeling mediation sits as “good” and “bad”:
“Say, for instance, you meditated and you felt a sort of settling and a sort of calmness, a sense of well-being. And maybe thoughts came and went, but they didn’t hook you, and you were able to come back, and there wasn’t a sense of struggle. Afterwards, [you think], ‘I did it right, I got it right, that’s how it should always be, that’s the model.’
Then you have the ‘bad’ one, which is not bad. It’s just that you sat there and you were very discursive and you were obsessing about someone at home, at work, something you have to do—you worried and you fretted, or you got into a fear or anger…. You just felt like it was a horrible meditation session. At the end of it you feel discouraged, and it was bad and you’re bad for the bad meditation. And you could feel hopeless.” (Source)
She goes on to explain how getting caught in this good-versus-bad tug-of-war causes a lot of angst and tension, always striving to attain the “good” and then almost always defeated when the good we were hoping for isn’t as good as the previous good, which means it is bad.
It feels as exhausting as it sounds. And this is what ultimately leads to suffering.
It’s kind of what was happening to me on the dance floor. I was getting pulled down into an abyss of “bad” because that is what I decided to equate with “closed.”
When Pema’s advice caught up to me, I decided to shift my thoughts.
I thought of all the ways “closed” movement can represent concepts beyond sadness and heartache and defensiveness.
Closed can mean shutting one’s eyes to daydream. Pressing hands together to pray. Curling up under a blanket to snuggle or watch a movie.
Closed can mean placing the hands palms down on the knees during meditation. Folding back into Child’s Pose during a strenuous yoga class. A baby in its mother’s womb, knees and arms tucked into chest—the original fetal position.
Closed can mean shutting down the office at noon for a siesta, wrapping arms around an injured animal or child and nursing it to health, withdrawing from the senses in order to tune inward in self-reflection.
In no time I was feeling alive again, no longer pulled down by this heavy anchor of “bad”-ness I had inflicted on myself.
Closing actually felt…beautiful!
Shifting my perspective in that one little way created big change, my dance of duality a moving lesson in being more open-minded about the notion of being closed.
If you have any interpretations of “closed” you’d like to offer, please share in the comments below!