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The photo above is a magnet I bought several years ago from the Japan pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World. It was a moment of Zen amid an otherwise less-than-tranquil experience in one of the busiest, dizziest (and most humid) tourist destinations on the East Coast. Who knew the House of Mouse could offer such sage wisdom?
“On rainy days, be in the rain. On windy days, be in the wind.”
I understood the maxim’s message right away, as I was still in my honeymoon phase of my yoga and meditation practice and was obsessed with perfecting presence of mind.
What the magnet means is that when you are standing in rain, see it as just rain. No judgement, no attaching “good” or “bad” or “miserable” labels to the meteorological phenomenon. When it rains, be present; see it at its most basic state: water falling from the sky. And then just experience it in all its wet glory.
Same goes for the wind: I feel a strong rush of air pushing at my body and causing my hair to whip around my face. Wind is neither good nor bad; it is wind, and I am standing in it.
The thing is … it’s really hard to master that philosophy, mainly because of something called feeling.
Feeling is something humans are really good at. We have a deep capacity to love and fear and want and reject.
When we’re presented with a simple phenomenon, be it weather or meeting a new person or watching an animal out in nature, the act of observing is usually upstaged by our tendency to want to assign it an emotion or metaphor.
There is nothing wrong with this, but making the leap from observing to feeling can be tricky.
As 5Rhythms® teacher and Open Floor co-founder Lori Saltzman said, “Adding feeling and making meaning is the part that can bring us together … but also the part that gets us into trouble.”
Perspective is powerful.
I and several other dancers got to play around with this concept recently with Lori at her “Write of Passage“ dance/writing workshop, which I attended in Charlottesville, Virginia.
For example, she offered: Imagine a young man in his 20s walking down the street in a hoodie. That’s the baseline, the observation. But one person may see this man as dangerous. Another person thinks, “Oh, what a hottie! I’d like to hook up with him.” And yet another person sees the same man and with a heavy heart thinks, “That’s my son.”
With that, Lori had us put on our “sacred reporter” hats, pull out our notebooks and pens, and observe a volunteer dancer posed in the middle of our circle.”Describe what you see,” Lori instructed, “but only what is right in front of you. I’m talking simple descriptions here—‘white legwarmers, tight ponytail.’ None of this ‘eternal feminine goddess’ stuff.”
We shouted out basic nouns and adjectives, phrases like “bent arms,” “aqua midriff,” “turned-in feet.”
The next step was to describe the volunteer dancer through verbs, action words: “sliding across the floor,” “reaching upward,” “undulating.”
A couple both dressed in purplish hues stepped into the circle. “Now, use metaphors to describe what you see,” Lori instructed. These dancers soon became “two loose grapes rolling around in the fruit bowl” and “grown-up children prancing outside on the playground.”
The final volunteer to step inside the circle was subject to four types of our reporting: basic description, action words, metaphors, and the delicate element of feeling. What type of feeling does this woman’s movement evoke in you? When you watch her move, what is she expressing?
Lori pushed us to be brave, to dare to be wrong in our interpretation. The human race in general can be so afraid to find feeling in another’s expression, because we are afraid of getting it wrong. Of thinking someone is sad when she isn’t really sad.
However, taking the leap and noticing that someone is mourning a loss or experiencing profound happiness—and letting him know that you see what he feels—can be liberating for that person. To be fully seen is a gift!
We drew a table with nine cells in our notebooks and as our volunteer danced, we filled each cell with one of those four types of observations. At the end of the exercise, we had a kind of “tic-tac-toetry” in front of us, short poetic verses compiled from a row of squares:
“Hard-soled shoes tapping on the wood / ball of tenderness yearning to crack open / eyes begging.”
Eventually, we all became the moving volunteer, dancing our dance in groups of three as the two other group members took notes in the same fashion, this time on index cards.
When I was done dancing, my fellow group members slid several cards my way, each piece of paper containing a description of how my classmates saw me. There was my dance—me at my most honest—spread out in front of me.
Lori gave us time to sort through the cards, rearrange them a bit, remove a few, and edit slightly. The result was our poem. Here’s mine:
Here I Am.
Rolling it out, shaking it loose.
I am integrated,
A wild child transformed into an aligned woman.
I Am Here.
The day’s lessons and exercises put me in such “sacred reporter” mode that my poetic perspective was in high gear, even off the dance floor.
When I returned to my host’s house that afternoon, I delighted in the fact that the blanket in the guest bedroom had been elegantly twisted and tucked into an abstract figure of the female form, a pear-shaped flow of fabric starting slender at the top and expanding into wider curves at the bottom.
I smiled and snapped a photo, thanking my partner for creating such a lovely work of bed art. He laughed.
“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “All I did was take a nap, and that’s how the blanket ended up.”
Rain can be rain and a blanket can be a blanket. But sometimes the blanket is an abstract goddess, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it how we see it.
The power of perspective.
During intermission of a dance concert I attended Friday night, I was asked when I started dancing. I responded that I was 3 years old, but that I did the standard ballet-tap-jazz combo that all little kids do when they first start dancing, as if dismissing my early involvement in the art. Small-town dance studio, nothing too intense. More concerned about what costume you’re going to wear for the summer recital, what cool jazz song your teacher is going to choose for your routine. Turns, splits, smiles, sequins. Ta-da! Jazz hands. Curtain call. Take a bow.
It was just my thing, I said. Some people played rec soccer. Some took piano lessons. I danced. Whatever. It was just an extracurricular to keep me occupied.
That’s what I thought Friday night, that dance was just “a thing.” I mean, it has obviously grown since then from “a thing” to “THE thing,” but why was I so quick to downplay my foundations?
As if guided by some spiritual guardian, yesterday morning—as I went into my closet to retrieve a shirt to wear for a 5Rhythms class later in the day—I noticed the program from my college graduation sitting on the closet floor; must have fallen when I was retrieving some old yearbooks last week. I picked up the piece of paper, thumbed through it quickly, surprised to see my name. Totally forgot that I had won a creative writing award my senior year. Hmph.
I opened a random box in the closet to return the program, but it was the wrong box. Instead, this one had a portfolio of writings from my past, essays and short stories and poetry from my youth, things I don’t even remember writing or items that I had thought went out with the recycling long ago. I found a myth I wrote in high school, a charming story about the origin of stars that my teacher said had potential as a children’s story. A horror “book” (15 loose-leaf pages stapled together) about a group of teens vacationing on a beach with a homicidal maniac on the loose. Stories I wrote when I wasn’t even an official adult yet that still speak to my 31-year-old self.
But, most important of all, was the handwritten poem I found. It was written when I was in 8th grade, 14 years old, braces on my crooked teeth and awkwardness in my gangly limbs. I may not have been the most graceful or elegant dancer at that stage of life, but—contrary to what I had just expressed last night about not considering my early dance a “passion”—dance meant a lot to me.
This has been tucked in a closet for the past 18 years; today is the day “My Passion” emerges from the dark.
Take me on a wooden floor,
Where I’m not human anymore.
My mind is far away, a distant place,
While my body is dancing in the same space.
My legs are moving; no thinking is involved,
I just keep moving; it helps my problems get solved.
The music is playing, the music I can see,
No one is around; just let me be.
I do all my turns, I stand on my toes,
I am lost in the Land of Sweets, but nobody knows.
Now I’m Odette, flowing along in a river,
And then I’m Aurora (who almost dies); I give a shiver.
My mind is not here, it is far away.
But my passion for dancing will always stay.