Come to Your Senses

It is one of the first lessons that any dancer learns: if you want to go up, you have to go down. If you want to soar with the greatest of ease, first you must bend your knees.

It is a lesson rich with implications. For example, the movement down might seem to lead in the opposite direction of where you want to go. I want to go up! It might seem to delay gratification. It might even seem to pose an obstacle to what you desire. The reverse is true: going down is the movement that enables a dancer to go up.

Further, since it is impossible to stay up forever, going down is also the movement that enables a dancer to land without falling. It is her ability to complete the arc of a jump that gives that jump its dynamism and punch.

This logic characterizes all natural processes. It is not just a question of balance, but of a rhythmic oscillation that involves moving in two opposing directions in order to move at all. We must exhale to inhale, sleep to wake, eat to run, and so on.

It is a logic that our mind over body training teaches us to ignore.
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I ended last blog asking about the kind of movement practice that would provide us with the sensory education we need in order to ensure that our use of electronic devices in particular and technology in general serves the ongoing health and well being of our selves and the planet.

Short answer: we need movement practices that encourage us to bend our knees.

Longer Answer: The driving force in our technological development, one with long roots in western civilization, is to resist the downward pull of nature. We aspire to transcend our sensory selves and go to god, or at least into rarified realms of objective reason. We want to protect ourselves from the shocks and uncontrollable wildness of the natural world, while harnessing its power for our own ends. The latest gear promises to save us time and energy, to save us from manual labor, pain and death, to save us from ourselves. Following this path, we use our screen devices to move up and out of our bodies into vibrating virtual realms of imagination, abstraction, and ease.

We take it as a sign of advancement that, in the middle of a cold winter night, we can be wide awake, texting on a blackberry in a warm, well lit room, drinking coffee and eating bananas.

Yet our insulation has become isolation. Living in contemporary times, we hardly even feel the downward pull of nature in us and around us. The technologies that connect us with people and places and knowledge around the world lure us away from a sensory awareness of the nature of ourselves and the oscillating movement that sustains our existence. We stand on tiptoe, trying to reach higher and higher.

To balance this upward flight, then, we need to engage in practices that draw our attention back down into our bodies and out through our senses. Given this aim, it doesn’t really matter what kind of movement you make. What matters is whether you open to sense and appreciate how the movements you are making are making you.

I offer four guidelines.

1. Move in ways that require you to breathe. Of course, every movement we make requires us to breathe, and breathing itself is a movement we make that makes us. However, when we engage in movements that require us to breathe more and other than we do when sitting or standing, several shifts happen. We become more aware of the fact that we are breathing and that we need to breathe. We also shake off the patterns of compressed breathing that we have mastered in our quest for moving up into our minds. Most of us never breathe to our full capacity. We have forgotten what it feels like. We don’t even know that we are not breathing with our bodily selves. We have lost the ability to sense what we aren’t sensing. So move in a way that demands that you breathe big.

2. Move in ways that require (some) coordination. When we engage in movements that require the repetition of specific patterns of coordinating our limbs and lobes, several shifts happen. First, we become aware of the fact that we are always making patterns, and that we have the capacity to learn to make new patterns. Second, in so far as we are moving in ways that are requiring us to breathe, we will also find that our differences in our breathing generate new experiences of the movements we are making. Our experience of the movement pattern changes, depending on whether we are inhaling or exhaling, winded or full. We find our running stride lengthens, our yoga stretch deepens, or our swimming stroke quickens. So move in a way that requires you to execute patterns of sensation and response.

3. Move to invite your attention into your breathing, moving bodily self. When we are moving to breathe and breathing to move, the breathing movement exerts a downward pull on our attention, drawing us to notice what we are feeling as we move. Let it. Feel the twinge of a muscle ache, the pinch of a stitch, the ease of a released cramp. When you do, you are feeling how the movements you are making are making you. Your movements are producing those sensations and your responses to them. And once you realize this fact, you can also begin to sense that you have the ability to make movements that will not produce whatever feelings of discomfort you may be feeling. You begin to appreciate the wisdom of your bodily self. You open to the rushes of energy and vitality that strengthen your sense of who you are.

4. Move, if you can, near nature. The nature in us responds to the nature around us in ways that help us come to our senses. Nature offers experience in the round, engaging all of our senses in ways that extend beyond their ranges. Move in ways that place you in infinity.

Run, walk, bike, swim, dance, ski, do yoga, stretch, mow, play tennis, fold laundry, clean the house.

If we move to breathe and breathe to move in patterns of rhythmic, coordinated action, with a willingness to have our attention drawn into our sensory selves, preferably in a natural setting, we will develop the internal criteria we need in order to discern when it is time to unplug from our virtual worlds and reconnect with the lived experience of our sensory selves. We will know when we start to suffer from an isolation from our sensory selves. We will feel the discomfort of it and seek to move differently.

We will also have the internal sense we need to make sure that the thoughts we are thinking and the dreams we are dreaming while soaring in our virtual realms will support us in replenishing our sensory sources, so we can jump again. We will be more likely to generate ideals and pursue values that honor the earth in us and around us as the condition for our thinking and dreaming at all.

Going up is great, ecstatic even. But to do it well, we need to be able to bend our knees and land on our feet.

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