Category Archives: philosophy

This New Year, Be Surprised!

December 31 — at midnight — is a moment when many of us celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of another.

This celebration is arbitrary. We could theoretically celebrate the new year on any day or moment of our orbit around the sun. Throughout human history, there have been many systems for tracking this path. Our pattern of days, months, and years is only one of them. In fact, it is one so precariously layered over our planetary course that it requires a full-day adjustment every four years in order to fit.

Realizing the arbitrary nature of this celebration’s timing doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It prompts me to remember why the celebration is important. How we measure time shapes our experience of reality. It structures our sense of rhythm, plots patterns of crescendo and decrescendo and so too, creates moments of heightened intensity – thresholds – where we tap and exercise this human power to make time itself. We look backward and reflect; we look forward and predict; we look around and resolve to do better.

New Year’s Eve is one of these moments – a point of passing through that gives us access, not to the new year, but to our own participation in the course of our lives. It is a time to pivot, past and future, inward and outward, left and right, and all around; a time to celebrate the Best of 2018 and What to See 2019. It is a time of making resolutions for when to begin, how to pay attention, and what to do with ourselves.

This crossing into a new year creates another opportunity as well – to open to surprise.

Every year, our family has a tradition that I have written about before. As part of this ritual, we write letters to ourselves that we intend to read on the final day of the following year. After having engaged in this exercise for several years, I realize that so often, the moments that gave a year its magic and meaning were happenings I could never have imagined when I had written my letter a year before.

Every year is full of surprises. People appear and events occur that change the course of your life – cracking you open to thoughts, feelings, and sensations you did not know were possible, propelling you head-long into new directions of inquiry, investment, and activity.

New Year’s Eve is a time to remember the wonder, the mystery, the deep creativity of a universe that is constantly tossing itself together in new patterns of possible movements.

It may provoke fear to think about the possibility of surprise. Some surprises are unwelcome — injury, illness, heartache, disappointment, and death. In the course of a year, no human can escape the hurt that comes with being a bodily self who lives in relationship with other bodily selves, sustained in every moment by an earth whose matrix of swirling forces we cannot control. In this sense, such unwelcome events are not surprises. They are inevitable.

What is not inevitable, however, are surprises that burst your heart open to love life more than you ever have or ever thought possible. What is not inevitable is whether you sense and respond.

New Year’s Eve is a time to remember to stay alert to the possibility of surprises that will astound you with their grace and goodness.

It is a time to empty your sensory self, breathe your feet down to the ground, lift your heart, and walk forward, attuned to what may appear around the next bend to nourish the best in you, and bring it forth in actions of genuine connection with yourself and others.

It is a time is to realize that your greatest accomplishments in the coming year may come not from what you resolve to do, but from what you welcome into your life, even when it seems unlikely, implausible or impractical.

These kinds of surprises come in all shapes and sizes – a new person or animal; a natural vista or adventure; a new job, idea, or skill; a theater performance, musical, movie, concert or book. These surprises come in moments so inspiring that they bend your thoughts, hold your heart, and trouble your peace for longer than you imagined they would. They come in moments when the sensation of living strikes deep enough that you find your course turning, your horizons shifting, as you welcome more of who you are into your life.

So this New Year’s Eve, as you chart a path, plot your projects, and resolve to move with fervor and intention, remember too to stay open to the mystery beyond the time you can measure and mark – beyond what you can see and imagine. Be surprised!

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Looking for a Purpose? Start trading your talents

There was a time in my life soon after college when I was obsessed with the Will of God for my life. I mean obsessed. I would think about it all the time. I had convinced myself that my life had one purpose; that that purpose was my only path to happiness; and that the Christian God knew exactly what that purpose was, while I did not.

I had to figure it out. My life depended on it.

I was at the time, trying to make it as a professional dancer, and I dearly wanted some confirmation that I was doing the right thing.

I prayed. I asked other people to pray for me. I read the Bible constantly—even on the subway en route to dance class—searching for signs. Nothing. I was so curdled with anxiety, I could barely eat. Finally, I met with a pastor I didn’t know. After I explained my concerns he said: “Sounds like you’ve been working hard on God. Why don’t you let God work on you.”

It was a light bulb moment. I dropped everything—my belief, my faith, my rituals, my religious community. I said to myself: “Whatever comes back to me is mine.”

I walked in the woods. I did yoga. I danced. I ate. I spent time with friends. I did what made me feel good and nourished. As I did, it became perfectly clear: not only had I completely misunderstood what the Will of God is, I had been looking for it in all the wrong places, in all the wrong ways.

One of the items that came back to me was the Parable of the Talents (as told in Mark 25:14-30). I had never liked this parable. In fact, I hated it. When I first heard it, I was appalled. I was about 12 years old. As the master handed out talents to his servants, and told them to take care of these talents while he was gone, I felt sure I knew which servant had chosen the right path. My Dad had instilled in me a fierce appreciation for saving all of my allowance, and I did, every week. I knew that the servant who kept the money safe by burying it in the ground—rather than risking it by trade it in the market place—would be rewarded. When Jesus got to the punch line, I was aghast. The master rewarded the risk takers and punished the one who had saved. What do you mean it is wrong to save?

Nevertheless, in the months after I let go of my faith, this story came back to me. What interested me about it was not the “talent” per se – and whether it was actually money, or metaphorically a gift or ability—but the movement, the relationships, and the master’s response.

The two servants who were rewarded traded their talents. They went out into the market place; they found something that someone did not want; they bought it, and then sold it to someone who did want it, for a higher price. In other words, the servants moved their talents. They circulated them. When the master rewarded them, he gave them more of what they had just earned themselves. I began to think of my purpose as a talent in at least three ways.

For one, the value of a talent is not predetermined. It is something whose value you do not know until you do something with it—trade it. Give it away. Receive something back. Give that away. Receive something back. The value of the talent appears through a rhythm of giving and receiving; each time the talent comes back to its caretaker more developed. Each time it reveals more of what it has the potential to be.

Second, a talent creates relationships. It is not something you have just for yourself; not something whose value you can discover by gazing at it—or burying it. A talent reveals its potential when it moves people: it moves the servant to trade, and her trading partners to respond. As a talent moves from one person to another, it creates connections—where one person wants what the other has to give—and by means of these connections it doubles its value.

Third, and related, in creating these relationships, the talent is a source of guidance. For any given talent, not everyone will want it. Not everyone will buy it. The talent determines which kind of exchanges a person can make—it is enough? It determines what kinds of relationships—is it fair? While the parable does not assess the quality of the servants’ exchanges, we assume they were fair. By moving their talents, the servants created relationships between people that were, or at least could have been, mutually beneficial.

My understanding of God’s Will flipped completely. Any purpose for my life was not some judgment on my head; nor was it a key to a stress-free existence. It wasn’t some hidden secret I had to track down.

Any purpose was like a talent: It was a potential in me for thinking, feeling and acting whose value I could not know in advance—a potential whose value I had to discover by giving it away, and using it to create mutually enabling relationships with other people.

That was different.

In this light, it was absurdly clear. Of course my desire to dance was a talent. No question. How dare I bury it! Calling it a talent did not mean that I was good at it—I wasn’t. Nor was it a guarantee of what would come of it—I wasn’t about to make the New York City Ballet. All it meant was that that desire for dance was a balled-up knot of sensory awareness whose value it was my job to discover through a rhythm of giving and receiving in relation to others. I had to trade it.

In other words, I had to move. I had to move—in dance classes, in auditions, in rehearsals, in my own living room. I had to give what I had whatever it was and see what came back. Such movements would create the relationships with teachers and dancers and myself that over time, would help me discern what more I had to trade.

The story that had once punched me in the gut, now lifted me up with hope and joy. I could move differently. I had permission to move differently. I had permission to pay attention to what feels good to me, right to me. I had permission to dance—I didn’t need permission to dance. The gift had already been given. Permission was internal to the gift. And so was responsibility.

I began to follow my desire to dance, letting it lead me in giving and receiving, creating and becoming, myself in relation to others. Sure enough, my path unfolded.

As it did, I began to understand dance itself in new ways—as a capacity given to all humans, and not just me. Dancing is not just about learning steps and mastering tricks. Dancing, as I know and practice, is about learning to pay attention to the movements you are making, and to how these movements are making you.

Some movements hurt. If you keep making them, you will be injured. Some movements are difficult, but get easier over time. Some movements feel awkward and unbalanced, but soon develop greater strength in you. To dance is to cultivate a sensory awareness that can guide you not only in moving with clarity, grace, efficiency, and strength—but also in finding movements to make that express the care and attention required to find them; movements that connect with others in mutually beneficial ways; movements that make love real.

Whatever your faith, and whether you have one or not, every movement you make in your life is a prayer. Every movement you make in your life makes your God real.

Every movement is an invitation to the energy of life to flow into the pattern of precise neuro-muscular coordination required to make that movement. Every movement is an invitation to perceive and receive sensations along this stretch of effort—to open and grow in one direction and not another.

Thus every movement you make participates in the ongoing act of creation—it creates you and your relationship to your own bodily self. How are you moving in relationship to yourself? Gentle or harsh, tender or tough, enabling or repressive? Angry or judgmental or supportive or kind?

For me, one message of the Parable of the Talents is that the movements we make in relation to ourselves come back to us in time as characterizing the relationship we have created with the universe. The servant who buried his talents in fear of judgment, made God into a fearful judge. The servants who embraced and traded their talents made God into a beneficent source of enduring well being. The movement that we practice in relation to our own talents—the care and attention we devote to them, the sensory awareness we cultivate of them—are what make the holy real for us. They are what make our purpose real for us.

With every movement we create the world as we then know it.

The question to ask, then, is not “what is my purpose?” but “what do I have to trade?” You’ll find out.

From Psychology Today

 

Wisdom from the World of Dance

My latest post. With a new twist.

What if we considered the practice of contemporary dance as a wisdom tradition — a set of practices engaged in the ongoing search for better ways of living?

Read on…

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-body-knows/201711/wisdom-the-world-dance

Paying Attention: Consciousness of What?

 

My latest post for Psychology Today!

Here I explore some reflections that emerged in the wake of my third Story Circle with the dance artists of the Kun Yang Lin Dance Company in Philadelphia! These circles are part of The Faith Project, a creative exploration of the relationship between religion and dance.  The piece that KYLD is creating is coming together! Here I wonder: What is the relationship between our bodily movements and the possibilities of perception?

Paying Attention: Consciousness of What?

Enjoy!

Photo: Mike Hurwitz

 

 

Why Practice Repeating Ordinary Movements?

Here is my second blog post on my work with the Kun-Yang Lin Dance Company’s Faith Project! This month’s “Story Circle” generated so many ideas about why, in ritual and in dance, we endlessly and fruitfully repeat ordinary bodily movements over and again.

Story+Circle+#2+Photo.jpegHere are some of my thoughts!

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-body-knows/201709/why-practice-repeating-ordinary-bodily-movements/edit

For more information on the Faith Project, please visit: kyld.org.

Happy If — Happy When: Why Write a Musical?

 

Here is the link to my latest blog post on Psychology Today!

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-body-knows/201705/happy-if-happy-when-why-write-musical

Why, you may ask, would a scholar of religion/ dancer/ farmer/ mother of five decide to write a MUSICAL called HAPPY IF — HAPPY WHEN?

Believe me, it has been a mystery to me too!!!

But in writing this blog,  I began to figure it out.

Enjoy!