Less and less you do to force things,
until you finally arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.
“A good athlete can enter a state of body awareness in which the right stroke or right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of conscious will. This is a paradigm of non-action: the purest and most effective form of action. The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance.” viii
Tao te Ching by Stephen Mitchell
I choreographed a dance once that was based solely on the deep inner impulse of felt sense in the moment. The most interesting performance was probably late in 1967 in New York City in an old warehouse that had been converted into a makeshift theater to show new experimental art films. It was a simple space: bleachers, a cement floor, a space between bleachers and the large white movie screen.
There was no music. The piece began in the dark. Humming on each deep out-breathing, I stood in front of the screen in the dark centering myself. When the spotlight came up a black cat was sitting beside me. As I began to move from an awareness of an internal impulse arising out of each moment the cat began to dart here and there chasing the light that was reflected from the dangling circles that hung from the headpiece that I wore. Each circle contained a small round mirror in its center.
The dance had been inspired by a dream I had had of Ruth St. Dennis searching for a place out of doors to perform a dance piece of hers. In my dream she decided on a small triangular platform under a grape arbor. As an early modern dancer/choreographer my impression of her was that she was very spiritual. The two “rules” that guided the dance were that I was not to move in space and I was to move only as my body wanted to in each unfolding moment. There were no predetermined steps or timing or body gestures. It was purely improvisational arising from the presence of some internal impulse.
This piece for me had come at a time in my own career when I had injured myself and was working under the guidance of Elaine Summers. She had observed that I moved with “much too much tension in my body” and had shown me her kinetic awareness exercises to help retrain my body. These exercises involved lying on the floor placing a 5-inch rubber ball at different places along the spine and moving imperceptively while relaxing over the surface of the ball. These exercises not only reshaped my body but also reshaped my life. I began to slow down to such an extent that I began to experience my body molecularly. I was beginning to explore a deeply introspective internal space.
So that night in the area now called Soho the cat and I moved in complete synergy each responding to our own inner impulses of non-action that became right movement for the right moment. When the light went out at the end of the piece and came back up the cat was nowhere to be found.
Often we want to be in control, to make something happen, to change someone else whom we think would be so much better off if they would only do it our way. The beautiful Serenity prayer from the AA tradition says it all. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Sometimes we need to step into the river of life, sit in our INNER tube and float. We’ll be caught up in eddies, rush down rapids and barely move through wide open expanses. It is how we meet the moment that counts. Heart-centered with full presence and an open mind are often very helpful.
A number of years ago I recognized that I had become a human doing. I was rushing around trying to push the river and make things happen on my time schedule. I decided to take a look. Who put me in charge of the world? I looked at the Native American woman’s tradition of the Moon Lodge and the Red Tent tradition of ancient Judaism. Women were seen at the time of their cycle to be in an internal place of spiritual power. They were more receptive to internal guidance. I was fascinated and recognized my own deficits. I needed to learn how to become a human being.
I built a hut in the woods in back of my home. It was a simple structure made of bent branches whose ends were buried in the ground making a shoulder high dome shape, which then was covered with blankets and a tarp. For a year at the full moon I went out to that lodge to stay for twenty-four hours. Choose the full moon because in Native tradition it was the height of the female power. I was also in perimenapause so my cycles were irregular. I was feeling the loss of that monthly anchor point in my life. The full moon would give me another.
I had one major rule. I couldn’t go tramping around in the woods exploring. I was to sit quietly inside or outside of the lodge and learn to simply be present to what was. I could journal or read a little but mostly I sat watching the moon and sun shadows move across the forest floor. I paid attention to what was moving around inside of me. I prayed when I felt inspired to do so and I listened. At first it was hard to sit still for that long but soon I became very grateful for the quiet sacred time. Life could be so simple, peaceful and beautiful.
You might challenge yourself to be on a quiet retreat for 24 hours with no television, no electronics and no interference. How sweet would that be? Or how difficult? Learn to BE simple and present and heart-centered at least for part of your life. How would that influence the rest of your life?