Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Staying In The Dance

“Whenever there’s some ax to grind or something to prove, there is no dance.”
Alan Watts
I always liked the dance metaphor for expressing the art in life, the pure involvement and pleasure in doing, but the way I thought about it was always connected with individual action and attitude toward one’s circumstances. It wasn’t until recently, when I felt under attack, that I realized the more fundamental, participatory meaning of being in the dance. Under attack, it’s easy to fall into “something to prove “ mode. Ignoring the attack can create an “ax to grind” later on. But the goal of the dance is to stay in harmony with the others, to be part of an overall flow of interlaced patterns in motion. To insist on pushing the personal dance is not the cosmic choreography. So when the unexpected adversary stomps onto the scene, new steps must be learned that respond to the truth of what’s now happening. Finding the steps that acknowledge and move with the changing rhythm is staying in the dance. Like with music, when the dissonant note enters, the important thing is to stay with the passage until it resolves.
Many times I’ve made the mistake of taking the most passive role when faced with conflict and thinking that’s being in the dance because it’s not fighting. But it also gives up creative participation and the chance to handle danger gracefully. It avoids learning the skills necessary to face inevitable conflicts in the course of life and the sense of accomplishment when they’re handled successfully.
A Japanese theatre group, Yoshi and Company was in Baltimore for a theatre festival many years ago, and the aesthetic power of its martial arts based dance/performance art has stayed vividly with me for decades. The dance of combat is a focused drama that when enacted artfully plays out to a satisfying end. Danger requires intense attention.
This level of attention is missing when you just go along and allow yourself to be led. Passivity is denial of what’s actually happening and the truth of your own reactions. Moves must match previous moves and use the energy of the attack to redirect the flow of events in recognition of the preceding move. It is creative because attacks are often unexpected and take unfamiliar forms. If it’s approached as something to win, the ego’s in charge and the dance is lost. Attentive response doesn’t fight fire with fire, enlarging the blaze, it fights fire with water in proportion to the fire, an act of balance that ends the destruction, cools the heat.
In his book “The Only Dance There Is” Ram Dass writes, “Honor everybody you meet as your teacher.” Respect the adversary as offering a particular kind of lesson. An attack is information.
We can’t get away from the many fibers of life, the weave of which affects our own direction. Anything that works against the overall pattern will look like a mistake, a disharmony in the larger design. Willful rebellion against the choreography adds to the friction. All that’s happening is the dance being offered. Participation is our choice.

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