“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Shunruy Suzuki, in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal talks on Zen meditation and practice (1970)
Hello, and thank you for visiting. By continuing this blog/hiking trip, I hope you might resonate with some of my musings, and better yet, I hope they elicit musings of your own; new paths to venture along, or perhaps, revisiting old ones with new eyes. Because curiosity is the fuel of discovery.
Braiding experience and dancing with insights
In my quest for stillness, I’ve since discovered it doesn’t exist. I’ve also discovered that everything oscillates, and integration enlivens experience. I’ve discovered these insights through the convergence and braiding of three personal practices: spiritual, dance, and hiking. Retiré spiral and circle exercise–two particular dance exercises I practice–continue to be places of inquiry, places of becoming, places of home. Not the stable kind of home one might associate with an enclosure of permanence, rather, retiré spiral and circle exercise function as dynamic places of return: generative places of discovering and attending to the minute oscillations of a body in motion. A body as motion. From an insider’s perspective, I’ve observed how tiny sensory oscillations signal an awareness that fixity is illusory, that everything wiggles with relationality, and that everything is interconnected. Stillness doesn’t exist.
The following reflections, when seen together, trace a trajectory of how particular experiences and insights have become emplaced in dance practice. Whether it be hiking trips, sitting practice, or sweaty rehearsals, it’s all the same thing. Everything converges.
Reflection 1: “a calm lake is never only a calm lake”
September 2nd, 2013. Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Park, Ontario.
Took a short ride to the island. Sat in practice, did some retiré spirals, went to take shelter under the trees when it rained, then explored a little further before getting back in the canoe for a long ride round the lake.
September 3rd, 2013. Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Park, Ontario.
(Written on the eastern shore of Lake of Two Rivers, awaiting help after unsuccessfully trying to canoe back to the Western shore.)
Five things I learned getting stranded on the eastern shore:
- Going against the current takes a lot of hard work. The gains will be small and hard won (swearing to the wind doesn’t help). Only simple directives are useful: one stroke at a time, keep an eye on the tree-line, disregard your aching muscles.
- Surrendering to the will of the current is just that, a surrender of your will.
- Born of necessity, a new path reveals itself, and with humility I follow it.
- With some creativity and a letting go of pride, help manifests.
- Waiting for help opens the heart.
September 4th, 2013. Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Park, Ontario.
(Written after a second difficult canoe ride, narrowly averting being stranded once again)
Again with the fucking current and the wind! Whatever path I intended to take today was rerouted by the will of the wind…Twice I attempted to turn and row facing forward, to no avail. Finally, when I got close enough to the island, the current let up for me to come ashore.
So here I sit, distilling my second struggle with the wind, all giving way to a feeling of defeat. Keep rowing, keep paddling, try a new tactic, or know when to abandon one. I think that’s it, knowing when to let go and when to push through. Be vigilant, a calm lake is never only a calm lake. From where I sit the glassy surface of the water looks calm, but at its centre, currents play.
Reflection 2: ‘I’ as generator
November 13th, 2016. Toronto, Ontario. Excerpt from a school paper.
A couple of years ago I stopped using the word ‘hold’ when referencing the action of stability. What became clear to me was the ineptitude of the word in relation to moments of apparent stillness. I thought of my meditation teacher’s comment to me years back; “we are all generators” she said. I began to discover just how resonant this comment was as I practiced retiré spiral. Trying to ‘hold’ positions felt unskillful now. Instead, what if I was always in a state of letting go? Continuously so. What if ‘balance’ was the action of recreation? Letting go of the physical impulse to ‘hold’ was liberating, and with it came a sense of agency; an awareness of self as generator. “Keep generating the shape” became my verbalized cue to students. “Keep expressing the shape.” What I wasn’t conscious of at the time was the inherent shift in identity that such a change in perspective entailed: the ‘I’ as generator supplanted the ‘I’ that wills fixity, the ‘I’ that controls.
Through the practices of teaching, hiking, and retiré spiral, I’ve come to deepen my understanding of another saying my teacher often repeated, “Balance is motion.” Dancing was the laboratory through which I came to integrate what I’ve read in books countless times before: a fixed self is illusory. As Shunryu Suzuki states, “What I call ‘I’ is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale.” Identity is in a constant state of flux, and ‘holding’ postures is like trying to paddle against the current. Balance is motion. It’s conversant. The mind let’s go of its will to ‘hold’ and allows the body to respond, to connect with the flow of the currents that dance us.
Thank you again for your curiosity and for reading.
Have a moving week,