The Illusion of Stillness

I heard an interesting thing in a talk by Buddhist Meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein tonight. He was speaking about concentration, and how developing concentration allows us to not be thrown off balance by thoughts, mind-states, feelings, events, etc. He said that for the most part, one never reaches a state where concentration is constant, even in the minds of the most dedicated meditators. He said that there is always some fluctuations, however minor. And as our concentration deepens, the fluctuations become fewer and farther between.

It was such a relief to hear that. Concentration feels so much more attainable when it doesn’t have to be absolute.

And I resonated with the teaching at a very physical level. It sounded exactly like the Contact Improvisation exercise of the “small dance.” My take on the “small dance” is that it is what happens when we try to stand still and attempt to just let our natural alignment assert itself. We see that there is no such thing as absolute stillness–that we are always shifting, compensating, adjusting, our balance. Most of the time this movement is subconscious and invisible. When we pay attention to the process of trying to be still, we see a world of movements revealed. And it becomes a dance that we engage in, beautiful in itself, not having an end goal.

Maybe achieving more concentration, mindfulness, awareness and the like is also a series of dances. Maybe it’s something I can feel my way through–noticing when I am distracted, and using that distraction as a cue to shift my weight, rather than something that I’ve messed up or done wrong.

I find that the more I’ve committed to my dance and art practices as valid paths to wholeness, the more they help me understand the myriad spiritual disciplines I’ve studied. Many times in meditation retreats and workshops, I would find myself baffled by apparent paradoxes or complex instructions that my teachers would present. And sometimes this would lead to frustration, self-doubt, and self-judgement about my inadequacies as a spiritual practicioner, or even just as a human being.  But when I am able to relate one of these teachings to my experience with movement and/or art-making, I can understand it intuitively.

This confirms for me the value of art, and the value of following what I love. There have been many times in my life that I’ve felt that if I’m ever to get through the crises, suffering, confusion, I would experience, I was going to have to commit full time to a spiritual discipline. I would have to become a monk, or at least organize all aspects of my life towards maximizing meditation time. But each time I would get to this point, something would point me back to dance. And it was through dancing, that I would find my way again.

I’m just now understanding that my spiritual path is not many different things rolled into one, but rather one thing that has many different aspects. It is a path of dance/art/music/meditation/directing/performing. I’ve often felt inferior to those that are able to devote themselves so quickly to the Buddhist Meditation practices that I’ve studied. I feel like I’m always on the fence with them–dropping in to learn something, then taking it over to my little corner and adapting it. But I get the sense that I’ve been cooking up something that is true for me, and so infinitely more powerful than anything that I’d try to take on from the outside. It’s still in the oven, but its aroma is wafting out around the house and it smells like I’m on the right track somehow.

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