Mirrors Part I
For the last year or so, I’ve been dancing. There is a wonderful group of people who get together and shake it a few times a week in a freeform dance practice called ecstatic dance. It’s a really special practice where you kick off socks and shoes, listen to a potpourri of great music and without conversation or words, tune in. For me, this is a time to tune into my movement desires and then move my body however I’m inspired to move without the form of asana guiding me. It’s how I might move in my living room to a favorite song, but I get to do it around or with other people on a big, beautiful dance floor. There is great depth to the practice—to moving the body to rhythm, sharing dance with partners and to giving time to listen to creative urges. I love it. Big time.
At each dance, a facilitator brings a musical playlist and shares a theme or intention in an opening circle. On a particular dance, many months ago, the person facilitating brought mirrors and lined them up on a table at the edge of the room and said a few words. I must have been really tuned into myself (a-hem), because I didn’t notice any of this, but luckily Annamaria did and during the dance, she took time to pick up each hand mirror and to look at her reflection. We circled up again at the end of the dance to share thoughts and Annamaria shared her experience. She said that in each mirror she noticed something slightly different in her reflection, in herself. Perhaps as she shifted her feet to pick up the next mirror, the background changed or the color of the hand-mirror’s frame brought something out in her eyes, or maybe it was the way the mirror angled to catch the light. When she returned to her dance, her experience with the mirrors shifted her experience with her dance partners. She began to see each of the faces of the people with whom she danced like a mirror. She said that she could see something of herself in them and each person helped her to see something slightly different, much like the mirrors had earlier in her dance.
This struck me and it opened something in me that I haven’t really been able to grasp before: Everything that Annamaria sees and all of her thoughts happen in her very own mind. This is the same mind that she has been living with for her entire life. This mind has been with her for SO LONG, in fact, that it can be easy for her to forget that it is even up there, acting as the cheesecloth through which every single experience, thought, feeling and idea has to soak in order to exist in her life. So all thoughts that come to consciousness (and even those that don’t) reveal way more about the inner workings of Annamaria’s mind than they ever could about the person sharing her dance. Even the things that seem to be happening in someone else’s experience become significant, at whatever level, when they are held by her cheesecloth. Annamaria’s thoughts about other people reflect and uncover more of her own thought process and mind than anyone else’s.
Yoga asks us to get to know ourselves. Asana practice (postures) is one way that we do this. We get to check out how our body moves and, just as importantly, tune into what our mind tells us as we put our body into conditions of controlled strain and stress. Yoga gives us the opportunity to notice when our mind wants us to push our body somewhere that it is not ready to go or when we compare ourselves to the yoga-rockstar in the room. With the knowledge about our mental habits that comes with svadhyaya (self-study), we can begin to alter the ones that don’t serve us. Looking at how the mind works off the mat and with other people is another way to get to know the self.
So, with a sense of curiosity and in the spirit of svadhyaya, I’m going to check this out over the next week or so and I invite you to join me. What do my responses to people in my life reflect about my brain’s inner workings? Think of it as an investigative study, not of what other people do in the world, but of how we respond to what other people do in the world. What happens in the physical body? Are there sensations when you have an annoying driver on the road with you? When you snuggle up to read with your kids? And then what do you say to yourself about other people? We need to organize all the information that comes our way through the senses and we do that by making judgments. Like our lifelong brain-companion, some judgments have been with us nearly as long and so they can be difficult to see. Some are really helpful, some… maybe not. Check those out, if you want to. Use these things as a mirror too see yourself.
If you live or visit Austin and want to check out ecstatic dance, here are links to two dancing opportunities:
Special thanks to Anamaria and her willingness to share on that day long ago and allowing me to share her thoughts here.