Cultivating Aliveness!

Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.”~Hafiz

It’s been a bumpy ride around here, lately.  Not earth shattering, but sufficiently unsettling and discouraging to be enervating.

My plan had been to go dancing today.  But after a few nights of poor sleep, and seeing the horrific headlines, I looked out over the marsh this morning and the dreariness and fog seemed to roll into my soul.  Weighing, weighing down.

Dance?  How could I summon the energy and focus to dance when I felt as if I couldn’t get up from my chair?

This is where the amazingness of being in a practice comes in.  Because as I’ve written about before, I did get dressed in my dance clothes, get in the car and go to class.  Because that’s what we dancers do.  Because somewhere in the fogged-in, darkened soul, I heard the gleaming whisper of Hafiz echo, pulling me toward what has made me come alive over and over and over again.

You walk into the studio.  You start to warm up with other kindred spirits. The gorgeous music begins and carries you over the first hump.  And you’re transported–ablaze.  You’re dancing!

For me, dancing.  And for you….?

Middle and bottom photos courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2016, 2017; Sculptures: Gil Boro

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Grace Is A Rainbow

With a deer family of four keeping us company on the marsh for hours every day lately, I have been musing a lot about grace. Each time the four-legged foursome decides to fly over the rivulets, it is breathtaking to watch the deers’ buoyancy. Like the women Jazzercisers I describe below, each deer takes a unique tack in leaping…and manifesting its inimitable grace.
I’ve also been ruminating about grace as I have been the recipient of others’ grace lately…as well as others’ gracelessness. Perhaps grace also shines in gracelessness, as the latter reminds us through its opposite of how wondrous grace truly is.

Sirena Tales

Grace.  I think about it a lot.  As a dancer, of course, but also as a human being.

Grace is a funny and amazing thing.  People talk about it a lot, yet often have trouble defining grace.  Grace is often the very definition of ineffableness, of the inexpressible.

Still, if we are tuned in, we nearly always know when we are in its presence.

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So, as I join in a Jazzercise class this morning, I decide to view my fellow movers for illumination about grace.  What they remind me of is that grace takes countless, perhaps infinite, forms: some that we might expect and some wholly surprising.

To me, the several dancers who are the moms of young children in the babysitting room are moving today as red.  Dancing highly vigorously, at times even aggressively.  Reflecting their passion? Their desire to release pent up emotions (and, ok, maybe burn calories)?…

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Still Dancing

Back in the dance studio after an unsought break, I had this sudden, overwhelming physical sensation of coming home. Reminding me of Mary Oliver’s rhapsodic counsel in “Wild Geese”: “You do not have to be good…You only have to let the soft animal of your body/ love what it loves….” Reminding me that for the artist, the art chooses you, calls to you…relentlessly…and not you to it….

Sirena Tales

In Dani Shapiro’s marvelous “Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life,” she shares a classic anecdote in an artist’s life.  Her friend, who is a notable sculptor, is asked at a dinner party “…if I was still doing the sculpture thing.” Shapiro laughs empathetically, and he continues ruefully “…How was I supposed to respond? Are you still doing the brain surgery thing?” (p.225)

Shapiro muses about this question that is posed constantly to countless artists, from the famous and acclaimed to the unknowns, a question that implies that our art is a whim or a phase, something that will be cast aside when the next shiny thing catches our eye. Or in Shapiro’s word, “outgrown.”

As a dancer, I recognize that people may have more of an excuse to ask this question, that is admittedly probably well-intentioned.  After all, dancing and the passage of time take their…

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What Are You Practicing?

I took a yoga class yesterday for the first time in several years.  It was an excellent, thoughtful class and I am really glad I went to it.

It was also a very challenging class.  Every pose had been difficult to achieve in some recognizable form, some even impossible for me yesterday.  Given the echoes of yoga in the contemporary modern dancing I do, I was surprised and even disappointed by how much of a struggle the class was.

But I should have been neither.  The whole experience reminded me once again of the key element of practice, which is to do it.  Whatever “it” is.

Sure, I have been intending to get back to my yoga practice for a long time, have thought about certain poses, certain benefits of the practice. Even longed for them.  I’ve noticed yogic movements and principles in my dance vocabulary, researched several local studios online and checked out studio spaces.  I’ve set times when I planned to get to class.

I’ve done just about everything but do the yoga–on my own or in a class.

All of which is fine except, obviously, for the last part.  For without the doing of the practice the rest is fluff.

Different mentors have wisely reminded me of this truism over the years.  Paul Dennis: “What you practice you will perform.” Mark Reinhart: “No matter what you’re practicing, you’re getting better at it.” I’ve even written about how practice gets us to automaticity, i.e.  “an automatic response pattern or habit.” Which is what dancers and athletes and humans aim for with any number of actions and thoughts we need on a regular basis.

Still, it took the yoga class to spark what I already know full well.  Wherever we are seeking to expand into greater proficiency–from playing the piano to writing a blog 🙂 to being more compassionate–we need to do the thing.

Mindfully.  Over and over and over….

So, what are you practicing?

Middle and Bottom Photos courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2017; Sculpture: Gil Boro

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New Dawn, New Year: No Nonsense

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”~Ralph Waldo Emerson

How about beginning each new day and each new year, including this one, with the serenity and high spirits that Emerson advises?

When I was reminded of this quote, both wise and whimsical, by Angie, I could feel my breathing calm and my spirit lighten.  Maybe it’s due to Emerson’s  pulling our collective leg a bit, inviting us not to take ourselves and our shenanigans too seriously.

Maybe it’s the wisdom of letting go of what was, and the generosity of inviting us to be better, to do better.  Or the vision of being unburdened by the vestiges of silly or ill-advised choices and beliefs.

Buoyant.

Whatever the reasons for the powerful magic of these words, I thought I would offer them to anyone else who would like to practice releasing the stale and unnecessary weights of yesterday, yesteryear, and breathe into life more tranquility and lightness in the new day.

A buoyant new year to you….

 

Bottom photo courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2017

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Keeping On…and On

 

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”~Maya Angelou

I watch the great blue herons and the egrets wait.

Seemingly endlessly.

And wait.

Then suddenly dive after their meals, so often shaking the water from their heads, from their beaks which have come up empty.

They start over.

Try again.

These majestic birds are just the ticket for me to observe now, as I start over.  Attempting to gain some traction on new dance performance projects.

Waiting for opportunity to appear, for synchronicity. And striking!

Often coming up empty.  Sometimes with beak full.

Wondering: When do you decide, how do you decide whether to give up?

Well, for me: not now.

One of these quotes materializes for me, and I am back at the marsh with the spirit animals.

Trying again.

And again.

Learning, in my better moments, who I am, what I might become.

 

“To those who need encouragement, remember this: Beware of quitting too soon.  Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book was rejected by twenty-three publishers.  The twenty-fourth sold six million copies.” ~Ann Landers

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up….Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”~Thomas Edison

Bottom photo courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2017

 

 

 

 

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We Matter: Santa Hat Chronicles

Yesterday, I offered a holiday-themed dance class.  I had invested a good amount of time and thought in it and was giving the class free of charge in honor of the season.

A few people had contacted me, saying they wished that they could come, but couldn’t make it.  Based on that information and the busy time of year, there was a fair chance that no one would show up, which was a little disappointing.

Fifteen minutes before class began, I saw someone walk up to the studio who looked like a dancer I knew was overseas.  To my astonishment, that same person walked in! I was so touched that he had driven a long distance early Sunday morning to dance, after having flown back to the States only 36 hours before.

My glee and gratitude were multiplied when an intrepid dance pal, who also had to drive a long way, came in a couple of minutes later.  Two talented, beautiful dancers joining me–how wonderful!

As I shared with them later, what a difference they had made in my day, in my life, for showing up.  Because of their generosity, my heart was full–with inspiration, camaraderie, joy.  When I compared that with the disheartenment I would have felt had no one attended, I was all the more grateful.

Today, as I popped out of my car in our driveway, Santa Hat on, to head back into the house for an item I needed for an errand, I noticed a neighbor’s car pull in.  When I walked over to her, she complimented me on my Hat, and asked if I had been to a party.  Nope.  I just wear this Hat every December, as a nod to merriment, as an invitation for connection with folks.   She was delighted!

“Even to the grocery store?” she asked with surprise, and a twinkle in her eye.  Especially to the grocery store.  She applauded my Santa practice.  I waited for her to bring up why she had stopped in, and realized it was solely to talk Santa :).

Two days, two reminders. While we may often have no idea how we affect our fellow travelers, what we do, how we carry ourselves, what we believe, what we say, during our fleeting time on earth: They all matter.  We matter.

To the world you may be one person; but to one person you may be the world.“~Dr. Seuss

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