Pumpkin and apple soup. I was just in the kitchen, playing around as I tried to recreate a delicious preparation I had eaten in a restaurant recently. I have a pumpkin soup recipe that I have made so many times that I know it by heart.
But this new soup? I could only ad lib and make educated guesses on proportions and preparations: two apples or three or more? Sauté first with the onions or simmer with the pumpkin? Keep the garlic in or not? If the soup is too sweet, how can I balance that? No road map, or a fuzzy, dog-eared one at best.
Kind of like life.
It reminded me of my longstanding love-hate relationship with improvisation in dancing. I used to feel “just tell me what to do and I’m all in.” But come up with movement on the spot? How to do that? And how to choose from among the infinite kinesthetic possibilities?
So messy, so uncertain, so unsettling. For the longest time, I resisted.
I don’t recall when that shifted, when I loosened my bear hug on rules and directions and certainty…or rather the illusion thereof. For certainty and exact replicas are rare. You know: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ~ Heraclitus
Some of the shift has been facilitated by being a mother. So often, there just aren’t time and energy to plan it all out. More important, even when there are time and energy for detailed plans, there are inevitably changes, usually spur of the moment. Someone is hungry, or forgot to bring a raincoat, or needs comforting for a scraped knee or a broken heart, or can’t get to sleep….
While my lovely kids have helped me develop and appreciate some flexibility, so have dancing and living. I’ve come to appreciate that it is ALL improvisation to some extent.
It is amazing to consider the countless spontaneous choices we make every day, some conscious and others not. What to wear, eat, say to someone, do with our unscheduled time, when to go to bed, whether to think about a nagging challenge….and on and on.
Even more miraculous is the endless improvisation undertaken by our bodies. The body is constantly producing, compensating, improvising to create balance and wellness, breathing, digesting, sensing, pumping, cleansing, synapsing in an always changing microcosm.
So, as much as I might still cling to directions and structure and dependability, especially during stressful periods, I remind myself that the finest improvisations by dancers and jazz musicians are to a large extent a test of mastery: both of the craft and of certain traits and skills. Traits and skills that are equally valuable for living a grace-filled life: flexibility, openness, a collaborative spirit, adventuresomeness, being present, and a great sense of humor :).
Now, back to the kitchen. Soup, anyone?