Why Let Go?

 

Letting go

of possessions, things, clearing the house, donating

invites spaciousness

lightens….

Letting go

of rules, constraints, forms in writing

permits possibilities to pour forth…..

Letting go

of unhelpful habits, of self-sabotage and self-defeat

welcomes wellness, relaxing into growth….

Letting go

of unneeded tension and resistance

avoids injury, eases movement in dance class….

Letting go….

of the walls, the rigidity

all the clutter, the detritus, these rules, fears, hesitations, burdens?

Ahhhhhhhhhh, letting go

springs us forth into 

freshness, flexibility, expansion, renewal

~create~

~thrive~

~flow~

Photos courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2016, 2017; Studio 80 + Sculpture Grounds

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Yes! We ARE Artists

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost….”~Martha Graham

As we were dancing today in a pop-up performance, an older lady expressed appreciation of our dancing, commenting with knowledge of the art. When I asked if she were a dancer, she answered wistfully with that dreaded response, “Well, I WAS a dancer.”

Noooooo!

I’ve written about, lamented, the “was a dancer” fallacy here.  Long story short: In my book, you are a dancer or painter or writer or musician or other artist or you’re not.  It’s not something that changes, like a hairstyle or an address.

So, yes, we gave her the “once a dancer, always a dancer” assurance. And were rewarded with her pulling a few dancerly moves…just to prove our point.

And now, this thought: What if all of us artists responded every time with a “Yes! I am a
dancer/musician/painter/actor/calligrapher/writer/other artist”?  No apology or qualification, no confession of how long it’s been since we last created, whether or how much we are paid, what critical acclaim we’ve received, pedigree we possess, commissions or jobs we’ve had.

Simply, YEEESSS!

What a more sparkly world it would be (wouldn’t it?) with countless proclaimed artists beating the drum!  And so, yes, yes indeed, here’s to all of the artists.

“…It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you…. No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” ~Martha Graham

Top photo: Courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2017; Sculpture: Gil Boro

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Still Dancing

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 toll on the body, making longevity less likely.

But the element of intense physicality doesn’t account for the high frequency and pervasiveness of this question.  Even artists whose work isn’t as physically demanding or involved are constantly asked whether they are still pursuing their art.  It’s a query that ignores or overlooks that art chooses us, not the reverse.  It’s a question that fails to appreciate the astounding depth of meaning and value that our art lavishes upon us and our lives, and instead, relegates that art to the disposable.

In the life of the artist, art is not a passing fancy nor a mere hobby (as wonderful as hobbies may be).  It is a calling.  It is indispensable.

Stopped dancing? You may as well ask if we’ve stopped breathing.

And embraced in our clan are all the dancers who may not be able to move physically as they once did, but whose hearts and souls continue to beat as dancers.

Or, in Shapiro’s brilliant anthem about writing (but you can fill in your art): “Writing saved my life.  Writing has been my window–flung wide open to this magnificent, chaotic existence–my way of interpreting everything within my grasp….It has been a privilege.  It has whipped my ass.  It has burned me into a valuable clarity….It has pushed me to get better, to be better….So yes.  Yes. Still writing.” (p. 227)

And heck yes, still dancing!

Photos: Top and middle–courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2016, 2017; Bottom–courtesy of Christina Goldberg; Sculptures–Gil Boro

 

 

 

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waiting…no more

 

 

 

 

she is waiting

for the light to change

for an opening

to be understood

or visible

for the kettle to boil

the paint to dry, the storm to pass, an answer

someone

herself

~~

and that one waits

~~

until it’s her turn

(when is her turn?)

to exhale

from the sidelines

until it’s okay

for the shouting to stop

by the checkout

by the moonlight

for the healing

magic

~~

ah, irony!

~~

as waiting

spawns more, still more

waiting swells

into some undeniable, oxymoronic tsunami of stasis

bursting dams

and, waiting no longer

~~

~~

~~

she pours forth

Photos courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2016

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The Glow of Flow, or Optimal Experience

 

“….[T]he best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times…The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile….”~Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi

It happened again yesterday.

I was chatting with a new friend about a service project we are collaborating on.  The conversation had been going well enough–an interesting, thoughtful exchange of ideas.

When my friend mentioned in passing a new project she is pursuing, I asked her to elaborate.  That’s when the pleasant conversation exploded into a dazzling feast of images, inspiration, aspirations, depth, meaning.  As my friend painted a picture of her vision, something she has been dreaming of for many years, something that has been derailed by tragedy and other obstacles, her whole being lit up, charging the air with excitement.

Her electricity drew me in–I was now leaning forward, toward her light and her animated gestures. Her inspiration was infectious, spurring me to come up with a spate of ideas and leading us into brainstorming exciting collaborations.

Make no mistake: What my friend proposes to do is risky, difficult, and not a certain success.  And yet, as researcher, author, guru Csikszentmihalyi describes optimal experience or the flow state above, undertakings that are deeply meaningful and challenging offer pinnacles in our lives. True transcendence.

Through these journeys, we “….learn to become more than what we were. When we choose a goal and invest ourselves in it to the limits of our concentration, whatever we do will be enjoyable. And once we have tasted this joy, we will redouble our efforts to taste it again. This is the way the self grows….” and incidentally “… allows us to…. make significant contributions to humankind.” (emphasis added)

While I’ve written several times about optimal experience and Csikszentmihalyi’s groundbreaking book “FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” including here and here, it’s been awhile since I’ve thought consciously about the flow state.  Yet, writing this, I realize that I’ve been cultivating optimal experience on a nearly constant basis pursuing my dance passion–that wondrous, challenging, sometimes transcendent practice.

My friend illustrated vividly–physically, emotionally, energetically–how vital it is to pursue our passions and dreams.  Vital as in important and vital as in vitality.

In so doing, we not only light up our lives, but also the lives and the world around us.

Photos Top, Third, Bottom: Courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2016, 2017; Sculpture: Gil Boro

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The Practice Is The Thing: Devotion

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire….”~Martha Graham

Last week, I had committed to doing a pop-up dance performance nearby.  As we approached the date, a few obstacles emerged, most notably a small but painful injury.  I wasn’t sure we could go through with the performance as planned.

Then I flipped my thinking to presupposing the performance and started focusing on how we could make a dance performance happen.  We made a couple of adjustments to time, venues, types of movement and proceeded full speed ahead.

While we were warming up, I shared with a fellow performer that this is one of the many treasures of being in a practice: You assume the practice and move from there.

For me, as you may have gleaned from other posts, a major practice is dancing, including sharing my passion for dance through performing.  And in the past several years that has included numerous public performances that allow me to spread the uplifting, healing, empowering dance magic to everyone around rather than solely to those who (can) buy a ticket.

So, we danced!

And, not surprisingly, it was a wonderful experience again.  As rewarding as the beautiful movement and appreciative reception were, the transcendence for me was the experience of continuing to stay true to my practice.  I persevered in threading dance into more and more places, places that may not have felt dance’s magic touch before, like sidewalks and benches and tree lawns and parking lots…and the people passing through them.

 

When I wrote before about the power of practice here, I spoke in terms of  devotion or “love, loyalty or enthusiasm for an activity or cause” that entails fidelity, care, and dedication.    Being devoted facilitates our pushing the limits of possibility–for ourselves, for the Universe.

I am devoted to dance and to sharing dance’s power…and incredibly grateful for the boon this practice showers.

Photos top and bottom courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2017; Sculpture-Gilbert Boro

 

 

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Grooves…and Graves

The only difference between a rut and a grave… is in their dimensions.”~Ellen Glasgow

The other day, I was driving some distance to a meeting on a route I’ve driven several times before.  It was a sunny morning and I was alert.

Still, I nearly missed my exit when I realized at the last minute that I had been driving in the lane farthest to the left rather than 3 lanes over to the right where I was supposed to be.  Jolted by my mistake, I wondered aloud how I could have done that?

Then I realized that traveling in that left lane was part of the path I had followed home umpteen times over the past few decades when we lived in another part of the state.  That groove has been so deeply worn in my  mind that I just let it carry me along… in the wrong direction.

The experience reminded me how difficult it is to change our habits, our patterns, our comfort zones. Awhile ago, I wrote about automaticity: “…the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice.”

Achieving automaticity is a swell goal for things we want to incorporate deeply or comparatively effortlessly in our lives. Routines from mundane tasks like cleaning the dishes and brushing our teeth to more complex practices like sports and dancing to soulful practices like compassion.

But automaticity can also mire us if we end up practicing things we don’t want to have as our default setting.  Like driving in the wrong lane to take the wrong exit to someplace we no longer live in :).

We often need to work even more consciously, intentionally, and harder to retrain our minds and bodies to expand along new pathways.  That’s the road to possibility, to vibrancy.

My little outing brought to mind that great quote of Ellen Glasgow.  It’s true.  For when a pattern of ours lacks vitality, and yet we continue to practice it, we get stuck.  And when there’s no movement or potential for movement, there is a death.

The boon of this experience is that it spurred me to examine, once again, both what I am practicing and what I seek to be better, i.e. more automatic, at.  Are my practices serving me, where I want to go, who I want to be?  What’s stale, needing to be discarded or refreshed?

So many questions.  And the answers? Not so automatic….

Photo credit: Top-Christina Goldberg, Studio 80 + Sculpture Grounds, Old Lyme CT, sculptures by Gilbert Boro

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