Friday, May 21, 2010

Generous Dancing

On May Day this year, as part of our "guerilla morris" (where we just go and dance where we feel like dancing), we danced at Birchbark Books in Minneapolis. While we were there, R.T. Rybak, our mayor, biked by with his wife, and we danced a dance for him. The whole thing was filmed here.

Now, I don't get to see myself dance very often, and when I do, I sometimes wince. I'm not as good a dancer as I'd like to be, even after 20 years of morris. And as I was reflecting on my dancing here, the word for what I was seeing in the other dancers that I didn't see in myself was "generosity." I was not—am not—dancing generously. Interpret that as you will, but it's the outward expression of what from the inside feels like carefulness. I was not giving the audience everything I had, because I was worried I'd have nothing left over.

Several years ago, there was a query made of the Friends Meeting I attend, "How do you take care of your spiritual well-being?" Something like that. And I sat with that question for much of meeting, and eventually, as is my habit, started turning it in my head. As I did so, it turned into "How do I open myself to the care the universe offers me." And as I held that question, I felt my whole body unclench and relax and open up. It was quite a profound physical reaction. I really felt myself "opening."

The two physical manifestations, generosity and openness to the universe's care, feel very close. As friend Lane said at lunch yesterday, it's because the cycle of giving and receiving needs to be an open cycle: if you block up or hoard up, the cycle is broken and, in general, stuff stops working as well.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting with the question, How are we one meeting? How are we a Thing as opposed to just a bunch of people who sit together at once? And that question turned itself as well, to one of "How can we open ourselves to the universe's care (to what I call Grace but which probably doesn't match the traditional meaning of that word)?" And I felt the same visceral loosening reaction.

Now, I am not a miserly sort in my everyday life, I think. I'm not generous to a fault, but I don't think people walk past and mutter to each other, "there goes Nat, what a Scrooge!" But my concern for "generous dancing" isn't about how much I give to the United Way. In performance, in order to be really effective, you need not just to perform something, but to embody it to the audience. This holds true outside of performing arts: royalty understands this—see the conclusion of Elizabeth (the 1998 movie with Cate Blanchett: see here from 7:45 onward, followed by this). She puts it as, "I have married England," but she has become an embodiment of something not so easily put into words; perhaps an embodiment of England itself. So what I'm looking for in performance is not acts of generosity, but the embodiment of generosity.

To embody something is not a common concept in liberal modernist religion. It smells a bit of idolatry: the physical deities in Hinduism being embodiments of their respective gods. In Christian orthodoxy, it is only Christ who is God made flesh. So we generally talk about "embodiment" in a kind-of-figurative sense: "Robin Hood was the embodiment of masculine virtue." Or whatever.

I think perhaps because of the sexualization of bodies in public conversation, we don't talk about people we work with as bodies, as embodiments. This is a loss. The physical experience being of in a geographic space really affects how I make maps. The physical experience of being in meeting for worship is not just a portal for spiritual experience: it is an embodiment of that experience. How we want to be needs to be embodied in us, literally.


Michael Bischoff said...

I think this is a really nice essay, Nat. I resonate with the ways you described generosity, openness, and embodying. A retired pastor that I work with describes the essence of the Gospel as "let go, let come, embody." I like that... and dancing with generosity and openness seems like a great way to do this and share this with others.

Hystery said...

As a Pagan Friend, the idea of embodiment is really important to me, not in the sense of gods and goddesses and the like, but in the sense of the human body as the site and instrument of spiritual and intellectual manifestation. I also try to pay close attention to the land as context of our experiences. Again, I don't mean "The Land" as some kind of mythological and vague entity but "the land" as the specific topography, soil, water, weather, and physical communities we inhabit and experience as part of our economic, social, and spiritual context. These physical bodies make a difference in who we become.

Your comments here on generosity make me think of my physical/geographic community, the Finger Lakes, which I experience as an embodiment of hospitality.

Thanks for the post.

natcase said...

Thanks Michael and Hystery. It still feels foreign to me as a complex of ideas. I'm letting it sit a while and sink in. I'm reflecting now about the scalability of this flow of generosity and openness: how it plays out within one individual, in a family or other small group, within a wider community. I'm wondering what sorts of general things one can say about blockages to this flow. Future posts...

tristan said...

glad i read that ... thanx