Musing: Lie Under a Tree



It was a vision as I lay in yoga class this morning.  Lie under a tree was the instruction.  I gather Allies;  red checkered tablecloth to lie on, neck pillow,  Ondaatje novel I'm reading and a  book about walking, standing, sitting and lying down and, after months of it just hanging out over there somewhere in the dining room, my  notebook.  I get a salad from Noodles & Co.  and imagine a coffee later from that little Country Store at Chautauqua Park.  That's where I 'see' all this happening, this restingrestingresting after book and retirement. 

I am in retrograde.  I am waiting, listening, allowing, wondering, hoping to keep the little monster thoughts from taking over.  I so miss the kinesthetic acruity. 


Lineage was introduced to me in 1976 by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche when HH Karmapa was coming to Boulder for the first time.  We learned the names of Buddhist teachers in the Kagyu lineage going back in time.  Each one had presented a fresh view of the traditional  Dharma and had taught the next generation.  I was just beginning to shape the dance program at Naropa University and wondered about the art lineages, about my lineage as a mid twentieth century American modern dancer.  I wanted students to reflect on their lineages, on what shaped their journey so they were here, at Naropa, in a dance class.  I cut open a brown grocery bag, laid it flat on the dining room table and started to draw my first lineage tree.  I still have it.  The book is a variation on this theme of lineage.

This photo shows students working on the Lineage Tree assignment in March, 2015, in a class taught by Jessica Cerullo, Naropa MFA in contemporary performance alumni.

Taut and loose at the same time

Carrying a spoonful of water.

"Coordinating your practice by having a sense of balance:  holding one's mind taut and loose at the same time.  It is as if you are dressed up in a costume (environmental awareness), holding a spoonful of water (awareness of breath).'


This instruction, from a handout at a meditation retreat, becomes the classroom practice of Carrying a Teaspoon of Water through Empty Space.  How to feel the kinesthetic sensation of taut, then too taut, and then loose and too loose?  How to coordinate and balance these sensations:  attention to  the water in the spoon and, at the same time, walking with the spoon of water across the room and placing it in a bowl on the floor?  There are six bowls, three on each side of the room and three silver spoons.  Each person goes at least twice.  The second time is more playful and daring.  Spilling happens.  Someone has a cloth to wipe up the drops of water.  We help one another experiment.

What happens when ~

Dancing Songs, The Changing Scene, Denver, 1979

What will happen when a dancer becomes a writer?  How will she translate  kinesthetic experiences of  body mind  to words on a page? In the classroom she can show one path for you to take.  She can point to slow motion, for instance, as a ‘little discipline’ that helps tofind that sensation of body mind being together in the same field of awareness.  Then of course, since everything changes, they move apart.  But you must try this out for yourself, that's how it always works, hearing about how to do something then doing it and finding out what happens.

Photograph as Portal

1954. Princeton Ballet Society. McCarter Theater. The Swan and the the Prince

This photo is a portal back in time to  Princton Ballet Society performances at McCarter theater. I am in high school and falling in love with ballet. Here I am a white bird, a swan I think. And there is a prince. (Who is he?)  I am captivated by our connection, the way we are looking at one another, the way our heads tilt slightly and how the gaze is between us.   Looking back through this photograph into this moment I wonder who this person is who was me.


What is the balance between too much effort, doing  without  softness,  and  kinesthetic delight, that subtle sensation of rightness that is, maybe, indulgent?  I find myself trying to be better, stronger, in less pain, be lovable.  It’s  effortful.  Also I find myself working on what’s wrong. Kinesthetic delight feels different.   When I find this delight, I sense relaxation with being alive, in the midst of effort, and everything changes.  My training in classical ballet and  Merce Cunningham technique required so much effort.  And I loved it,  this sensation of big trying and strong muscles. I loved  showing up again and again for  rigor and repetition.   Then slowly slowly it became something I had to feel.  I had to feel  effort in order to feel any thing.  Much later  kinesthetic delight was revealed and offered a different way.  Now the effort  is to remember to come back to this very moment and find the gentle delight.

desolate/delight project, 2008-2010, Naropa U. MFA program


Rehearsal of Red Square with ally.  Photo: Regan Halas

“Once we stop rejecting the world, the world begins to pounce on us.  Symbolism is imposed on us. Realizations and perceptions of all kinds of realities begin to take shape. There is symbolism right and left and front and back”.

~ Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

This very moment is always the occasion

This slogan from the Shambhala Buddhist tradition is on a card that sits on a  shelf above my kitchen sink.

In the midst of busy mind chatter when I read this slogan it pulls me into the present.  In dance improvisation when you’re standing there in your body mind, ready to dance, and mind starts to take over with that  forceful busy-ness, what Trungpa Rinpoche calls 'subconscious gossip', remember this slogan. Then, suddenly you  are back in the middle of the event.   This is a part of the story about how I chose the title for the book, This Very Moment: teaching thinking dancing.

World War II

Born on the southern tip of great lake Michigan in March 1938, before the United States declared war in Europe, before Pearl Harbor was bombed I find myself drawn to stories and images of the second world war. As I  wander in memories for the Memoir, I sense/feel how this war  surrounded my growing up. It was in an oblique way, in the language of the household,  in the newspaper photos, in newsreels, in the fear that comes in the aftermath of war.   I watch movies, TV series.  I see  young men thrown into  tragic battles against the Axis of Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito.  I see this happening all over the world.  I watch The Spies of Warsaw  a TV series taking place during  the year I was born.   I watch the children. Why am I doing this?  Will I find  something I don't know the name of?  If we are all interconnected does this war suffering explain  sorrow?

May wars cease and peace be in our breathing.