​Navel Gazing

“Navel gazing” is an amusing term for the excessive side of what is really a good thing.  It's a good thing to know ourselves.  We go to therapy to gain self awareness.  We turn to religion for help in getting the mote out of our own eye before trying to get it out of someone else’s.  To know ourselves is to be emotionally mature.  It’s interesting that we use a part of the body – the navel – to represent excessive focus on ourselves. If we take the term literally, it also seems to say something about our culture’s excessive focus on body image.

Yet it's rare that we let the body be a barometer of what’s going on with ourselves. I am my body. My body houses everything I am, have been, and will be. Without my body, I am not. But it's easy to imagine it as separate from the real person, the real “soul.”  The soul in the sense of soul food – like heart, like guts. All language of body but body as “just” a metaphor for the real thing. Maybe those many times we imagine ourselves separate from Spirit are related to this sense of body and mind separation.

Dance, Truth, Beauty

Dance is a beautiful word. When I say or hear it, images that are beyond words in their harmony and pattern pass through my mind. I suppose some people might imagine TV show performers in glitz and glamour. Or raunchy nightclubbers bopping. Or paper-thin girls in tutus. But none of those images conveys what I feel when I say the word dance.  The word rolling off my tongue – the vowel sound softened, the “n” held a millisecond longer than usual, the “c” punctuating the sounds with a broad hiss – this word conjures for me pure energy, a kind of concord, a golden mean, an agreement of opposites. It seems mythical. The dance of life. The dance of opposites.

When I walk into an open space, especially if the floor is wooden, this mythical feeling of the possibility of beauty comes. Not the beauty of a trained dancer whose technique is perfect form. I’m talking about the beauty of something authentic expressed in the moment of its coming into being, before reflection. It is more accessible and simple than what is expressed in spiffy dance technique.

There’s a line in the movie American Beauty that reminds me of this. The young man whose hobby is taking video shows his young girlfriend his favorite footage – of a plastic bag swept up by wind in a dance with blown leaves: “The bag was just dancing with me, like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes!” He says it’s his favorite footage because it makes him realize that there is “this entire life behind things,” an “incredibly benevolent force” that wants him to know that there is “no reason to be afraid, ever.” He shoots video because he needs to remember this. “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like can’t take it and my heart is just going to cave in.”

When I see something that is authentically true in the moment, it carries this beauty, whether it feels angst-full or joyful.  Like the Keats line, “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty. That is all there is to know, and all you need to know.” That is the dance of the beautiful word.

Three Levels of Awareness

One of the most valuable pieces of the Life/Art process is the exercise of noticing three levels of awareness – the physical, the feeling or emotional, and the imaginal. Sorting experience into these three levels might seem like a fussy brain exercise, and of course, we never can completely isolate the three levels of awareness. But it is still a powerful exercise.

For instance, I might choose a body part like my hands and free associate about this part of myself by sorting my associations into three levels. On a purely physical level my hands might be knuckled, fat, vein-y, scarred, hairy, have bitten nails or long painted nails. On a feeling or emotional level, hands might connote to me openness, nurturing, rejection, or separation. Mental images I might associate with hands are mother, animal paws, food preparation, punishment, the stop gesture, or romance.

After brainstorming this way, I am ready for some hand “play,” a hand dance. This dance may be powerful, beautiful, gross, or ugly. I may dance it sitting on the floor or moving around the room. When it is authentic, it always carries something aesthetically true. Journaling or drawing after such movement gives me distance from my material and allows my life, my body to tell me something. Using this technique, I am grounding my self-awareness firmly in my body. I can allow my body to suggest a response beyond what I am accustomed to. I am relating to my body as the source of infinite wisdom that it is, rather than as a foe.