I lie on my back in backyard looking at the blue. Two black specks move along with my right eye. Floaters. Tiny blind spots. It seems friendlier to call my blind spots, two birds. “There’s my two birds,” I say, when I catch myself jealous of a friend’s summer villa photos on facebook. “There’s the two birds”, I say when I am irritated by a slow bumper drive on I-25 after eight hours, earl grey down to its last slurp.
The root poisons, called “kleshas,” begin with ignorance. * Then comes attachment and aggression. After that jealousy, pride and list goes on. Texts and teachers talk, talk about kleshas like they’re a disease but really it’s just what happens. Awareness of these kleshas creates freedom from them, so I am told.
Saturday. Sitting. Minute 28 of my planned 40. Underneath my sternum I locate a little nudge. Hardly a beat. If the nudge could speak she would say, done. A small kneading. If it was slightly more articulated I could deal with it but this little nugget barely exists. Get up now. Time to go. Almost a flutter. It’s smaller than anxiety but bigger then only energy. A miniscule tic. Not this. Not here. I want to crawl out of my skin. I want to collapse on the floor. I return to the feeling of my seat, exhale, and lengthen my spine, soften gaze. Then nausea. Oh, I know what this is. Hot flash. Stay, I coach myself. If I get up now little triggers like this will boss me around all day. Yawn. Who cares. Can I go now?
Sitting on front steps of trailer #32 in Ponderosa Mobile Home Park, outskirts of Boulder, after grad. school, Eva, my neighbor and modern dancer comrade said, Nobody can hit a moving target. She knew about what I barely admitted to myself. We dancers talk about our addiction to dance as a joke. The habit of go. Wear yourself out, then crash. Wake up sore. Actually crawl out of bed, run warm water over back and neck. Do it again.
From the black box in my kitchen Terri Gross asks the accomplished NYCB ballerina, Wendy Whelan how it actually feels to do this incredible lift.** Terri says that it looks so effortless but it must take so much strength. The ballerina described the history of the dance piece. Terri Gross asks again, How does it feel? The ballerina described with great articulation the exact moves. Terri Gross asked a third time. The dancer said how it was so lovely to do and then Terri let it go. The ballerina doesn’t know how to answer because dancers are not trained to feel, they are trained to perform. They are trained for perfection. Not that I was a ballerina but I took enough classes to know that the breath needs to be pushed down so the ribs are not seen breathing. You can’t be seen breathing. And the brain must be quick and focused. The human side shuts off. There’s an ecstasy to this momentum paired with articulation, a spell, a trance. Extra human. All to live music. I can let the music take me. Regular life can wait. I can escape into my personal high.
When Monday mornings came, suited commuters of Cambridge Mass grabbed overhead subway straps with right hand and briefcases with left as I slung dance bag over shoulder and stood on one foot, then the other, balancing easily, with rocking of the train. I ran up stairs to Joy of Movement Center in Central Square while others sat at their brown desks.
Then there were rehearsals and performances. If I performed well, if I grabbed the audience, I had found the way to everything, including relationships.
This worked pretty well until it didn’t. The split from who I was at the ballet barre to who I was getting out of bed each morning unzipped the progress report that I called myself.
When the Buddha sat under the big tree and had his aha, the kleshas came to him, embodied as demons through Mara. Who says you’re enlightened? Prove it. The Buddha touched the ground, The earth is my witness. The body, my witness.
What if I was betraying the earth, my body? Then who is my witness? What happens now?
Many times my body herself made me stop. Sometimes it was mild like I suddenly refused to go to class and took a walk instead. Other times I became nauseated when I started to break into a sweat so that I had to pause. Then I became nauseated when I stood so I needed to sit. And then every emotion I was holding at bay began gushing forth. I quit dancing for a while. I needed a new form and the form needed to give space to every inner experience.
This small nudge grows. I call it desire, anxiety, baby spoonful of stress. I am doing nothing and there are so many somethings. I want to write this essay, eat, clean my desk, call mom, check on the dogs, weed garden, order the notecards with the calicos walking in a line. I should see who registered, who wrote. The mind trips into an external reach. Small leaps of fear with a whirring sense of lack. I want. I should. Then I feel my seat. Breathe in. I am letting go of these levels of desire with one long exhale. Oh, underneath frenzy I am simply sad. Old poet mentor and friend Jack Collom died a few days ago. I sat in his living room with his body yesterday.
The push to move leaves me and I notice the breeze on my sweating face.
Imagine if that nudge grew and became something; say it transformed into a moving body. That nudge, that body does not want to stop. To stop means I have to feel. I think of the kleshas like a thick pudding covering shining true nature but probably they are more interwoven. Probably true nature needs the kleshas, is the kleshas. I’d rather lie down now then consider any of this. My mind tries to slip off to the side. All those ways to leave your lover are also ways to leave my body, this flickering lamp.
That dancing body, through its nausea, injury and anger, demanded that I listened. Mara roars in, pulls up a seat at the kitchen table and begins nibbling on the light fixtures. At some point if I keep pushing something will explode. Can I be like the Buddha who said at the end of his life when Mara appeared, Come in old friend. It’s been so long. Have a seat. What’s new?
I listened for a secret.
My back brain knew I had to un-learn the posturing. I needed to begin the slow process of dismantling the patterns of this disciplined body. I had internalized the form to the extent of confusing form with who I was.
I needed to find ways to make stillness part of the dance.
Perhaps the two birds are also two sides of a coin. As anyone who has ever placed a penny on the tracks knows, the coin has a third side. In the theatre they call it the forth wall. That’s the audience, the unknown; the thin ridged edge in-between sides, the gap between breaths. In other words, stop.
Nothing— do nothing.
~ o ~
*Check out this great article and discussion about kleshas by current teachers:
**Also watch a short video of this beautiful ballet sequence and listen to the Fresh Air interview: