We are dying. We think we are not. This is a good argument for giving up thinking.
Spend one night a week in candlelight.
I lie on the floor in the corpse pose, called Shavasana in yoga.
Wherever I am the dance is. Instead of dancing wherever I am, I choose the time and space to play dance. This is equilibrium, and motion. Several minutes pass before I remember even to notice that my thoughts are going yacketta, yacketta, yack—even after three thousand corpse poses. How many dance students dance alone uninterruptedly for at least forty minutes daily, outside of rehearsing, choreographing, or physically stretching? Why is this not a four-year requirement for every college dance student? How else can a person develop an intimate dialogue with the body?
Finally, I purposefully inhale and quiet my thoughts. I hear a sprinkler outside the window. Its pressure is low. Drops of water can be differentiated as they contact the garden’s surface plant life, its pillowy mounds and gravel paths. I can almost feel the sprinkling of drops falling on me. Thoughts begin to reduce in volume and appear at wider intervals. I make believe I am dead because I am practicing the corpse pose.
There are three “what if” components to the “I” who dances. What if
“I” is the reconfiguration of my body into fifty-three trillion cells at once?
“I” practice non-attachment to each moment?
“I” know nothing?
The weight of my bones, organs, muscles, and joints endlessly spreads out into the floor.
There are 206 bones in the human body, 26 in each foot.
Joints break open. Tongue dissolves. Throat disappears. I abandon holding onto the shape of me.
I am movement without looking for it.
Only a sketch remains on the floor.
I let go of the way my vision configures objects and perspective, trying to make things what I want or need them to be.
I see through a filter of what I know, instead of what I do not know; and so the awe is gone.
I accept the fact that I cannot attain a perfect practice and instead use my energy to remember to engage the practice. In this way, I create futures I cannot achieve and then practice being here as the means for completing a day’s work.
At this moment there is always a forgetting of breathing, as if it were no longer necessary. The next inhalation is taken consciously.
Today while I was walking, the joint at the base of my big toe began to hurt. I did not walk last week and was trying to make up for lost time. I slowed down and steered my attention to the joint itself. It was tight and held. I spread my focus to include the bones, tendons, and other toes on the same foot, balancing the parts so the whole foot received the same awareness as the sore joint. I could feel the placement of my foot on the path relax and open. The joint was in pain as long as it was separate from the rest of my foot and the rest of my body. The pain lessened if I presumed I was in active rapport with an imagined cosmos.
The more I unhinge the breadth of physical continuity, the clearer the sense of parallel lives, one of them just a silhouette lying on the floor.
What if there is no space between where I am and what I need? “Where I am is where I am” is reasonable, but less enjoyable than “where I am is what I need.”
Lying on my back, arms and legs slightly spread, in the corpse pose, I disengage all pretense, as much as possible. My synapses are no longer attracted, gone fishing, inactive, freed from bonding. A tinge of nausea compels me to persist.
Dancing is like going on a field trip. My body is the guide and tools, including the tape recorder. Last night dancing in my apartment I hardly moved and hardly needed to. I am not home unless I am in my art. I remember sitting on the side of my father’s bed as he was dying. His hands were pressed together and tucked under his cheek, forming a small pillow for his head. There was a moment when I thought I saw him choose not to hold up the flesh of his face anymore.
I am most of the time wanting to get something. That is why meditation is good, because I cannot meditate and get something at the same time. Meditation, as I use it to describe my practice, is not the correct word. You can’t meditate and do anything else. I am not practiced at not wanting to get something.
Now comes the thrill that awaits me in the corpse pose. It happens suddenly and, although I anticipate it, it requires full relaxation. It is very close to the ocean roar that occurs in the inner ear when a yawn is stifled. That roar feels like thousands of fluttering wings radiating from the center of my body. The sensation is brief but I am slowly learning to stretch it.
In a dream I tell composer Ellen Fullman that I just heard a concert of works composed by her good friend. She spins around and says “I missed it? It was tonight? How was it?” She responds with excitement, disbelief, and pleasure at hearing about it first hand. With equal enthusiasm, including tears that spread from me to her, I tell her the concert was great and that the crowds of people attending were so beautiful and they included all ages and races; that it was life and not racial diversity I was seeing. She knows and nods and together we appreciate what we do not have.
When I am in the corpse pose I realize how much I hold onto life.
Deborah Hay is an award-winning choreographer and dancer who explores the nature of experience, perception, and attention in dance.