Right hand on the barre, I lift my leg into passé, placing my ribs over my hips, and sending energy down my supporting leg.
I fix my gaze in front of me, and exhale.
I gently bring my right arm to meet my left, forming a beautiful arc, a continuation of the shape. Fingertips alive, they point towards one another as if to say,
And I balance.
My mentor, Spence Ford, is teaching the class, a Broadway veteran and former Fosse dancer. She has watched me since college, guiding me along the way, encouraging my growth, and challenging my skills. She taught me how to be a dance captain and infuse story into my choreography.
And I’m still learning today.
Walking to the barre, Spence asks us to consider what is going on in the balance.
Where is our body? What are we focusing on?
“So much of our practice is letting go of what doesn’t serve us, allowing it to fall away, until all we are left with is our breath. Yes, we stack our bones, and send energy through the shape, but what can we let go of?”
I’m sitting on my meditation cushion for an all day Zen retreat at the Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn. Titled Wild Grass Zazenkei, the participants form a silent circle, our gaze lowered as we begin to count our breath.
Except my eyes want to close.
Within the Zen meditation tradition, you keep the eyes open, and today, even with a good night of sleep, I am fighting. I keep opening them back up, but I’m struggling.
Why am I shutting down?
Our teacher begins to recite a poem called Wild Grasses, and with each intonation, I feel myself coming undone. Tears start to fall, and soon I’m weeping. In closing, she invites us for one-on-one, face to face teaching with her.
Wiping my tears, I line up, my questions soaking my shirt.
I enter the small and private room, and sit across from my teacher, her large eyes open to receive. We are sitting so close, and I grab my heart and choke out,
“I’m flowing like a river today, and lately my eyes want to close, especially when I am meditating with a group. I’m frustrated. I feel I have worked so hard to be aware of what is going on, and don’t want to return to the past. It’s not that I want to fall asleep. I want to be awake. Why do my eyes want to shut?”
She looks at me with such warmth, and then calmly answers,
“Shut them. You’re forcing it. Allow, and see what arises. You don’t want to lose yourself in the constant seeking outside. Stay connected.”
I never expected this teaching. I thought I was doing something wrong by letting them close. I never considered the alternative.
After talking it through fully, I bow in gratitude and return to my cushion in the main room, or Zendo, with the other retreat participants. The desire to shut my eyes has evaporated with my tears. I sit energized and come back to my breath.
Then it returns, the need to close my eyes, and I do. And what do I see? Behind my lids I see white flowers and loved ones. I see joy and dancing. I am completely surprised.
Was this what I was turning away from?
I’m still learning.
Closing my eyes actually connected me back to myself. I didn’t fall asleep, and it was easy to open them back up. There was no struggle, I wanted to return. I actually wasn’t leaving. In giving myself this permission, I opened up. This was the path to staying awake.
And I balanced.
Have you looked at the Wild Grasses?
Rising so high,
taking over the landscape,
undulating as the wind blows?
Have you looked at the Wild Grasses,
really seen them up close?
The sun shines down,
illuminating the stalk,
revealing little orbs dotting the skyward line,
a thin multitude of possibilities…..
What do you see?
Seeds of hope
Seeds of anger
Seeds of despair
Seeds of inspiration
Seeds of, well….anything
Pen to paper
Foot to floor
Dream to deed
Do we let this all be,
wild and moving in the wind?
Or do we chop them down, gather each stalk, and decide which can stay?
Do we hold them so tight, they snap in our grasp?
dripping with golden kernals.
Have you looked at the Wild Grasses?
Let go and allow.
What seeds will you plant today?
How will you balance?