Movement and stillness


Jul 9th 2012

You do not need to leave your room… Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Franz Kafka, quoted in John Daido Loori, The Zen of Creativity, 95

It is necessary to do something physical, to incarnate the energy of unlived life, to prevent it from sinking back again into the underworld of the unconscious.

Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruehl, Living Your Unlived Life, 126

 I am an expert at finding reasons not to exercise—it’s too hot, it’s too cold, too early, too late. I’m sick. I’m busy. This, I believe, is a common affliction, one that, for me at least, seems to originate in an alienation from and mistrust of my body. When I was a child I was valued for my mind, or even more, for my measurable, demonstrable, smarts. Not an athlete, and as a girl of the ‘50s and ‘60s not encouraged to overcome my reluctance. Not a dancer, though I did take ballet lessons which quickly taught me that I was not very stretchy. In my public life I was a good student, a reader. And in my private life I lolled dreamily on my bed playing paper dolls and, later, listening to music. My wonderful therapist tells me that, given this childhood and an adulthood spent learning how to center myself, I have inadvertently overdeveloped my capacity for stillness. We are also made to move, she reminds me, and to experience ourselves and our connection to the world inside the movement.

The Buddha advocated a Middle Way, and in this case that middle, it seems, must come through a conversation between stillness and movement. And that conversation must take place in the body, through the body, by the body. When my therapist suggested that I had overdeveloped stillness, I think that was a kind way of saying that I had an underdeveloped sense of living as a body. That even in healthy stillness we remain embodied.

I think this lack may stem in part from how I learned to cope with anxiety. I tend to shut down, unlike others in my life who just get busier. They try to do more and more to cover their anxiety. I do less and less until I resemble a paralyzed ball. After a few moments–hours, days–of this I become convinced that the way out is to do, to just get up and do something. There’s lots of advice out there suggesting that this is correct. But what I really need to do in these moments, I am learning, is to switch from lethargy and laziness into a state of awareness which may look on the outside remarkably like lethargy and laziness, but which has a completely different energy inside. For me the road out of anxiety and into myself is not to get busy. Rather it is to drop judgment and breathe, so I can rediscover myself, and my intention. Any movement, any doing, must come from here. This is what I am trying to learn–a middle way that incorporates both embodied stillness and mindful movement, a way into the fullness of life.

And after spending a couple of days with my nearly two-year-old granddaughter I think she may be my best teacher.