I am not much of a dancer.
Actually, let me start that again. In the history of lousy dancers, I am by far the most lousy. I dream of being good enough to be described as having two left feet. Whatever sequences in DNA are responsible for groove - well I am missing them all.
Now that doesn't mean that I dislike dance - far from it. I love watching people dance and of course enjoy all forms of music. It's just that when I am with a group of people dancing I will be stood off to the side, feet planted firmly on the ground, gently swaying to some other beat.
On Friday I had the joy of seeing the funk legend George Clinton in concert. Now George is 81 years old and still far more in the groove than I was in my 20s. That said, like all smart elder statesmen of music he has surrounded himself with a group of young, extremely talented musicians, and they did all the heavy-lifting. But make no mistake, all of the hard-dancing audience (and the fringe of older swayers like me) were there to see George. And what a wonderful, joyful occasion it was.
George Clinton is known as a psychedelic philosopher, and one of his most famous quotes (and the title of one of his albums) is "Free your mind, and your ass will follow."
Now, when he said that he was thinking more of chemical freeing, but as I was swaying to the music Friday night it reminded me of my root teacher, Ruth Denison. Ruth was a force of nature, and came to meditation with a background in dance. Throughout her teaching she emphasized the importance of working with our bodies as we work on our meditation. Sometimes we can think of meditation as a purely cerebral thing, all happening 'in our head,' but she would warn against this dualistic approach and instead encourage an awareness of both what is happening in our minds and in our bodies. One analogy she used to use was that before embarking on a meditation practice most people were just 'minds on sticks' - with no integration or awareness of their bodies. When interviewed about her own path she said:
The longer I taught, the more I realized the difficulties that the meditators displayed in their meditation; they did not have the cultural and religious background for the ability to simply sit and pay attention to their own living process, body-mind sensations. In focusing so intently on the breath and body parts for long periods of time, people would try too hard.I'm not sure she would have appreciated the analogy (though she might have, she did have a wicked sense of humor), but in some ways what she was teaching was "Free your ass, and your mind will follow."
So I expand the selection of body sensations to keep the meditators engaged, and to foster softness and gentleness within themselves. I experiment with the application of mindfulness to body, breath and sensations in body positions other than just sitting. What evolves is meditation while standing, walking, running, jumping, lying down, rolling on the grass meditation in the entire scope of body's mobility and expression, in yoga ásanas, in dance and laughing, in sound, touch, taste, sight or imitation motions such as crawling like a worm, etc.
But let me stress that what I do is strictly within the prescribed bounds of Buddha's teachings using the body and its sensations as a vehicle for mindfulness training, for developing awareness for clear comprehension of the present moment, of correct understanding of life's living and dying.
However you want to think of it, it is important that we don't let our practice become a purely intellectual, cerebral exercise. We are not just freeing our mind but our whole being, including our body. Our awareness, our presence, should be complete.
Unfortunately though it hasn't improved my dancing skills.
I have linked below a fully guided meditation on 'whole body breathing,' a breath meditation that encourages our awareness of our whole body. Feel free to use it in any way which helps you with your practice.
Photo: George Clinton (in sailor hat) with Parliament-Funkadelic at Pioneer Square, Portland, July 29th 2022