The following is an edited and revised version of a piece I wrote in May 2011 to inaugurate my very first personal blog entry. The topic of “next vs. now” has been on my mind again so I dug back in to revisit these thoughts. In honor of graduates everywhere, especially our Mind Body Dancer Pedagogy Course class of 2013, enjoy!
(May 7, 2011)
I have been putting off beginning a blog because I wanted to have a great first entry topic. What would be the perfect lead to kick off this writing project? I have even had it named since last summer and have probably written at least 100 blog entries in my head since then. Earlier today, I taught a yoga class to my graduating NYU Tisch Dance students and realized today was actually the perfect day to start. More precisely, it was no more or less perfect than any other day to begin. Instead of waiting for the next opportunity...what about now? After all, this was my subtle message to them through a series of mindful walks and detailed transitions. What kind of teacher would I be if I could not take that approach off the mat with my own desire to begin a regular writing practice?
We all tend to look to the next big date or obligation - the future - as more important than this moment. (Even as you read this, your mind is simultaneously talking to you about what you have to do later today or what you forgot to do earlier.) My students are currently thinking about their finals, thesis papers, Graduation Day, auditions, summer jobs, and start dates as their next big moments. Meanwhile, they are still in school and wishing those days away in order to get everything checked off their lists and arrive at those important dates. I know they will find themselves next September embraced by nostalgia for the eternally long days at school with their classmates. One of life’s little cruelties…The past is that other favorite space our minds like to occupy. But when they are finished with college, what will they do next?
I have a friend who is going through several big changes in a row. Admirably, she is quite aware that she is having trouble dealing with day to day obligations because those next changes are looming over her and pressuring her to just get there already. The mind's habit to plow into the future is so strong that she can't even be in a 5-minute Savasana, a rest her body so desperately needs, without thinking about arrangements and to-do lists.
We have all been there.
Full disclosure: I am an expertly practiced future dweller. In fact, it should just be listed on my curriculum vitae under my name: Future Dweller. Or what about a more exciting title, Future Dweller on Fire? Fire should absolutely be part of the title because that fury blazes me onward into the future. Because I like to plan and be prepared, and because I was raised to so highly value the organizational skills it takes to think ahead, I can often get stuck there. I certainly have more project ideas than days on this earth, so this mindset does not get them done any quicker. It only makes me feel like I am always behind. And who sets this fiery pace? Me. Or, is it my mind? I think I control my mind, but my mind clearly has control over me.
With a constant flow of next cycling through my brain, it is even more maddening to know that I know better. It is painful to try and enjoy a moment snuggling with one of my cats and then have a thought pop into my head that has me up at my computer sending off an email about a meeting next week. The pain is not in the thought popping in but the fact that I listen and feel the visceral need to react to it time and again when I know better and missed out on one of life's joys as well. I have been trained to see this behavior in others and teach them to make more mindful choices. I do not know all the answers and I do not advocate the possibility of quick fixes for this human dilemma. I just support the importance of daily practice, incorporating mindful choices on the mat and in short periods of meditation each day. My personal practice will certainly be a lifelong one. Progress does not factor into the equation. Only process.
Our culture engineers us to look at next status updates, next projects, next subway trains, etc. but when we live like that, what happens to all the moments in between those road markers and events? We throw them away waiting and planning. After the event, we look ahead to the next one and then wish for time we wasted waiting and planning. By the way, some other words for next are refresh, update, new, inbox, send, and:
---> slide to unlock
What is wrong with today? This moment? The present? The answer is nothing. And that is what we do not like about it. Whatever our reality is at this moment is probably pretty simple and straightforward compared to the insurmountable excitement we have prematurely woven into our future wishes or the overblown drama and nostalgia we have stored along with past memories.
The present isn't exciting or dramatic unless we notice it and allow it to be.
Surprises happen in the present. You run into an old friend, you notice the warmth of the spring sun and longer days into the summer or allow a creative idea to arise during the present. You can't plan those moments. In fact, living in the future or past greatly reduces the mind's capacity to allow you to notice the present with the freshness it deserves. The only next we should be looking forward to is the next present moment which should be re-labeled as now. Next space becomes now space.
I often suggest to my yoga students that the asana (postures) seem to be the big exciting moments at first during, class but when you get really advanced in your practice, you take your time getting to what appears to be the finished asana moment. Living in the transitions, the process, the choices, the length of breath becomes the essence of the practice...a series of nows strung together. It can be argued that you never really arrive in an asana anyway, because the moment you arrive is also when you begin leaving. In my own experience, I really began connecting to my yoga practice when I was utterly fascinated with the time I could spend just placing my hands and knees and toenails on the mat before my first cat/cow. Every choice I made in the practice could become a wild adventure - new, interesting, and boundless. When I took this approach to dance class and performance, every second of class contained possibilities and my senses were more alert than ever. I could live and breathe while I danced. Even the future-fiery energy in me found that very exciting!
What if we also approached our life practice the way we practice on the yoga mat or meditation cushion? Instead of leaving our apartment and rushing to the subway to get us to work or our next appointment only to come home, eat dinner, and go to sleep for the next day, what about spending time with each footstep as it makes contact with the earth?
We could begin thinking about how each finger hits the keys as we type emails, how we stand when we wait for the bus or train, how many people we actually look in the eyes as we greet them each day. Dancers, reconnect to every step of your journey across the stage and on each side at barré.
And when we catch ourselves dwelling in the past or future, we simply start again. The cool thing about the now space is that it is always there. Your never know. Your next wild adventure could happen...now.
- TaraMarie Perri