Certainty is a relic, an atavism, a husk we ought to have outgrown.Read More
The following post was written by TaraMarie Perri, the Founder/Director of The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Her professional work is dedicated to yoga education and research, holistic health therapeutics, and the integration of mind/body practices with the arts and sciences. TaraMarie holds an MFA and serves on Faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She maintains private practices in New York City and Brooklyn.
This spring, I have been carrying Merce Cunningham’s Other Animals: Drawings and Journals in my bag. Merce is world-renowned as a groundbreaking choreographer. Did you know he was also a visual artist? Flipping through his book, Merce’s creatures are playful, odd, and not surprisingly, drawn with a persuasion of physicality as if he was tempting them to jump right off the page! When reading journal excerpts which accompany the drawings, one can imagine how work and play might have co-mingled in his world.
It was Merce’s routine to wake and draw animals and creatures before going about his other activities. His drawing practice began as a way to pass the time during an unexpected morning travel delay on tour with his dance company. That singular experience quickly led to personal time he looked forward to each day. As the joy of painting has recently entered my life over the last year, his sentiment deeply resonates:
One of the pleasures of drawing for me is the rapidity with which one ceases to have concerns about oneself. The intensity of trying to capture the line and the sense of something in nature becomes absorbing enough to hold all one’s attention.
Considering the benefits of meditative practices, it is my belief that his fearlessness in observing the world unfolding and changing around him as he drew contributed to how he kept his signature fresh spirit. His choreographic pursuits evolved organically as he was influenced by nature, music, visual art/design, technology, and contemporary culture. His work was never stale or derivative. He was ever-present as an artist (with a capital “A,” as my friend Liz likes to say!). I honor his approach and aspire to bring a similar comparative and open-source philosophy to my own life’s work.
As a teaching artist, I bring the work, musings, and inspirations of icons and collaborators into my classes and class preparations. I am fortunate that my work and play flow easily in this manner. I find endless resources to challenge teaching concepts while forging new relationships with my broader research into the mind/body arts. As a personal practice for spring, I have taken a cue from Merce and began an almost-daily practice painting loose and flowing watercolors. It has become a welcome companion to my morning tea and Manhattan skyline viewing routine. I look forward to the warmer temperatures arriving and taking it up to the roof!
Do you have an avenue for how your work and play might mingle? Do you have a time of day when you let your mind quiet into another focus or dream into a new flow? Spring is the perfect time to investigate how this might be possible for you.
I’ll use a couple of Merce Cunningham’s drawings to animate my suggestions:
Discover a New Vantage Point
Days are getting warmer and the daylight hours are lasting longer. Spring is the perfect time to climb out of your winter nest and get back on your feet. Stand tall and look all around you. Stretch your legs and walk a new path to work or take a detour on your way home. Expand your field of vision to see what is out there in your world to inspire you. Maybe a new outdoor café popped up. Perhaps a new public park or art installation is underway where you can sit on a sunny day. Did a new building pop up on the skyline? What flowers are in bloom this week? When you recognize the growth and expansion in the world around you, you can more easily understand the impulses within which inevitably rise up this time of year. Strut your stuff and go for it!
Climb up. Get down. Look more closely at the world around you. The phrase “stop and smell the roses” is not an arbitrary one. As you observe the beauty of spring growth in nature, take a moment to stop and appreciate it. Not only will this cause you to slow down and pause, you will also set new pathways in mind of practicing gratitude. You may then begin to interact with your peers and projects at work in a similar way. You may rediscover a creative project at home with new interest. Could your favorite window or the corner of your desk benefit from a bright green potted plant or a vase of spring flowers? By enhancing beauty in your surroundings, your inner landscape also benefits. Beauty in its truest form is not just an ideal. Appreciating beauty is a teacher for all of us. To pause in our busy lives and truly appreciate beauty means we are connecting to the present moment and that is a worthwhile pursuit.
Don’t be afraid to share your inner desires for work/play balance with others. Maybe the winter quiet tuned you into something deep down in your heart that needs to be cultivated this spring. You might be surprised how many of your friends are also craving new outlets. The spring season supports the spirit of change, personal growth, and new adventures. When we give ideas vocalization, they become more real. By giving our thoughts audible sound, we also give them physical weight in the world. Only then can we consider how to bring them to life. Share your intentions for personal growth or creativity in your life with loved ones, and support your friends in their own investigations. You might be surprised how many inspired conversations and play dates you will have on your calendar!
You do not have to follow anyone else’s formula for an inspired life. Spring gives us much flux in weather patterns and the necessary earth and water to plant your seeds of growth. Plant as many as you wish and see what sprouts! Do you like to read? Do you like to draw? Would you rather run barefoot up a trail? What inspires you? If you don’t like to wake up and draw, then don’t. If you’d rather listen to your favorite heavy metal ballad while writing a poem, do that. There is not one way to awaken the personal dance of work and play. The only way to find this out for yourself is to experiment and investigate.
May spring be a season of personal discovery and growth for each of you! And when you need inspiration, simply recall Merce’s memorable creatures that embody the qualities of the season.
- TaraMarie Perri
Photos by Richard Rutledge. Drawings by Merce Cunningham from Other Animals: Drawings and Journals.
The following post was written by Katherine Moore. Katherine has been teaching for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body since 2013. You can find her running all over New York City, working as a teacher, choreographer, freelance dancer, and writer. Relax with her at Steps on Broadway on Friday nights at 6:30pm for restorative yoga.
These are the lazy, hazy days of summer. The days are long and hot, many people are on vacation, and projects are put on hold until after Labor Day. There's a sense of relaxation in the air, the urge to rest and recline takes over even the busiest brains. And yet, especially for the future-minded schedulers extraordinaire out there, the sense of anticipation for fall planning and activities begins to rear its head even though the true beginning of autumn is over 6 weeks away.
This summer I've been taking a step back from some of my usual commitments, freeing up some time to figure out what really belongs in my day-to-day life and what doesn't. While I prepare for a new season in NYC this fall, I long to leave space in my schedule that will allow me to carry a sense of summer along the way. In particular, I want to take that stretched out sense of time that comes from a summer day. A summer solstice baby, I was born on the longest day of the year. Summer feels like my time. This year over my birthday I was able to take a lengthy vacation, spending time with family both in the Midwest and California. In both places, the idea of time kept cropping up across my path.
I spent a day wandering through the old redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument in California. Nothing beats the sense of quiet and age that you feel amongst those trees. To be surrounded by living organisms that existed long before I was even thought of has a certain way of putting things in perspective. What are my worries against the long path of nature?
I also spent some time in Kentucky, surrounded by misty, forested hills and lakes that practically ooze history. At the prow of a boat, surrounded by a landscape rich with American history from the civil war to the Bourbon Trail, I was reminded that world is indeed, old.
Even my vacation entertainment suggested something about the age of the Earth. While Jurassic World was perhaps not the most important film in cinematic history, there's something about contemplating the existence and demise of dinosaurs that puts one in her place. I also re-watched Lord of the Rings, encountering fantastical, ancient tree-like creatures called Ents that speak slowly, walk slowly, and...think......slooooowly. So perhaps I spent my vacation as a true nerd, but this concept of time that I encountered has continued to follow me back in real life in NYC.
When dealing with troubling emotions, particularly anxiety and frustration, I find it helpful to think about time. I actually quite literally think about the dinosaurs, and then the age of the whole planet, and then the very, very, very small slice of time that humans have existed. Geological time is often best demonstrated with a clock; if the history of the Earth could be condensed into one hour, human life doesn't even come into the picture until the minute hand is at 59min. What?!!
This broad perspective of time really puts me in my place. I feel like I can relax against the whole huge history of the world and let my worries lessen. It's not that my life suddenly becomes insignificant, quite the contrary. Something about this long view of time, especially in relation to nature, actually makes me feel much more connected to the world. There is safety in knowing that the universe has existed long before my troubles and will continue to exist long after my worries have gone, but that me, and my worries, and my joys, are all part of this continuum of time and space.
During my break I also had the privilege of reading Ethan Nichtern's new book The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path. I know many of us in the Perri Institute community have added it to our summer reading list, and I think any contemporary, literate person would find this book to be both inspiring and immediately useful to his or her own life. The subject I found truly interesting, and most applicable to this post's discussion on time, is karma.
Karma, while a term that is pervasively used in popular culture, is also often misunderstood. I'll let Ethan explain in his own words:
We often view karma as some indictment for all the awful things that have happened to us, and all the awful things that have happened in this world. For example, after hearing a bit about karma as a child I remember thinking that, as someone with asthma, I must have done something terrible in a past life to not be able to breathe very well sometimes. That kind of “blame the victim” approach offers us a convenient new narrative for the recurring story of our self-aggression, as well as a reason to continue to isolate ourselves from the plight of others…This kind of isolated worldview cannot hold up when we look at the larger interdependent forces that shape our world and when we recognize that everything and everyone’s actions are affecting each other all the time, that nobody lives in a vacuum of their own making.
Ethan goes on to explain karma in more detail, eventually moving into a discussion on past and present, and the Buddhist approach to working with both:
…if we reflect on the past with the clear intention to illuminate our experience in the present, and we learn, through both our own meditation practice and guidance from others, how to let go of our tight grip on the past narrative at the exact point the mind begins to fixate on it, then our understanding of the relationship between past and present can come into balance and harmony.
The teachings on karma demonstrate a very important point about the past: the fundamental force behind our conditioning isn’t stupidity or evil, nor is it a flaw in our genetic design. We adopt habitual patterns to begin with as the result of misperception, or lack of awareness.
If we view the root of the problem as a misperception about the nature of experience, then forgiveness is always possible. We can rise out of feeling ashamed at our habitual confusion…We have to forgive ourselves for being stuck in habits and addictions, for being caught up in the commute. Working with karma is something that everyone has to go through; none of us are free of conditioning.
I could go on and on, but I’ll just let you read the book yourself.
What I found most interesting in this explanation of karma was the idea that I could be living a life where my past and my present were not in balance and harmony. Upon reading Ethan’s text I was struck by the idea that perhaps my attempts to live a more mindful life in the present moment, in the here and now, were not actually helping me slow time, but really making it go faster because of a lack of scope about time, and my life in time. Perhaps a broader view of my life, or maybe even past lives, would increase my sense of awareness about the interdependence of my world and all the people, ideas, and redwood trees inside of it. Without reconciling my past habitual patterns with my experience of the present moment, my perception of the here and now will always be a little lacking.
I know I’m barely scratching the surface here, and my philosophical understanding of karma is basic at best, but I think my point in all this talk on dinosaurs and summer and cycles of time is that from my experience, just saying “Slow. Down” as an antidote to the crazy fast pace of life isn’t quite enough. Sure, taking some time off and lessening my workload and sleeping more will make me a happier, healthier, more relaxed person. This is true of most people. But I am beginning to think that without an actual change in perception, without a shift in perspective about how my mind works with the present moment AND the past, I will continue to be unsatisfied by the ever quickening pace of life, no matter how much I pledge to “unplug.” I will continue to long for the stretched out days of childhood summers.
Being in nature most certainly helps nurture this relationship between past and present. As a young woman of 28, I can stand next to a 130-year-old tree and feel young, but I can also look into the nest of hatching birds on that tree’s branches and feel quite old. Can we work with our mind in the same way? How can we experience this full range of our life in the present moment? Can we actually shift our perception of time?
I don’t presume to know the answer, but as we enjoy sun-filled days on the beach and make plans for fall, I might suggest that we remain curious about what it really means to slow down. Does is it mean take a day off to sleep and order takeout and watch a movie? Maybe. Or maybe it’s something else a little less concrete, a little more subtle, and a bit more interesting.
I recommend thinking about the dinosaurs quite often. It really does help.
The following post was written by Callie Ritter, a certified yoga teacher through The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, and a Restorative Exercise Specialist as of summer 2015. She's professionally trained the connection to her body and movement as a Modern dancer for over 15 years; she aims to spend the future helping others in their bodies with her accumulating knowledge and passion. Callie was born and raised as a cowgirl in Southeast Idaho, but currently resides in New York City.
I was appreciating an average but perfect glass of rosé when I caught my reflection in a window: solitary with a wandering gaze. I grimaced at the thought of going back to my accommodation for the night, never mind, I leave for the airport at 6 AM tomorrow morning. I left my extra euros for a smiling waitress with good English, and began the hour walk back, my eyes up and watching. I shared paths with a goose whose yellow gaze studied me carefully; I secretly took pictures of people’s window displays; I asserted myself to some young punk men: “Can you please leave me alone?”
I killed time by watching the underside of a tree.
Traveling is a lonely and not-lonely thing. It brings you into the unknown, where your perception zooms out and blows open your mind—yet it also zooms in, bringing into focus the intricate texture of an experience. The edge requires you to pay attention, helping you remember what it feels like to be awake.
I made a friend from Sao Paulo named Cauay. I remember his dark eyes shifting serious when he paused to see if his physician skills were needed in a huddled crowd in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. He later ordered Nutella-smothered waffles with such introverted, boyish excitement that it made me smile. I already had my pack on as he stirred from sleep on his bottom bunk. I wished him luck and shared our last glance.
Ellie was a mother and daughter and asked about my love relationships as we sunk our bare feet into the sand of a windy beach. We rode cruiser bikes under arches of great green trees, and on our path the sun laid Dalmatian-print shadows. She told me about being a new Singaporian, and how you can always start over—because you always have a choice. Whenever she orders tea, it’s usually for the biscuit that comes with it.
I had too many clothes on for the temperature inside the bus, but was too busy scanning for a recognizable street sign, my stomach unsettled. Quit pretending to know what you’re doing Callie—because the truth is you don’t. This is all new.
Traveling sharpens the perspective. I feel and see much more than I do in my normal life. I breach the ‘stranger wall’ by crawling over to ask someone for help, or if they mind having company. I open myself up to the experience—however uncomfortable, bland, or blissful it may be. I take in my surroundings and spread my consciousness, and something truly unique happens; I feel like I’m a part of it all.
Intersubjectivity is a philosophical and psychological term to define how one’s subjective, identity-driven experience relates to another’s. It’s typically found in anthropological and social contexts describing shared common culture and things we agree upon. On a deeper scale, it can provide a pure definition of relationship, where and when it is that we see eye-to-eye, or rather as I want to venture: eye-into-eye.
I implore to the goose, “Come on, be my friend. I’m sad I’m traveling alone.”
The goose replies by sidestepping away. “You’re a strange and tall creature who seems to want something.”
The city’s energy fades like a weekday, and the light from the west is dimming golden into blue. I’m wearing sneakers without socks and have a belly full of bread.
Traveling isn’t comfortable, and branching into new territory can be risky, but it requires you to absorb information at a heightened intake. This newly expanded awareness leads you to observe a moment so deeply that you begin to merge with it. Merge with the glance of the waitress, the sip of glassy rosé, the wet-foot smell of a hostel, the way sun comes through the trees. When you’re open to the smells, the sounds, and how you feel in a situation, you view yourself from the outside and you see what all around you sees as well. This is intersubjectivity: relating to everything else to the point that you dissolve into and overlap realities. You find that feelings of discomfort can actually help seal in how real an experience can be.
The Third Nobel Truth of Buddhism states that a remedy to the inherent discomfort of life is a state of Nirvana or connectedness. Christos Yannaras, philosopher and author, writes, “We know God by cultivating a relationship, not by understanding a concept.” Connection is about living in a state ofrelationship where all comes into focus. This is my meditation. My practice as a yogi is to try to come back to this state of intersubjectivity over and over again, and do so on and off the mat.
I step off the plane into the humidity of a high noon. Fulton Street is full of color and swagger and fresh ripe mangos in rows. I’m home but I’m not the same. What does this feel like? What are they wearing and saying; what’s in that window?
Can you experience the same walk home freshly each time? Can you get out of your head and into your body and your environment, and touch it with your perception? Wherever you are, do you hear the birds? The sirens? Humanity’s breath and profanity? Yourself inside this moment? Whatever the experience is—don’t you want to be here for it? Within it?
Photography by Callie Ritter.