I think everyone needs a secret weapon, be it object or habit, to help fortify us in this temperamental universe. For my 5-year-old daughter it’s her stuffed penguin and the found object treasures she’s amassed into an impressive altar in her bedroom. For me it’s adhering to an embarrassingly early bedtime and my practice of concentrating on small things – the stuff I used to skip over because I was busy with the big abstract. Is that too meta for you? Let me explain.
Some people call it mindfulness. When I sit down to lunch I try to be right there with my food; the softness of avocado, the deep purple of adzuki beans, the grassy zing of extra virgin olive oil. I take time to enjoy it and when I’m finished I feel satisfied, I don’t need more. When I’m in Ballet Beautiful class with Samantha or Yuki or Natia I concentrate on small parts of my body. I think about moving my leg up and down the tiniest bit, with toe pointed and knee straight. I do it with as much grace as I can muster. Every movement is full of an awareness of my body, my muscles; I’m coaxing them into form. “Pull your bellybutton in to your spine” says Yuki. My mind makes it happen as much as my body. I do those little movements over and over and over, endlessly, to the edge of pain, and my body changes. Dancers know all about this, the single repetitive task creates muscle memory. Is it possible that each moment is in a way deeper when I concentrate? Can I get more from it? I think so, as do psychologists who study the pitfalls of multitasking.
Getting dressed up to exercise helps me get into the moment too. It helps my whole body become my intention to transform, to gain strength, to have a fun and empty that ever filling cup of anxiety that is a by product of my relentless urban lifestyle. If there’s anything to method acting, and I’m sure there is, it comes into play here because I immediately feel different when I have tights, legwarmers and slippers on. The costume helps me think differently, it takes me out of my regular loop. With a thin bit of pink leather between me and the floor, I’m no longer in street wear, that’s for sure. Though there are some very hot ballet flats around this season so I could take it outside… Some days I even wear pink lipstick, the kind that won’t come off after a long, hard series of waist whittling Skyline Kicks. And I have to say there’s something uniquely thrilling about putting on a pair of pink slippers and elegantly lifting my butt so many times I’m sweating like a rugby player. I love the contradiction!
The other thing about mindfulness and concentration is it helps me choose what’s important in life. When I am present in the moment I can see what path I need to take to get to where I want to be. It’s often simple things like adding broccoli to dinner, doing a little exercise because something is better than nothing, deciding not to watch TV at night because I’m in a better mood when I sleep more. Amazingly, when I stick to these small but significant behaviors my life begins to change. That Laozi saying that kind of used to get on my nerves because it sounded so tedious is ringing in my ears. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Well, it turns out to be so very true.