As a dancer I was constantly aiming to embody my creative ideas. Even at the moments of thinking of a possible move, or trying to explain to my partner a creative way “ ..to finish of that “alemana turn” with a sense of longing for a previous move, where the partner was still in touch, but then suddenly making a quick twist in the feet accompanied with a sharp change of head direction in order to create the energy of being in command and dominant…” I would hear my teachers voice: “don’t tell me, show me”. I would then understand what a big gap (both ways) lies between language and reality. I would realize the difficulty to do exactly what I told or was imagining and I would also be surprised how difficult it is to explain of what has just happened in my movement. Yet, I was also aware, that the best dancers around me where also the people for whom this gap was the smallest. What they talked was true in a sense that they where not only talking from their head alone, but actually with experience of the whole body. And when they danced… They where the most articulate and clear, you could almost “read” the story they where telling with their bodies..
I don’t compete as a dancer any longer. I teach philosophy at the university and sometimes in my head I would even forget I was ever a dancer. However one thing stayed with me and to this day it leads me to the university auditorium. It is this same question of my old dance teacher… Whenever I would explain a complicated theoretical concept to my students I would stop for a second and ask myself: “can i show it?”. If I hesitate for a moment, if I realize, that the words I am speaking can’t be put into movement, into body, into living experience – then probably what I am saying is not true (and even if it is true in some only logical sense, it probably does not have much value anyway since it barely connects to ME.)
Lately I was explaining the notion of “ absurd“ in existential philosophy to my students. I was referring to A.Camu’s Myth of Sisyphus and saying that „just as Sisyphus is constantly striving to place a stone on the mountain top, always reaching, but ever failing to fix the stone at the top of the mountain, always having to come back all the way down and once again try to make up for previously failed attempts, so is every human being is always in a state of reaching, in a state of longing, always trying to achieve, but never ever finally achieving… His action is absurd and yet it is also a paradox, since this absurd is a law of life and in some strange way it also keeps him going.“ To my students this sounded like a nice idea, but one thing they could not understand. Why bother, why live with the paradox: if you can’t achieve, don’t try, if you are trying you must be able to finally achieve and become content.
I realized I somehow have to explain to my students that we always live in a paradox of always aiming at something, yet never being able to achieve it for good. This idea is not about Sisyphus, it is about us, and we can know if it is true or not only by looking at our own experiences. I had to show it…And they had to do it.
I got them standing in straight upright positions (in yoga called tadasana, or mountain’s pose). After of just standing there for couple of minutes I asked, whether they actually know what balance is. “Certainly” somebody said. We are in balance, we are not falling. “Are you really not falling?“ I asked. I asked them to shift their body weights slightly forward and feel how the muscles in the back get engaged to keep the body upright, then shift their weights back past the balance point and notice how the muscles in front of the body would tense. To the left, to the right.. And always notice that comfortable spot in the middle, neither forward nor back, neither to each side, the spot where all the muscles of the body could get relaxed and content, the point of balance. We all felt that sweet spot, we all knew what real balance was, what it felt like.
The next thing I asked them to do is to find the spot of balance, a spot of comfort and relaxation, and remain there. I left them standing…At some point my students realized IT WAS NOT POSSIBLE TO FIX THE POINT OF BALANCE. Surely, they where not falling of their feet, however, not standing in the perfect balance where their bodies could get relaxed. The constant little shifts of body weight where happening as they where standing to prevent them from falling off completely. But also every little shift would be aimed at this perfect balance point, which could only be sensed in very short moments of transition, before the next falling out would start. Somebody said: “balance is only possible in and because of movement”. Somebody else said “balance is there, however never perfect, we always remain within the area of balance, but never really achieving it definitely”. The other: “we know what the perfect balance is and feels like, we also aim for it, we can’t fix it, but if we didn’t aim for it we would not be able to stand on our feet”.
The next thing we did is we walked across the room, just to experience how we fall at each step, catch our weight with the next and in this constant falling and catching movement we are walking as perfectly balanced.
The gap between the language and body experience was closing. I felt they where understanding…