Comfort is king in our culture. So much so that sometimes I don’t notice what great lengths I go to stay that way. We heat and cool our houses to an exact temperature. Our beds have pillow tops and our shoes have cushiony insoles. Cars have personalized lumbar support, precision environmental controls, heated seats and sunroofs. We all like it the way we like it: super comfy.
In December of 2011, Carlos AyaRosas, co-founder of The Nia Technique, my teacher and trainer for more than a decade, retired from the practice. His departure knocked the wind out of me. I was already feeling disconnected and disillusioned with my teaching and now with Carlos gone I felt…well, I a lot of things that I did not want to feel.
It’s not just physical comfort that I crave. I want to feel comfortable mentally, too. That’s part of the reason habits are so seductive: they feel easy and “normal.” This morning I put a bracelet on my left wrist that I usually wear on my right. Shazam. My mind scrambled all day – prickling with the awkwardness of “different.” Break a habit and you’ll feel the squirm of discomfort.
Oddly enough (or maybe not), I spent my 4-month sabbatical in 2012 dancing to Carlos’ last routine, Humanity. In a way, I felt like he was still around since he was right there in my living room. So I pushed aside my feelings about him leaving, danced the Crazy Bird and the Criss-Cross Kick and pretended nothing had happened.
At the end of my sabbatical, I created two routines back-to-back and my practice felt full of energy. But sitting there on the edge of my desk, staring at me, was Carlos’ last routine. I was reluctant to teach it. First, I didn’t think it was his best work. There were strokes of brilliance but his heart didn’t seem entirely in it. Besides, to teach his last routine would stir up my feelings about his retirement and I didn’t want that.
So I avoided it. I eyed the file on the edge of my desk and let it sit there.
Feelings are messy, irrational, and replete with tears and runny noses. Sadness, anger, grief – we do our best to avoid them. We pretend they aren’t happening or dull them with our drug of choice. And it’s not just difficult emotions, but joyful ones that we resist feeling fully. I often deflect compliments instead of taking them in, or rush to the next thing instead of celebrating what I’ve accomplished. We prefer, somehow, to hang out in the unmessy middle – not feeling much of anything.
As much as I resisted and ignored them, as soon as I picked up Humanity again, my feelings about Carlos’ retirement floated fast to the surface. First, I was angry. I counted on him to deliver the work and teach me in his impeccable, sometimes confounding way. How could he leave and abandon us? Abandon me?
And I was afraid. What did his departure mean for the practice, my business, for me? Did I still want to teach Nia without him leading? What would happen to this practice into which I was so deeply invested?
And behind the fear was the biggest one: I was sad. I was so sad he was gone.
Moving toward and leaning into sensation – whether it is physical, mental or emotional – is like strengthening a muscle. The more I allow myself to feel — without resisting or running, grasping or holding on — the stronger my system becomes. I’m able to stay connected even when I’m in the swirl of sensation. Staying with sensation allows me to be present rather than panic. Staying with sensation allows me to respond rather than react. Staying with sensation allows me to be at peace with whatever is occurring.
As a way to honor Carlos and honor myself and all my messy feelings, I created a routine called Unity (because Unity is within hUmaNITY!). The routine blends his music and choreography with mine into an integrated piece. [You can read my original post about it here. ] The process of creating the routine gave me a chance to process the feelings and to let them move.
Comfortable is cool. I’m all for pillow tops and heated seats. But moving into, staying in sensation is how we transform and grow – physically, mentally, emotionally.
What are we here for anyway — in these bodies, in this life, in this world — but to feel it all?