Full & Empty

In a recent Contact Improvisation class with experienced teacher and mover, Brad Stoller, he taught about the sensations of full and empty. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the feelings of full and empty in physical movement, in breath and in awareness. Can I feel full without overflowing, without being overwhelmed or overdoing? Can I feel empty without feeling depleted?

Brad taught that full and empty allows for a wider range of movement, sensation, and experience than we might typically feel. Full and empty sounds both mundane and esoteric. We know the idea of full and empty, but how often to we embody them? I’ve been thinking about and experimenting with full and empty in three primary ways: breath, weight and attention.

Breath

“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.” ~ Andrew Weil

How often am I breathing in the mushy middle? Most of  my breaths are shallow ones that don’t really fill or empty my lungs. There is aliveness, groundedness, and energy in breathing in fully and emptying completely. You can do it right now: take three deep breaths, drawing as much air as you can in — then take a little extra sip at the top — and then letting go as much air as you can out — then squeezing the last drops out. It’s like working a muscle, stretching and strengthening what hasn’t been used to allow your body to expand its ability to nourish and cleanse itself. It can be a heady business so take your time but full and complete breathing is one of the most healthful, centering, and empowering things you can do for your body, mind and spirit.

Weight

All movement is weight shift. The only way an earth-bound being can move is by shifting weight. It’s common to shuffle or drag our feet, to not really push off the ground but to hesitantly scuffle along with the mistaken notion that it’s safer. I notice this scuffle-tendency in particular when I’m walking up stairs or doing movements that are unfamiliar. Experiment with movement with clear weight shift: really engaging whatever is in contact with the floor to put your full weight into and out of each movement.

You can also do this in your metaphorical weight in life. Decide when to show up with your full weight, your full presence. If something feels important to you, step in fully. If something isn’t important or feels dangerous in some way, step out completely. When you are engaged, engage fully. When you disengage, really disengage. Notice when you are scuffling along in a situation.

Attention

There is a scene is the 1997 movie, As Good As It Gets in which Carol (Helen Hunt) is driving with Simon (Greg Kinnear) and Melvin (Jack Nickolson). Simon is telling her a difficult story about his past and she says, “I’m going to pull over so I can give you my full attention.” Melvin squirms in the back seat since her full attention is exactly what he wants and she is ignoring him. Attention is a powerful thing when we direct it.

Much of the time, our attention is diluted. I’m making dinner and listening to a podcast. I’m driving and thinking about my next class. I’m watching a documentary and making art. As with breath and movement, there is a completely different sensation when I bring my full attention to what I’m doing.

Notice where you are putting your attention and make the choice to bring it fully or to let it go.

Our culture is one of distraction so few of us are comfortable with the sensations of full and empty. This week, see if you can stretch the edges of how completely you are willing to step in…and out.

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4 comments
  1. joy said:

    I especially want to play more with the metaphorical weight in life – fully engaging, fully disengaging. As a life long fence sitter this sounds and feels sweetly appealing and at the same time abominably terrifying.

    • I get that. The whole concept of full/empty seems simple but for those of us who may feel some discomfort at our edges, it is big stuff. Not long ago I was playing with it in terms of food: I realized I was terrified of being empty. Turns out I didn’t die nor was I harmed in any way when I got really, completely empty. How do I feel the fullness without overflowing? How do I feel the empty without depletion? How do I find those balanced edges even when they feel precarious and scary?

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