The River of the Unknown

In Heart of the Matter, Don Henley wrote “the more I know, the less I understand.”

In Say Hey, Michael Franti sings “the more I see, the less I know.”

As she was healing from breast cancer, I wrote to a friend that I felt like I really became an adult when I stopped knowing what the hell is going on.

The longer I’m on the planet, the more I feel the mystery of everything. My mind has no way of grappling with the deep, dark mysteries that are all around me. All I can really do is stay present and dance with whatever unfolds.

There is no figuring out the mystery. There is only Mystery Dancing.


keepcalm make it soJean-Luc Picard is a big boat. Even in stormy intergalactic seas, he moves through with power and ease. Me? I’m often a little boat: tossed and tumbled by small waves. But I’m starting to be a big(ger) boat. Two things that calm my shaken-snow-globe brain: breathing and sensing my body. A breath slows me down, gives me even just a sliver of time to adjust. Sensing my body brings my more evolved prefrontal cortex online, ready to help me reason, get creative, and communicate. Practice choosing a little stress (Camel Pose, say), then breathe and stay calm. Make it so.

????????????In the mid-1990s, I had a love affair with Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Just divorced, living in Boston, I was bumbling around in chaos. Money had me squeezed tight and I was up to my eyelashes in debt. Then one afternoon, a whole division of our publishing company (more than fifty of us), got laid off. With no job prospects in Boston, this life-long New Englander was considering a move to Charlottesville (wait, what state is that in, again?). I felt like I had no solid ground under me – like I was reeling in space.

It’s no wonder that I fell in love with Captain Picard, the lead character on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Jean-Luc, with his strapping red uniform and his sage baritone, would gaze serenely from the bridge into the abyss of space. I waited expectantly for every episode, ready to soak up his self-possession. I craved his wisdom, his kindness, and his calm. Especially that down-to-the-core calm.

Just about everything can get me bundled into a bunch, and it was especially so then. If my boss asked me to take on an extra project, if I didn’t sleep well, if someone didn’t like me, or if the store didn’t carry that goat cheese I wanted, I got my undies all in a twist.

Jean-Luc, on the other hand, could be considering inter-galactic warfare, single-handedly saving an entire society, or (most terrifying to me) be trapped in an airshaft with a gaggle of 7-year-olds, and he always kept cool. I wanted some of that.

I don’t know if Captain Picard had any practices that kept him so steady, but two things help me keep calm(er) these days: breathing and sensing my body. When I’m flipping out about something, my lowest, lizard brain is narrowing my perspective to fight, flight, or freeze. Instead of reacting from this primitive brain, I’d rather respond from the larger, more evolved prefrontal cortex, the part that allows reasoning, language, and communication. Neuroscience demonstrates that the best way to get my prefrontal cortex on-line is to sense my body.

Not coincidentally, breath and body mindfulness are essential parts of yoga and Nia: put the body and brain under stress and then breathe and sense what’s happening. In yoga, my teachers repeatedly remind me to keep breathing calmly while I’m in the poses, even if that breath is not deep. Nia teachers say, “Everybody sense your (body part)” with the intent of bringing participants into their bodies and their higher brains. You can do it right now, sense your breath and your body and immediately you are tapping into the prefrontal cortex!

Recently, “Keep Calm and Carry On”, the phrase from the 1939 the British Government’s morale-boosting poster has been rediscovered. You can’t turn around these days without bumping into a reproduction (or some clever variation) on everything from t-shirts and tea cups, to pillows and aprons. Those clever variations run the gamut from inspirational (Keep Calm and Dream On) to silly (Keep Calm and Eat a Banana) to inexplicable (Keep Calm and Make Bacon Pancakes). My version, to inspire a bit of Jean-Luc-ness, might be “Keep Calm and Breathe On,” or “Keep Calm and Sense Your Feet,” or “Keep Calm and Wiggle With Awareness.”

I’m glad it’s Jean-Luc who’s in charge of keeping peace in the universe. If it was me on the bridge of the Enterprise and some alien aggressor approached with phasers a-blazin’, I’m guessing I would get worked up in a hurry. But presented with the more basic stresses of life (bills and relationships and climate change and sequesters), I am grateful for my breath and awareness that help me make skillful choices and enjoy the ride.

wobbly jessica simpsonI feel wobbly. Many things are over and the next ones haven’t begun (or aren’t in full swing). The wobblies leave me unsure, walking on uneven ground. Broken routines, unexpected twists, lots of emotion. Super-Wobbly-Making.

Frederick Buechner and John O’Donohue tell of this uncomfortable interim time. We’ve cast off from shore and no land is in sight.

Most of us hate being wobbly. Fear of wobbliness leads to rebound relationships and other poor decisions. But fear not the wobblies! They are fertile ground for growth. Fear not the in-betweenie feeling. Allow yourself to walk wobbly but wise through the transitions.

thisUnbelievable. Doubt, certainty, certainty, doubt. Two weeks of being on call for jury duty and I did not have to go in, not even once. I’m either the luckiest person in Charlottesville, or I’ve used up all my luck for the next decade. It’s almost as if the Universe wanted to mess with me a little and then let me off the hook. In the meantime, while I wasn’t doing my civic duty, we were dancing to a bunch of different routines that we drew out of a hat — most of which I hadn’t done in their entirety in years.

On Monday and Tuesday, we focused on Certainty and Doubt and what each of them sounds, moves, feels like. On Wednesday, we focused on se soinge (which means, in French, “take care of yourself” … thank you, Candace!). Thursday, a meditation mantra: “It’s like this.” Always helpful for me (especially when revisting not-recently-visited routines) to remember to stay in my body and in the present since there is not a single pingle thing I can do about anything in the past or future. (Right, right, I knew that, I knew that.)

I had such a great time paddling around in the river of the unknown, I’m planning to do the whole pull-it-out-of-a-hat thing every so often: jury duty or no.

ANYway, below are the playlists from this week’s classes (including the routine names and choreographer). A couple music notes:  a bunch of Bob Holroyd’s extraordinary music came up this week, so if you’re not familiar with his work, it’s worth checking out.  And two of my favorite albums in the past 10 years:  Afro Celt Sound System’s Further in Time and 1 Giant Leap.  ACSS is a band that draws its (often changing) members primarily from the UK and Africa.  They blend their styles into a super-delicious smoothie for the ears.  And 1 Giant Leap.  A perfectly brilliant project of allowing poets and writers and musicians from around the world make art together without actually ever meeting.  Pure genius.  EnJOY.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions or how I can help more.

Have fun. Dance on.

Jury Doodie & The River of the Unknown, Week 2 ~ Monday, August 12, 2013, 1045am Miracle & Wonder (Choreography: Susan)

Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes – 5:48 – Paul Simon
All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints – 3:15 – Paul Simon
The Obvious Child – 4:10 – Paul Simon
Graceland – 4:51 – Paul Simon
I Know What I Know – 3:13 – Paul Simon
The Boy in the Bubble – 3:59 – Paul Simon
You Can Call Me Al – 4:40 – Paul Simon
Crazy Love, Volume II – 4:19 – Paul Simon
Gumboots – 2:45 – Paul Simon
Can’t Run But – 3:37 – Paul Simon
So Beautiful Or So What – 4:09 – Paul Simon
Born At The Right Time – 3:48 – Paul Simon
Spirit Voices – 3:56 – Paul Simon
Under African Skies – 3:37 – Paul Simon
The Boy In The Bubble – 4:30 – Peter Gabriel

Jury Doodie & The River of the Unknown, Week 2 ~ Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 9am
AO (Choreography: Carlos Rosas)

A Different Space – 8:43 – Bob Holroyd
Journeyman – 6:41 – Bob Holroyd
Something Understood – 4:24 – Bob Holroyd
Drumming Up a Storm – 5:59 – Bob Holroyd
African Drug [Original Tribal Mix] – 6:02 – Bob Holroyd
Adrift in Kerala – 6:07 – Bob Holroyd
The Sheer Weight of Memory – 5:28 – Bob Holroyd
Dark Waters – 4:35 – Bob Holroyd
Earthwatching – 4:14 – Bob Holroyd
Open – 2:59 – Bob Holroyd
A Promise to Return – 2:21 – Bob Holroyd

Jury Doodie & The River of the Unknown, Week 2 ~ Wednesday, August 14, 2013, 1055am
TranceVision (Choreography: Carlos Rosas)

On The Forest Floor – 5:05 – Bob Holroyd
Alhambra Pt 1 – 1:21 – Natacha Atlas
Duden – 6:41 – Natacha Atlas
Vision – 6:08 – Heldegard von Bingen
Desert Wind – 7:48 – Banco de Gaia
Amor Real – 7:26 – Jon Anderson
Fun Does Not Exist – 6:21 – Natacha Atlas
Through Cinemas – 5:55 – Loop Guru
Ho Doi – 13:40 – Yulara

Jury Doodie & The River of the Unknown, Week 2 ~ Thursday, August 15, 2013, 9am Music, Movement & Magic (Choreography: Susan)

North – 6:49 – Afro Celt Sound System
North, Pt. 2 – 3:01 – Afro Celt Sound System
When You’re Falling [Featuring Peter Gabriel] – 5:14 – Afro Celt Sound System
Ma’ Africa – 4:49 – 1 Giant Leap: Mahotella Queens/Ulali
Braided Hair – 4:03 – 1 Giant Leap: Neneh Cherry/Speech
Ta Moko – 5:10 – 1 Giant Leap: Mako Black
Passion – 5:46 – 1 Giant Leap: Michael Franti
Daphne – 7:03 – 1 Giant Leap: Eddi Reader/Mahotella Queens/Revetti Sakalar
Persistence of Memory – 4:29 – Afro Celt Sound System
Inion/Daughter – 4:15 – Afro Celt Sound System
Devorzhum – 6:13 – Dead Can Dance

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