insight from reading

Stupidity is Life’s Great Motivator

No one likes to feel stupid.  And something can only be stupid if you recognize you shouldn’t be doing it.  And man, we love to do stupid things anyway, don’t we?!  I prefer not to count the times I knowingly behaved like an idiot to bask in the addictive temporary high.  (Insert here numerous accounts of fleeting dead-end romances with your typical bad-boy, charging a pair of shoes well out of my budget but looked simply divine, and saying yes to an extra job that threw my schedule into a nightmare without any quantifiable gains).  Now how can one, who supposedly has a satisfactory level of intelligence, stop behaving like a brainless dummy?

Acceptance.  Appears simple-minded and self-lovey to the strong-willed hard-worker.   Appears to mean settling, giving up.

Oh the contrary!  Lord knows, “giving up” is not in my syntax.  Yet, continuously transforming myself for the better is some sort of obsessive hobby of mine.  Writing lists of goals and scratching them off brings me utter bliss and an empowering sense of accomplishment that keeps me perpetually paper seeking with pen in hand.   

In hearing about methods of transformation and true change steering from stupidity, acceptance is the “it” word.  From therapist Jenny Taitz, in her book, End Emotional Eating to Mike Tyson, in the NYTimes, the theme of acceptance lies as the root of true transformation. Taitz writes, “…”It’s about allowing yourself to experience negative emotions if they arise while you are moving towards what matters to you. Many unwanted experiences, including thoughts and feelings, can’t be controlled, but you can still commit to actions that keep you living in line with your personal values.”  And as I digest her words, I find Mike Tyson proclaiming a similar truth.  “When I would relapse in the past, I would keep getting high until I was in a car accident or got arrested.  But this time, after drinking for two or three days, I came back.  I didn’t wait for an intervention.  I just got right back on the wagon.  After years of therapy, I had learned not to beat up on myself.  I remembered that relapse is part of the recovery.”

While I have no problem identity closer with lovely, kind, intelligent Jenny, I never thought I had much in common with pit bull Mr. Tyson, yet his humble comment makes me reconsider.

As a dancer, beating up on myself, once seemed like a badge of honor.  It implied I was one who worked hard and sacrificed for my craft to become one step closer to sweet, idolized perfection. Naturally, when this abusive mindset crept into my life as an eating disorder, I was addicted to the sense of control.  I felt accomplished, because I no longer emotionally binged ate (a.k.a. acted stupid) through my stress and tumultuous emotions surrounding my college career.

Yet years later, at a healthy weight and a less obsessive mind-set, I continued to emotionally eat.  The same root problem existed – food as an emotional buffer.  I’d be stressed.  I’d be exhausted.  I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to procrastinate.  Instead of dealing in a manner that alleviated or enhanced my emotion, I’d dive straight for Stacy’s whole wheat pita chips.  Then in a shame spiral, I’d privately throw out the bag of chips that I ate in one sitting so my roommate would never discover my piggish ways – buying and finishing the bag in 24 hours.  I wanted to eat “like a lady,” and fuel in a wholesome way, to coincide with the healthy lifestyle I claimed to honor.

It’s only when I started to recognize and identify my emotions and then accept them (and I’ll add, choose to love myself enough to give myself the upmost care – sans sabotage), that I felt like a complete idiot with my hand diving in a bag of chips.  It started to make no sense.  I knew I was not hungry.  I was actually upset.  And I still would be, with or without the chips.  It became really hard to feel like an idiot and go along with choice idiotic behavior anyway.  I opted to address the emotion, the root issue at hand, rather than place blame on myself and try to stop binge eating cold turkey. All of a sudden, as I sat on the couch and looked at my salty hand feeding my mouth like a foreign demon child who didn’t know any better, and quite frankly never got the invite to sit next to me on the couch in the first place – I felt stupid. And, feeling stupid is an awesome motivator.

To be motivated by stupidity, acknowledgment and then acceptance must follow.  We must listen and notice our habitual patterns and accept our emotions with grace. If Mike Tyson is no longer biting ears, hitting the bottle, and shooting up drugs, and can come to the same wave-length as scholarly, clear-minded therapist Jenny Taitz, we all have some room to turn our stupid behaviors into smart ones (and perhaps these two spectrums aren’t much different from one another).  It may take quieting our inner ruthless bad-ass in exchange for patience and a gentler internal dialogue, but this just may result in “much less-stupider” decisions in our future.

(PS – If you are interested in Jenny Taitz’s book, End Emotional Eating click here.)

Become Radiant.

We are so good at measuring ourselves up against expectations, striving for control, and insisting on being on the inside.  We strive to get that promotion, hear back from that date, have a child before 35, own our own apartment with a particular address, have our children accepted into the best schools, prepare and eat only the healthiest of meals, have the clearest of skin, look amazing in that LBD for Sussie’s wedding, and obviously have all the best moves when that music starts to jive.  As dancers, it’s owning the most supreme of arches in our feet, the highest extensions in our legs, a most creative, contributive mind in the midst of a new process, a limitless sense of ballon, swift learning capabilities, the most rotated hip sockets, and assessing whether we have the perfect balance of strength and the desirable aesthetic of hyperextension.

Hello, everything that doesn’t actually matter.

Whenever we operate under these terms, we are inevitably either winning or losing the rat race.  When we believe we measure up we are floating on top of it all, but damn, when we believe we missed the mark the downward spiral is U.G.L.Y.

Rosamund Stone Zander and her husband Benjamin Zander co-authored a book, “The Art of Possibility,” (genius and an easy read if you ask me!) which unmasks the calculating persona we often hold and suggests living from our more central selves.  Rosamund eludes, “the calculating self exists in the world of scarcity and deficiency while the central self operates under conditions of wholeness and sufficiency” (83).

When we start to become aware of our calculating ways, the things that wreak of insecurity and of not having it all, we can start to operate with our central selves where we know that we live in a world of possibilities; we already possess everything we could ever need if we just choose to see the world through a more abundant, optimistically constructive, and (truthfully) more accurate lens.

In terms of dance, which I tend to see all of life be reflected, I can liken the calculating v. central self to the beloved it factor.  We all know the it factor – when we experience a performing artist – someone on stage who, for some reason or another, for reasons that seem impossible to define, we can’t take our eyes off of them.  They exude this special quality, this clarity, this pureness that is utterly irresistible.  The it factor is present when that person is being their most central self.  They are not performing from a place of not enough – not enough technical prowess, artistic competence, not enough stamina.  Or of wanting to be on the inside – wanting to be loved by the audience, their directors, the critics.  Or of measuring their perceived success – against their last performance, against their fellow dancers, against the company that graced the stage before them.  They are operating from a place of complete abundance and possibility.  There is nothing in that moment they can’t conquer, relish, and indulge in.  Even if a moment doesn’t go as planned, that newness brings a fresh possibility, an added flare to their performance, and an extra zing of excitement to their gut.  All of which captivatingly transcends to us as beholders.

Sometimes I love not knowing all the dance moves.  I take myself off the hook, a.ka. zero expectations (already a strike against the offensive calculating self).

During this past Parsons Summer Intensive, I was taking Elena d’Amario’s modern class, on the second day – so a large part of the combination was already taught and I was left playing catch up.  Crapola.  I was taking class with all the students from the intensive, who while they believed the pressure was on them to perform to their best, we believed as company members that it was our job to be as fabulous as expected, implying dancing at a high level of competence and retaining material without a glitch.  This was completely impossible in this situation.  Dancing a whole song, in which I only properly learned the second half, I was inevitably going to make mistakes.  But I didn’t care.  I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect and I knew I was only going to have the chance to do the combination that afternoon, and I was more than happy with those facts.  I had the best time performing my heart out, doing the moves I knew the best I could and either making up the parts I didn’t know (yes, making stuff up that feels right can be oh-so-fun) or doing the moves on the end of the beat as the rest of the group played to the top of the notes to jolt my memory.  I wasn’t concerned that my boss, colleagues, and students were watching me have a flaw-filled performance – because damn, I was having a good time.  In full disclosure, and fortunate for this moment, I had the privilege of being a part of the company for 5 years and did not feel the need to prove my worth and talent (hello calculating self).  Unfortunately, this was not always my mindset – although it should have been.  I worked for years, concerned about how David (my boss) and my colleagues perceived my movements and those moments only short-changed my experiences and my dancing.

And now I challenge non-dancing phenomenal women to embody their inner it factor.  Whether performing or not (and all life is a performance, is it not?! I believe Liza would agree), the it factor can shine when you are walking down the street in sheer utter bliss without a care in the world, feeling at your most free.  (Sometimes it’s with the best song in your ears, the sun shining with the slightest 73 degree breeze strutting Madison Avenue with your favorite outfit on, post-blow out.  But don’t be fooled, it can just as easily happen when you are caught in the rain, ruining your shoes, freezing cold, and left with nothing but your nearly-broken paper bag of groceries).  You become untouchable, unbreakable.  You are approachable and intriguing.  People take note of your glow.  It’s when out of nowhere you make friends with a stranger on the street.  It is when you are talking with someone you just had an argument with and you express yourself honestly, without accusing or disregarding the other’s actions or feelings.  It’s when you lead a meeting or give a speech and you are not concerning yourself with petty thoughts of your wrinkled shirt, patronizing eyes of those waiting on your words that are suppose to be of mind-shattering caliber, or whether or not you turned off your stove.  You are truly impassioned with your words of the moment and you feel so strongly about your message and its potential to enlighten and motivate others.

Stuff can happen in your performance or (if you insist…) day, that you don’t plan for and that can initially bring forth a feeling of “oh-crap,” but it need not.  If you think you need to change something in order to be completely fulfilled, your calculating self is wreaking its havoc as it loves to do.  The oh-so-wise Rosamund, suggests we inquire within ourselves as a means of finding our calculating ways:

What would have to change for me to be completely fulfilled?

Our answers often point to our insecurities and our calculating selves’ ruthless attempts of success, belonging, and control.  So boo-hoo!  If we don’t take ourselves so damn seriously, then those moments aren’t as colossal and therefore, can’t take us down.

So world, if you haven’t already noticed, a slew of women are laughing in the ugly face of control and are unleashing their most fabulous, it-moment selves right and left, so take heed…and don’t be blinded by their inner radiance!

Multitasking: is it taking over your dancing and life?!

Multitasking is our modern-day nature and pride.  Technology is continuously coming up with ways to make it easier to do anything and everything with such ease, and subsequently at the same time.  We can finally conquer all we desire each waking day because we have immediate access to the world at our fingertips (and now even our eyeballs:  google glass hitting Diane Von Furstenberg’s runway)!  False!  The readiness to multitask is a curse.  To multitask by definition reads, “Often used of humans in the same meaning it has for computers, to describe a person doing several things at once.”  Is this really something we want to do?  Do we want to operate the way a computer does?  Those machines burn out for crying out loud, and now, operating like them, so do we!  When we divide our attention we are not doing one thing well.  I find my ability to finish a blog post, get to class early to go over those moves I’ve been dying to perfect, choreograph that piece I’ve dreamt about starting, and pick up choreography swiftly all gets sucked away, minute by minute, to my quietly nagging iPhone that never lurks too far from my side.  And worse yet if it isn’t the technology itself, it’s my brain that now almost seems hard-wired to operate on over-drive mode, my mind constantly bobbing from thought to thought comparable to the Internet I have grown to adopt so openly.  My attention span and patience to sit with one idea sucks.  And why is “turning off” so damn hard?  When we dance, we strive for efficiency of movement – the only way we developpé our leg to our ear is if we only use the muscles we need and let the ones that prohibit our wishful concussion a back seat.  What is our potential for efficiency if we can streamline our thoughts, and release our “mental” hip flexors? …in the studio and in our lives?

Let’s start in the studio before we take on our lives, shall we?

How many times are we at barré and doing the combination with the teacher, except we don’t know what they are going to do?   We move our body and play mind-reader with someone we don’t know.  How effective is that?  Or worse yet, we move our hands when the exercise is ultimately done with our feet, while we also predict what this stranger will do.  Or my personal favorite – how often do we stretch our hamstrings, think about the rotation of our inner thighs from the exercise prior, concern ourselves about our weak something-or-other, our PT appointment that we have to run to directly after class, and contemplate our life’s purpose, all while our favorite teacher just gave a tendue combination?  Then we arrive in first position with our left hand on the barré and we think, “How the hell does this start?”  Maybe if we do one thing, say, listen and absorb the combination only, we will actually get the combo.  Then when we have a second later we can devote all our attention to stretching our hamstrings, rather than just hanging over a dead-leg thrown on a barré.  It is impossible to stretch effectively while  simultaneously learning movement.  It is impossible to get to PT while we do tendues.  It is stupid to concern ourselves with our next career move while we attempt mastery of our degaggé.  Our productiveness in all of these areas significantly improves if we absorb one piece of information at a time.

We  are looking at teacher without seeing teacher.  

Looking is not enough.  Seeing, focusing our undivided attention, brings our level of productivity up another notch.  We are capable of digesting a combination after seeing it demonstrated the first time.  Why not?  It’s just a series of tendues and pliés in a more or less predictable pattern that we’ve practiced for the majority of our lives.  The more we see, the quicker we absorb the combination.  Then when the teacher does it the second time (for those poor souls who were doing their to-do lists in their head the first time), we add a layer of artistry that takes our dancing to the next level.

Now when I play teacher, I do a similar version of this mental multitasking.  I can be teaching and simultaneously distracted with multiple thoughts.  “Is that how that next combination starts?  Is this musical selection working? Are people comprehending what I intended?”  This all takes me away from seeing each one of my dancers more clearly;  understanding how they work, what motivates them, what challenges them and why, what their tendencies are, and where their bodies hold tension.  Seeing my students allows me to help more on an individualized level.  One thought at a time brings forth a more articulate, perceptive, and productive teaching methodology.

And going a step further, when we learn choreography, how much do we see?   How much can we focus our attention on what is solely important at that moment to the person leading the room?  I can distract myself with thoughts of sequencing when I should take a step back and see that the choreographer isn’t stressing the exactness of steps at all.  Their vagueness shouldn’t be a source of frustration but something I can see, and then adopt in my learning style and subsequently my execution, to better suit the purpose before they give that correction.  And vice versa, as a choreographer, can we see how dancers learn the movement and guide them to see the integral essence being created?  If we distract our mind, there is no way we can possibly juggle this level of thought.  If we can’t get to this level of thought, we are missing out on a beautiful layer of depth and therefore, productivity and creativity.

Now if we aren’t already dying to get to this level of efficiency and attention in the studio, we should at least crave it to streamline our lives. Just think about how much time we can earn when we fully devote ourselves to work effectively on one thing at a time.   Limit distractions, delineate time to focus solely on one idea to see if it works before bouncing to the next one and not getting one solid thing accomplished.  We don’t need our iPhones, Gmail, or Facebook to write that term paper.   We can’t research new dance companies holding auditions and talk to our loved ones on the phone.  Odds are we yes them absent-mindedly or end up buying shoes off of Gilt instead.  It is virtually impossible to walk and text successfully.  I typically look like a drunkard.  It is more time efficient to stop, send a text, and then continue on walking.  Instead I insist on spilling my tea on myself, take about 5 blocks to text 3 words, and nearly break a toe while navigating uneven New York pavement.  (Hell, we need those toes!)  I can sit in front of the T.V. and eat dinner and then finish everything on my plate, and feel completely unsatisfied;  I didn’t taste my meal.  How many times do I have to re-read the same paragraph over and over again because I didn’t digest a lick of it?  I am too busy jumping thoughts, or paying attention to the cutie who just got on the bus.  How many times do I attempt to go to bed, but then keep checking my iPhone when the light goes off just to wake in the morning craving an extra half hour of sleep?  And for crying out loud, I don’t need my brain when I do the dishes.  Let’s turn off when we can so we can be refreshed when we do need our minds to work for us.

Let’s use technology when we need it and designate time for it, rather than have it cloud our lives at large.  We don’t need to respond to that text immediately.  Set new standards.  Spend time well, doing one thing at a time.  If we do one thing only, we feel more satisfaction from completing it whole-heartedly.  In turn, we gain some precious time to conquer those dreams that lie in our journals untouched.  We gain a deeper level of artistry.  We gain beautiful, unadulterated moments with our friends and lovers, granting them the full attention we all deserve.  Check out less and stay tuned-in more.   Look less and see more.   Kill mental and physical multitasking once and for all!!!

I attempted to check my iPhone 18 times while I wrote this.

I have 33 pending drafts of articles saved to my computer that I started to write but never finished.