I’ve been thinking about opening my heart quite a bit lately.
I read a book* about a boy who had a very closed heart but met some special people – a woman named Ruth, and her son – in a magic shop. He went through a lot of the processes she taught him but didn’t learn to truly open his heart till many years later.
It made me think about my own heart. Is it open? I think it is, but then all of a sudden I started having memories come up and noticing times when my heart was open to a degree, but in a strange shape. Open on my side but long and pointy and closed on the other, to protect me.
If I could draw the shape it would be a heart laid down flat with the two big round parts on top, facing me, and the small pointy end like the end of a slice of pizza, pointed away from me. So I could give love because there was a big open attachment place, but for someone else to love me they had to aim through a really tiny heart point. Very protective, only letting in the very careful ones who were patient.
I was also thinking about how it is hard to love if your heart is closed…or hard to let love in, in the same way.
It’s also hard to learn when your heart is closed, because learning requires letting go of what we think we know the world to be, or about dance and the way we can move, or about our ideas about a culture and it’s people. It requires opening and an expansion so we can hold more experience and more knowledge, so we can climb up a taller mountain and see from a different perspective.
Real learning means includes a change in perspective; expanding how we think. Imagine how learning that the world isn’t flat required change from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Learning that germs exist also took change; it took opening the mind to accept a new idea that seems ridiculous or even heretical.
Movement is the same way. Bear with me here. If you move in your typical pattern, then you’ll always look like “you” on the dance floor, limited by characteristic patterns. Real growth means true change, so that you have heightened ability to express music, emotion, and story. It’s the difference between an actor being a movie star who simply shows up in different scenes, or an actor’s actor, who can disappear into the role so that it isn’t as if you’re looking at them, “the name,” but you are swept into another world, a whole experience.
I propose that changing your fundamental movement pattern takes opening your heart. It takes the courage to expand into a way to move that isn’t how you’ve been; it’s not a continuation with little tweaks, it’s transformation.
Courage and love and fear are all of the heart and the heart connects with the brain and the brain is what determines how muscles can move. The signals come from the brain through the nerves to the muscles.
What I learned is that it is the heart that sends signals to the brain.
When something startles us, we tighten up.
We are wired up for survival.
Fear is of the heart, and when the heart sends alarm signals to the brain through the vagus nerve, the brain sends messages to the body to protect! Defend!
Where there is fear, there is contraction, gathering of muscles like a cat, ready to spring. This is not where we love, this is not where we learn.
It is hard to learn when we’re scared. It’s even harder to change movement patterns. Remember, your brain is sending messages to defend!
When you have lessons with me, you’ll have an experience of moving that feels unfamiliar.
Rather than protective, ducking down and pulling in, it’s expansive, opening, and upward. Even so, it is the unknown, and sometimes people get that “deer in the headlights” look.
Hint: if you want to improve, look to the unknown.
Looking to the known is like driving and looking in the rear-view mirror. You know where you’re going to arrive; it’s where you were and how you’ve been.
In dance, learning to change movement patterns at their origin, from the very initiation of movement, is a kind of letting go into the unknown. It’s like love, opening your heart so that you can dance more fully, more you. It’s hard to do if you’re fearful; it’s like being a Pushme-Pullyou, wanting to change but pulled by habit back into the familiar.
I tell my students, “First we melt, then we move.”
First, melt the fear.
Second, melt the fear again!
And always, give love and compassion. Be kind to yourself the way you would with a little child learning to walk.
The cure for fear is love, as Jerry Jampolsky wrote in his wondrous book: “Love is Letting Go of Fear.”
Remember this? “Fear is the mind-killer.” (Dune)
How do you let go of fear?
A warm, safe connection creates safe space for fear to melt.
Where fear is, love isn’t.
To let love in, melt the fear. Drop by drop.
Today the moon smiled at me. It was a nearly full moon and sat straight up over some trees.
Letting it in.
*Into the Magic Shop, James Doty, M.D.
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