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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sharpening the Saw, Covey's Habit Number 7

One of the current joys in my life is the dance group to which I belong. It grew from the NIA class at the Y. One of my fellow NIA classmates, who is in her eighties, suggested forming a dance group to our teacher and from there, things took shape. We performed last fall to major, major, MAJOR acclaim, which I think I’ve mentioned. No? Well, we did perform, and the audience was larger than expected, and the response was terrific. Possibly everyone who came to see our group of women ranging in age from early fifties to early eighties, was just so delighted we didn’t make complete asses of ourselves that their applause was a little louder than necessary. I don’t know. From my vantage point, on stage, with house lights off and stage lights on, I couldn’t see a thing except my co-dancers, and we looked terrific for a group of novices. At least we were having fun, being scared, rising to a challenge, bonding with each other, performing. Doing something different than usual and stretching ourselves creatively. We were sharpening the saw, as Stephen Covey would say. 

Sharpening the Saw is Covey’s Habit Number 7 of Highly Effective People. It’s about the spiral of renewal. Sharpening the saw hones and polishes what he considers the four dimensions—physical, mental, social or emotional, and spiritual. This habit encircles all of the other six habits and makes them possible. 

Now I wasn’t trying to sharpen my saw. I just followed my interest in NIA, my friendship with my NIA teacher, and the enthusiasm of the tall, elegant eighty-plus year old classmate who wanted to dance. But in doing so, I can see that I am indeed working all these elements. New friends, new movement, a different kind of creative activity, the challenge of assimilating and translating a piece of choreography all work these elements. 

So our little dance troupe meets weekly and since we haven’t been rehearsing we have been exploring different kinds of movement. This troupe is supposed to be a collective, but since only two of us are actual dancers and choreographers, the rest of us are happy to be clay or pawns or whatever. I should speak for myself and not for the others, I guess. I’m happy to be clay or a pawn. I just enjoy the movement and the cameraderie. I’ll do whatever. And so lately I’ve been doing Feldenkrais. 

Feldenkrais, brought to us by one of our leaders, is a type of bodywork. “Bodywork” is a word, by the way, that can only be used seriously by dancers; otherwise, it sounds ridiculous. Feldenkrais was a Russian dude with bad knees who figured out a way to move through relaxing and ease and eliminate pain and constriction. If that sounds odd and contradictory, it is. I used to see advertisements for Feldenkrais—“moving through pain”—and made fun of it, because, you know, moving through pain doesn’t really sound enticing. But I was being perverse. Getting to the other side of pain? That sounds enticing. And I guess if you have to move through pain to get to the other side, well, then maybe it’s worth it. 

I dunno if you’re like me and find that everything seems like a political analogy these days, but if so, I am sorry. I’m almost finished with Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild. I have to read it in bits, because it’s, well, it’s depressing. Hochschild is a liberal Berkeley professor of sociology who spent several years getting to know the residents of the most conservative county in the most conservative state she could find, trying to suss out why they vote the way they do when it seems counter to their interests. Of course what she finds is a bunch of really nice people who are racist at their very cores, but not overtly. It’s the kind of book that makes me wonder if perhaps  the South would just be better off seceding. Anyway, it’s a close investigation of a region, and it’s illuminating, if painful. 

Anyway. Feldenkrais. Moving through pain. This involves lying on a yoga mat in the airy upstairs of the barn where we rehearse and listening to the voice of Annie Thoe, Feldenkrais teacher, available on YouTube and Spotify, telling us to breath into our left shoulders, then into the volcanos of our left breasts, and me thinking, Okay, what the heck. I’m okay with visualizing the inside of my lung and my breast as a volcano or whatever. I’m up for whatever if it's relaxing and takes me to the other side of pain.

There’s a lot of breathing and close focus and attention involved. These are all good things to cultivate, and indeed, a quick search online reveals that Feldenkrais believed his method of healing the body would generalize to improvement in other aspects of life. Remains to be seen, just as it remains to be seen whether the close investigation of the reddest county in the reddest state yields any improvement in the functioning of the body politic. 

After lying on our backs and moving with ease and relaxation, we put away Annie Thoe. We stand up and move as if we’re seaweed or as if we’re being tugged towards one corner of the room by a magnet and we’re resisting. 

We recently decided to work towards another performance, so these exercises might eventually translate into something on stage. I don’t know. I don’t really care. I’m easily led, apparently. 

But the thing is, it feels damn good. 

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