I've learned a lot from dancing. Or, even after several years of lessons, what often feels more like attempting to dance.
Regardless, it's a lot more like real dancing than I was capable of before. Just as I now feel like I'm better able to dance spiritually, having given up religious beliefs that kept me overly rigid.
Rigidity and dancing – not a good mix. Sure, after just a few lessons it's natural to be unsure of yourself. You haven't gotten the steps down, so you earnestly try to move just right.
And pretty soon you realize that this earnestness, necessary as it may be in the beginning, is keeping you from experiencing what ballroom dancing is all about.
Moving harmoniously with a partner to the music.
When Laurel (my wife) and I can do this, it feels great. More and more, we're able to. Why? Because we're learning how to go beyond the idea of dancing to the experience of dancing.
They never get around to actually dancing spiritually, but keep on talking about how one day they'll get out on the floor and give their partner a spin. After death. After enlightenment. After salvation. Someday.
The common error of ordinary religious practice is to mistake the symbol for the reality, to look at the finger pointing the way and then to suck it for comfort rather than to follow it. Religious ideas are like words – of little use, and often misleading, unless you know the concrete realities to which they refer.
I'm at the ballroom dancing stage where, mostly, my goal is to learn the defined movements of Tango, Waltz, Foxtrot, Nightclub 2-Step, and other dances my wife and I have been exposed to.
But a day will come, hopefully fairly soon, where I'll be capable of the increased spontaneity and free-form expressiveness that marks more expert dancers. I see this in the senior students at the dance studio where we take lessons, and I really see it in the professionals competing in PBS's America's Ballroom Challenge.
These top-of-the-line dancers mix together all sorts of styles in their show dances. They aren't constrained by convention, rigid rules, or "thou shalt's."
Except the commandment to look good, shake it, express yourself, and show what you've got. They flow. Which, as Watts says, is what religion is terrible at.
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. Religion, as most of us have known it, has quite obviously tried to make sense out of life by fixation.
It has tried to give this passing world a meaning by relating it to an unchanging God, and by seeing its goal and purpose as an immortal life in which the individual becomes one with the changeless nature of the deity.
…We think that making sense out of life is impossible unless the flow of events can somehow be fitted into a framework of rigid forms.
In other words, beliefs. But it isn't possible to fluidly dance with life when you're bound to a rigid framework. (Though some try.)
With partner dancing, you quickly realize that mis-steps happen. A lot. However, the biggest mistake is to compound a mis-step by not moving with it.
If the leader heads off in a direction the follower wasn't expecting, go with him (usually the man leads). If the follower responds in an unexpected fashion to a lead, go with her.
In dancing with life, whatever is happening to us and with us – that's our partner. We're attached, so long as we're alive. So go with the moment. Wherever, however, whenever.
Pretty damn simple. A lot simpler than ballroom dancing. But not easy.
Because we think it isn't simple. And that makes it complex. Silly us. Watts:
The natural world gives us many examples of the great effectiveness of this way. The Chinese philosophy of which judo itself is an expression – Taoism – drew attention to the power of water to overcome all obstacles by its gentleness and pliability.
…A body of water does not run away when you push it; it simply gives at the point of the push and encloses your hand.
…Running away from fear is fear, fighting pain is pain, trying to be brave is being scared.
…From this follows, quite naturally, absorption. It is no effort; the mind does it by itself.
…To ask how to do this, what is the technique or method, what are the steps and rules, is to miss the point utterly. Methods are for creating things which do not yet exist. We are concerned here with understanding something which is – the present moment.
Keep it simple. Now.
The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance. Like music, also, it is fulfilled in each moment of its course.