Want to teach a great class, give an affecting presentation, make transcendent art or just show up more fully in your life?
Listen to Eminem’s song “I Need a Doctor.”
The song is technically Dr. Dre’s (Eminem raps the first two verses and Dre the final one), but that’s just the point: Eminem owns this track. When I first heard it, the contrast between Eminem’s energized performance and Dr. Dre’s listless one was so stark that I realized why Eminem is so appealing to so many people: the man has perfected the art of the three-body performance. That is, he raps from a thorough and simultaneous engagement of his physical, subtle and causal bodies.
A little background: Dr. Dre “discovered” Eminem, put him on the map, and produced his most recent album. Though Dre has had his own successful career as a rapper and producer, he has faced some life challenges recently and you get the sense that he (or the public) feels he is in drift and decline. In “I Need a Doctor,” Eminem gives thanks to his mentor, and challenges his friend to rise up and kick ass again.
Back to the three-body analysis:
Physical: First, Eminem is from somewhere. He has roots, and he owns them. Did you see his Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler? In it, he is able to reveal the dignity, power, and promise of a city best known for its terrible decline—his hometown, Detroit. These roots feed the power of his music and his persona, as they do for many rappers. To get where you want to go, you’ve got to know—and trust—where you’ve come from.
More immediately, the man lives in his body—at least while he’s performing. This comes out in the “oomph” of his words; and it’s an important lesson for anybody who speaks or performs in public and wants to make an impact: power comes from your legs, pelvis, belly and lower chest (lower three chakras)—not just from your tender heart, brilliant mind or transcendent spirit.
Subtle: The subtle body is the realm found in each of us made up of emotions, thoughts, inner sensations, impulses and drives. It is the body of prana or life energy, and Eminem’s music courses with it. In “I Need a Doctor,” his words pulse with raw, authentic emotion as he states his love and gratitude for Dr. Dre. You can feel that he knows just what he owes this man, and is unwilling to let him drown in the shit he’s been swimming in. He goads, implores Dre to stop staring at his navel and to rise again to greatness, to wake up and fight. More than once I have felt tears well in my eyes at the fierce love behind these words.
Not just behind, but beyond the words is the rapper’s sheer energy: the rhythm and tone of his voice conveys an exasperated, hopeful urgency that conjures an image of a boxing trainer screaming over the ropes at his fallen, beloved protégé.
Engaging this level of energy creates charisma, impact, and power. Many yogis and spiritual practitioners do this by enacting inspired attitudes in their practice (a powerful method taught in Anusara Yoga) or dedicating their practice to the good of others. Often, when I’m about to give a presentation on an environmental topic, I’ll take a moment to remember why I’m up there—because I care about nature, about people, about life. That is, the subtle body can be energized by remembering that we give a shit. Eminem’s method involves turning everything into a life-or-death struggle, and this is where the next level comes in:
Causal: Eminem reaches his greatest heights as an artist when his words are so strong, and the energy beneath them so powerful, that you know he’s giving everything he’s got. There is no holding back, no saving face, and whenever anybody does this, onstage or off, the moment opens up. Transcendence, compassion, and understanding become possible when you give everything of yourself. In moments of “I Need a Doctor,” Eminem does this, and in so doing invites us into an expansive experience of the Heart.
In the last verse of the track, after Eminem’s firestorm of fierce gratitude and ferocious support, it appears that Dr. Dre is still laying down. In comparison with Eminem, Dre’s voice is listless, tired and aimless. It’s unfortunate, but this contrast also serves a function, making the lessons stand out in starker relief.
James MacAdam is a Renaissance Dude. He spends much of his time working with NGO Watershed Management Group to green cities across the Southwest U.S. He has studied widely and deeply across various spiritual traditions including yoga and Zen, is a (currently inactive) certified Anusara Yoga instructor, and has found major health challenges to be one of his most powerful teachers. He is a tree-hugging nature buff. James writes a monthly column with an integral perspective on sustainability and the green movement, entitled “Thinking Beyond Green” for The New Southwest. Links to his most recent columns are here. James lives with his wife Rachel and their miniature poodle Teddy in Tucson, Arizona. You can find him on twitter, facebook, and on his blog.