Through my studies in dance, I’ve learned first-hand that great discipline can give way to great beauty.
Dance class was my first experience with personal discipline. Prior to taking ballet and modern classes, I was incapable of concentrating on anything—aimless and always in trouble.
Twenty years later, I find myself telling my own students to concentrate their energy even when it feels like there is none left, as that is the only way to grow as a dancer. I promise them that through calm focus they will bloom into their personal best.
When I first converted to Buddhism, I didn’t see any connection.
One of the monks at my temple advised me to sit daily for 20 minutes, but for my butterfly mind that wasn’t even attainable on a pleasant day—let alone at a time of intense emotion.
I struggled with meditation, wrestling with my mind and forcing myself to sit for 20 minutes at a time. I kept asking myself how I could have mastered the discipline of dance, but lack the capability to settle and clear my own mind.
This struggle continued until one day I presented myself with a different challenge. I was having an emotional time and knew that meditation was the only path to clarity. “Two minutes,” I said to myself. “Sit in meditation for two minutes.”
That day, two minutes turned into five minutes. In the passing weeks I’ve graduated to ten minute sessions and, amazingly, on some days I can sit for twenty minutes.
I have often jokingly referred to meditation as “a ballet class for the mind,” citing it’s relation to the unnatural—at times punitive—nature of dance training. This experience, however, has awakened within me the awareness that dance and meditation have many positive parallels:
The skill of meditation is best attained progressively. For example, if you attempt even one turn when you are a beginner dance student, you will not have a positive outcome. You first need to master your posture, balance, and coordination. This is comparable to my experience of attempting twenty minutes of meditation before the groundwork was laid.
The results of meditation are cumulative. Practice for a few days, weeks or months with your only aspiration being to bring your attention back to your breath and to create room in your mind for things to flow.
Meditation is absolutely a discipline. However, it does have the added benefit of inducing a kind of awakened relaxation. As we would daily bathe our bodies and clean our homes, we cleanse our minds through meditation.
Here are some tips for a positive start for aspiring meditators:
1. If you have back problems, or trouble sitting with a straight back, place a pillow between yourself and the wall behind you.
2. Your hips should be above your knees, so consider sitting on a firm pillow.
3. Roll your shoulders back and keep an open chest without arching the back.
4. Your head should be held high as if balancing a crown.
5. Start small. If you are determined to dive in for twenty minutes of daily practice, separate that twenty minutes into smaller intervals. Options are: two minutes ten times, five minutes four times, or ten minutes twice.
Meditation takes great patience. Our minds will continue to do what they do: Think.
Still, our awareness is greater than our thoughts.
Use the ocean as your inspiration. The surface has many waves, but if we drop below into peaceful waters we can float easily and calmly—provided we have remembered our snorkel. Remember to breathe.
If you need to bring your attention gently back to your breath 100 times, you have not failed; you have practiced. With continued practice, you become stronger and some of the vices that once held a constant grip on you fall away, enabling you to move with grace, ease and wisdom through the dance of life.
Author: Nahtalya Aubreane
Assistant Editor: Hilda Carroll / Editor: Toby Israel