I was anxious for the first teleclass of the 13 week Wellcoaches training. I have never taken a class completed entirely over the phone via conference call with 20 other people, and I don’t know anybody who has done this training before, so everything was completely unknown. I was excited to start what I believe will be the foundation of my work in the future, and the training that will help me to bring together the last 3 or 4 years of academic and professional education. I was also nervous because I know I do not make a very good impression over the phone. I am a very body-centered person, and I rely on the nonverbal cues of others and the ability to give nonverbal cues for a majority of my communication. You can imagine the stress that 13 weeks of solely verbal telecommunication brings me!
Anyway, I totally flubbed up my introduction (the only time we really get to present ourselves to the class) and there’s a chance I may have inadvertently insulted a few people, but I really didn’t care! I am so thrilled to be learning and starting this journey, and I know I will have a thousand other chances in my life to make a first impression (in person, at that!). And it is these kinds of lessons-on-the-side that I especially look forward to. I know I will learn the basic knowledge and hone the necessary skills to be a good coach, but it is the learning of myself and the quirks of me as a coach that I really need to make myself comfortable with.
I’m very good at trying only the things I know I will be good at, and coincidentally developing a dislike for things I’m not naturally adept at. I am a firm believer that anything worthwhile takes work, but I somehow always manage to work really hard at the things I’m already good at. I think coaching might push these boundaries a bit, and I am excited to see how this shapes me as a coach and in all the other roles I fill in my life.
I read an interesting and concise description of the effects of mindfulness on our everyday experiences by Dr. David Rock in Psychology Today. While the ideas described in the article weren’t new to me, the way that they were tied to one another—along with an extrapolation I’m not sure Rock intended, but one I made nonetheless—made it a fascinating read.
In short, Rock explains that there are two modes your brain can be in at any time: narrative (or default) mode and direct experience mode. The former is the mode most people exist in most of the time, and it is when “you are thinking about your history and future and all the people you know, including yourself, and how this giant tapestry of information weaves together” while taking in information from your experience. Direct experience mode is just as it sounds:
When the direct experience network is active, several different brain regions become more active. This includes the insula, a region that relates to perceiving bodily sensations. The anterior cingulate cortex is also activated, which is a region central to switching your attention. When this direct experience network is activated, you are not thinking intently about the past or future, other people, or yourself, or considering much at all. Rather, you are experiencing information coming into your senses in real time.
Rock goes on to explain that recent studies have shown that the two modes of thinking/experiencing are inversely correlated, which makes sense. You can’t be processing experiences directly AND filtering them through your meaning-making circuitry simultaneously. The two ways of being are mutually exclusive. Anyway, the most exciting connection for me is the following:
…people who regularly practiced noticing the narrative and direct experience paths, such as regular meditators, had stronger differentiation between the two paths. They knew which path they were on at any time, and could switch between them more easily. Whereas people who had not practiced noticing these paths were more likely to automatically take the narrative path.
Now, I know that we’re finally able to scientifically show and measure how meditative practices physically change the brain and the way it gets used, but I have not read or heard much about what this might mean for everyday living. Does meditation induce the relaxation response in the body and mind? Yep. Does it ameliorate the effects of stress on the body? Looks like it. But the idea that meditative practices might simply remind a person that he or she has a choice about how to experience their experiences is pretty radical to me. When you consciously (and eventually habitually) choose to take the time to be quiet and still your mind chatter (chita vritti in yogi-talk!), this practice truly becomes practice for every other experience you’ll have that day.
I will never hear the phrase “meditative practice” the same way again.
I often struggle with the principle of evaluating someone’s creative work, be it writing, art, music, dance, etc. Initially, my probing seemed a speculative exercise that stemmed from my work in creative writing and performing arts. But, the more I experience the desire to pull my students away from situations in which they are either explicitly judged or environments which lead people to judge themselves against those around them, the more I find that it inherently goes against the nature of creative expression itself.
Now some will argue that dance is a sport, and can be critiqued, scored, and adjudicated as such. I will actually agree with this in a certain context, and that is dance/drill team type competitions. The choreography, the athleticism, and the end goals are such that this type of dancing is more closely related to sport than to art. Yes, there is still an element of subjective opinion involved, but there are truly objective components (i.e. certain required movements, tricks, precision, etc.) that differentiate this style of dance from other studio-oriented competition dance. The current trends in studio dance are for the most part toward something that I think is wonderful: emotional, expressive, intricate, modern-based choreography and music that asks dancers to bring their own understanding and experience to the stage. And this works… when the dancers are old enough to know what it is exactly they’re doing. But I have a few problems with bringing this kind of routine into the realm of competition:
1) When being judged for a dance routine that you performed on stage, there is a uniquely wonderful and potentially damaging aspect of selfhood all tied up in it. It’s all about one’s body and what they do with it, and it’s not how well somebody threw a ball, or how many goals they scored, it’s just the movement of their physical selves. And to incorporate into that an even deeper level of performance, an even more intimate part of the self, and then to JUDGE this, seems to tread some extremely dangerous territory. For instance, if I tell a dancer to “leave their heart on the stage” and they know it’s in front of an audience and a panel of judges, how does this change the way they perceive themselves, their dancing, or the role of those observing them? And what happens when they do “leave their heart on the stage” and the outcome isn’t what they’d hoped? If someone’s best, most personal performance is an honorable mention, what’s the take home lesson here?
2) Another aspect of competitive dance that I take issue with is that of the emotional performances demanded of very young dancers. Be it sexy or broken-hearted, if you force something initially (in this case for performance), and then later come by it honestly, isn’t the true experience of it somehow changed/tainted/lessened? What I mean is, if I choreograph movement for a 13 year-old that is meant to depict a deep sense of loss and loneliness to music that describes a tragic break-up, she is obviously not going to be drawing from personal experience when I ask her to make the movements look real. This simply is not possible being that she has never experienced finding and losing a lover or feeling like she will never love again. So, how does learning how to make oneself move, act, and appear to express these feelings change the actual experience of them later?
There are certainly some benefits to participating in competitive dance, but the recent trends (and their unknown long term effects) make me nervous. I believe movement has immense potential to guide in self-discovery, self-esteem building, and instilling a sense of community, I’m just concerned that doing so in a competitive setting is having the opposite effects.
"You really want to know what it is about 20-somethings? It’s this: we live longer now. But we also live less. It sounds hyperbolic, it sounds morbid, it sounds dramatic, but in choosing the internet I am choosing not to be a certain sort of alive. Days seem over before they even begin, and I have nothing to show for myself other than the anxious feeling that I now know just enough to engage in conversations I don’t care about."
-Alice Gregory, n+1: Sad as Hell