Taut Not Tense
Years ago in what and where it seems now was a far, far away galaxy, I took swing dancing lessons. In the first class the instructor cajoled his neophytes with "Apply gentle resistance". "Supply pressure for each other". "Hold hands with your partner so he/she feels engaged with and responsive to you." and finally "Both of you need an ounce of opposition to make your relationship work."
The instructor repeatedly emphasized that holding each other wasn't about strength. He reminded us that embracing each other was about confidence, communication and connection. It was about applying a force and a firmness for your partner to move against. And his suggestion of applying "partner pressure" - an oppositional force - soon felt cohesive and comfortable. Diane K, my partner, suddenly appeared more vibrant, enlivened and responsive to this suggestion. I suddenly felt more empowered. The power of suggestion; she met my force with hers. The lessons became more energized and more meaningful thereafter. And some casual observers may even have noticed our dancing had improved.
Before this revelation, I had only envisioned dancing as a man leading with a woman following. But the instructor emphasized couples dancing was less about leading and following and more about engaging, connecting and uniting as one. The concept intrigued me - both individuals
Applying force not to control, but to connect.
At the time, it all felt so refreshing and rejuvenating. His simple suggestions and adjustments worked wonders as we had accepted the challenge. His encouragement moved our spirits to moving our bodies. His verbal firmness and demonstrations modeled what we needed.
Of course, our miracles were limited. Slowly transforming a toe-stepping cloddy, colliding couple into a still clumsy, but now more confident couple felt invigorating, if not yet graceful. There was no doubt I was NOT dramatically transformed into someone Fred Astaire-like nor was my partner Ginger Rodgers reincarnated in my eyes or in her movements. But his words not only awakened our souls and renewed our timing and touch, but also, realized and revitalized our "partner power".
Without any resistance from my partner, I realized passion and purpose limit movement. But when I felt and pushed against the tension, I felt enlivened and resuscitated. By the end of the 8-week dancing class I learned the power and challenges of synchronization and alignment with another.
It takes time, timing, effort, desire and commitment to relax and to relearn. Mindful movement gave me much higher awareness and joy than I could have imagined. And its power has stayed with me 30 years later and helped me get out on the dance floor of life.
As in dancing or sailing, adjusting our tension often changes and challenges our movements. Too much tightening can lead to fighting the forces. Too little tension, the force isn't felt. But it is ALWAYS and ALL WAYS true, people need a certain degree of oppositional energy to engage and improve their movement. When pressure and purpose unite, a greater sense and sensation helps move our passions. Just the right degree of pressure can sway us to become more vital, validating, connecting and complete. Without it, our sails don't feel full.
If there is no interactive charge, how can there be positive movement or improvement? As James Michener's quote suggests, the difference is between sailing with the wind or against it. .A downwind run often feels slow, sluggish and sloppy in comparison to the thrill of a cross wind beat, beam reach or broad reach course. It is this "broad reach" tack (as shown above) that charges and energizes us. And it is force that springs and sprouts with tension as our teacher. Many of our inner conflicts from fears, doubts and old wounds wash away when we relax and relearn what power was once beyond our realization.
When I attended a naval prep school whose motto was "All-A-Taut-O" I paid little attention or significance to its meaning - all shipshape, full-rigged and everything is in place.
I had not yet grasped that a great education and learning are all about adapting to tension. School was challenging, but I did not know that at the time that force was helping me develop and stretch my abilities. At the time, I didn't and couldn't comprehend the deeper subtle meaning of seemingly mundane homework assignments, tests, words, ideas and metaphors until I learned to dance....metaphorically speaking, of course! "Taut" often became "taught" when I heard the word.
From a Buddhist perspective "the right amount of suffering" or tension is needed between people to learn and grow. When there is little stress and strain, complacency and resignation reign. Oh, ho hum!
And when challenges DO NOT appear to us as opportunities, we can fall in their traps. We can delude ourselves into thinking something is impossible. Of course, if we try, but then fail, we only justify our previous doubts and reinforce our initial disbelief. But if we reach within and generate a wholeheartedly belief, we create a new strength and understanding about what is awaiting us.
In other words, to be successful we need to feel the right amount of tension. When mildly challenging tension helps us confront our doubts, our fears fade. When we experience positive results and our efforts become reinforced, we are transformed. The force is with us. We are one with the force. But we will only believe this when we wake up to our tension.
Too much tension is stressful and painful; too little is dull, boring and uninspiring. But when we perceive obstacles as opportunities, our confidence can fill our sails and move us...emotionally, spiritually as well as physically.
We discover the essential and vital life force we all possess when we rise to the occasion. When we raise ourselves "up on deck", "lend a hand" and "get a grip". Without motivating and moving our life force, we diminish ourselves and fail to realize our potential. We waste our purpose - that is to dance in the de-light of life.
Whether sailing a boat or dancing through life, directing and adjusting tension often determines the quality of one's course and one's choreography. The right tension is somewhere between tight and taut... somewhere between lead and follow....somewhere between belief and confidence....somewhere between acceptance and resistance...somewhere between pulled and pushed... somewhere will and want.
Of course, when the right instructor shows up, he or she is the right resistance. When she or he comes with the right conditions and circumstances the tension is also aligned. Dancers step up to the challenge rather than step on their toes.
They move more gracefully and purposely with their taut, but not tense, nor too-tied movements. All sailboat lines, halyards, guys or sheets need to be trimmed, hoisted or cleated just right. Too tight or too loose, the boat feels sluggish. If I had not shown up to that dance class, receptive to learn and listened to that sage teacher, I would have missed a very powerful lesson. The tension become my sage teacher.