Joseph Pilates called Pilates “the art of control.”
What if life is the art of control?
They say tango is the art of connection...hell, I say tango is the art of connection. But connection is not about standing in the surf and getting knocked over. Connection is about swimming in the ocean. What if we're all misinterpreting that “connection” word to the point of group wrongness? What if tango is the art of balance? The art of seeing how far we can teeter almost-over the razor's edge without giving up control?
And if this is the case, what does this mean about how we love people? What rôle does detachment play in “connection”?
I have on occasion danced with a great physical philosopher. Someone who has given their life to the journey of tango. He always gives the impression of being stark naked, completely present in the moment, and ready to go wherever the moment dictates. Now, I expect emotional nudity from milongueros (and if I don't get it, they're not really milongueros), but how he manages the physical aspect of it is quite the magic trick. I put my hand on his back and I swear I'm touching bare skin, and all the muscles, bones, energy, and feelings it contains. But if I look my eyes tell me I am touching a suit jacket. It takes a brave man to get that naked through all those clothes.
And yet this same philosopher, who is totally present for whomever he's with, in an unceasing cycle of long days and longer nights, is never completely with anyone. There's always a little part held, non-negotiably, back for himself.
Perhaps this is the only way we can achieve such extreme levels of sharing. Perhaps in order to really give ourselves and take others, and abandon ourselves to something beyond the limits of our own skins, we have to keep a relentless and unflinching grip on the part we keep back. To be soft and fluid over here, we have to constantly engage our stabilizing core over there.
To admit everything, we have to keep secrets.
This is exactly what I was writing about a year ago, the whole idea of “with me but on your own.” I just didn't realize that what I thought was a binary situation is in fact a spectrum, and the whole game is learning to pump up the volume. Really with me requires really on your own.
A Pilates teacher once said, “most of us rent our bodies; this is about true ownership.” When we begin to dance, we are renting our bodies, and, tentatively, renting tiny bits of other people's. As we grow as dancing philosophers, we learn to own our bodies and, maybe some day, after lots of practice, share other people's, for a moment or for longer...once we understand what that actually means! We learn that owning ourselves is, like “with me but on your own,” not a binary matter but a spectrum along which we challenge ourselves to grow ever further. And we learn that sharing others is a short way of saying, “creating space for them to find their own freedom.” Knowing that we have no affect on anyone else's lives, ever, and yet simultaneously opening up possibilities for them of which they may have been previously unaware.
What better way to be entirely someone's and have them be entirely yours (for a moment, however long that moment lasts), than to build a social world-view based scrupulously on everyone's complete freedom and self-ownership?
And yet, is this the only way to do it? Maybe it's less tiring to rent? Maybe it's less painful? Maybe it requires less backbone? To sorta schlump along unaware of one's surrounding and feelings, and occasionally rent someone else for a tanda, a little bit, and allow a little of them to rent a little of you?
Nah. Real presence in the moment, real awareness, real control, is much simpler and more restful than renting. Life is clearer and better. Standing up straight reduces muscle strain and fatigue.
I gave a neck massage to a classmate last night. I was clicked into the zone, very grounded, and totally energetically present. I could hear everything she was saying to me with total clarity and I just followed along as her body dictated the massage. She was having a profound erotic experience. I knew. Her body was pulling at my hands and all the air around her was charged. She wanted. The only way I could let her experience the full scope of what she was experiencing was to remain in myself, to keep dropping what she was feeling into the floor. I was just along for the ride, listening, and in order to be that energetically attuned, I had to ground, constantly. There's that balance, that control—but let's call it “benevolent detachment.” The only way I can really be there for you is to not be there in you.
When we start to tango, we are encouraged to let go of our rational, thinking-machine sides and get in touch with our more primal selves (the ones who do so much of the real heavy lifting of life). We are told, over and over, “don't think, feel.” But what if forcing artificial restrictions on the inevitable is actually counterproductive? Meditation is not so much the static perfection of non-thought as it is the dynamic acceptance of thought. By permitting thoughts to pass through us, they, amazingly, dissipate and we have more and more moments of flow.
Perhaps as time goes by we need to focus more on balancing our awareness between thinking and feeling. Perhaps the big-kids version of “don't think, feel,” is, “allow yourself to think, so that everyone can feel.” Perhaps coming to terms with thinking allows us to feel more acutely.
What does this mean for making love? I usually use this as a large and vague umbrella term, but here I mean it in the narrower way that Muggles mean it. I had always thought a hallmark of the process was the temporary abandonment of rational processes. I had thought this not only desirable but necessary. After all, there's nothing remotely loving or even interesting about lying there mentally suffering, wishing we could prop the Financial Times up behind our lover's head so at least we would have something to do, while we try to forcibly relax body parts that are dry, tight, and miserable.
Abstract thought processes are not, I had generally believed, the most effective approach to wanton immersion in the joys of the senses.
Especially for women. Wasn't it Seinfeld who said that men are like firemen and women are like fires? Men treat sex as an emergency, for which they can be ready in two minutes. But women need the right combination of circumstances, otherwise they just don't combust.
This shows up in how our dance is designed. Our firemen lead, doing more of the thinking, maybe because they know that women need to do less thinking if there is to be any fire for them to address.
It seems callous to recommend maintaining a passive hold on one's consciousness during sex, and I'm not sure if this is a case of theory carried too far. But so far the data suggests that grounding ourselves during physical intimacy will allow everybody present a greater scope of experience. And if accepting our superficial intellectual levels is a step towards a more profound perception of the deeper levels of humanity, then what's not to love?
Experimental research is clearly indicated.