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Updated: Nov 6, 2021

What does this word mean to you?

Among many other things (including my upbringing), I credit much of the cultivation of my inner strength or self-reliance to the practice of contact improvisation. Something about the very tangible physical effects of this push-and-pull, weight exchanging improvisational dance form and my almost daily practice of it for the last 30 years has anchored me in a deeply felt sense of place within, and in relationship to, life itself. It’s given me a kinesthetic sense of belonging and a sense of my unique role in the of cause-and-effect of creation.

Through this practice I understood that any exchange ‘danced’ in the spirit of cooperative receptivity was expressed exactly as it was meant to be – nothing was out of place. Through the dance I cultivated a deep understanding that, while I was — am — not wholly responsible for what happens, neither am I a passive recipient of what’s happening. You see I understood through years of practice that I had no control over the other person’s or peoples’ actions and my only responsibility was how I received and responded to their influence. The more I practiced that relationship — that ‘orientation’ you could say—the more I was able to ‘include’ in my perceptive field. And the more I ‘included’, the more responsive I became. At times, when I was dancing, I felt like was as invisible as ether, as solid as granite, flushing like a torrent of water and striking bright like a young lightning flash — all at once. I was, as my son calls me, master of the elements, dancing with the secret to life itself: trust.

A much younger me (with longer hair too) catching an invisible wind. Photo credit: Chris Randle

My point when I write this is not to brag about my abilities as a dancer but to describe an experience that all of us have either had or at least sensed deeply at different times and in different ways — an experience of flow. And with it an experience of trust.

Trust that comes from letting go. Trust that comes from being with what is. Trust that comes, not from removing your own agency and giving your power to someone else, but from understanding your own response-ability

Perhaps you felt that deep trust when you were falling in love? Or saw it in the eyes of your newborn? Or felt it in the sweet sad gestures of caring for your dying parent? Or perhaps you feel it in more ordinary moments? When you’re playing soccer, fighting warriors on the Xbox, singing a song, or as my partner, who is currently obsessed with espresso likes to assure me is possible, in your morning ‘mindfulness’ practice of creating and savoring your favorite cup of coffee.

Whenever or however you feel it, I believe it is always there and it is always possible for all of us to access it. But as my story above describes, I also believe it needs tending to. It needs to be practiced. Because, let’s face it, there are a lot of messages ‘out there’ that reinforce false conceptions of our powerlessness. And, while it’s true that there’s a lot we are not in control of, I believe so much more is possible for ourselves and each other if we learn to shift our orientation to life and start dancing with it in the spirit of cooperative reciprocity, curiosity, and trust.


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