Discipline and Roaming Free

A note from Carl

Last week I attended a retreat in California. At this retreat center, they make amazing organic food. 3 meals a day, and every lunch and dinner they serve delicious home-made cakes with a huge bowl of freshly whipped cream.
It is a funny thing- often when we attend meditation retreats, we sit for 12 hours driving there, then sit all day for a weekend, or a week, and then sit 12 hours driving back. If you add delicious food and cake and whipped cream to that schedule, it is easy to return feeling home spacious and open, and also spaciously fat. :)
Last week, I decided to not have any sugar at retreat, and that constraint brought such a sense of ease and freedom. Both an inner-freedom of feeling lighter, but also the a freedom of not having to choose. I didn’t have to think, chocolate or carrot cake? Should I have a slice with lunch or just with dinner?

The freedom of no choice.

I have always loved the exploration of freedom, and the paradoxical relationship between freedom and discipline. How often it is a commitment to a certain discipline or practice that can lead to the greatest levels of freedom. Jazz improv masters still practice scales. Some of the most free, realized meditation practitioners never skip their disciplined practice routines.

And on the other hand, freedom will often require the breaking of tradition, routine, structure to get to its next level,  like Shams throwing Rumi’s treasured spiritual texts into the pond.

I appreciate how directly we can experience this through the body. Often in movement lessons we will learn to differentiate things that tend to habitually move together so we can experience more freedom and choice. For example, one area where we tend to hold a good deal of tension and are ruled by unconscious habit is in the movement of the eyes and the head. Want to try a quick experiment?

Begin a small movement of slowly turning your head right to left, only going as far as it feels like there is minimal effort, no sense of stretching or using muscular effort. See how far this range of easy, effortless movement is from side to side.

Bring your head back to center and just take your eyes right and left (they can be open or closed.) Feel the quality of movement in your eyes. Are they jumpy? Is it a smooth movement? Do they go more easily to the right or the left? Pause for a moment.

Now, could you begin to turn your head to the right as you turn your eyes to the left, and go back and forth, head and eyes moving opposite each other? Can your neck stay long? Can you find any of those jumpy places where either the movement of the head or the eyes stop? Can your breath be free? Can you refine the timing so the eyes arrive to the right just as the head arrives left, and then they smoothly change directions? Pause.

Now, let the eyes and the head turn together from side as you notice – has anything changed in the quality or range of the movement?

This process of differentiation, which can lead to a higher, more free level of integration can be experienced in so many areas of life.  What is magical is that doing a little movement with the eyes and the head is like freeing a thread that is connected to all of our compulsions and habits. As John Muir wrote, “Tug on one thing in nature, and you’ll find it connected to everything else in the universe.”  This is quite true with the body.

I love the view of the dance of freedom and discipline that our friend, Brooke McNamara describes in this beautiful poem:

Discipline and Roaming Free

Once mind is remembered
to be infinite
the difference between
discipline and roaming
free is nothing.

We become empty
enough too be filled
with rich freedom-responsibility
of being and serving
all of it
and just this one
at once.

I feel my feet
on this hard wood floor
and breathe you in.
We make and discover
each other, always only
in this moment.

Tell me: do you have a body
right now?

-Brooke McNamara


Wishing you well in discipline and roaming free,

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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.

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