Friday, November 9, 2018

Core

I was amazed at how weak my core was this morning. Yoga activates and utilizes our body's muscles, which strengthens us, but I clearly have not done sit-ups in a very long time. It was like my mind could not activate the muscles of my abdomen. My neck, chest, legs, arms...face were all tense, but while remembering and trying to follow the instructions for sit-ups ("squeeze with your belly, not your body"), I was mostly immobile. Everything could squeeze around it, but my core was asleep...or at least not listening.

Yesterday evening was an okay yoga practice. We opened with a prayer because of all the violence in the world. A woman interrupted the class to say she did not like how I was demonstrating because I practice along with everyone rather than showing all the poses beforehand, and requested that I redo a 'routine'. Another woman approached me after class to ask for some advice and a man said how good he felt. I missed the supercool party celebrating my husband's dance company at the residence of the Ambassador of Switzerland and his wife, which featured a performance of their recent piece “For Giulia”, inspired by a Ferdinand Hodler painting. So, you know: okay.

Ego is tough. It is difficult to ignore in one's self and in others. It shares a lot and often. It's funny and cute and interesting until it's not. We do not exist alone, so the ego has value when it informs us about our individuality. That in oneness we are many, and in many we are one. A nation is as good an example as any of collective identity composed of...multitudes. There is a lot to a Self, whether it be You or your country.

My husband, Dana, choreographed a dance some years ago called "Hyphen" (performed at Lisner Auditorium and the National Portrait Gallery in DC; as well as Skirball Center in NYC) which was about hyphenated identity - specifically Asian-American identity. He was given access to the archives of famed Korean American artist Nam June Paik, whose video work was projected and incorporated into the performance. The sound score includes the spoken line:
Does the hyphen connect or separate our hybrid identities?
All of us struggle with belonging, some more profoundly than others. Belonging means more to some than others. This is a consistent theme in Dana's work.

When we think of our core...what is it exactly? Our core is our body's center. Core values are often considered fundamental beliefs. Gut feelings should not be ignored but we should also know how to listen to them.

Maybe core values should be practices, not beliefs. I can believe anything, but I cannot practice anything. The limitation is a good and useful one. I can believe someone is bad, but I cannot practice attacking them physically - the conscience and the law forbid it; and I should not practice attacking them verbally or otherwise. So the value of 'not attacking others' or 'letting others be' is something I can follow, or practice. Believing that all others are good and decent is more challenging, no matter how much yoga I do. It's a process.

What are American values - our country's 'core values'? Whatever they are, they should be practiceable by any one. They should be apolitical. They should be practiced for our common good, not simply believed. I suppose then that we must believe in a Common Good.

The Refugee Center discusses each of the following on its page about American values, designed to inform those new to American society:
  • Independence
  • Privacy
  • Directness
  • Equality
  • Time and Efficiency
  • Work Ethic
(The list also includes Informality, Competition and Materialism as American values, but I like the above six best.) Practicing could be something like:

Independence: be free to be your self - whoever that is at this moment; you should not attack or be attacked for it 
Privacy: honor yours and others' sovereignty; we do not have to live nakedly
Directness: be honest and expect honesty
Equality: treat others as you would like to be treated (seriously)
Time and Efficiency: do not get stuck; move forward the best you can 
Work Ethic: when you can contribute talent, time or resources, be giving with your efforts

It's challenging when we only want news/information/analysis/advice from those we think we already agree with, because doing so limits perception and dialogue. For many, the source is more important than the message, but how can we say we believe something simply because of who said it? The message should be examined with its own merit. We are a nation of conformity and diversity. We all have hyphens. But we are all inidividuals - we are all You. 

I pray that we listen to our core more often. Instead of others and instead of words. Our collective American consciousness is scattered right now. We need to be quieter. And I need to do sit-ups once in a while.


A clip from "Hyphen" by Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company, 2008

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