In Berlin

This weekend at Dock 11 in Berlin, Sara Shelton Mann and friends. The program entitled “Once in California…”

Once in California, almost a decade ago, a friend of mine introduced me to Contact Improvisation. Back then, my friend was in a workshop with Sara Shelton Mann. Following my friend into the dance scene, into body-mind practice, I became acquainted with something I must always have been in touch with: myself and therefore the world. Many years later, this is  becoming familiar. A striking confession, coming from a purported philosopher.

This weekend is thick with nostalgia, but I can’t grasp the home I long for. Around 2010, when I first began to observe dance from a self-imposed exile at its periphery, it was about the Zero Point. This was the title of Sara Shelton Mann’s alchemy then, for which I was present, in California.

What I feel when I’m in this space with Sara – it’s as big as a warehouse – is that I’m family. But there is neither inside nor outside this family. This is the perennial family.

Everyone calls Sara, Sara. There’s no artifice here. But now that I’m writing, far from the relieving certitude of presence, I vacillate between the familiar and the formal, second-guessing. In the neither inside space nor outside space opened by the performance, this partition was lifted. There was a resulting ease: just speaking a language that is not distance.

When someone is at rest in movement and in movement at rest, artificial boundaries dissolve. It is the openness of presence, the magic of reality. Openness is an inaccurate description, liable to cause confusion. For me, Sara is neither closed nor open. This duality is dissolved in the achievement of renewed integration. Her presence is momentous: it is simply of the Moment.

“Have you seen Kira?” Sara asks familiarly, brushing past me on the sidewalk. I’ve neither been introduced to Sara nor do I know Kira Kirsch. I am being treated as part of the world, this harmony that is free from imposition. I am here and the world is addressing me. For me, this is another pang of homecoming. I am deeply touched – by anybody. (“Sara” cannot know that I was briefly introduced to Kira many years ago, before she stepped onto a stage to dance a breathtaking duet inside an illuminated circle, at whose periphery I was, tiptoeing in the dark, creating ambient sounds with kitchen utensils and a flute, somewhere at the edge of the world).

To give in to what we already know. Strange that we should take pains to ignore what we know. This willful ignorance is pain itself.

Chatting with friends outside, I say that Kira moves with some grace. A friend corrects me: her movements are primal. She moves, then, with primal grace: that ease of movement, recovered, which is our birthright – but which is only her own. “Primal” means simply “one,” the beginning. Kira studies and teachers human movement, the Axis Syllabus. The exertion required to shed our accumulated encumbrances can’t be exertion, if we are born with primal grace. It is, in this regard, similar to the paradox of original enlightenment. I will shed these accumulations that are foreign to me, finally becoming nobody, only so that I can become myself.

It is also the paradox of yoga, that rigorous discipline which, in the end – which becomes a beginning – leads to complete spontaneity. If disciplined spontaneity or spontaneous discipline seems like a paradox, it is only because we do not see far enough. Does not yoga, too, originate? What, then, is the meaning of discipline, if this discipline itself was born of chaos?

The word “chaos” is Greek. It means, originally, abyss, emptiness, groundlessness. For a long time it has meant disorganization, confusion, something to be controlled.

In the middle of the performance Sara sits in a chair across from Jesse Zaritt. “Let’s talk about love.” “Does love have to do with control?” Sara asks.

“Maybe we can remove this line from the floor.” Jesse peels a long strip of masking tape from the stage. Mentioning the migration crisis, she says, “and then the people over there will start eating with and having sex with the people over here, and it will all just be… okay.”

The fear of being with each other as the fear of emptiness, of groundlessness. Things could get chaotic.

But it is time to know that we are harmony “just by living,” as Sara later says. I witness a new harmony that we are, historically, only now glimpsing. I’m deeply touched.

As humans, it is our task to connect today with yesterday and tomorrow, not to secure the future by fixating the past. For the work that is proper today, one must be humble and brave. It is brave to work at the edge of the unknown, which is how Sara’s teaching has been described. It is humble to allow the coming to presence of the new, which must exceed the domain of our will. 

In his lecture The Principle of Ground (1955) Heidegger traces Western thought to its root in the arch-axiom “nothing is without reason.” In German, the word “reason” is the word “ground.” The axiom in German reads, “Nichts is ohne Grund.” Reason or rationality is the giving of reasons or grounds. Ratio is that which underlies, the common denominator which allows the reckoning. According to Heidegger, Western Metaphysics culminates in calculation.

The fear of groundlessness. What is this madness, this violence of control? Gathering big data to make the world computable, grasping the past to control the future. Repressing the new. This cybernetic tendency – from the Greek word “steering” or “control” – is the legacy of the Occident. It will not yield to the Moment.

But I have glimpsed the Moment. It is the only place we can properly exist.

Sara Shelton Mann says that space-time is not just outside us, but also inside us. If space-time is outside us, we can control it. If it’s inside of us, we no longer have the distance of control. It moves with us. We are it. We become participators, not controllers, and are left with the possibility of being here properly. “Proper” means what is our own.

The esoteric teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism speak of macrocosmic and microcosmic identity. The universe, the macrocosm, is constituted in the body, the microcosm.

Why has the body been ignored by most Western religions and philosophies? Why does the East teach that enlightenment is in the body?

As far as I’m concerned, the true contemporary philosopher must be a dancer, broadly construed.

I’m finding my way home.

Jesse says, looking across to Sara in the audience, “Teach me how to get water from a stone.”