Watch Yourself

The day before yesterday, I was doing my morning chi gung sequence on a deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Gratefully, I’m in Hawaii for an annual dance retreat that I dearly love. Though it is, I believe, our natural state to live from the sensuous pleasure of embodiment, it takes some getting used to when we first arrive, fresh from the frenetic machine-driven life we have come to accept as normal. Though I dance and move at home, I always feel a sense of unfamiliar, almost guilty pleasure as we begin our week here: it feels like an exotic indulgence to focus on the body in a community of others doing likewise. 

It’s quite hot and humid here, and the cool morning air is a soft caress before the heat begins to build. A gecko appears on the railing. Like me, s/he is an invasive species, one that is not endemic to this place, and whose presence has caused harm. In the case of the beguiling lime-green gecko, it’s a stowaway from Madagascar that thrives here at the expense of the translucent beige native geckos who are fighting for survival, as the foreigners consume them: an unnerving parallel to the paradise-hungry mainlanders who have built homes, hotels, golf courses and retreat centers in which to escape the harried world we have created in our daily lives. 

As I fall into the rhythm of the chi gung routine, the gecko, who is perched on the railing, observes me curiously with her left eye. A few more breaths, and when I look again, she has turned to face me and is watching with both eyes and full attention. We look at each other, two expressions of the life force regarding itself. Later, sitting with a cup of tea, a large mosquito lands on the table a few inches from my elbow. We, too, look at each other. I notice the impulse to swat her and feel ashamed. She and the gecko are brave indeed to face such a dangerous giant so calmly.

In the bathroom and kitchen area, there are a lot of centipedes and the occasional cockroach. I don’t much like either of them, and again my first impulse is to kill. What a limited repertoire of responses. We humans have allowed ourselves – I have allowed myself - to become so diminished in the ability to form relationships with beings unlike ourselves. We are strangers to who we once were and to the beings we once considered kin. That loss of kinship is a literal one that has not only decimated the natural world: it has caused our sensory repertoire to shrink and, with it, our sensory capacity. The insects die and so do we. 

After the gecko and I do our chi gung, I go up to the dance studio and begin to move. There are twenty-two of us. My body is a bit stiff from the long plane ride, and I am not yet used to the luxury of moving and connecting to my own body and to the others in the group. After the first couple of hours, something shifts. I notice that, as I dance in this community of trusted friends, when I look out over the Pacific, I feel a surge of connection to the whales, the turtles and the ocean Herself. Our bodies are hardwired for connection. Our senses will take us there.

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