“Only dance, and your illusions will blow in the wind
Dance, and make joyous the love around you
Dance, and your veils which hide the Light
Shall swirl in a heap at your feet” — Rumi
By Alexander Zesati, LMFT. Beginning my day with stillness and silence, sitting on a zafu with my spine erect and paying attention to my breath has been a consistent part of my routine for the last twenty years. After all, that is the right way to meditate, right? Right? For the last six months, propelled by a mixture of rebellion and inspiration, I have taken up the discipline of dancing. Get up, drink warm water with lemon, brush teeth and go to garage office with my dog Diego dragging closely behind, while it is still dark. We both know the routine. He gets cozy in his rug and I begin to dance. Anywhere between five to twenty minutes. It is not about dancing with technique, just a practice to find my way into a flow of authentic movement. Sometimes, I play salsa or reggae. Other mornings its techno, tribal, blues, pop or even nature sounds. All evoke different aspects of myself. Unknown playlists (thank you spotify) are the best, because the variety and novelty in music invites a beginners mind, supporting and attitude of exploratory play. Sometimes I choose music that captures the mood I am in, other times I go out of my comfort zone.
At the beginning of each dancing session, there is often a self-consciousness along with a resistance to begin moving. I can feel the efforting in trying to find the rhythm, grasping at some sound stream to follow. There is an old and persistent adolescent preoccupation that imagines how others would (disapprovingly, mockingly, dismissively) perceive me if they were watching. There is a feeling of restriction in the joints and a disconnection from the vitality in my body. Like trying to start a rusty van with a drained old battery, on a cold and wet morning, with a light that stayed on all night because you left the trunk open. My mind goes into comparing, imagining the truly talented dancers in discouraging juxtaposition to what feels like a stiff and ungraceful dance. It can be awkward and forced.
And then, there is the gradual crossing of the threshold into the ease of moving, of softening into the freedom of allowing the body to do what it wants. There is a breakthrough of moving from the habitual repertoire of tired dances into an alive, unrestricted and creative flow. A relinquishing of the contained self, with all its heavy burden of identity and shame. A melting of the body armoring held together by tension and protective self structures. A shift into a state of mind where I can allow the undulations, pulsations and impulses of a more primal self to take over. The breath becomes fuller, the hips unlock, the pelvis is free to thrust, the chest shakes, the spine unfurls and the throat opens. Sometimes grunts, deep sighs, moans, visceral emanations, weird facial expressions and spontaneous sounds find their way out. I lend them my vocal cords and the resonance of my chest cavity. And then, I begin to feel like welcoming more of myself, restoring permission to allow aggressive, sensual, delicate, exuberant and joyful waves to move through.
When I am able let go in this way, even for a moment I feel strength, freedom and delight. There is a quality of authenticity. There is spontaneity and non-effort. It’s like being granted a VIP pass to play in the Garden of Eden with a bracelet that allows me to eat as many apples as I want and with permission to stay naked. No need to cover with those unfashionable fig leaves. This vulnerability, this vitality, feels not only like a return to basic goodness, it is beautiful.
Sometimes, the breakthrough doesn’t happen and then my practice is to move with and along the sense of constriction and containment. More often than not, I am moving in and out of a state of flow, losing and finding the authentic current. In. Out. In. Out. Out. Out. In….Out. Diego doesn’t keep track of my dancing performance stats or what percentage of the time I “achieved flow”. He doesn’t care what I looked like. When I am done, he unfailingly wags his tail and licks my hands and face. At that point the oxytocin is unleashed between us.
This experiment in movement is enlivening the way I practice as a psychotherapist. I am asking myself, what are the conditions under which the authentic movement of relating can emerge, both intra-psychically (for my client) and inter-personally (between us)? How can I engage in a way that will allow for greater freedom of expression and facilitate access to deeper aspects of experience? I am paying more attention to the moments of vital engagement during sessions, which feel similar to the state of flow, and contrasting them to the moments of disconnection, staleness, restlessness, impatience and stuckness. I am frequently asking myself, what is happening now and what wants to happen? What kind of dance are we doing and how am I contributing to the flow or the lack of it?
As a psychotherapist, I bring a minefield of relational habits that inhibit this state of flow with clients. Preoccupations that my client will end treatment because I am not doing enough (or worse, that, “I” am not enough), that there is no progress happening, that I took the session in the wrong direction, or disclosed too much, talked too much or not enough. Then, there are my internal parts that get in the way. My need to be helpful, to solve the problem, to seem smart, or to appear professional and that I know what the heck I am doing. The belief that I have to be (only) kind and patient, never annoyed or angry. Even the agenda of “getting the client to feel their feelings” can restrict flow.
Being a therapist requires me to learn how to dance with entrenched defenses, with sharp personality aspects, hateful attitudes, with dismissiveness, hopelessness and mistrust. But also with exquisite vulnerability, heartbreaking grief and deep resilience. And of course, with my own sense of limitation, uncertainty and inadequacy. So many kinds of music to move with. My practice is to keep showing up, dancing awkwardly, stumbling into the glimmer of hope, trusting in the gradual transformation of the dance itself, noticing the tear in the unexpected moment, encouraging the softening, relaxing into my body, quickly recovering my steps after saying something irrelevant or misattuned. My practice is to take my seat and to listen to the music playing in the room. To dance with words, images, metaphors and gestures. Sometimes I am called to be more concave, receptive, delicate, gentle, empathic, spacious and offer quiet encouragement. Other times, I aspire for the freedom to engage swiftly and strongly. To go with the impulse to crack an inappropriate joke and surrender to the belly laugh together. To allow the warmth and love I feel towards my client to be seen, to set the boundary even (especially) when it is scary and to confront when necessary.
Dancing is teaching me about how to enter, cultivate and nurture the state of flow inside and outside of the therapy office. I am grateful for that. It is developing in me a broader and deeper range of movement within the emotional and relational terrain. Dancing is also facilitating a greater capacity to recognize and follow the authentic current, that which is wanting to happen, and that which is ready to be seen, touched, expressed, acknowledged, released, owned, expelled, affirmed, sung, celebrated and witnessed. Experience keeps showing me that this current is pregnant with intelligence, that when trusted and attended to, it leads to healing, resolution and transformation.
Alexander Zesati, LMFT practices individual and couples psychotherapy in Austin, Texas. He is an avid student of Buddhism and yoga, both of which inform his approach to psychotherapy. He is interested in the intersection of mindfulness, relational and somatic approaches to healing. He is also trained in EMDR and Hakomi. Alexander was raised in Mexico City and attended graduate studies at the California institute of Integral studies in San Francisco. He is married and is a father to eight year old twins. These two vehicles of partnership and parenting are great sources of growth, learning and inspiration.
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