Lauren Benjamin Discusses Physical Practice

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Alicia Tolbert and Claire Thompson interviewed Lauren Benjamin.  The following is an excerpt from that interview, where Lauren answers the questions, “Do you have any thoughts about how our lineage is trying to tie in the physical practices, particularly since you have a background in dance?  Has yoga or dance affected your meditation?”

Doing a physical practice works on you in two ways. It works on your mind and it works on your body. It’s not like the physical practice works on your body and the meditation practice works on your mind. Meditation practice works on both and the physical practice works on both because, setting aside strengthening your body and being able to sit in meditation, anyone who has done a physical practice whether it’s dance or running or tai chi,  with any kind of consistency knows what it feels like to do what yoga would call “moving the prana” and what dance would call “inspiration”, in a way that is exhilarating and inspiring.  It brings total joy, just bliss.  That movement, what I called energy before I heard anything about prana, gets energy moving, it frees up breathing, it does all kinds of wonderful things.

When I used to write papers that would drive me crazy, I would go out for a run.  And sometimes they’d be long runs, and usually whatever the problem was would work itself out by the end of the run, or at least I’d have some kind of idea about how to approach it differently.  So, it works that way.  And then in a way that has just been personally so helpful, dance has taught me about the practice of Buddhism and the advanced practices, and what’s necessary.  The fact is that you spend hours and days and weeks and months and years and every time you begin to dance, you do the same thing.  You start with pliés and relevés, you start with the drills, with your very fundamental practice.  That experience in and of itself is beautiful, but that is not the point.

The point is to get out into center stage and dance.  The point of so much of the study and practice that we do, which is very beautiful, is to get happy as Lama Marut would say.  The word I like the best is joyous.  To just be filled with joy and to have everybody around you feel like that as well.   That’s the point of the practice.

You can get wonderful support and inspiration from doing the foundational and the basics and you can’t discard them, but it goes so much beyond that.  As well, as I get further into the practice, I realize that, to stretch the analogy even more, what I used to call getting out into center stage and dancing still had a certain structure and a certain look.  The point is to be able to do a turn in whatever way you want because you have so fundamentally grounded yourself that you can let go of all the rules about what it’s supposed to look like and still dance beautifully in a way that someone who has not had that training couldn’t begin to do.

And that’s why I think that enlightenment has to be possible.  From that side of a person dancing, you couldn’t imagine that a triple turn done mid-air with everything flailing could possibly be done.  You look at some of the things that dancers do and you ask, how can they do that?  It’s not possible, the human body is not meant to do that.  Well, with the training and the inspiration, yeah.  And that’s why I think enlightenment is possible, too.  From this side of it, we don’t really see how.  When I get right down to it, I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but the experience with dance and physical practice is in large measure what helps me know that it’s possible.

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