We do not just change through action, but through observation. What is more, our observation is not in itself a neutral thing. To observe and be observed is to change the story.
Some of my favorite people in the world seem remarkably unaffected by the number of eyes turned on them. They are just as likely to leap into the Chesapeake Bay if they are by themselves or with a crowd. Just as likely to share intimate details about their colonoscopy with their girlfriends as with their boss. There is something refreshing…and terrifying about this ability. I call these friends my “truth-tellers” and I collect and guard them religiously.
Then there’s me. I have some subconscious algorithm that calculates number of eyes multiplied by allotted authority equals a version of me too loud or too (seemingly) indifferent. I don’t like what I become. I wonder sometimes, where is the fine line between diplomacy and duplicity? Is there one? Or is that just my cognitive dissonance resolving itself?
But then, there are some places where I am completely un-shuttered.
I’ve been practicing yoga since Winter Term at Carleton, 2000. 15 years later I remain more devoted to it than any other religious or recreational tradition. One of the profound discoveries that came from this practice was from an instructor who (while we were balanced in tree pose) said, “If you never fall, you must not be trying hard enough.” I faced my fallings-over very differently from that moment forward…fallward?
When I started practicing yoga, I stopped practicing piano. I wasn’t trading up. I just began to realize that there was something inherently formal in playing the piano that never resonated with me. I sat, almost always, with my back to an audience. I never progressed to the point where I was free to look up, respond to those around me. Improvise with others who brought other songs with them.
But then one day, I wrapped myself around a guitar and found an intimacy that never rose to the status of performance. Lived instead comfortably in a space of celebration and exchange.
That’s what I hope this can become…this 30 minutes of writing. A jam session rather than recital. A practice rather than a performance.