D is for Dancing

D is for Dancing.

It’s all about relationships.

I’ve come to realize that my definition of relationship has to do with anyone and everything that I notice, pay attention to, avoid, celebrate, and otherwise invest even a minimal amount of energy toward. In other words all experiences are relationships in one form or another. If I am aware of someone or something then I am in a relationship.

Now the quality, nature and intensity of that relationship varies hugely, but I’m sticking with this as a working hypothesis. At this moment I am having a relationship with my computer screen, and the thoughts and words that I am forming in my mind and typing on this keyboard. When I shift my awareness to my cell phone that is lying on the desk next to my computer I have begun a relationship with it. Then I note the ball point pen and the glass of iced tea and the sensations at the tips of my fingers as I type and the ache in my back because I am slouching. Then my dog walks into the room and curls up next to me. That reminds me that my wife and I will take him for a walk later. Well you get the idea.

What I also begin to notice is that as I relate to each of these things I have to take energy away from one relationship in order to invest it in the new relationship. On the good days I can broaden my awareness and be in relationship with more than one person, thing, or thought, but the quality of the relationship is diluted. This dynamic, this dance seems to apply equally to inner and outer experiences.

I am saying that there is a direct link between attention and relationship. By this definition you can’t have a relationship without awareness, and whatever I am aware of I am in relationship with. So, what happens to all the relationships in my life experience when I am not paying attention to them? It’s as if they go “off stage” for a time until they are brought back by some cue that I am mostly unaware of.

My theory about that is that I pay attention to, and have more or less conscious and aware relationships based on the amount of energy that I experience in the “others” I am aware of. I believe there is a basic spectrum related to the things I pay attention to that goes from positive and desirable on one end and negative and terrifying on the other. It is a form of carrots and sticks. For the record I like carrots better than sticks. Of course there is a lot of stuff in the middle that doesn’t get much energy from me because it is not carroty or sticky enough. (See earlier blog: B is for Boredom).

What does this have to do with D is for Dancing you might well ask. Put simply, I finally got that all relationships, and I mean ALL, are a kind of dance. Let me say quickly that I know this implies an attitude of dualism. But, since I have not yet achieved enlightenment I still operate most of the time in relationship with what has been called the “Not-I”. This applies to my experiences of myself in a bizarre form of schizophrenia. You know where “you” are arguing with “you”. “Eat the cookie!”, says you. “Don’t eat the cookie!”, says you. If that’s not a dance I don’t know what is.

The first key to this perspective is that the dances are never static. Go ahead, try and pay attention to something, anything, and have it be static. Not possible. All my experiences/relationships have been and are in motion. Now the motion may not be easily discerned, but I have found the second key: listen for the music. Just as there is always motion, there is always music. The music for the dance of life begins in the womb with the heartbeats between mother and child. The next step (no pun intended) is the breath which, with heartbeat, is the dance of life. Pay attention and you will hear the music and that will lead you to the steps of that dance at that moment.

Of course I don’t always like the music and I may not immediately recognize what steps go with the music, but if I am willing to risk it and practice my whole world changes.

That is another aspect of the dance, it is about holding and being held. No, it’s not particularly about who is leading. Rather it is about being willing to invest our attentional energies as consciously as possible. As I practice this way of being present I notice how easily I can over and under fund my relationships. This has to do with how I choose to spend my attention. This can be tricky. Sometimes I want to dance with everyone and everything, and sometimes I want only one partner. Sometimes I feel like the wallflower at the high school dance, but even that is a dance with its own music.
It takes practice to learn how to diversify our relational portfolios. We have to notice our carrots and our sticks and how we tend to be reactive to them. This is a necessary stage in stepping (sorry, I can’t help myself) across a threshold of responding to new music and new steps.

This all showed up even as I was being stingy with the relational energy I anticipated needing to sit down and dance with this topic and get it written down. Finally I started tapping my foot, or keyboard in this case, and then I really got into the rhythm. Now I notice this music coming to an end and I want it to stay a little longer. But, I know there is always other music and a new partner to dance with.

The beat goes on.

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21 Comments on “D is for Dancing”

  1. sierra Says:

    Is this the reward I get for completing my thesis after a several years later than I was supposed to? 🙂
    Reading your post makes me smile thinking about the fun and dynamic classes you so creatively taught! I’ll expect lots of good posting to lift my spirit up in between my changing dirty diapers!! Is there a trickster archetype in these nasty diapers???

    • allenkoehn Says:

      Of course there is Trickster in the diapers. Drag out your old Lewis Hyde book and read the part on “dirt work”.

  2. One of the lovely ‘takeaways’ from this column is the fact that, if you believe that relationships are always in motion, folks who feel ‘stuck’ in one place with someone or something can take a moment to reexamine the relationship to see where there can be movement; positive or negative; to change the ‘dance’ or at least the perspective of the ‘dance’. There are also folks who may find the ‘moving relationship’ kind of scary – but since everything is always moving it also is always ‘relative.’ (sorry couldn’t help it!)

    • allenkoehn Says:

      Thank you for this thoughtful response. You got exactly what I am talking about. All this freedom can be daunting. Yeah, but what if all your relatives are in Canada. Ha ha.

  3. Radish Leaf Says:

    Having just read your latest blog entry, I then had to go out and have a much needed relationship with my lawn mower, my far-from-level lawn and the various rocks and trees that making mowing a sweaty challenge. As I pushed the lawnmower, I thought about the ways in which those elements are also in relationship to me. The lawnmower was curteous – starting on the first pull; the grass, now that it is late summer and the weather has been generally drier, was appreciative that I don’t stress it by cutting it as often as earlier in the season; and the rocks really didn’t care one way or the other how closely I mowed around them. I guess a reasonably good afternoon was had by all. But the relationship with the hot shower afterwards was the best part. Thanks for another blog entry. I’m looking forward to finding out what E is for.

  4. Josh Says:

    The timing of your blog was perfect, Allen.

    The idea of relationships is affecting everything in my life at the moment — looking for referrals for new clients, social media and networking, noticing the lack of time I have (or find) for most of my actual friends, volunteering, team-building at work and creating time with my family. Relationships are everywhere, and they drive everything. So I guess they affect ALL our lives all the time. Silly me.

    Relationships = attention = choice. It always seems to be about noticing and filtering and letting your priorities percolate to the top.

    PS. On a more academic level, I watched this TED talk yesterday. All about relationships, of course.

  5. mary tesoro Says:

    Ah yes, the dance of relationships….. engagement, presence, rhythm, spins, dips, ins and outs; the pulsation of life. Thank you Allen.

    Cindy & I will dance down your way sometime between Oct 12 & 17.

  6. Helen Says:

    I thought this entry was so perceptive. I too have been experiencing the relationship/dance with people and objects and watching how my attention can shift/recede/attract is fascinating. You expressed this dance so elegantly.
    Thanks so much that beautiful articulation.


  7. Jeff Miller Says:

    I enjoyed your rather practical interpretation of relationships vs. priorities (as expressed by personal resource allocation) and the perpetual effort to keep them balanced. Clearly we all do this consciously or unconsciously, the former clearly being preferable and I believe the point of your article. I did take pause however at your belief that you have relationships with inanimate objects…perhaps a little too anthropomorphic? To my untrained mind relationships belong in the realm of the sentient.



    • allenkoehn Says:

      The key factor for me is the sense of “other” in animate or inanimate objects. For example a mental problem can be something I have a relationship with. Does that help?

  8. Brenda Fowler Says:

    At times, we who have chosen to marry another — at times we are having a relationship with the IDEA of marriage or the concept of commitment rather than with our partner. And that is the dance, for a bit, until we can hear the music of love once more.

    I do couples work, only, and talk often of the struggle in these fallow periods – the days/weeks/months/even years when there is no music between two people or at least they can’t hear it. Your post is a lovely way to approach those times. Dance with the memories of love. Dance with the moment you said to your partner, your friends, your family — I want to be with this person for the rest of my life, in sickness and in health…

    That is where I went with it — so, thank you!
    -Brenda (& the p’s)

  9. Todd Hayen Says:

    Very wonderfully put! Thank you.

    I was wondering, half way through, when you would admit to being a dualist. That admission was very well put too, and I feel dualism is getting a bad rep (rap? wrap?) these days–no monist can have a relationship, can they? And, as you say, relationship is the essence of being human.

    Anyway…I am curious to know how one “pays attention” to the relationships we have with unconscious imaginings, events, etc. Obviously once attention is paid to them, such as consciously remembering a dream, those relationships are then conscious…can we have purely unconscious relationships? Of course I would think so, but I am curious to know what exactly, if not our conscious awareness, is “paying attention”?

    • allenkoehn Says:

      OK, so secretly I have, as some others before me, dual citizenship. I have one foot (dancing) in duality and the other in something I don’t have a name for, if you know what I mean. There is something in here about Jung’s Transcendent Function that I think of as a relativizing of the ego. There’s a great old movie you may have seen called “High Anxiety” with Mel Brooks. One line has a character saying, “Got it. Don’t got it. Got it.” You music people know about this instinctively in terms of what’s between the notes.

  10. Beverly Says:

    Thank you for the blog and the opportunity to converse about this… questions about relationship have taken up so much of my thought these days… in the end it always seems to me to come down to being the crux of the matter no matter what is going in life well or badly, in one’s experience of the practical aspects of day to day living or within one’s experience of the sheer well of being one senses upon waking or in idle moments…

    I am tempted to respond with something like – duh, see Kohut, as his interpretation of relationship as fundamental to the development and experience of the self has rung true for me since I first read his works – and his interpretation of the self as that archetype that is created and nurtured by its experience and interpretation of others’ (including inanimate objects) experience of it… a narrative that continues to define and alter the self’s sense of self throughout time. I think this idea makes the question of monism vs. dualism somewhat irrelevant on a practical level. I also tend to feel that relationship is such an organic phenomenon that takes place on so many levels of our being, that one cannot discount its function and impact on an unconscious or for that matter somatic level. Or – Just because you don’t know about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or something like that. Anyway I think Jung would agree.

    • allenkoehn Says:

      OK, here’s the deal Ms. Beverly – you need to do more writing. I don’t even care about what. Do a blog, write an article, write a screenplay. You have things to say.

  11. Kim Says:

    I always enjoy your bi-annual posts! I’m impressed with how thoughtful and relatable they are–they always get me thinking (not ruminating) about something in my life from a different perspective. Keep at it–good stuff!

  12. Jason Sugg Says:

    Well said! This reminds me so much of David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous – “Our eyes and ears are drawn together not only by animals, but by numerous other phenomena within the landscape. And, strangely, wherever these two sense converge, we may suddenly feel ourselves in relation with another expressive power, another center of experience.”

    Reading this I found myself wondering if dances have souls that might be revealed in their pathologies — it takes two to Tango, as they say, but those two have to move as one. Is a depression of the dance when the two get out of step? A mania when the beat seems to go crazy and the two resonate with each other to the point of collapse? A compulsion when the same steps need to be repeated again and again? Is the relationship of the dance an experience that might have a suffering of its own?

  13. Denise Yanez Says:

    A teacher of mine who you may know of, Rosalyn Bruyere, once did an exercise with us where she led us to awareness of one half of our bodies, let’s say the whole right side (you know, bring your awareness to your right foot, right calf etc.) then when we’d completely put our attention on that half of the body she asked us to shift our awareness to the other half of the body which was a one-step process and not hard to do. She then suggested that the next time we felt stuck in an argument, we might remember this ability to shift our focus and experience things differently. Your writing about the changing quality of relationship — the motion — reminded me of this. Leave it to a Pisces (mutable water).

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