Thursday, 17 February 2011

Reading Week: The Value of Stillness

Are we human,
or are we dancer?
My sign is vital;
my hands are cold.
And I'm on my knees
looking for the answer.

A professor who once taught me described dance as "the interplay between movement and stillness" set to music which, in turn, is "the interplay of sound and silence". Without silence, music is just noise; without stillness, dance is mere motion. A singer must stop to draw breath; a dancer must pause between sequences.

I found myself remembering those words when The Killers' Human came on the radio this morning. It's Reading Week (a sort of mid-term break) at Heythrop College; a chance for all the students to catch a breath, do a bit of reading (and maybe even do some deeper reflection!) London living often becomes all about the movement - walk/bus to local tube, change lines, tube and tube again. Places to go, people to see, things to do, chores to finish, essays to write up. At first, the prospect of silence is distracting, stillness daunting.

And yet, a few days in, I am grateful for the silence. The whirring of the gears and cogs slow down to nothing, and then become music. Chaotic movement becomes a kind of dance.

Being still is not the same as being frozen. Remember those super slo-mo replays of Roger Federer returning a serve or putting away a winner? How commentators love to remind us just how still he keeps his head, his eyes always on the ball. It is precisely that ability to remain still in the midst of a fast game that gives him his characteristic grace; that's why they keep comparing him to a ballet dancer.

Outside my window, the traffic keeps moving. My being still has not stopped the world from turning. But it has stopped me from simply turning with it.

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