High on my list of things I’ve put off is writing down a class that I’ve presented all over the world: The Defining Moment. Every wednesday we will be featuring the written version of this class towards the end goal of it being a book. But you, dear reader, get it free! Comments and editorials and sharing is highly encouraged.
I’d like to invite you to close your eyes in a moment. When you do, I’d like you to clear your mind as much as you can – maybe a deep breath will help, let it out – and then I’d like you to think of something that brings you joy.
Not just “Yay, dessert!” kind of joy. I mean the deep-seated kind of joy that bubbles out of your tummy, that makes the hair on your neck stand up and catches your breath and speeds up your heart until all you can say is “Oh!” That kind of joy.
Go ahead. Close your eyes, and picture that.
Did you catch it?
If you did, you’re one of a lucky few. People are notoriously bad at picking out what it is that actually brings them joy. It’s not their fault – with so many messages and books and radio hosts and songs telling us what should make us happy, it’s easy to lose track of what actually drives us.
But it was there. Right before the rationalization, the “oh, that’s silly” or “oh, that’s impossible” (or even the “oh, that’s not right!”) there was a glimpse of that thing. That one idea or image or experience that touches you on a deep, visceral level.
That is your defining moment.
And the rest of this series is going to provide the tools to get it, if you want it.
I’ve been teaching people various forms of movement arts for over a decade. Contact improv dance, yoga, stage combat, aerial performance, lots of technique and safety and body mechanics, that kind of stuff. Most of the time people come to classes like these because they saw something.
Perhaps it was a pair of dancers doing the Argentine tango. They see the dancers moving together with a kind of grace that seems almost telepathic. They see the connection as the dancers focus on something internal between them, they see the flash of feet flicking up and legs weaving around each other and a sultry, predatory movement across the floor along with pulsing musical lyricism and they think: “I want to do that.”
What I’ve learned, over the years, is that they don’t actually want to do that. What they actually resonating with is the feeling that the dancers communicate through the dance. It’s not a matter of learning a series of steps – they could care less about an ocho! It’s what they see happening when the dancers perform that draws them. What they are actually saying is “I want to feel the way they feel.”
Except they aren’t actually saying that, either. Dancers are performers, after all – they are trained to emote a given feeling, usually some combination of the music and the dance and their own personalities. They don’t emote the blisters on their feet, the ache in their knee, the rent that’s due next week or the fight they had with their sister the day before. Even when all of those things might be present in their minds during the dance, a professional performer won’t show it.
Instead, they’ll show something else. If they’re really good, it won’t actually be a direct feeling. Like an abstract painting, they’ll show a quality, a tone, and let the audience derive their own meaning from it. One person sees anger; another sees passion; another sees sorrow, or reconciliation, or sex. All while the dancer is thinking “Wow, I shouldn’t have had that last coffee; I really need to pee.”
The person watching doesn’t want to do what the dancers do. Nor do they want to feel the way the dancers feel. What they want is to feel the way they believe the dancers feel.
It’s a big difference. It’s an essential difference, because over and over in my classes I would see people learn the technique, learn the steps, and then be confused when the result of doing those steps didn’t lead them to the transcendent states of ecstasy they had imagined.
The Defining Moment series was created to help avoid this kind of problem. Technique is important, make no mistake. But more important is intention, and knowing what it is you’re actually working towards.
A few paragraphs back you imagined your defining moment, and caught a glimpse of it before the world of rationalization took it apart.The good news is that when you take that Moment apart and examine it, you’ll almost certainly discover that it’s much more attainable than you thought.
The bad news is that it’s been long known through fable and fairy tale that there is often nothing more dangerous than getting what you want. That’s ok; we’ll come up with some tools to handle that as well.
It’s possible that you’re saying “Well, I don’t need any more tools! My Defining Moment was a memory; I’ve already done it!” That’s AWESOME! I’m genuinely happy for you. In that case, what this series can help you with is having that kind of moment more often. Or perhaps you can find another one; there are certainly more than one Defining Moment in any life (at least, I hope so!).
If you’re having all the Defining Moments you want whenever you want them, then yes, you’re right, there’s no need for you to be reading this. I highly recommend either Bird by Bird or anything by Joe Abercrombie.
For the rest of us, next week please bring your safety goggles and latex gloves. We will begin with a dissection…