Monday, June 21, 2010

1 Thing

Not the Amerie 1 Thing the Csíkszentmihályi 1 thing.

I am looking forward to seeing Nicole Goodson today. One of the last times I saw her I met her man, a former basketball player, which ignited my basketball-is-a-lot-like-dance ideas and I hope we can continue our conversation today. Nicole knows a lot about dance and basketball. But what does this have to do with Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi?

He is the author and professor of psychology who proposes that we achieve great things – and true happiness – through single-minded concentration: focusing on 1 Thing. This applies to artists, athletes, scientists, chefs, researchers. Some people call it being in the zone, others say they’re in a groove. Csíkszentmihályi calls it flow. It’s when your skills match the level of challenge.

You see it when a dancer transcends limitation and when an athlete accomplishes the seemingly impossible. For the person it translates into a combination of indescribable happiness and deep-rooted fulfillment. It is something that basketball players and dancers can understand because both of these pursuits involve full-bodied participation for extended periods of time; mind, body and spirit or courage working as one. As sports and art-forms go, few match the intensity, dedication, perseverance, and creativity intertwined in basketball and dance. On the first days of a new semester when I teach Dance Appreciation I usually show this clip of Shaquille O'Neal not only because it guarantees a smile (or 30 smiles), but also because I saw Shaq play when we were both in college. I drove down to Baton Rouge from Princeton with some friends on our way to Mardi Gras. We stopped at LSU to watch this phenomenon in action. He dominated the court – literally and figuratively – and started my thinking about how our bodies are vehicles not only of expression and communication, but also transcendence. They are what connects us to the invisible powers we call energy, faith, love and freedom.

Shaq is in flow when playing basketball and when dancing. Flow also exists in this testimonial by Joy Esterberg who took part in Dance for PD, the Mark Morris Dance Group program for people with Parkinson’s: “The mind directing the dance movements becomes totally immersed in them; it becomes one with them. It creates aesthetic form using the body, and the total immersion in those patterns often leads to altered awareness and a feeling of awe.”

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