Leading and Following

Leading and Following

"Observing is a good way to learn. Listening with stitched lips, wakeful eyes, and quivering ears brings magic into your life."

— from ‘Dreams of Trespass’ by Fatima Mernissi, Moroccan feminist scholar

Practice: In a group, form a circle with the Leader in the center. The Leader closes the eyes and moves intuitively while the others follow, receiving the movement of the person leading. Or if you have a circle of three or four, the Leader role can pass around the perimeter from one to the next. If in a two-some, partners alternate roles. Next, close your eyes, enter your own world and follow. Follow what? Follow your body.

Following-ness in the Ocean of Dark Space

excerpt from ‘Dancing into the Deep’ by Dunya Dianne McPherson

When I first began to study meditation, I followed my teacher. He taught by moving slowly, meditatively. It was so different, this wordless way of being taken into something new. I thought maybe it was easier for him since he didn’t speak English well. Then, later, I realized that not using words helped my mind quiet down quickly. In time, it was clear that he was also handing spiritual transmission. Following is rich with gifts. To see, to feel, to absorb with the whole body-being. To pick it up. To catch it. To use all of self.  

‘Follow’ is a cousin to ‘receive’. Following is how we awaken and entrain ‘following-ness’. Here is Lead & Follow, which is more than a practice; it is a bulwark. A group gathers. There is a teacher at the front. The teacher leads and the groups follows. After, the group forms a circle with one person in the center, and the group follows this Leader; or in a circle of three or four, the Leader role passes around the perimeter from one to the next; or in a two-some, partners alternate roles. (Some use the cue ‘mirroring’ for this activity but a mirror is glossy, hard, rigid, flat. It breaks and brings bad luck, or the shard cuts us. It demands our perfection. A mirror yanks us up to our eyes out of the chewy juice of belly and thighs. It is a fine flashy word but too alienating for our soft creaturely flesh, which may initially be muffled and vague but, over time and with practice, reveals complex truths.)

The Leader closes the eyes and moves intuitively. The other or others follow, receiving the movement of the person leading. Though no one is touching, the unique quirks, pacing, grace or awkwardness of the Leader’s body sinks directly into the others. We feel the Leader’s body directly, unfiltered by thought. Body ingests body. Through experiencing the movement of the Leader’s body, we know the sensation of them, what is similar, what is different. We feel connection. We receive and absorb them. In this nonverbal interchange, the Leading is ‘speaking’ and Following ‘listening’. As a horse carries a rider, we follow another person’s motion and feel something inside we have never felt before. It is right there. Right there. Our mind can finally relax and quiet because it doesn’t have to analyze or invent. It doesn’t have to keep up.No one, not even the person leading, has to think of what to do because—and this is the key learning in Lead & Follow—even the Leader is following. The Leader follows the movement welling up from inside their own body or passing through their body. The Leader is listening. The depth of the Leader’s dive allows the group to also go in. The purer the leading, the sweeter the following.

In ‘Lead & Follow’, we awaken and entrain following-ness.

Now we close our eyes,
enter our own world,
and follow.
Follow what? Follow our body.
Follow sensation released from girdles of thought.

Now we close our eyes, enter our own world and follow. Follow what? Follow our body. Follow sensation released from girdles of thought. We might be surprised at how easily movement comes up. The music plays. In an ocean of dark space, spine and limbs, feet and hands, belly and back sway and tap, dart and swoop and surge. There was a time before birth when we danced in our mother’s inland sea of pulses and beats. Our body remembers, has been waiting for something like that liquid dark. It can be this easy. Just a matter of letting it happen. We can stop assuming that because we aren’t thinking of what to do that nothing will happen. Something will happen, if given a chance.

In following-ness, our life comes from something other than our willfulness. In turning the volume down on assessing, categorizing, and judging our experience, we drift away from using our mind to beat our body into submission. Cut that chord of subjugation. We shift from controlling and grasping into being. Our body moves its truth and our mind listens, perceives, collaborates, watches, respects, protects, treasures our flesh. We receive. We absorb ever more deeply from an ever more deeply moving Truth. In comes a deep breath, softening our shoulders. Our feet hang heavy into ground. A shaft of sun is an apron on our lap. We are in the new and new. We grow familiar with newness and relax our grip nameable destinations. The word ‘explore’ suffices.

Receptivity is the shimmering pivot in consciousness work.

This piece contains an excerpt from Dunya’s new book, ‘Dancing into the Deep: When Dance is Your Meditation.’ For updates join our email list!

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7 years ago

Wow. There is SO much here to unpack, to ponder, to savor.
Thank you!

Nancy-Laurel Pettersen
Nancy-Laurel Pettersen
7 years ago

There’s so much relief in reading what you say about following. It gracefully skirts right around (over? under?) so much need to control. Just even a glimmer of what it might mean to give that up is restful. Needing to rest from that.

Mary Bond
7 years ago

Thank you for your Divine “wrestling” into such very helpful, clarifying words.

Anastasia Blaisdell
Anastasia Blaisdell
7 years ago

Wow, Dunya!! I am so grateful that you wrestled and found these words to describe this process a bit…it is sooo helpful to me because this is the part of teaching, especially that first 2o minute time where we lead the group, that has eluded me the most. WHY? do I have to do this part? What is the Real Purpose , honestly of this part? Can’t I just skip it?…I am sure many insights to come as to why I would want to just skip this part…oooh, so now I will ponder this more and feel into this explanation… Read more »

7 years ago

Very beautiful….so simple and profound……..I always find lead and follow slows me down; I come in racing and wary, and then I begin to settle into the body. This little awareness about my process is recent. When I first started DM I felt impatient and critical of body that she couldn’t follow every move exactly. After a time, lead and follow became very dear because I knew it calmed me and slowed me. Now, it’s like a romance. I can’t wait to follow its lead.

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