I am writing this from sunny California, where I’m lucky enough to be participating in Anna Halprin’s Summer Workshop. I’m still finding my feet here so I’ll give it another day before I get into describing it. I feel like I really need to address another issue today, about something that has been ticking away on my mind recently: Judgement.
Over the last month I have been preparing for my next dance project. I’m in an extremely lucky situation of having a dramaturg, Chris, to work with. Our preparations began as discussions in a cafe and then shifted into a studio space. We started by talking about everything I don’t want this work to be and everything that’s stopping me from making, for fear of creating something I don’t want it to be.
The creative space is a tricky one. When you’re running to the studio from teaching and know that you have exactly three hours before you have to run off again to teach, switching the creative machinery on is no easy task. The worst of it all, and the most frightening thing for any dance artist who’s about to embark on a new work, is facing an empty studio. So Chris and I thought about how to approach this time. How could we support the creative space, what questions, props, thoughts, attitudes do I need to have with me to place me in the optimal mode of ‘making’? I needed to learn how to shift gear. What rituals would help me make this transition?
On the night before our first studio session I was packing my things in preparation. I pulled out my new notebook and leafed through the empty pages. Then I pulled out some card and cut it out in the shape of a door hook, like the ‘do not disturb’ signs you get on hotel doors. Using a black sharpie I wrote out in big bold capitals: I SUSPEND JUDGEMENT.
I realised that the biggest hindrance to my process, the biggest hindrance to my creative journey was my own judgement.
Judgement can be a very useful tool. It stops us from doing things that might hurt us. So it plays a role in self-preservation. But as the master improviser and Dance Theatre teacher Sten Rudstrom says: ‘The Tiger has left the room’. Most of us are not judging ourselves and others based on an immediate threat to our existence. Our fear is unfounded. Most of us are locked into patterns of judgement that are learned. Patterns that we’ve adopted to fit in, to keep us safe from ridicule. But there is no doubt at all that this kind of judgement stops us from fulfilling our true potential.
For the last few weeks I have held this idea in my mind in a number of different contexts. I realised that it had huge relevance in my teaching work. I noticed when clients and students were judging me, for example. They want to know that their time and money is worth my work. They want to protect their investment. So they have to employ some element of judgement. It’s completely understandable. Sometimes I notice clients actively trying to suspend their judgement. Other times I notice people cutting off, withdrawing. Judgement says ‘it’s not my fault’, ‘this is how I am’, ‘i’m not good enough’, ‘you’re not good enough’, ‘this is crap’.
A few weeks into my process, I walked into a Yoga class on a Friday evening. It was a hot afternoon and by the time I got there I was tired and dehydrated. I put my water bottle at the end of my mat. The teacher walks in and demands that I get rid of my water bottle. “You don’t need anything”. Can you imagine how indignant I felt? I grudgingly put my water away in my bag at the back of the room. “How dare he” “How does he know I’m not ill” “If I over-heat and pass out I’ll sue him!”. The protestations in my head got to a point where I was very close to storming out of the class. Oh dear… this suspending judgement thing is a lot harder than I thought! I didn’t leave the class. I didn’t pass out. I did a strong 90 minute practice and I learned something.
Suspending judgement is about meeting another person where they’re at. Applied to oneself, suspending judgement is about meeting yourself where ever you’re at. Because sometimes the point we want to move towards is just beyond the discomfort of this place we judge. Judgement keeps us stuck in one place. Suspending judgement allows us to shift and grow.
Each time I start a new studio session, walk into a class, teach a class or a client, I now imagine I’m suspending judgement as I walk through the door. I metaphorically place my judgement on the threshold. My studio notice hangs up on the door handle. Each time I feel myself shrinking I say it in my head: “I suspend judgement”.