The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
A Transformational Core

A Transformational Core

Exploring Spiritual Formation and Creativity

I’m in my teens, immersed in the world of tap dance. I’m learning what it takes to become an improvisational tap dancer. I’m learning about awareness, intention, action, and how to train so that the choices I make when I’m improvising are ones I actually like. I’m learning about comfort zones and how they resist growth. I’m learning about the discomfort associated with learning new things. I’m learning about what it takes to change – to become something different.

After all, I didn’t look like most of the dancers around me. I was younger, shorter, less athletic, and whiter (or less white) than almost everyone else. I literally looked up to most of the people I danced with. They were ahead of me on the journey, and so I naturally directed myself towards their model. It didn’t make a difference that some were only a few years older than me. They had something I wanted – a confidence in craft and being – and so I followed them.

I felt great love for and from the dancers around me. This allowed me to become reckless in my willingness to learn. I was the one who always asked for the harder step. I at least wanted to try. I wanted to know how close I was to my goal. How far was I from being able to execute the thing that others wouldn’t even attempt? If the harder step was part of the craft, I wanted to know about it, and work it out. Please don’t keep something from me just for my comfort.

After all, comfort zones are for those who don’t want to grow, right? Folks who are content with where they are have settled for the comfort of that zone. I, alternatively, decided that the best way forward seemed to be to become comfortable with the discomfort of learning. If I could become comfortable with the stages of change – pre-contemplation, contemplation, decision, action, and maintenance – even develop a disposition of instigating within them, I could become comfortable with growth. I wanted to undermine my own resistance at each stage. I wanted to swim in the process. I wanted to trust the process, and I did in Tap Dance Land.

Craft vs Life

The speed at which I was able to grow as a tap dancer was astounding. Especially as my body began to catch up with my imagination. I was able to quickly turn what I saw in my head into something of a reality. This ability was facilitated on a few things, namely a one-sided relationship. I was the only real active agent in the process. What I saw in my mind, I brought to life. I’m not talking about the creative process – the muse, inspiration, and the like. Rather I’m talking about the developmental process. Once the idea is seeded, the next step is to bring the idea to life. Decision and action are the names of this game.

In life, however, I am rarely the only active agent. Obviously, there are those with whom I share my life. There are even the various parts of myself that I contend with and for on a daily basis. Growth in life seems to function at a much slower pace. In the same way that the human scale is much smaller than what governments and corporations often work at, the human pace is much slower than what I experienced in industry, even my own creative practice. While I can expect a fast pacing while working on a creative project – especially one I am leading – I must adjust my expectations with more collaborative efforts, and even more with my own life.

What’s at the Core?

The question of pacing is one of expectation. But there is a deeper question. This one focuses on what is happening at the center of the person, or core. If I intend to be the kind of person that wants to grow, who organizes their life towards growth, who experiences a kind of ongoing growth, then what should I expect of myself? What, if anything, might be the shape of my inner landscape? What is happening in my core?

One could say that what is at the center of a life marked by growth is a transformational core. That is, the center of the person is constantly being worked on, or worked with. There ongoing curiosity and the possibility for consistent shifts. There is the ongoing drama of the next adventure of change – the next part of the journey.

This doesn’t happen automatically. To work towards and sustain this kind of core requires a few things. First, a clear vision of the end goal – in this case, the kind of person we want to become. Second, patience. The process of change is often the process of working out an old pattern while simultaneously instilling a new one. This takes time, is not linear, and comes with a fair share of missteps, double-backs, and successes. Patience is the trait that stabilizes what would otherwise feel like a rollercoaster. Lastly, love. The receipt of love in every moment of the process – not just the successes – is the only way to undermine the achievement orientation that much of the world is organized by. I am not transforming to earn love. My transformation is energized by having been loved. To sustain awareness of what is evil within us and continue to work towards what is good, love must be present. To sustain the journey towards perfection, knowing that it is not yet complete, and be willing to receive love in the midst, requires a love that is undeniable.

Having a transformational core means we honor the reality of change and lean in. We receive love in our current state AND press on towards the person we want to become. Our core instigates, encourages, inspires, enlivens, and rests. Wait. That last one might be surprising, but it is key. For no natural being experiences transformation as a full-on process. There are times when the core must cool, when the work must settle, when the muscles must rebuild.

Doing This with Others

The thing about having a transformational core is that you may find yourself different with others. While you are comfortable with the discomfort of change, others may be unaware that they are even being called to change. While you are comfortable with instigating change within yourself, others might find the instigation offensive and resist.

When thinking of the transformational core as a communal characteristic – not just an individual one –we can return to what is required. Communal vision becomes very important. Seeing the end goal similarly points everyone in the same direction, so their efforts multiply rather than resist one another. Patience with one another, trusting that we are all doing the best we can helps in the smoothness of the process. Some days we might be the source of inspiration and encouragement while other days we might be the ones needing both. Finally, the communal bonds must be built by love in order for any of this to work. The concern between members must be for what is happening in the hearts of the other, first. In this way, the relationships can forge a sense of security that can sustain well beyond the strain that transformation may place on them.

A Last Word

Change is at the core of life. We all witness change in the physical sense as we grow. We experience the shifts in relationship to others and the world around us as we live. Change is everywhere, and for many it is a thing to be avoided. We may yearn for a sense of stability – and confuse it with sameness. The person or community that works towards and sustains a transformational core, functions in a different paradigm. Rather than yearning for sameness, they desire even enjoy the process of transformation. They trust that any moment is the opportunity to learn. That on the other side of each learning is something good. That the character they are aiming to have, is something they actually want. And they are willing to do what they can to have that formed in them.

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The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Andrew Nemr, a critically acclaimed tap dance artist, explores the intersection of creativity and spiritual formation.
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