The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Your World or Mine?

Your World or Mine?

Exploring Spiritual Formation and Community

I’ve written before about the idea of communal imagination. I even teach a workshop for teams – using tap dance as way of exploring how communal imagination works in the pursuit of group goals and formation. Things get interesting when we turn the idea of communal imagination to a more intimate setting (something that is more important) like our own lives and who we decide to share them with.

There is an aspect of life and the people that we find ourselves with that can feel like we don’t really have a choice. It may feel more like we get thrown into it and have to navigate our way through the relationships. The parents, siblings, and neighbors, we get are in a real sense, out of our control. Yet, there is another aspect of life in which we do have a choice in who we share our lives with and how much we share. This is what I’m exploring this week.

The idea of resonance with another person is powerful to me. Resonance can happen between the ideas the person holds and the ideas that I hold, and also much deeper than that. There is something about how when resonance hits, an ease in the development of a friendship, even the mutual pursuit of a kind a life, just happens. When the resonance doesn’t hit, it doesn’t matter what the nature of the relationship is, in my experience there is a kind of friction.

My training as a tap dancer has brought to bear a certain amount of speed to all of this in light of the process of formation required in Tap Dance Land. If I demonstrate a particular step for a student, I have presented a particular vision of reality. If the step is not replicated by the student – the feedback mechanism for the recognition of the vision, is not clear, it is my duty to represent that step, that image, that idea, that vision, again. And again, until the student is able to replicate it. This cycle of presentation, representation, comparison, and adjustment happens until, by way of clear feedback, I know that the idea, the image, the step, has transferred into the body of the student. This is what was done for me, and what I do for others now.

This is intense work. This isn’t light stuff. This isn’t, “yeah, I got it, no worries, moving on.” This is, “I will pursue to embody this idea. I will carry this idea with me, and be able to replicate it, and represent it, as I understand it to the best of my ability, for as long as it stays in my body.” That’s deep. It’s as deep as the process of embodiment, even spiritual formation, and the connection between beliefs, knowledge, and reality. It strikes at the heart of the desire of becoming – without pressure necessarily, but rather through inspiration – a particular kind of person.

I find that whenever I have interacted with someone, there is a moment where I question whether or not they see what I am seeing. This moment happens with folks even if we are saying we believe in the same things, are pursuing the same things, want the same things, or we have experienced the same things. There is a deep question of shared vision that I have come to wrestle with, regarding other people in my life. It is a significant one, and one I can trace back through my history.

Many of the things I have pursued have started as just visions. Not even written on paper. Just an idea or image in my mind. It is by the strength or clarity of the vision and the trust of friends and colleagues, that the vision comes to life. The vision wasn’t there before, unless you count the possibility. It wasn’t there before, except in hope. Having walked through this cycle many times over – from vision to physical reality – often fairly quickly, there are some things that strike me as relevant even in relationships.

When two people meet it is as if two worlds are coming together. Each person brings to the encounter all the things of a world – histories, environments, social relationships, ideas, organized ways of thinking and acting, for example. If these two people are casually talking, the overlap of their worlds is quite small. They might be comparing their environments, thinking, priorities, and ways. There is still a lot of space between them. They are essentially observing one another without having to contend for any particular aspect of their world.

If, however, these worlds decide to get a little bit closer, the dynamic changes. Maybe they decide to pursue a common goal, organizing themselves in alignment with one another for the sake of this goal. As they organize themselves they will have to find agreement around the way forward, the shared vision, even what might happen after the goal is achieved.

If these worlds decide to journey together for a time, there is mutual impact. The worlds are affected by one another because of their time together. The proximity to each other’s ways affect both world’s. There might be strife when differing ways collide in opposition. There might be trust when differing ways combine towards a shared goal. The more trustworthy a partner is found to be, the more the openness one may develop to experiment with new ways.

If these two worlds decide that they want to merge, to become one world in fact, an even deeper experience occurs. I believe this to be quite possible and quite mysterious. There can be such intermingling of thoughts and ideas, beliefs and hopes and dreams, activity and action and pursuits, wonder and responsiveness, and affection, that one world is no longer discernible from the other. These two worlds experience a melding together. They are not as identifiable in their individual nature as much as they are identifiable in their combined nature.

In the melding there are likely moments when one world will contend for something over another. Questions arise, like, “Do we have the same thing going on in our worlds in this particular area?” If so, then the melding is easy. But what of the areas that aren’t alike? Maybe this concern arises: “Do I have to give up a part of my world for the sake of keeping a part of your world alive?” This is a real aspect of the process of bringing two worlds together, and can naturally lead to contention.

What I’m thinking about is a way in which the contention that might come up can be undermined, even put away. Instead of only comparing one world with the other, as these two worlds combine, what if there was a third world? This third world provide a vision toward which each world could work towards individually. This world would be held higher than any particular aspect of each individual world. My entire world would be set in subjection to the world I want to live in. I’d be willing to change what is necessary in my world to live in this new world. It would stand as a reference by which the habits of thought and action and the cultural norms that have been established might be measured.

What if this third world was shared?

If that kind of vision is shared by two people, there might just be the way forward. The shared vision might just be the way to navigate the contention. The battle isn’t about whether your world or mine wins, it is about whether we get to live in the world we both are trying to get to. It is about the world that we want to experience, and how our worlds will have to change to get there.

I assume that our worlds will have to change simply because the world I’m trying to get to – the one I envision – isn’t here in its fullness yet. I don’t get to experience all of the good life in every moment of my life, with ease. There is often significant effort within myself, and in relationship to others to bring it about. That sounds super achievement oriented, and I don’t mean for it to come off that way. But the reality is that actions matter, and to live in a particular world requires a particular way. We all have the ability to do what we can – not what we can’t – to become the kind of people for whom the way of the good life is the norm. There are numerous voices always arguing about how we might do that. There is one that I know that offers a complete set of propositions – a way, a truth, and a life – about what the good life looks like and how to get there.

The how is as important as the what. It is in working out the how that we have the opportunity to change what happens when worlds collide. When we encounter moments, and we will, where it’s feels like the choice is between your world or mine, we can choose not to fight. We can recognize what’s going on – a colliding of worlds – and can articulate differences. Instead of contention, or battle, we can imagine together: What will bring us closer to the larger world we both envision? Is it what’s already happening in your world? In mine? Or something new for both of us? Our shared vision is key here. So is our communal commitment to that vision. For the process may include the reconsidering of our own world. We may have to reconsider our own visions. We may have to reconsider our own ways. If our vision of what world we could be living in is worth contending for, and there are others contending for that vision as well, the reconsidering becomes a mutual affair. Even an ongoing affair. In fact, as a way of life, it may be easier. Together.

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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