[Guest Blogger Nicole Haley finds the beauty in the center.]
by Nicole Haley
Last night I started re-reading Muriel Barbery’s, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. One of the two central protagonists in the book is an extremely intelligent and incredibly disillusioned 12-year-old girl named Paloma. Paloma is surrounded by privilege and endless striving. She is convinced life is absurd and has no real meaning: “People aim for the stars and end up like a goldfish in a bowl.” And so she makes a plan to kill herself on her 13th birthday. But at the same time, she sets herself a challenge to keep two journals – one for the mind, in which she writes profound thoughts, and one for the body, to record tangible aesthetic beauty – “things that, being the movement of life, elevate us.” After all, she says, “if there’s something on this planet that is worth living for, I’d better not miss it.”
Paloma’s first entry in the “Journal of the Movement of the World” reminds me of hooping and the potential we have to spin inwards and experience a deep and restorative calm. I remember watching hoop dancers and experiencing this sense of peace. I wanted what they seemed to have. It’s why I started hooping. In the book, Paloma is sitting in the living room while her father is watching a rugby game. Usually she’d scarcely look at the television screen, but something about a player on the opposing team entrances her. It’s not about his physical size or his athletic skill – though they are both considerable. What is so captivating about this player is the way he is moving.
Paloma explains: “…when we move we are in a way de-structured by our movement toward something: we are both here but at the same time we are not here because we’re already in the process of going elsewhere …”. This player was different …”he was moving and making the same gestures as the other players … but while the others’ gestures went toward their adversaries and the entire stadium, this player’s gestures stayed inside him, stayed focused upon him … that gave him an unbelievable presence and intensity.” In the hooping world, some might refer to the state described above as “flow.” But it’s more than that. I’ve watched hoopers like this with movement so liquid it appears they are gliding to a transcendent state.
When I re-read this passage, I immediately thought about Baxter of The Hoop Path. He’s one of the hoopers featured in the documentary The Hooping Life which profiles several pioneers whose lives were transformed by the hoop. Having started hooping as an inexpensive way to rehabilitate an injured shoulder, he wore a blindfold in his backyard to avoid seeing the reactions of his North Carolina neighbors, neighbors who would likely find a grown man hula hooping strange.
Since childhood, Baxter had struggled with intense depressive episodes. He couldn’t control this deep sadness that made him feel there was no point in living and he, like Paloma, made plans to take his own life. But even as he was looking into his last will and testament, he kept hooping every single day. It may or may not have been a conscious effort like her journals, but nonetheless, one day, Baxter realized the darkness was lifting. In the film, Baxter talks about the separation between his mind and his body disappearing, as he did in his recent column. Similarly, Paloma concludes in her journal: “… what makes a great soldier isn’t the energy he uses trying to intimidate the other guy … it’s the strength he’s able to concentrate within himself, by staying centered.”
I’ve had my own battles with depression. There have been times when the negativity pulled me toward darkness. In my better moments, though, hooping brings me back to my center and to a place of hopefulness. There is something very intense about spinning inwards, especially as the pace of life gets more and more frantic. It can feel like everything around you is spinning. Maybe concentrating on ourselves instead of reacting to our surroundings is the only way to stop feeling dizzy and to get grounded.
“That player was like a tree, a great indestructible oak with deep roots and a powerful radiance … yet you also got the impression that the great oak could fly, that it would be as quick as the wind, despite, or perhaps because of, its deep roots.” Centering ourselves within the circle, we discover the power of motionless movement.