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 makes plans 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.”
Well, Paloma’s first entry in the “Journal of the Movement of the World” reminded me of hooping and the potential to spin inwards and experience a deep and restorative calm. I remember watching hoop dancers and experiencing a deep sense of peace. I wanted what they seemed to have.
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 …”
But 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 with movement so liquid it appears they are gliding to a transcendent state.
When I re-read this passage I immediately thought about Jonathan Baxter. Baxter, as he’s known in the hooping community, is one of the hooper pioneers featured in the documentary, The Hooping Life, which profiles pioneers whose lives were transformed by the hoop.
Baxter started hooping as an inexpensive way to rehabilitate an injured shoulder in 2001. He wore a blindfold in his backyard to avoid seeing the reactions of his North Carolina 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 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 not have been a conscious effort like Paloma’s journals but, nonetheless, one day Baxter realized the darkness was lifting. In The Hooping Life, Baxter talks about the separation between his mind and body disappearing. He went on to found the spiritually focused hoop curriculum, The Hoop Path. He teaches and inspires others around the world by sharing his experience and unique perspective.
But above all, I’d have to say Baxter’s very presence is his most powerful message. The video below, for me, epitomizes the essence of “motionless movement” Paloma describes in her journal.
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 and 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.”
Have you ever experienced moving without moving toward something? What makes you focus inward and how do you concentrate inside yourself instead of “intimidating the other guy”?