I had this song title on my mind recently when Jay and I were teaching in Nashville, TN. Even if you don’t know a lot about country music, you might recognize it as Johnny Cash’s first billboard hit from the mid-1950’s. More random trivia: Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it #1 on its list of the 100 greatest country songs of all time in 2014.
I remember the first time I heard this song. It came on the radio (yes, radio) during a backyard family picnic. My uncle jumped up and swept my aunt off her feet (literally). Holding her close, they danced their version of a real smooth Texas two-step. Quick-quick-slow-slow. Quick-quick-slow-slow. Four steps to their synchronized footwork. I can still see my aunt’s rosy flushed face and shy smile as we all cheered them on.
So, since we were in the land of the Country Music Hall of Fame, I thought it could be fun to go line dancing since Jay never had this experience. See if you can find him in the photo…
I found a place that offered line dance lessons and their motto was “don’t walk the line, dance it.” That sounded good. When I suggested the idea to Jay, his reaction was “I can’t dance on the line. I have to jump up and down”. And it’s true. He’s a wonderful disruptivator in so many ways. If you’ve ever seen him dance, it’s also true. Although, he did great. What a great sport!
As we know though, life does not unfold in straight rows, one after the other. Just look at the picture. Not too many neat and tidy lines. We are all beginners. All of us dancers in the many different ways we navigate. We work on learning the steps first. And, oh yeah, not bumping into everyone all around us.
Then, after learning what we think the steps are, maybe we add some improvised flourishes. Yes Jay, this includes jumping too. We just won’t tell them in Texas. All to stay on our “path”.
We walk the line.
Our life’s “line”, or path.
The question is not so much what specific path/career we want in life; but who do we want to be and how will we be that person? I think that may be part of Johnny Cash’s intent. It’s said he wrote the song as a pledge to be the best person he could be for the love of his life. Sweet. But why aren’t we ever motivated to do that for the love of our own self? That’s another story perhaps.
Yoga suggests we take time to think about this “who” we are and want to be (svadyaha). It asks us to consider the values underlying our actions toward our own selves and others (yamas). Things like non-harming in thought/word/action, honesty, watching for jealous/possessive impulses, trusting we have what we need, and being aware of things that deplete our vitality and energy.
Yoga also offers suggestions about the “how”, by offering us some personal disciplines (niyama practices) to help put those values into action. Among these niyamas, one of my favorites is “tapasya”, or making a sincere effort. The name itself seems to follow me around. Tapasya is our willingness to expand our awareness by exploring what seems challenging with whatever measure of persistence is accessible to us at the time.
It’s all easier said than done. We tend to bump into others and especially get into our own way. Part of it is paying attention and part of it is letting go. Letting go requires we’ve paid attention though. Like in line dancing, life is a repeated 360-degree rotation where the goal is to end up on Monday morning again, only more gracefully each time.
It means that we play and re-play the song, dancing the steps that make up this practice of our life. Over and over again (sadhana). Quick-quick-slow-slow. Quick-quick-slow-slow. Until what feels like effort, reveals itself as resonance with who we are (sankalpa).
At least for that moment on the (life) line.