An article in the science section of the New York Times reported on the research of a team of cognitive neuroscientists who discovered that “ballet lovers may ‘truly feel that they are dancing’ when they watch a performance;” findings that were based on the measurement of brain activity of “experienced spectators.” Having studied ballet as well as having attended countless ballet performances, I immediately concurred with this. Ballet audiences sit more attentively than say, audiences at orchestral concerts. They seem to breathe together as their bodies sense the dynamism of the dancers’ steps, leaps, and turns. Although not capable of executing these actions, we feel that we, too, are accomplishing these feats.
I have long been interested in the capacity of people who attend the theatre or cinema to suspend their disbelief—that ability which allows the viewer to feel as though an actor really is the character she or he is portraying and the action that is occurring to be actually happening. I enter so thoroughly into the world of a play or film that I respond viscerally to what is happening. It is for this reason that I can’t watch horror films. It is too real to me.
What is this aptitude that allows some people to so thoroughly inhabit a fictional world or to feel as though they, too, are dancing? Perhaps it is a complex, deep-rooted empathy or maybe an enduring innocence that makes it possible for them to enter fully into a make-believe reality with their senses fully awake. If you’ve ever watched a group of children being entertained by a gifted storyteller you will know to what I refer. Even without props or special effects the children sit in rapt attention with their eyes wide open as they follow word by word the tale that is being spun.
As we face a multitude of daunting problems in our country and in the world, e.g. climate change and terrorism, let us, instead of focusing on the worst possible outcomes to these challenges we face, use our intelligence and creativity to imagine solutions to these things that will take into account the common good and bring peace to the world. If hopes are realized, they will unite us as one people; no matter our place of residence, country of origin, race, or creed. Let us throw aside all the constructs that are used to divide us from one another and cause us to focus on our own needs and desires rather than those that will benefit everyone equally, thus allowing us to live in harmony while seeing that the basic needs of all peoples are met.
Let us suspend our disbelief and embrace the miraculous, the unexpected, and the Infinite. And in so doing, allow ourselves to enter into an expanded reality where we can actually feel and experience a world of love and peace, just like when we sit at the ballet in a darkened theatre and feel that, we, too, no matter our abilities, are also leaping, twirling, and spinning with grace and ease.
Categories: Theological Reflections