After reading the final passage of Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance, I pinched the book shut in one hand and took a deep, satisfying breath- the kind of breath you might take at dawn on the Seventh Day, a breathing into and through kind of breath. Part of that satisfaction was the rich fullness of having encountered a work of art that spoke to me on a deep level, a story and its telling that fit so perfectly into my psyche at the time that I couldn’t quite imagine it ever having been complete prior to my reading it. Before, it was a static compilation of words on a shelf. Afterwards it was alive within me, painting the inner walls of my skin with figures from its dreams. I felt as though the story had taken on new life from our encounter, that as a reader I had somehow multiplied its power by giving it a kindred soul in which to roam, a windswept tableau haunted by resonant brethren and complicit yearnings. The other part of that satisfactory breath was relief in discovering precursors to the themes that Murakami would use fifteen years later in 1Q84, the other Murakami novel I have read, themes that continue to surface in my own life with spiraling persistence, questions about sliding between worlds I have yet to fully answer.
Those themes have vibrated in Murakami’s own bones for at least a decade and a half– probably longer– fermenting, transforming, unfolding. There is hope for me yet. These are not themes we digest in an evening.
In the Dialogues of A Course of Love, Jesus says, “You are called to accept and not look back, not to dwell in any of the states through which you arrive at acceptance, nor to focus on acceptance of one thing over another. You are not to label good or bad. Just to accept. Accept all. You do not have to hesitate here because you think you are still angry, or think you are still depressed. When you hesitate you have not accepted but dwell with the cause of your hesitation. When you accept you move on.” Jesus is speaking here about accepting who we are: successors to his own choice to accept Love and nothing else.
There is something essential about his advice to refrain from looking back.
To cross the threshold into a world experience permeated by the presence of Love, there is a need to transcend thinking and assessing, to wander mapless through fields of discovery, to lose our way and in doing so, find it. Looking back handcuffs us, contracts our vision into an analytical flatland, and reduces our stunning potential to a hollow question. Looking back is looking away.
When Murakami’s broken protagonist encounters the novel’s principal otherworldly inhabitant and spokesperson, the SheepMan, he asks, “So what do I have to do?”
The SheepMan, who has “madearrangements” and “thoughtofeverything” so the protagonist “couldreconnect, witheveryone,” replies, “Dance. Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougotta dance. Don’teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop, wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, you’restuck. Sodon’tpayanymind, nomatterhowdumb. Yougottakeepthestep. Yougottalimberup. Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown. Yougottauseallyougot. Weknowyou’retired, tiredandscared. Happenstoeveryone, okay? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop.”
The SheepMan inhabits a world held in existence by the protagonist’s inescapable yearning, a space in which what has been lost and disconnected may be recovered and bound together. In contrast to the recovery we ourselves desire—a return to the state of Unity whose recovery is only a matter of when, not if– there is a missing inevitability to the reconnection the protagonist seeks that propels the entire novel forward. There is a chance of failure. He cannot do this on his own. Characters in the protagonist’s life bleed into the SheepMan’s world, crossing the boundary back and forth, blurring the lines in the protagonist’s waking dream of redemption and recovery, keeping the passageways open, signaling the movement of one world within and through another.
Our own lives are like this. We encounter those who inspire us with their presence, those who have been there and back again. Our heart slips out between the bars of falsehood on unthinking forays into holiness. In other moments we stumble through distrust and doubt, crippling self-assessment, misunderstanding and suspicion. Yet all the while, our SheepMan is at work, stitching together all that we have lost, desiring to offer us every good thing there is, if only we would keep moving, keep dancing, keep the ball in the air, the game afoot. Jesus calls this “willingness” in A Course in Miracles and A Course of Love. We need only be willing, he says. Love will handle the details.
Murakami paints this picture beautifully. Daybreak on the final page is glorious.
I don’t know if this view of mine is what Murakami saw or intended to convey. Who knows. I like to think I met him halfway, that novels exist not only as they are written, but also as some sort of noumenal creations born of the intersection between a writer and a reader. We can meet there because his SheepMan and my SheepMan are relatives. We are keeping one another’s passageways to the next world open. The same Love stitches connections together through all of us, all the time, so long as we limberupandkeepmoving… In this regard, the SheepMan’s instructions are clear.