You ask me, why do I dance…

Dance is not something that I do.

It is something that is done through me.

when I feel the sand pushing up between my toes on the shore, and see the radiance of the moon rippling on the tidal push-pull of ocean,

when I touch the softness of my young grandson’s hair against my cheek, and close my eyes, inhaling his sweetness,

when I listen to the creaking of forest trees swaying in the autumn wind, and look up into their branched etching on blue,     

I root into an energy that impels me to run, to sway, to reach out and draw it all in.

In that moment dance finds me and I fall into dance…

Ecstatic Movement - Prafulla - Workshop - Osho Miasto Institute

love in, love out

These were the words of a very sweet and inspiring young homesteader that I was privileged to meet yesterday. He was referring to growing plants, although the application of the principle is universal. When he carries composted fertilizer to his plants, he tries to so with an attitude of love. Otherwise, he said, if you feed your plants frustration-laced compost, they will take that on and you’ll end up taking that in again when you consume their fruits.

So – love in, love out!

When we arrived on his land we were offered a tour. We were shown the shelter where he and his partner currently sleep: a sturdy structure with a roof and tarps that closed it in on three sides. They will stay here until the tiny home they are constructing is ready, hopefully by Thanksgiving. There was another roofed-but-partially-open structure where food was prepared and enjoyed. Also a composting outdoor toilet. Little walking paths snake through the land where he has planted fruit trees, chestnuts, and a vegetable garden among the previously established green nations in this corner of the planet.

This young visionary embodies a deep understanding of the interdependence of all life. He plants for generations that will inhabit the land long after he has finished his earthwalk.

May his vision of reality gradually take root in our collective consciousness. Our survival depends upon it.

How Connections Create Interdependent Relationships
photo from kathleenallen.net

leave-taking

I am on the cusp of leaving home to travel. This journey will take me to finally meet my grandson in person (he’s 13 months old now) and to be reunited after 18 months with his parents, and another of my sons. Anticipation of this journey has taken me into reflecting on what it is to leave, to arrive, to leave again…

Life is a series of leave-takings. And the arrivals – are they perhaps just preparation for the next leaving? It’s a grey, rainy day today, and I wonder if my contemplation has become tainted with a sentimental melancholy. But there is an undeniable truth here. In my sitting practice this morning I felt the exhalation as a leaving. As I focused on it I knew it as a preparation for the moment when I will leave this body.

Maybe all our living, all our breathing, all our journeying is a preparation for that leave-taking.

In my mind, this is not at all a morbid contemplation. It’s a reality check. A revisiting of the notion that – as Hamlet says – the readiness is all. No growth ever happens without this shedding of the old and a stepping into the new.

Lord Śiva holds the damaru in his right hand, creating the pulsating beat that brings everything into being. Simultaneously, his left hand holds agni, the fire of destruction and dissolution. Since the hands are the motor organs of the heart, this is where creation and destruction have their source.

May all your journeys be blessed. May we all come to rest in the dynamic stillness at the heart of the whirling tāndava dance of life.

Om Namah Śivaya.

how can we know the dancer from the dance?

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

(W.B.Yeats  Among School Children)

Today’s Bharatnatyam class with Supratimji tapped into the mystery of embodiment.

It started innocently enough, with me showing him a step we had worked on previously. He wasn’t satisfied. He gave me cue after cue in an attempt to get me to truly inhabit the movement.

He had me sit down and find an internal focus. Once I felt established in that, I was to initiate the arm and eye movements. I slowly began to move. I experienced the feeling that it was the surrounding space that lifted my arm. Not me, moving, but just movement. The sweep of the arm, the drishti or gaze: no longer just graceful movements that I was doing. The dancer, and the dance coalescing…

After this he had me move on to explore the asamyukta hasta mudras – the single hand gestures – from this same consciousness.

Supratim: When you take the hand position of, for example, triśula – you must feel the energy coursing through the three raised fingers. If you do not, then it’s not right. When the energy finds its path, the gesture will be right. You must feel this.

The application of this is all-encompassing. Yogāsana, Bharatanatyam, holding my grandson – it touches everything in this ecstatically beautiful, embodied existence. W.B.Yeats’ final question sums it up:

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Shiva Nataraja Stock Illustrations – 553 Shiva Nataraja Stock  Illustrations, Vectors & Clipart - Dreamstime

Immersion

Today I went with some friends to Beyond Van Gogh: An Immersive Experience. It was amazing! Flowers from his paintings flying around the walls of the room. Famous Van Gogh canvases being sketched, painted, and dissolving on the walls, on the floor… I was inside his art and wanted to run and twirl (I held myself back but did manage some sweeping arm gestures, as I walked around and around the room, drinking it in).

After we exited from the experience I walked with one friend back to her home where she served tea and treats. We sipped our tea on her patio. I watched birds alight on her new bird bath, dipping their beaks in for refreshment. The resident backyard bunny was enjoying a meal of clover. A wasp wandered over to see if it could share any of our treats.

And it struck me forcibly: LIFE IS THE ULTIMATE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE.

Van Gogh was profoundly immersed in life. He took his experience and found colour, shape, and texture to share his bliss. And here, in our time, his experience, expressed on his canvases, was projected onto the walls of the room taking me into an immersive experience. It in turn pushed me into seeing the actual flow of life surrounding me as the ultimate immersive experience.

Talk about circularity!

Back home, I found a dharma talk in my inbox from Richard Rohr . The following lines summed up the experience I was attempting to integrate:

Beholding happens when we stop trying to “hold” and allow ourselves to “be held” … We are completely enchanted by something outside and beyond ourselves. (Richard Rohr)

The Infinite Love that holds everything in being: it as intimate as the breath you are taking right now.

2 for 1 on All Anytime Ticket Types to Immersive Van Gogh | WagJag
Beyond Van Gogh: An Immersive Experience

liminal space

  1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
  2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold

When I am bringing my students out of śavāsana, I usually ask them to curl onto their side in a foetal position, head resting on the lower arm. This brings the spine into its primary curve, just as we were when coiled into the womb space, quite literally surrounded by our mother.

I invite my students to rest in this shape for a few breaths, taking the time to just be in this in-between, liminal space, before we close our practice together and everyone moves off into their individual lives.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the nature of this space.

There is a word in Sanskrit – sandhya – that designates the space where two things meet. The place of transition, of potential… It is the suspension felt at the top of the inhalation, the void at the bottom of the exhalation. It is where dawn meets day, where dusk meets night.

It is the womb of the world from which all things are born.

In my previous blog reflection I spoke of my Bharatanatyam teacher in a video clip he shared with me. A small figure in an immensity of sky, river, and earth – he is seen walking away from the camera witness, becoming smaller. Then he stops.

For a moment frozen in time he raises his arms into the starting position for dance. He enters the liminal space. The space opening out from everything preceding this moment. The birthplace of everything that proceeds from this moment.

Can we sit in this space…?

And how would this change what is to come?

I want to know what love is

Love is not something waiting after the sleepless night.

Love is not the shining light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.

Love is not something that shows up once the intense, gut-wrenching struggle is over.

Love is the sleepless night.

Love is the long, dark tunnel.

Love is the gut-wrenching struggle.

Love takes it all in.

Surrender to this.

Namaskaram

A greeting. As in hello.

A flowing sequence that typically begins a practice of yogāsana.

A movement prayer that punctuates a class or performance of Bharatanatyam.

I have been focussing a lot lately on the movement prayer version of Namaskaram. A few dance classes ago my teacher, observing my Namaskaram, suggested, can you do it with more feeling? Since, I have begun to open each of my yoga practice sessions by repeating the dance Namaskaram three times, with greater attention/intention before I follow it with my Surya and Chandra Namaskaram variations.

I asked my dance guruji what each element of the dance Namaskaram signified. His response taught me that different schools of dance practiced different variations of the Namaskaram.

Some of the common elements: a sweeping motion to acknowledge the eight directions; touching the earth that we would dance upon, bringing this blessing up to our eyes, and releasing the blessing back to the earth with outstretched hands; reaching prayer hands up to acknowledge the Divine love that holds us in being, drawing prayer hands to the third eye to acknowledge our gurus, and finally bringing prayer hands to the heart to acknowledge our companions on the path.

And then Supratim Talukder, my teacher, did something that quite took me by surprise: he made the sign of the cross, observing/asking this is your Namaskaram?

I was brought up as a Roman Catholic in a very devout and loving family. Attendance at weekly Mass and a celebration of the main feast days in the Christian calendar were part of the air I breathed. Making the sign of the cross as I intoned in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit was a gesture that commonly punctuated other prayers. It was something so much done as to have become somewhat invisible – again, like the air I breathed.

Seeing my teacher (brought up as a Shaivite Hindu with a special devotion to the Bengali saint Sri Ramakrishna) make this gesture, made me see it in a new way. It held up a mirror…

A new question emerged: How does the tradition in which I was brought up inform my spiritual sādhanas of yogāsana and Bharatanatyam – and vice-versa?

A new area of exploration and inquiry.

Thank you, Guruji.

Q&A with Fr John Flader: A new Sign of the Cross