The Dance of Life By Camille Maurine Crescent Magazine - Spring, 2003
Life teaches me about herself through dance. Lifting my heart to the sky, melting down into the Earth, rising up again on a glorious wave of breath, I become one with the dance of the cosmos. When moving or meditating I feel as if Nature is flinging Her arms wide to me and calling, "Come, join with my body, let me show you my secrets."
From my first dance class so many years ago, to this morning's meditation, that voice continues to lead me into wonder and awe. Over and over, the waves of revelation wash through me, teaching me the simple, profound reality that everything is movement and flow. From the spinning of the subtlest particles to the spiraling of galaxies, all of life is a dance. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are always participating in the magnificent movement of creation.
Nature has designed us to know this dance from the inside out. The movement of energy in our bodies is how we know that we are alive: our breath flows, our blood circulates, our brain waves. Our cells are in continual exchange with the elements of life, pulsing with innate intelligence and wisdom. The body is vibrating, humming with the music of life. As I am writing this, and as you are reading, our lungs are dancing with the air, our eyes are playing with photons and electrons, our muscles are engaging the bones of our hands to type or hold paper or pen. Neurons are firing as our brains receive and respond to these myriad impulses. We are ceaselessly in movement with the world.
As we develop awareness, this inescapable relationship gets even more intense, and extremely intimate. The more alive we are, the more there is to feel. The forces of life and love are having their way with us whether we like it or not. To the extent that we are awake and open, we can be moved by emotion, touched by the soul of another. We are available to give and receive love, which means letting go of control. Our hearts can sink, shatter, melt and soar with the passions of living and loving. Joy and sorrow, hope and fear, desire and disappointment these are the very stuff of the human condition. The dance of love brings to our knees and lifts us up in inspiration. It makes us cry, laugh, howl, roar, wail, and sing.
All this movement can be hard to take. So many sensations and feelings! Is there no way out? Isn¹t there some abstract stillness, some spiritual elsewhere to go for retreat? Nope, let¹s face it: stillness is an illusion. We may as well learn to dance.
From time immemorial, human beings have faced life's challenges by dancing, giving expression to their grief, exultation, and awe. The mighty rhythms of nature, the passages of birth and death, the beauty and wonder of creation all have been honored in ceremony. It seems to me that all dances, from sacred ritual to hip-hop, are enacting the great mystery of embodiment on this Earth. Whenever we dance, we are joining with the cosmos, making its dance more obvious, visible, and tangible. All dancers know the ecstasy of release as we surrender our spirits to rhythm and flow. Letting go, we merge with something larger than ourselves. We feel connected, alive, and free.
Feeling and expressing so much can be challenging indeed, but the greater pain is in holding back. The free flow of our energy is what gives us health, sanity, and creativity. Our bodies and psyches do, however, have to get used to channeling so much life force. We can facilitate this by engaging the dance more consciously, paying attention to the subtle currents of life moving through us. The more awareness we bring to these sensations, the more vital energy is released, gradually and organically. Life force streams through us, forming and informing our bodies. We are no longer "doing" movement; we are movement, on every level of our being.
Life continually presents us with opportunities for initiation into deeper levels of the dance. Every image, emotion and sensation, no matter how vulnerable, intense, or painful, is a gift of movement arising from the fertile, primordial matrix of our being. Through the practice of awareness, we can allow these movements to teach and transform us, not by denying and repressing, but by entering them more deeply. How do we do this? Give attention to each place of tension and let it melt into flow. Embrace each emotional color as a vibrant expression of intimacy with life. Sweep your arms into space, stamp your feet on the Earth, sway your hips in all their glory. Breathe with wild abandon. Open your mouth and let sound escape into the air. Surrender to the fullness of feeling and let it stretch your heart wide open.
In this state of union, we have direct experience of the beneficence of life. We sense ourselves as movement fluid, powerful, sensuous and we know that this movement is love itself. We know that we are held in an eternal embrace, the cosmic body that gives birth to all of creation. Immersed in this body of love, old patterns of pain, isolation, and despair dissolve. All separation disappears. We are at home in the universe, at home in ourselves, at home with each other.
This state of being is the realm of the Goddess – the deep wisdom, compassion, sensuality and primordial energy which in many cultures is associated with the feminine principle. When we give over to the elemental surging of Her dance, our bodies and breath are shaped by Her power. The many faces of Goddess pass through our own: Kwan Yin, Aphrodite, Hecate, Kali, Shakti. For a moment we see with ancient eyes, embrace with ancient arms, cry out with an ancient voice. Every emotion is Her emotion, the divine motion of love. We can¹t hold on to any of these shape-changing revelations, but we are moved by them and forever transformed.
The Tyranny of Ideals
If the body is so intelligent, why do so few of us feel glorious and free? I think that it is because we have turned away from the wisdom residing in the flow of our breath, the flow of blood in our veins and arteries, the flow of life force in our nerves and senses. When our awareness is not inspired by the motion of life, we may become trapped by fixity and rigid ideals that we can never live up to.
One of the mistakes of our culture is the shaming and scorning of the body as it actually is. We tend to worship images that are virtually impossible to attain - one fashion model or movie star, out of a hundred thousand bodies. We are trained to feel ashamed of our individuality - our curves and valleys, wrinkles and stretch marks, and other signs of a well-lived-in form.
To the extent that we do not connect with the body as movement, we may become obsessively concerned with the outer image, the way we look in the mirror. We think we must whip this sorry lump of flesh into shape, perhaps as exercise fanatics, health nuts, cosmetic surgery patients, or drug users, valiantly trying to stem the tides of self-hatred. No matter what age, shape, size, or even gender, few meet with lasting success. When we catch ourselves in a moment of shame, we can rescue ourselves by returning to awareness of the dance of life that is always pulsing within us.
The relationship with the goddess realm is voluntary; we can choose how we want to engage with life. We have the free will to make mistakes, to forget who we are, and to deny the ground of our being. Although this may lead to great suffering, it also opens the way to a great return, a remembering, a re-union after a long passage of wandering. There are things you learn from being on a journey, roaming, getting lost and then finding your way back. Fortunately, the way home is right there in every move you make.
The widespread estrangement from our home in the body has historical causes that are still being worked out in the current generation. With the exception of indigenous cultures that live close to the Earth, most Western societies have lost their connection to and reverence for Nature. Civilization has become almost synonymous with the split between mind and body including an up/down hierarchy of values in which spirit is at the top (good) and body is at the bottom (not good). Spirit, mind, purity and light are considered male and exalted on high; God is masculine and up in the ethers somewhere. Nature, body, instinct, and emotion are female and deemed dense, dark, and impure; the earthly realm is a prison you must escape. To the uninitiated, the elemental power of the body can seem messy, unpredictable, and even a little scary. Patriarchal societies have for millennia attempted to control and overcome the natural, wilder aspects of our being our emotional, instinctual and sensual needs. Their ideal is a denatured, unchanging and dry perfection. This life-denying perfectionism is at the root of many of our current problems.
Because perfectionist ideals can never be achieved, they fragment us and create an inner war (and sometimes outer wars). We strive to overcome our humanity only to fail, despising ourselves and our bodies for letting us down. Instead of worshipping the Earth, the mother, the matter out of which we are made, we bow down in idolatry to impossible ideals.
You can see the consequences of this dynamic in the widespread epidemic of depression and anxiety in our society. As a whole Americans have a degree of wealth and health our ancestors only dreamed of, yet most people suffer from a sense of poverty, robbed by time pressures and a lack of real pleasure. Despite our apparent sexual freedom, as a society we have little clue about true sensuality and body joy. We are continually bombarded in the media by substitutes; images of sex are used to sell everything from cars to beauty products, usually characterized by bionic female models with boyish, fleshless bodies. Both men and women are alienated from body wisdom. We are left floundering, cut off from our inner roots, and susceptible to being manipulated and controlled.
Because women¹s bodies and psyches are designed to be close to nature through our hormonal and emotional rhythms, abandoning our home in the body is even more disastrous. As a movement teacher working primarily with women over the years, I have continually witnessed the destructive effect of these insidious ideals, especially the images perpetuated by the cosmetic and fashion industries. We can never be good enough, thin enough, sexy enough, young enough, beautiful enough. Hypnotized to hate their flesh, most women are riddled with body shame and unable to love themselves as they are. I wrestled with the same demons myself, until I realized how deadly and fallacious those ideals truly are.
To state the obvious, your body is your own. We tend to forget this because our bodies have been colonized by other people¹s thoughts, generic cultural images, and the comparison/competition mentality that are all based on a numbing sense of conformity. It takes a tremendous amount of consciousness to break this collective trance and reclaim the sovereignty of your inner territory. This is your real body, not the one in the mirror. Your real body is the rich, fertile realm of movement, sensations, and feelings, the dance of life within you that directly and intimately connects you to the world.
When we access the inner dance, the truth we touch is personal, immediate, and self-evident. We are not dependent on "middle-men", external authorities, gurus, or priests. Convince someone that they need an intermediary and you have them forever enslaved. Remind them of their innate knowledge and you set them free. When people are in touch with their real body, they are in touch with their inner truth. They can no longer be bamboozled or controlled. The demon of shame is transformed into inner beauty, vitality, and power.
The Marriage of Spirit and Flesh
For years I was fueled by feminist outrage, dedicated to setting myself and others free from the cultural trance. More recently I have softened my stance, still impassioned but tempered with a new curiosity. I now wonder if the disenfranchisement from the body and nature may simply be a developmental stage of humanity¹s evolution. Legend and archaeological evidence from as far back as 25,000 BC point to an earlier, matriarchal era of rapport with nature, acceptance of body, and peaceful coexistence with others the Goddess realm. What happened? Why did so many cultures become male-dominated, technology driven, and divorced from nature? Are we moving toward a time when male and female power will be in harmonious balance?
I¹d like to think we are moving toward deeper union as a species. Perhaps a separation between male and female, mind and body, was a necessary stage before the two can reunite and be integrated into one conscious, thriving whole. As in any strong relationship, maybe each half must become defined and differentiated before their partnership can go to the next level and endure. If we look at the human brain, we seem to be learning to make connections between levels of experience that until now seemed intrinsically at odds, developing more pathways of interaction. Just as the three parts of the brain reptilian (primitive), limbic (emotional) and neocortex (abstract thought) need to work in concert for optimum functioning and perception, so too must body, soul, and spirit. Our desires for physical security, emotional satisfaction, and higher understanding no longer seem so irreconcilable.
Certainly this union is possible for an individual, if not yet for the entire body of humanity. I am convinced that movement is the medium of connection par excellence, a theory that I am certain science will confirm in years to come. In profound states of fluidity such as subtle movement or meditation, all levels of our being get to meet and mate. By learning to sense and follow these intrinsic urgings, we are bringing awareness into matter itself, joining heaven and earth.
Whenever we dance, we give body to the mystery, the marriage of spirit and flesh. As we move with consciousness, we receive from the forces of life. Brimming over in abundance and love, something of our own essence flows out as a contribution given back to the whole. In our simple and personal way, we play our part in the universe, the ever-unfolding, all-embracing, ecstatic dance of life.