Dance Weekend: Cultivating Presence in the Tumult of Daily Life

To the One

The Perfection of Love, Harmony and Beauty

The only Being,

United with all the Illuminated Souls

Who form the Embodiment of the Master

The Spirit of Guidance

unnamedThus did we begin each day’s session with the Invocation, guided by Narayan Eric Waldman, whose subtle and multidimensional mastery as a dance leader has deepened immeasurably since I last danced with him in Montana ten years ago. Approximately 50 midwestern dancers met for a long weekend in Fort Wayne Indiana for 15 hours of dancing/singing/breathing time on the floor. Plus, of course, connecting, eating, celebrating together, as usual with these folks, self-selected for deepening the experience of presence in the tumult of daily life.

Here’s Narayan (standing, on left, with guitar) and the musicians, preparing for Saturday’s two-hour afternoon session.


During the first session, Friday afternoon,

IMG_2269as usual I felt impatient, mind buzzing with its typical cacophony. I wanted this dance to be over! Why was it taking so long? As usual, I persevered, gradually descending into that infinite space which holds us all in communion while pulsing through us in movement and song.

More than any other description of what “happens” during these dance weekends, I would say that it encourages the “effacement of the ego.” Just like the cervix effaces (thins) during childbirth, so does the ego keep us inside our own heads, buzzing, booming with its usual crackling confusion of who’s who and what’s what. To efface the ego is to re-enter the spaciousness of Love in which all beings are held, as One.

And, as Narayan laughingly said, after each session, “Okay go and re-individuate!” He’s right. Individuation, what we assiduously attempt to carve out in this 3-D life, is not the “be all and end all.” Instead, it’s what happens between the two, and if, instead, we be all and end all with every breath we take, if, with every inhale we begin and every exhale we end, if being born and dying are aspects of one and the same ending process, then what?

Who are we?

Who cares?

The question itself, dies, and we are left, at peace, in the NOW.

I’ve been dancing with the Dancers of Universal Peace (from humble beginnings in a San Francisco garage, it has now spread all over the world) for about 20 years now, and only in the last few years during these long dance retreat weekends have I not burst into tears at some point during at least one dance, overwhelmed with gratitude and blessing, as the ensoulment of the one being coursing through us all pulled me into its neverending current.

IMG_2283See the young one with the black hair in the middle? She’s seventeen now, her mother told me. I asked her how long she has been dancing. “Since I was a baby,” she said matter-of-factly. In fact, she’s learning to become a dance leader. Thank the goddess! Because, as you can see, the demographics of this group is overwhelmingly a ’60s remnant, now eldering fruitfully.



IMG_2278If you are interested in learning more about the dances, here’s a little video done in 2008 with Shabda Kahn, now peer of the Sufi Ruhaniat order. I danced with him and other leaders in Columbus, Ohio just a few months ago.

BTW: on the way home, Sara and I gave a lift to a dancer from Columbus, Indiana. We started telling stories of when we were young, the fateful choices we made, and how we handled them. Here’s “Mary”‘s (not her real name) story, condensed, starting midway through.

I come home with my parents, and enter the house first, walking up the stairs. In the kitchen, I see my 19-year-old niece (with whom my husband is having an affair), my four-year-old daughter and baby son, all with my husband. He has tied up the niece and the daughter on chairs, and is holding the baby loosely in one arm with a gun in the other.

I tell my folks to go on down in the basement. That there’s something I need to take care of.

I walk into the kitchen and confront him.

“What do you think you’re doing? ”

“I just can’t stand it anymore. I’m going to kill everybody and then kill myself.”

“Well, why don’t you kill yourself first? That will take care of the problem, and I can handle the rest.”

You can imagine how Sara and I laughed at that. Her presence of mind in such extraordinary circumstances!

Meanwhile, her mother, sensing danger, had stood on the table in the basement with a glass to the ceiling, trying to hear what was going on. She fell off the table, and broke three ribs!

Not a year later and now divorced, I went to live alone in a remote tent cabin ten miles outside Anchorage, with my two kids. Then I was in a car accident, and broke my back! For a month I had to mostly stay on my back, and direct the five year old how to stand on a chair and turn the water on to boil, etc. etc. She would walk with our dog on the lonely road to the store, where the bus picked her up for preschool. When the bus returned in the afternoon, our dog would go get her, and the loaf of bread, or dozen eggs, or whatever was on the note I had given her to take into the store when the bus dropped her off.

I ask, thinking about that wild country: “What about bears?”

“Oh yeah, there were bears, but not nearly as dangerous as the wild dogs. They were afraid of our dog.”

As you can imagine, Mary’s story, which lasted about two hours, held Sara and I riveted. Talk about the need to cultivate presence in the tumult of daily life! It makes me wonder if the ones who are attracted to these Sufi-inspired dances have “better” stories than most — more dramatic, more intense, requiring that descent into presence simply in order to survive.





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