Prayer for Dancers

 

Dear Universe,

 

Help me to love myself as I am.

 

Let my dancing be an expression of that love.

 

Help me to recognize the Light in others without diminishing my own Light by falling into jealousy.

 

Help me to move through doubt, fear and self-hatred into the dance of Love.

 

Help me to love every part of my body without exception.

 

Help me to practice recovering quickly from my mistakes,

and to honor my limitations with patience

so that I may uncover the gift in the disguise of that limitation.

 

Help me to see through the obstacle of the Ideal Image and to trust that my best is good enough.

 

Help me to nourish myself mind, body and soul so that I may be a vessel for Grace,

and help me to let go so that I may be One with ecstasy.

 

Thank you for this day of dancing.

 


Happy Snake Day

I lifted the lid of the diaper genie with my foot and there it was again: a whiff of fear so strong it cut right through me. I got angry. “How the fuck am I supposed to deal with this?” I asked out loud.

What I was referring to were the tsunami-like waves of worry that I experience with regard to my new daughter. She is a plump, healthy little thing. I have no logical reason for this overwhelming fear response but sometimes gruesome images suddenly snap into my brain without warning. I call them panic-visions. I asked my husband if he had them, in general, and he said yes. I’d had them before too: of the truck plowing into me, of the subway blowing up, but now, with my baby bird, these visions have spun out of control. A couple of times every day, I am reduced to tears that I will lose my hold on her while falling down the stairs and she will be sent tumbling, or I will get into some other kind of accident, or worse yet, that someone else will be holding her at the time of said accident, for which I will feel guilt as well as grief.

I wonder if I am experiencing postpartum depression. A friend of mine once brilliantly described depression as the result of refusing to change when it’s time to change. Then, what is depression if not a form of fear? Images of depression on tv are of listless, un-showered people, staring off into space, refusing to play with their dog. I don’t feel like I fit that description exactly. I’m still wearing lip-gloss and have moments of downright perkiness. What I’m feeling is a little more violent. More passionate. But maybe it is a form of depression after all.

I know with postpartum, there are hormones involved. Women are often told that our experiences are due to hormones, as though that makes it less real. But maybe the added impact of hormones upon depression makes things more real and adds to the urgency of needing to change. I’m not saying this is my fault. I’m saying, hormones or not, it’s my responsibility.

Makarta, a spiritual teacher, channeled by Ken Ludden and a few others, once said that one of the purposes of incarnating as a female is that it forces you to deal with your emotions. I thought of this now, in the wake of one of my panic-visions. Either I learn to put my fear in a box or it will eat me from the inside. I can already literally feel it draining my life-force.

I take a deep breath. I think of the multitudes of mothers who have come before me and have suffered The Worry. This gives me strength, knowing that others have endured this aspect of motherhood. I check in on my little one, sleeping soundly. I try very hard to receive this moment with gratitude. On some remote level, I know it is helping me to grow. Helping me to appreciate life. Also, it’s one thing to meditate when everything’s hunky dory. It’s quite another to find stillness in the heat of the blaze.

I am stripped and raw. I had no idea what this would cost me. Yet, I have no regrets. I am in love. I have wanted love more than anything. And love this big brings about a restructuring of sorts. Maybe part of what I’m feeling is the fear of the snake the first time it sheds its skin, the fear of the tree in its first autumn, mistaking the loss of leaves as a sign of death. And it is a little death. If I can manage it with a measure of grace, who knows, maybe I’ll manage the big death with some of that same grace. That is my hope.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  At this point, motherhood is teaching me, through its sheer impact, to live one day at a time. Today, I took us all out for a walk, baby, dog and me. We watched the leaves falling in the breeze and the light peeking through the trees, teasingly. We stood beneath the noble evergreen and for a moment, embraced in that green, I felt safe.

And of course, writing always helps. Being heard is the icing on the cake, so thank you.

Happy Snake Day to me.


Little Grandmother

Painting by Nick Zaremba

Painting by Nick Zaremba

“If somebody tells you to do something during dream-time, you better do it.”–Unknown blues singer

I turned 42 in 2012. It was my cut-off year.  If it didn’t happen soon, it wasn’t going to happen.

My husband and I had been having the conversation for months: Do you want to have kids? I don’t know. Do you? Well, I don’t not want to have them…We couldn’t seem to commit more than that, each trying to hide behind the other while tip-toeing towards an unknown door. Yet every month my period arrived and I’d feel an undeniable sadness.

Then one fall evening, I was awakened by a desperate voice, screaming from the other side, “MOMMY!” Time was running out. Someone wanted to come through, badly. Even then, I am ashamed to say, something in me resisted. What was I waiting for?

A miracle?

I got pregnant.

It must have been around Halloween. I remember going to a party and not feeling quite myself. Already, a little thickness through the middle was budding above my plastic hula skirt. My heart felt funny. It hurt, expanding as it was to a different dimension.

Sometime after Thanksgiving, it was confirmed. I peed on the stick and a pink plus sign spread across the test window like tiny fingers, saying yes, yes, yes.

True to my animal totem, the squirrel, I prepared. I applied for health insurance (that is a story in itself!). I found a doula and a birthing center.  I practiced pre-natal yoga, took a five-week birthing class and read the books, especially Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. My diet was healthy and plentiful. I organized the baby stuff. I spent hours praying and visualized a natural, easeful birth. I programed my talisman towards this end and placed it on my altar.

I went past my due date and could not deliver at the birthing center. I would have to deliver at the hospital due to increased risk of still birth that came with first-time mothers over 40. I balked initially, believing myself to be more fit than a lot of twenty-year olds, but would soon discover that this was only the first of many concessions I would have to make.

In fact, by the time the birthing process was done, I would have to discard most of my carefully researched plan. After two days and two nights of labor without pain medication, the baby was stuck in my pelvis in the rare breech position of presenting forehead first. Then we tried an assorted menu of medical interventions and ultimately resorted to a c-section.

In a period of two days, I had to confront a whole list of fears: fear of hospitals, fear of drugs, fear of surgery, fear of death, check. I tried to take a spiritual lesson from the experience of surrendering my plan and instead flowing with what was actually happening, moment-to-moment. This was hard because my ego was attached to a certain image I had of myself as “natural,” even “neo-indigenous.” I witnessed how the ego can usurp one’s best intentions and that spirit has no use for labels, especially spiritual ones!

As for that doggone talisman, note to self, it always seemed to give me what I needed, not necessarily what I wanted, in this case a doozy of a lesson in letting go.

But it wasn’t all hard-knocks. There were gifts too.

My greatest fear was that if I delivered a baby all full of drugs that I would miss the ecstatic bonding that happens between mother and child. That the drugs would somehow short-circuit the flow of hormones that facilitate the rush of emotion. But here’s the thing: just because something can be explained physically doesn’t mean that there are not other forces at work.

After they cut me open and removed the baby, I later learned that there was an awful moment when she wasn’t breathing. I was behind the curtain and couldn’t see anything, but felt the anxiety in the room. One of the nurses found a plug of mucus in her throat and was able to remove it. While this was happening I heard my husband talking desperately to the baby.

Finally she unleashed a hearty, ripping cry. Whatever turned her on moved through me like a tidal wave at the same moment and opened some hidden chamber in my heart. I too screamed out, helplessly, because I couldn’t contain that rush. It was not something I could stop or control. I have never felt anything like it in the world, this force of love from the other side. We could not see each other, baby and I, but we could hear and feel each other, connected by this force.

Prior to this moment we did not know the sex of the baby. There was a lot of speculation, even from complete strangers about whether or not it was a girl or boy. But in that moment of our first meeting, all the ideas and projections of gender didn’t matter. I knew she was The One: Little Grandmother-Trickster-Coyote Woman-Golden Hummingbird.

When we left the hospital five days later and went out into the world, I perceived a subtle shift in my perspective. Before the birth, I wanted to know where I stood with the world, to penetrate its mystery, to have a greater affect on it. But now I saw that the world was just the world. And it’s nothing to get all worked up about.

There is still the magic of nature, which I no longer feel a need to de-code. It is enough to just feel it, the kiss of an evening breeze. What is real becomes available.

Love and Deep Gratitude to Cyrille Conan, Blanche Jimenez, Liliane Conan, Shivani St. George, Kat Rowan, Nurse Terri Paine, Cambridge Birthing Center and Cambridge Hospital


Initiation

As a dancer, there were certain things I had naturally and other things I had to work at. I expected there to be a certain amount of pain. While working to develop my flexibility for example, pain became a sort of daily ritual meditation.

At times, I was overwhelmed by the level of sacrifice the art demanded, but I knew I wanted to go all the way, where ever that was, where ever that led. That journey was stressful, terrifying, confusing, ecstatic, spiritual and devastating, not necessarily in that order, and sometimes all those things before lunch.

I think my failures outnumbered my successes, which made the successes more meaningful.

Now I can look back on that journey and see it as a kind of initiation process towards becoming an artist. Certain things in life can’t be gotten at without going through the door of transformation, no matter how gifted you are, and it usually doesn’t feel good when it’s happening. The struggle of the butterfly to emerge from its cocoon is what strengthens its wings and enables it to fly. The struggle is inseparable, and, as Malidoma Some suggests, equal to the gift that awaits you.

In our culture, we are taught to lead with ego, to always look cool and to avoid vulnerability because it equates with weakness, but Some also teaches that Spirit can only work with us when we are in a vulnerable state. He says, “Sometimes your not-knowing cooperates better with a process than your knowing.” These are hard words for modern people to embrace, we who want to know the outcome of every step before we take it, we who have invented insurance for our insurance, we of the homogenized beauty, of the entitled, we in the “Yes, we can,” demanding change under the guise of security.

Security is an inside joke; you can’t find it on the outside, get it? Hahaha.

Ah, what can I say? My brother is the comedienne of the family. Anyway, now that I’ve hung up my pointe shoes, another initiation is on the horizon: parenthood.

So far, so good: the little tea-pot is kicking and appears healthy. I am quite comfy in my maternity jeans and enjoy food in an almost orgasmic way. I’m talkin’ peanut butter and butter and jelly. I have boobs for the first time in my life; I have to lift to get up under there and wash. Ladies, y’all know what I’m talkin’ ’bout. And I feel a kind of immunity from the cares of the world, like I’ve just won a challenge on Project Runway and cannot be eliminated for the next round. There’s a sort of energy of respite that confused me at first, but that I now wallow in quite contentedly.

Mostly, when people find out that I am pregnant, and at six months it’s hard to miss, they are sincerely congratulatory, but then there are those others, the rainers-on-the paraders, who take the opportunity to unleash their cynicism about parenthood under the pretext of giving me a head’s up. Thanks. They complain about how unhappy they are, stopping just short of out-right blame towards their kids followed by an insincere chuckle and an awkward silence.

Maybe I caught them at a bad moment but it seems…maybe they’re missing the point? They cannot see the bigger picture and place their experience within the context of initiation. They cannot see the hope of unconditional love.

I’m not saying that there’s not an appropriate place and time to express one’s heart-ache over parenting. Of course there is. But I suspect our above mentioned cynics also lack a context for expressing grief. Maybe we don’t have to choose between the image of the new-agey, bullshit, eternally cheery positive thinker and the cynic.  Maybe we can let ourselves off the hook by honestly accepting how we feel, without resistance, without labels. By resisting our humanness, we become trapped in a prison of expectation, a maze with no center, no exit and no reward. And I only know about the maze because I’ve been there. I guess getting lost is sometimes part of it. We forget that it’s not who we are.

I often look upon the Spiritual journey, of which parenting may play a big part for those who choose it, not as a process of gaining special psychic powers or existing in some perpetually blissful state, but as a process of becoming fully human. And don’t worry. If you don’t choose parenting, initiation will find you some other way.

And then there are those, many of whom are quite accomplished in other areas of their lives, who say, without doubt or hesitation, that parenting is the best, the greatest thing they’ve ever done.

Ashe.

Here we come to welcome you, Little Big One.


Down the Rabbit-Hole

I belong to an on-line google group that discusses spirituality. It is an extension of a group that meets up periodically for retreats and serves to maintain communications when we’ve returned from the retreat back into our everyday lives.

Recently, one of our members went on a rant: she was frustrated with the community, with the lack of tangible progress, feeling unsupported and lost on her path. I got it. At times, I’ve felt a similar longing and despair.

It got me to asking the question of why we pursue this thing called spirituality and what we hope to get out of it.

I think what started me on my own spiritual quest was a deep unshakable feeling that something was missing. I’d accomplished a lot externally but felt empty inside and unknown to myself. Nothing in the modern world could fill that void. In a way, it’s fair to say I didn’t know what I was longing for, but something about the spiritual texts I came across at the time gave me hope. Also, I had a paralyzing fear of death that…was like…a…wall…to…living?

When I use the word spiritual, I am not only referring to elevated disembodied beings, but to an essential human part of ourselves. It is the non-physical part of us that is associated with light. So, for example, thought can be spiritual or not, but love is and all its subsidiaries: forgiveness, compassion, kindness, truth, etc.

Being spiritual, opening to spirit, doesn’t necessarily give you an immediate answer to the problems of your life. For most of us, the initial opening is more like a can of worms. The light of the opening can illuminate all of the ways we have not loved and then we have to take a long hard look at our crap. Malidoma Some likens the spiritual path to the fall of Alice down the rabbit-hole. The landings are usually hard.

I’ve been falling for some time now. Gradually, your eyes adjust. The real trick is adjusting your spiritual vision during the fwifs and fwams of ordinary life and to eventually maintain a sort of dual vision, for without the dual vision of the mundane and spiritual, you are only seeing half the picture.

The spiritual aspect allows you to see what happens in physical life from a much broader perspective. In my travels, I’ve met people who have extraordinary gifts. They can actually see beings, guides, kontomble and the like. They can travel to other dimensions. They can converse with the dead. You may or may not possess those kinds of gifts, but even without them, one can cultivate spiritual vision by paying attention to how one feels. When you have a bad feeling, you find a moment to stop. Hold onto the feeling and follow the thread to its source. The thread will most likely take you to something you don’t want to look at about yourself, but the moment you see the jealousy, self-hatred, fear, is the moment the door to compassion and then forgiveness can open.

I think we can all do this sort of detective work with ourselves but a lot of us are a little rusty. It’s like a muscle that’s softened with disuse. Plus, we’re afraid to stop, to put our frickin’ phones down.

One of the ways we can strengthen this muscle is through story-telling. Story-telling helps us to practice the art of perspective which is essential to developing the dance between the mundane vision (what appears to be happening) with the spiritual vision (what’s really happening). To tell a story, one must rise above the story itself. There are no bad stories. Just unpracticed story-tellers.

I did a divination for someone recently. I could see that he’d had some kind of early childhood trauma. He was unable to speak about it or to cry. In being unable to tell the story, he was still beneath it, burdened by it, and the water he was unable to release through tears was causing toxicity. I suggested he begin by writing or speaking his story, to let the flow of words assist the flow of water so that he could begin the cleansing process.

And if healing is a process, grieving is a practice. We in modern culture are all looking for a way to cure (end) the hurt, but some things can’t be cured forever. It just needs to be cleaned out periodically. Over time, the hurt comes up less and less, but will still come up until maybe it doesn’t have to any more, but by that time we will have accumulated another hurt. And the practice is that when it comes up, we clean it out with tears, with our story. Most of us don’t need a drug. We need a practice. Without the practice, we are not really living.

The other day a friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIuWY5PInFs. In it a woman is courageously and honestly talking about her ballet career before she is about to give her last performance. I was a mess. I hadn’t grieved my own retirement in a long while. But this time was different. I didn’t get stuck in my head. I didn’t feel regret or the need to question my choices. It was almost like I was grieving for someone else, like watching a movie. I could see a much larger picture. The confusion and fear were replaced by compassion.

And then I ate lunch.


One Dance

Hip-Hop is one of the most influential cultural movements of our time. Its presence has touched everything from ballet to Sesame Street.

Growing up in Queens, NY, a strong-hold of hip-hop, I always loved the music, but while teaching at the Boston Arts Academy, a public arts high-school, I began to fall in love with the dance aspect. Many of my students came to the study of ballet whose only prior dance experience was hip-hop. (I’m using the term “hip-hop” here in a generic way to include various forms of street dancing, ranging from popping and locking to krumping and etc).

These extraordinary dancers taught me a lot. Their movement had an aliveness, a spontaneity, a freshness and built a community that I often felt missing in the concert dance world.

I wanted to touch that aliveness in myself and after much deliberation, worked up the courage to strap on my hot pink Nikes and take a beginner class. My fears proved to be unfounded. There was every sort of person in that hip-hop class, from experienced dancers, to children, to the middle-aged housewife, to the aging hippie, to the Japanese business man. On certain Saturdays, Ms. Jimenez could even be found taking “popping” classes privately with her own hip-hop guru and historian, Jose Eric Cruz.

I did not have any delusions about joining a dance crew in Brooklyn or South Central in order to gain some street cred, but I was having a lot of fun dancing again. It was like a whole new world opened up for me. I found my swag.

As hip-hop movements started to find their way into my contemporary ballet choreography, I began to find startling similarities. Ballet has its own term for swag. It’s called aplomb. Aplomb is the attitude, the carriage, the scent of ballet. Just as an opera singer must always sing with vibrato, a ballet dancer must always move in the universe of aplomb and a hip-hop dancer must always move with the somewhat aggressive self-assurance that is swag in order to be convincing.

Another surprise was that teaching hip-hop to dancers mostly trained in ballet highlighted their weaknesses in ballet. What I mean is this: in a sense, there is only One Dance with many faces. Musicality, dynamics, presence, grace, articulation, expression are qualities found in all its forms. So, for example, if a student was having trouble finding the heavy and obvious down-beat in a hip-hop movement, it usually highlighted a lack of listening in general.

The issue of dynamics, in particular, has suffered in ballet in recent years, due to the emphasis placed on high extensions. Let me explain: nowadays, I find that the dynamics of a movement are often sacrificed to emphasize or accommodate the time it takes to lift the leg very high. I’ve seen conductors stretch a phrase of music to allow more time for an extension to the point where the musical tension was rendered to mush. Some artists tend to prioritize the pose at the end instead of the overall flow of movement. A certain speed and attack are lost. This is a general observation that I see in ballet and of course is not true in every case.

When I was dancing, I was swept up in that trend and often made this same mistake, but now that I’m watching more than dancing, I see it as a kind of sin. When we are dancing, we have to make a lot of choices, but, to me at least, there is a certain hierarchy to those choices and MUSIC TRUMPS EVERYTHING. The dynamics of the music must be respected as holy and mirrored in the body. In that way, I think my own understanding of dance has come full circle. Before I had any training, before I aspired to look like this or that ballerina, I danced, as a child, because of the music. I wanted to be the music.

There was a dancer I loved (now an ancestor) named Mari Kajiwara who danced with the Ailey company for many years before dancing with Ohad Naharin. Mari had an amazingly solid, earthy, supple, fluid movement quality. She also had an extraordinary extension, but her use of extension was always in service to the movement quality, not the other way around. So when she extended, it always felt like the right surprise.

So, I am learning a lot from hip-hop and stealing outright whenever possible. Conversely, I see how ballet has influenced hip-hop, in the fluid, graceful turn-out and port de bras of Lil’ Buck, a true dance pioneer. I know we are all familiar with the platitude that anything’s possible, but when I first saw Lil’ Buck bourre-ing around on the toes of his sneakers, I became a believer. And I cried. One Dance, y’all.

Maybe next we shall fly.


Alzheimer’s Medicine

Election fever has got me vacillating wildly between kooky elation and serious thoughts of expatriation to outer-space.

You know all those period movies about the British upper-classes? When they show them eating breakfast, it’s always the same: a husband and wife sitting at opposite ends of a long table on their puckered backsides politely tapping one poached egg. What’s up with the lone poached egg? Why just one each? Eating a lone poached egg in a fancy porcelain cup seems to denote wealth. Is that what this is all about? Who gets to eat the egg? It’s so sad.

In the Bury (short for Roxbury) as we affectionately call the ‘hood ’round these parts , we eat breakfast in front of the tv. And I am cracking open two, count them two, eggs! Hard-boiled, that is. Now, tv in the morning is a kind of sin for me, but the husband likes it, so fine.

The news-people appear predictably chipper and manicured, numbing us through their pretty shallowness to the effects of the world. How do they pull it off day after day? Coming up next, a story about how scientists may be able to predict Alzheimer’s twenty years prior to the onset of symptoms. Various brain scans appear that ominously suggest, this might be your brain. The doctors can decipher these brain squiggles, which you, stupid average person, cannot. Then, if you have the diseased brain, they put you on several evil medications to help combat your inevitable doom. Have a nice day!

My first thought was, well, how fortunate for the drug companies. They can start making money off of Alzheimer’s patients twenty years in advance!

My second thought was, I hope Blanche doesn’t see this, but of course she will. She and her partner are those people over sixty that still read several newspapers every day including the big fat ones on Sunday. She’s probably clipping the article right now.

Blanche is my mother and her mother, Tilly (xoxox) died of Alzheimer’s. Blanche has been paranoid ever since that she will also manifest the disease. So, she goes to extremes to keep her mind sharp. One day I walked in on her practicing Arabic with a deep voice from a tape recorder. Ahlan WasahlanNow repeat: Ahlan Wasahlan.

The commercial came on and we had to go vote, so I never did get to see the squiggles on an Alzheimer’s brain versus a non-diseased brain. The voting process went quickly and smoothly. I love the feeling of camaraderie on election day even though I saw a Romney bumper sticker on the way there. I was like, oh hell no, he must not know where he at. This is the Bury, sucka!

One of the questions on the ballot was whether or not to make assisted suicide legal for terminal patients. I was all for it, but then wondered, in the case of Alzheimer’s, how would the patient know? When you can no longer remember to go to the bathroom, asking for a fatal dose of drugs is a stretch. What would I do with Blanche if it came to that? I imagined my own brain. Maybe its squiggles were already veering dangerously off course.

That’s when I hatched a plan for an Alzheimer’s “medicine” of my own. My medicine was not designed to delay the onset of symptoms but to induce them immediately.

On the way up to the park with Chulo, I imagined I was in its early stages, just forgetting little things here and there, like leaving the stove on or driving on the wrong side of the highway.

I was reduced to pure sensation: the morning light streaming through the leaves of the great beech, the game of chase between a cardinal and a chickadee, the cold wind against my face and my fingers going numb. I just experienced each thing without thought or the burden of memory and without wondering what was coming next.

After awhile in the park, my medicine started to work too well and I couldn’t remember if I’d walked up or drove up after dropping my husband off at work as I sometimes do. My squiggles straightened themselves out once again into their customary pathways and all the little details of what I had to do came rushing back in. I had walked to the park after all.

I have a habit of seldomly remembering the good things. I dwell on the bad things, the things that I did that make me cringe. I think if I re-live those things often enough, I will pay some kind of penance and finally be cleansed, but it never works that way. I am not cleansed through remembering even long after I’ve learned the lesson and received the gift of some past mistake. I guess just recognizing that is a gift in itself.

Epilogue:

On the way back home to our little apartment with the year-round Christmas lights, I pretended that I was blind for a few seconds before crossing the street.


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