Monthly Archives: February 2011

Rock Ghosts Memory

A few months ago, I attended a ritual right in my neighborhood at Malcolm X park. The ritual was to give thanks to the earth. At its conclusion, a friend picked up a piece of glossy, charcoalish, volcanic rock and held it in her hand as she walked about giving additional offerings to her spirits. A few minutes later she returned with the rock and gave it to me saying simply, “I think this is for you.”

I thanked her and took the rock home, curious. Not knowing what to do with it, I placed it on the mantle over the fireplace. Sometime later I had the idea to place it on my ancestor shrine.

Actually, it was more like I received the idea to put the rock there. Whenever I receive an idea, as oppose to grasp at it, I try to just do it, the received idea, without question. Learning to tell the difference between the two kinds of thoughts has taken me a long time and I often still mess it up.

My teacher, Ken, gave me a tool to help sift through ideas that he got from another student. He said that if you’re not sure about an idea, throw it back in the river. If it comes back to the surface three times, then do it. And no, he doesn’t mean that literally.

Getting past literal-ness is another hurdle when it comes to sifting ideas from those that are fearfully grasped at to those that are received. Our minds are really caught up in duality, things being black and white, things being exactly the word that represents them. It’s hard in our modern world to drop that because, well, literal thinking is like a rampant virus that has bitten us all in a delicate, secret place.

Literal thinking shows up a lot in my dance classes. What I mean is that, more and more, students want a very direct answer for how to get from point A to point B. They imagine their improvement to simply be a matter of following the correct steps. They imagine dancing to be another commodity that they can acquire. It’s hard for them to embrace mystery. They also tend to expect immediate results.

I see this as a result of us being able to access information instantaneously. So when the young people encounter something, such as ballet, that they can’t “click” on, they don’t know what to do. For example, I might get a question like, how do you lift your leg up higher? Then, I will go into a story about how I “found” my extension, a story that spans years of work and includes a lot of stretching and pain. But talking about a process that took years of dedication sounds like a myth to them, whereas when I was their age, I never would have asked such a question in the first place. It was understood that no one was going to find it for you. It was understood that the ones who could already lift their legs very high did not have a formula or a blueprint that they could sell or teach. That is not to say that there aren’t certain practical steps one can take to achieving such things. There are. But those things, those exercises are not a guarantee. They are just exercises, not the thing itself.

What makes someone commit to something long enough to achieve a real transformation is not something that can be bought or easily transferred in any way. Getting modern young people to understand that in our economically, literally driven society is often a challenge I face.

How do I meet that challenge? Well, I try to meet it by telling them stories. By giving them full answers instead of direct ones. I try to provide a place where literal and poetic thought can play together. I encourage them to use their imaginations and to visualize. I try to let them know that the blueprint they are seeking is already inside them and to encourage them to follow their inner knowing, especially when what they know or see does not correspond to what they are taught to want. I try to encourage them to nurture their inner knowing instead of forcing it to emerge as they want it to, which often leads to extreme unhappiness. I know this from my own life.

So, today, I took a bath with my rock on the ledge beside me. The rock was ready to “speak” to me. It opened up my memory. I “met” my maternal great-grandparents: Blanche, after whom my mother is named and Wilfred. I also “met” my Chinese ancestors and my paternal Spanish grandparents: Felica and Jesus. My African ancestors, I’d met earlier, on another occasion. I was led to them by the music of Ali Farka Toure’s In the Heart of the Moon.

They were all tearful reunions. I was able to recognize some of my ghosts. In many indigenous cultures, ancestors that have not been properly mourned with rivers of tears cannot journey to the realm of the ancestors, their rightful place after death. Their lost souls greatly affect the lives of those they’ve left behind. Pain gets handed down from generation to generation until the relationship between the living and the dead is healed. You can probably see evidence of inherited pain in your own life through such things as illness, depression, anger, alcoholism and sexual abuse.

The sexual problems are a real no-no for our culture. We don’t know how to talk about them. We drag those ghosts around and lay them on our children. But by remembering our ancestors, we initiate tremendous healing. In my own case, with the help of the rock, I was able to see my ghosts, my inherited pain, and the light of my awareness brought compassion to that energy, which is deeply healing.

I can imagine some of you reading this and thinking I’ve lost my mind. Others, for whom this resonates might get into their literal head and wonder how does one do this? Don’t worry. I won’t try to sell you anything. Why should I sell you something you already have?

So I will tell you a short story: in the beginning, I approached my ancestors literally, because literacy was the only tool I thought I had. I just started talking, but I tried to feel into them with my heart. Did I feel stupid talking to a mound of dirt (my ancestor shrine)? You betcha. But I tried to let my heart speak through my feelings of inadequacy and doubt.

Start where you are. Connect with others that are supportive of your intentions and similarly driven. Open up to the idea that you can love yourself. Don’t be afraid to sing. Start where you are.

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Loving through Anger

I grew up in a family of politicos whose views extended as far left as the eye could see, with the exception of my brother who briefly flirted with Republicanism, mostly out of rebellion towards my mother. Family dinners were a stew of heated debate. Though I sat mostly listening, silently enthralled, I never seemed to develop a political bug. I was an arteest.

I have always hated to watch the news, all doom and gloom. I’m sensitive. But at some point, art becomes political. Spirit becomes political. With all the stuff brewing in the world right now, I just can’t look away.

Funny thing about the news is there is so much obvious stuff that doesn’t get mentioned. Anchors tip-toe around the pink elephant in the news room, exhaling a sigh of relief when it’s time for sports and weather. Today, Hilary Clinton denounced the murder of the four white tourists yachting off the coast of Somalia as a tragedy. While I’m sorry that those people lost their lives, isn’t the real tragedy here, um, Somalia?

I don’t know the whole story of Somalia’s history, but I know the story of colonialism in Africa. My Somalian-born neighbor, Usef from up the street, gave me some gory details that made me sympathetic to the so-called pirates. Not the pirates responsible for the recent murders, but the Somali pirates in general. From his point of view, foreign colonizers and business interests were the real pirates. They started this fight. I’m not that smart, but if I was rich and white, or just rich, or just white, or just anybody come to think of it, now would not be the time to take a private cruise off the coast of Somalia.

And another thing, harumph, the corporations, as they have for decades, are trying to get rid of unions in order to get more power. As if they don’t have enough. Why isn’t the emphasis on taxing the rich instead of taking away a teacher’s friggin’ pension? People argue that high taxes push business away, and no jobs will be created, but those people have a short memory. That’s not how it started. Business left this country out of greed in the first place. Now, not only are they not paying their fair share of taxes, but they are also not creating jobs. And debt is the state workers’ fault? Well, we may not have a dictator to overthrow, but we got some seriously greedy business booty to bust. And they’re not armed. Yet.

Now that I’ve gotten myself all riled up as perhaps you get watching the evening news, it might be a good time to point out that, while I’m angry, I don’t want there to be a violent revolution here. I want there to be a revolution of love and consciousness. And I believe, as I’ve stated before, that, no matter what, everyone gets to grow. I don’t want anyone to be punished, not even corrupt politicians and corporate bosses. Let’s not waste any more time on that. I want us to expand our consciousness towards compassion. I want us to lead with love and consciousness instead of fear. Without that, we will eventually end up right back where we started.

Perhaps, since the time of “civilization,” we’ve suffered from the effects of CFG (competitive, fearful grasping). In politics and business, it’s things as usual. But I have the sense that something is changing. It’s not just that people are fed up. Something is changing in us spiritually. For the first time in history, people are becoming empowered to listen inwardly and develop a spirituality separate from organized religions.

While there is evidence everywhere of many structures falling apart, there is also evidence of things coming together in new ways. For instance, there is a stereotype of people who take yoga as being kinda granola-y. There is a stereotype of people who do hip-hop as being urban, mostly black, youth. But, I see the same demographic of people taking yoga as I do in my Saturday morning hip-hop class. And guess what? The demographic is everybody, all ages, cultures, sexual-orientations and colors. There was a time when that just would not happen, in Boston or anywhere.

Our inner voices are telling us that it’s ok to love what you or others previously held apart. We are listening and trusting that inner voice more and more. Even after over thirty years dancing, it’s still a little scary to show up to a new class. I can only imagine the courage it takes for someone who has never danced before, as is clearly the case for some. When I see a middle-aged, Asian business man for instance, strutting across the dance studio gettin’ his swag on, I think, wow, now that’s my nigga! Somethin’s changin’ y’all. And maybe things like yoga, spirituality and the arts are leading the way…

“What are you doing?” I ask Mr. Octopus.

“Gettin’ my krrrump  on!”

“Oh, I was worried you were having a seizure.”

“Don’t hate!”

He’s right, as usual. It’s ok to get angry. To feel hurt, betrayed, but, God, Spirit, Ancestors, please grant me/us the grace, to, even in the throes of our anger, leave hate and love.


The Big Story of Us

I saw something last night that lassooed my wobbly faith in humanity.

It was one of those had-to-be-there moments that are hard to put into words, but I’ll try. Under the direction of Tim Miller, a group of people from a variety of backgrounds, meaning that they were not all trained performers, told their personal stories through words and movement. It sounds so simple and it was.

No car crashes. No surround sound. No Brangelina. No blood. No seduction.

Just some stories told by ordinary folks.

A day later, I was still thinking about the show. When art hits you that way, it’s downright healing, at least for my tired soul. And it got me to thinking about the importance of stories themselves, how they connect us to something: our imagination, our feelings, beauty, spirit, how they teach us about life and help us to find our place in the abyss. Good stories, that is.

I just sat there on the floor of the Harvard black box theater beaming in awe of each person’s specialness. Each story was a unique gem that made me see the storyteller in the light of its sparkle. To see the specialness of someone is a gift of compassion. I wanted to be able to see everyone in the world with those eyes. Maybe I can’t know everyone’s individual story, but I can certainly try to remember that they have one in the first place and feel into them from there.

I also got to thinking about how the nature of stories, which is interconnectedness, helps us to grow in compassion. We humans get a little stuck around compassion. Maybe  you’ve noticed. I don’t know if our sense of compassion is getting better in this age of technology, but tend to think that when there is only you and one other person walking towards each other on the same street and that other person fails to acknowledge you, inches away, because they are on their cell phone, that our sense of compassion is suffering.

It’s not that we’re mean. It’s that we’re distracted. But that in itself, one’s level of distraction, is in some way a measure of compassion. It is a lack of compassion that distracts you from what or whom you are with. It takes a dose of compassion, presence and awareness to say hi, to smile, to at least look  someone in the eye. Maybe wink at a sista once in awhile.

Anyway, I digress…compassion…oh yeah. Another thing about that show is that it helped me to understand something about us all being special and ordinary at the same time. I think accepting our ordinariness is another thing we humans struggle with, especially in this time of reality-tv-insta-fame.

Our commercial, modern world really has us by the throats around this issue. We are constantly taunted that we should be faster, thinner, smarter, richer, and more famous in order to be better than the person next to us. We really have to examine the extent to which competition motivates our actions. None of the stuff we acquire through our competitive, fearful grasping actually makes  us better, so we are given more products, thinner models, faster phones, more channels, to keep us reaching.

I think the nature of story-telling’s interconnectedness helps us to heal ourselves from competitive, fearful grasping (CFG) by helping us to understand the paradox of the special and the ordinary. What I mean is that stories, if looked at from above, form a sort of web. One story connects with another, with another, with another. They connect through shared time, history, people, places, things and experiences.

When a story is told, there are usually main characters, but when looked at from above, you may see that an ant that played a small role in one story plays the central role in another. Up close, sometimes we are the star. Other times not. But from above, we are both simultaneously. What’s important is not that one is a star, but that one simply plays one’s role.

Even the ones among us who play big roles in many stories will one day be forgotten. What’s important is that the story keeps moving, keeps getting told. It’s the story, the Big Story of Us, that through its telling, gets into us, and stays alive, also through us.


Equal Parts Love and Creativity

A late-morning talk-show hostess gives away a new car to a struggling young couple. On the same show, another woman, also in financial straits, enters a see-through closet structure that has dollar bills blowing around inside. Her task is to grasp as many as she can before the time runs out. She works desperately. The studio audience goes wild.

Eek.

I would like a fistful of money. I would like a new car (no offense to the Grey Pearl, my beloved 1999 Mazda Protege, held together by strips of hot-pink gaffers tape) but, in spite of the cheering crowds, something doesn’t sit right with me in these TV stunts.

I am reminded of a symbol that often arose in my brief study of Hungarian mysticism with teacher Ken: seeing someone in a vision or a dream driving a car. It seems like a common enough sight, but in the spiritual symbology of Hungarian mysticism, this vision indicates someone who is moving forward on their path without actually being connected to it. In other words, the person is doing something that gives them the feeling or illusion of advancement, such as buying a new car, without anything in their life having to change. It is a superficial gesture that does not move them any closer to the fulfillment of their true purpose.

Seeing these talk-show antics reminded me of the car symbol. They feel superficial and exploitative. The receiver walks away with some stuff and the hostess pats herself on the back for a job well done. Everyone resumes life-as-usual, going through the same drive-thru on their way home from work except that now, they’re in a shiny new car!

All these give-aways made me reflect on what it means to perform acts of real service. Again, I’m going to refer to an experience I had with Ken, who is a full-body channel. This means that he is able to leave his body in order to channel your spirit guide who is then able to speak to you directly. I’m sorry if this is too way out there for some readers. All I can say is try to let go of the means of delivery and just hear the message.

I was told (through my spirit guide) that the highest creation or service combines equal parts love and creativity. The example I was given is that you have to find someone or some people who need a mountain range and then build it. I like the example of a mountain range, as opposed to, I don’t know, a strip mall, because it implies the vastness of our potential and combines the element of nature. You can substitute anything that works for you: Find out who needs a school and then build it. Find out who needs a new mythology and write it. Find out who needs a dance piece and then choreograph it, etc. True service always brings transformation to all involved.

The tv giveaways are lacking in the important elements of service; though they meet a need, they lack love and creativity, unless you count someone hysterically groping for money in a wind-booth as creative. It took some imagination to come up with that, sure. But I wonder, the person who envisioned that contraption, where was their heart? Where was their consciousness? Where was their intention? How would they like to see their own mother grovelling on her hands and knees with her support hose showing?

It’s hard for us to be meticulous about our intentions, especially when so much of what we see in popular culture seems to want to exploit humanity, rather than uplift it. We take the cheap shot and are rewarded for it with money and fame.

Sometimes, it’s hard for us to be mindful of our intentions, simply because we have been taught to do things out of a sense of obligation. We are taught to be “professional.” We are afraid that if we honor our own truth, we will disappoint others, or be judged.

Maybe the above mentioned talk-show host plays the game of the free give-aways with her viewers to satisfy intentions that are not her own so that she can have a show at all in which she addresses other issues that are meaningful to her. For all I know, she may be up to her elbows in acts of true altruism, but there’s no evidence of it here. My point is not to judge her. We have all compromised our integrity to play somebody else’s game.

I wonder what my life would look like if I practiced living from my inner-knowing all the time…what our world would look like…oh, the mountain ranges we could make!

“Maybe you should stop watching so much tv,” contributes Mr. Octopus.

“Ok, except for RuPaul’s Drag Race. I love me some drag!”

“Though you know I don’t support the competitive aspect, I’ll allow that. You need a little fun in your life, Donnie Darko.”

“Thanks.”

“By the way, how do I look in this wig?”

“Fabulous, Diva! You betta work!”


Command: New

“Each time you expand, include and integrate something you formerly held to be outside of your love or beyond your capacity, you are bringing the world closer to unity.” — Elia Wise from her book, Letter to Earth

A few evenings ago, spurred on by all the Oscar buzz, I watched the Social Network. Though I liked it as a movie, its impact left a sour taste in my mouth, a slimy gritty residue of feeling that hung around until the following morning.

All of the characters were so yucky. How could someone so brilliant (Mark Zuckerberg as portrayed in the movie) be so lacking in human kindness? Why would someone so observant of human nature choose to exploit and manipulate it that way?

I realize that to answer those questions, I need look no further than my own life’s past. I’m not calling myself brilliant. Erase that bit. I’m talking about being unkind, exploitative and manipulative. I messed up. I hurt people too. Mostly, like Zuckerberg, because I was too caught up in my own drama to extend my awareness and sensitivity to how my actions impacted others.

I am saying all this upon reflection, though. Immediately after seeing the movie, my skeezy feeling about Facebook was confirmed. It was the enemy. It started out with bad intentions and I could swear, though I didn’t know the history at the time I first signed up, that it just didn’t feel kosher. I felt pushed into it by societal peer-pressure. I felt like a spy looking in on other people’s lives. Sure it was nice to reconnect with friends from the past, but that conflicted with my belief that certain people are supposed to come in and out of your life…aren’t they? Isn’t there a natural flow to all that? And what about those ex-lovers that popped up here and there wanting to be “friends”?

After seeing the movie, I wanted to hate Facebook. I really did. But then I realized that all of those questions were challenging my beliefs, and maybe that’s what I was really hatin’ on, my beliefs being challenged. Maybe those questions were there, now, to help me grow and shape new beliefs. Maybe the force that brings people in and out of our lives is still at work in Facebook, with new dimensions and new potentialities. Maybe, I had to make my own choices in how I responded to the stimulus of being or not being “friended”.

At the public high school where I work, teachers are not allowed to “friend” students on Facebook. Why not? Of course there are always people who are up to no good, but they don’t need Facebook for that. Facebook doesn’t all of a sudden make you someone else. I trust that I have good intentions when it comes to my students. Why wouldn’t I carry the same integrity with my interactions with them in the studio onto Facebook? And if some kind of trouble were to arise, then why couldn’t we deal with it responsibly? Perhaps Facebook is actually helping us all to grow in trust exactly because it didn’t start out that way, as a vehicle for trust. So it is helping us to challenge ourselves in that way, to grow in trust and to examine the purity of our intentions. Huh.

And speaking of the tide of magnetism that floats people into and out of our lives, there is one very important true friend that I’ve found again through Facebook. Our reunion was deeply cherished with tears and hugs. In spite of the lust and meanness that spawned Facebook, maybe there was a thread of love, of the longing for love, after all. Maybe there’s a reason why we all need these networks now. Maybe Egypt. When it comes to a cause that big, you put aside your dirty laundry and send that old boyfriend a message on Facebook about the REVOLUTION. Dig?

Maybe my openness to Facebook will extend to being more open, accepting and, dare I say it, loving of technology one of these days. I know I often rant against technology on this blog, but really what I’m ranting against is the unconscious use of it. Anyway, I sound like a hypocrite if I ask others to love while I do not.

So love it is.

I’m kissing my cell phone right now.

Just kidding.

I’m actually still working on acceptance, but that’s a start.


Hello and Goodbye Again

“Nothing, not even your breath is your own. You do not live, but are lived by the divine being.” –Adi Da Samraj

Ok, so we play these roles. It’s usually not all that conscious although every once in a while, I’ll catch myself in the mirror while playing “teacher” and wonder, who’s that with the big teeth?

As I grow older, the distinction between various roles softens, blurs at the edges, but is still there. I wonder if growing up has to do with some roles coalescing while others just slough off, until you are truly one person, like a big old pot of beef stew. In the meantime, while learning, or rather, remembering the One, I try to fulfill each role as best I can. To live my highest truth in the moment.

Blah, blah, blah. See? I was doing it just now: the bit about “living my highest truth in the moment,” otherwise known as propaganda for the role of “being spiritual.” Hahaha!

I guess I feel the most myself when I am alone, but we can’t be alone all the time. So we venture forth to find company and lo and behold, the role-playing starts. The presence of others makes us self-reflective. Largely, what informs the emergence of different roles is one’s perception of how he or she is perceived by others. We create our roles according to what we think others expect of us, or according to how we think people see us. This perspective is mostly inaccurate.

“You were funny last night,” says a mischievous Mr. Octopus.

“Yeah. We had people over, so I put on makeup, you know, wanting to look nice–”

“And, poor thing, couldn’t stop agonizing about whether or not red lipstick was appropriate for Super Bowl Sunday!”

“I missed all the commercials, distracted as I was!”

“That’s prrrobably for the best.”

“Was it too much? The red?”

“Daaahrling, you looked fabulous.”

“Thanks!”

Discipline plays an important part in sustaining these roles, but discipline has its limits, even for ex-ballerinas. It does, however, keep us going til the end, and I am a big fan of thoroughness. But eventually we outgrow even the most well-worn and comfortable of roles. They become like memories of another life. They die, often preceded by a final burst, an expansion, like a star before getting sucked into the black hole. It can be scary, but it’s usually our minds that make it so. Scary mind, scary death. I’m convinced it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m convinced that learning to shed out-dated roles gracefully is a preparation for the ultimate letting go.

Popular culture exploits our fear of letting go. A lot of money is generated by keeping us afraid of what might happen, of what we stand to lose. What would we buy if we actually lived with the acceptance of losing everything? With the acceptance that even our heartbeat is on lease. Clearance sale! Everything must go!

It takes a lot of effort to not get too caught up, to stay present with what actually is, now. Upon reflection, in spite of my fears, most of my transitions have been graceful and this gives me hope. A friend of mine once said that depression results when we resist change. Eventually, even the most stubborn among us will get a kick in the tuckas by spirit when we’ve over-stayed our welcome. They have a way of taking things into their own hands but their ways are sometimes not so nice. You know, those big, nasty, mafioso spirits that come by and bust you in the kneecaps every so often. Make you wake up and pay up!

There really is  no going back.

Mythology warns us against even looking back, but of course we do. We look back, unless you’re some kind of enlightened master jedi or something. Hopefully, we take the time to mourn our lost roles and carry them with us for a while, usually until we’ve found a  new one to inhabit. It’s hard to be completely without one, at peace with the void.

Sometimes I resist letting go because I feel like I have to sustain a role for the benefit of others who need me to remain as I am, but this is perhaps grandiose thinking. Perhaps what we really need and what is best for everyone is for all of us to be what we see ourselves as being.

I’m talking about letting ourselves be gently guided by that inner voice. To become our own unique flower. To have faith in the process and courageously let go of who we were for what we’ll be. To recognize and acknowledge that the more we practice letting go, the better it gets. And even then, with all that, to remember, in the midst of our identification with what we become and become and become, that we are more than anything we can become.

“That’s quite the agenda you got going there,” says Mr. Octopus.

“Yeah, well. What the hell? Might as well go for it.”


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