Author Archives: Tai Jimenez

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.

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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.


Salvation

and the gentle sound of leaves falling,

i think this must be it.

and the sound of the neighbor’s car arriving home,

and i think this must be it.

and the sound of the dog contentedly licking his chops right next to my seated ear,

and i think this must be it:

that invisible thing i’m longing for–

but i don’t want to be one of the masses

holding my arms in the air at the first glimpse of avatars, messiahs or alien ships.

i do not grovel for salvation.

what god would ask this of me?

we open the lock together.

come to my party when you already know this:

God is a sexy slow dance in the basement.

and, with that, i take my tea inside.


10 Spiritual Insights for Dancers

I have wondered a lot lately whether ballet is part of my contract for being here on this earthly plane, something to which I agreed upon prior to birth. Is my contract with dance or ballet in particular? Have I fulfilled my obligations to ballet and is it time to focus on some other way to dance?

I went into meditation this morning and what I’ve written here was my answer. The funny thing is, while investigating how to get greater readership for my blog, I often came across advice to make lists of ten which I immediately shunned as tacky and simplistic. Then this! Well, I’m learning.

I invite you to take what serves you and disregard what doesn’t resonate. I don’t think this is comprehensive. I don’t really trust things that claim to be comprehensive. I wrote this with love for my students, for myself and for the dance goddess, whose love has shattered me. I’m sorry, my darling, that it has taken me so long to embody the one who could write this. Ashe. I love you, still.

1. Technique/Practice. I’m finding lately that in our modern age, the idea of technique (to those who don’t yet have it) is starting to be interpreted as a sort of magical door that once clicked will give you access to the golden room of dance. Students are looking for a shortcut. There is no such thing. Even when given the most detailed explanation, you still have to do the work. I prefer to use the word practice instead of technique. One who has a good technique is in other words one who has practiced consistently with discernment over time.  It is a living, growing changing process of increasing subtlety. You may become well seasoned. You may become masterful, but beware of impeccability. There are no absolutes. We in the West interpret one of the Wabi Sabi aphorisms as “everything is incomplete.” This translation misses the mark. It is closer to describe this precept as “the master is one who embraces an infinite path,” or “a master is one who has practiced the newness over time.”

2. Parallel and Harmonious lines of energy. Generally, when we speak of line in dance, we are referring to the external plastique. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a line of energy that comes through your eyes, through your heart, through your fingertips and through your feet. These lines must move in harmony and awareness of each other or in a conscious disharmony which is sometimes used to make an artistic statement . You may think of these lines of energy as musical notes that ebb and flow, but must be sustained throughout the phrase of movement. You are dancing, channeling, these lines of energy. They come through you from the other world and the lines of energy, especially through your eyes, are rooted to your ancestors.

3. Perfection vs. Imperfection. Perfection is a paradox. We must strive for it, while keeping in mind that it is not the goal. Union with the divine is the goal and that does not require perfect turnout, perfect proportions or a perfect smile. Perfection can lead us forward, but we must not let it lead us astray. Our perceived imperfections are the doorway to our humanity. As a dear friend of mine once said, “Nobody gives a damn about seeing you dance. They want to see themselves through you.” Our humanity, our striving for what is unattainable, our vulnerability, allows others in. Perfection is superficially attractive, but ultimately alienating, sterile and boring.

4. Magic. There are two types of magic: that of the magician and that of the shaman. Both must dance together. The magician’s magic is that of creating an illusion. Drawing the observer’s eye toward what you want them to see. A principal dancer is not one without flaw. She is one who has mastered this art of illusion. Your dancing is not only about you. It is about what you can point to. This requires an active imagination. If you are preoccupied with thoughts of yourself, you will not be able to take the audience very far. You must create a whole world, a whole universe, and then take them there. Often, I will give a step in class and people will start doing it in a headless sort of way without giving a thought to the illusion. They want to do it right, but if you are not creating an illusion, no matter how “right” you do the step, it will not be dancing.

The next kind of magic, shamanic magic, is the magic of change. It has to do with moving energy around, drawing it into you, transmuting it and sending it back out again. Not only do you create the universe with your imagination, you are the universe. The shamanic magic cannot be so easily described. It requires faith. It requires one not to just imagine there, but to actually go there, to burn yourself completely and leave no trace, or, stated differently, to become a vessel to that which burns.

5. Fear. There are two kinds of fear: paranoia and authentic fear. The first kind is to be avoided. It is the fear that says you are not good enough, worthy enough, pretty enough,thin enough etc. It is the kind of fear that the media instills in us through doctored, medicated images of perfection which become exacerbated by a dancer’s natural vanity and obsession with the mirror.

The second fear, authentic fear, is good. Make friends with it. It is the kind of fear that leads us forward. It calls us to become our highest Self and may indicate that we are in the presence of spirit. It is the little voice inside of us that says yes when other external voices say otherwise. Say yes and see what happens. Do not make a problem out of authentic fear. It is not necessary to rid yourself of it prior to a performance. It is only required that you move through it. “If you go forward you die. If you go backwards you die. So go forward and die.”–African proverb.

6. Faith. As my teacher, Ken Ludden said, faith requires action. Faith is doing the thing you know to be true, even when you do not know the outcome, and even when you do. Faith is the essential ingredient that moves us forward in life and in dance. It is what must be present in order to transcend fear.

7. Stillness/Silence. We often think of dancers as people who move beautifully, but what is equally important is the degree to which we can cultivate stillness in movement and in our lives. We have to take a note from musicians who must be as equally aware of the sounds as they are of the silence.  The movement, the sound, is what frames the stillness, the silence. And it is the space in-between that allows our presence to shine.

8. Compassion and Forgiveness. Have compassion for yourself, your teachers, your fellow dancers and everyone. A moment of compassion heals the whole world. Try to free yourself from expectation and learn instead to flow with what is. Compassion will soften the inevitable struggle that is dance. Forgive what might have been when it comes to the big moments in life and the little ones that occur in performance. Forgive your father, forgive the goddess of dance for her fickle, cruel nature, forgive being off your leg in that pique arabesque. Forgiveness is a big part of The Dance. If you can’t recover from a mistake, you can’t dance.

9. Competition. I have heard many people say that there is a good aspect of competition. If there is, feel free to write it here. I haven’t experienced it. Competition disconnects us from our internal voice and makes us reach outward. It makes us un-centered and breeds jealousy. It makes someone a loser and someone else a winner, but that is never the truth. It’s ok to want something that someone else has. It is good to feel inspired by others. But when that wanting leads us away from our own path, we get lost. Our purpose, our medicine, is unique in the world. It is our job to bring it forth, with the help of our community, nature, our ancestors and other invisible forces. Our culture spends a lot of energy cultivating competition instead of focusing directly on helping people manifest their purpose. Competing in a competition may indirectly point you in the right direction, but why not have healing as a starting point? Competition is therefore a primitive and inefficient means of moving forward. Love and nurturing make better flowers.

10. Fun. If I could change one thing about my career, it wouldn’t be to have had more roles, to have made more money, to have better feet, better extension, more turns, or any of that crap. It would have been to have had more fun. Laughter is great medicine for body and soul. It takes many lifetimes to master an art. We have a long way to go. Make fun along the way. It will keep your love for dance ALIVE.


Turtle Pond

Dedicated to my 3A’s

sunlit pond

savoring smoothness

until dragonfly’s touch erupts

in ripples of laughter

while lily pads lie

demurring in the heat

and the heron’s expert landing,

and the dogs in the mud,

barking frogs,

and the hint of life beneath the surface.

i thought i heard our music:

the beginning part with the child’s voice screaming “fire!”

but it was some other rustling wind song

remembering wings

beating furiously, my heart,

into a wide new shape.

you’ve touched every part of me

and i miss seeing you dance.

 

 

 

 


21 Day Challenge

May 14th,

Two little birds swing

On thin branches, suddenly

All the leaves have eyes.

One day, while driving around in the Grey Pearl, I wanted some company, so I switched on the radio. The tape and cd player haven’t worked in ages, which doesn’t stop me from having tapes and cds in the car. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. It’s sort of like keeping a picture of an old person from when they were young. You want to remember them in their glory days. Or maybe I just want to remember myself that way: Tai and Natasha driving downtown on the FDR listening to Missy Elliot, Tai driving to Boston for the first time listening to Destiny’s Child, etc.

The Grey Pearl is at the point in her life when I’ve stopped fixing things. She’s all meals-on-wheels-y and has the eau of stale popcorn and wet dog. I take her out once in a while for a slow drive to the Stop-n-Shop.

April 24th, Buy turkey sausages and tangelos. Not necessarily in that order. pause pause pause pause pause pause pause pause pause pause pause…

The radio still works as long as you don’t have the wiper blades on, the lights on, or the defroster on. She can only handle one function at a time before she starts screeching like a Nazgul, a sound so ghastly, it makes even the hardest homie on the corner cringe with fear as I roll by.

It’s hard to mention the Grey Pearl without indulging in a bit of nostalgia. But this is not about her. It’s about what I heard on the radio that day.

It was a sunny day. I risked the radio without a complaint from Pearl. I tuned into NPR with me and Pearl cruising along at 30 mph. Good times.

April 29th, Let go let go let go let go open open open…

Enough of this it’s time for bed

Undo the thread of writing dread

Unknow my head

Uncross my doubt

Navigate the round-a-bout

The moment I switched on the radio, I heard a male voice say, “If you want to write, you have to write every day. Around the 21st day, something happens. It takes on a life of its own.” I took this as a sign.

I drove home with images of how I might transform into a Rumi or a Murakami after my twenty-one days of writing. One day they might even interview me on NPR!

I wanted to take on the challenge. I tried to write every day, but some days I just couldn’t. I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. I gave up, boo hoo. I’d heard from writers before that in order to grow, you have to make it a daily practice, but I could never assume that discipline.

I mentioned this to an artist friend of mine who suggested just writing without any agenda. Without the need to share it or even have it make sense. Just practice every day, even if you write the same word over and over again.

April 28th,

Inscrutable Inscrutable Inscrutable Inscrutable Inscrutable Inscru–

Let’s keep dancing, shall we?

Maybe not.

Genius isn’t creating.

It’s knowing when to stop.

Stop your roll

Stop your flow

You enter things you should not go

Ho ho, said the keeper of the beat

Learn to make your moves discreet

I do not mend the mind that flows

It knows its road

It holds its goal

The soul of hand, of paper, pen

That moves the glen

Of writing zen

Cannot compete with screens of light

Of kindle fires made with wires

Delight the light-weight simpleton

Whose cannot-carry shoulders win

The world gets smaller every day

A box-shaped box

Has found its way

Into our hearts

And don’t forget the world of art!

It’s found its way inside there too

Next to the extinct kangaroo

Reducing nature to a myth

No one will remember this

Except in dreams

That thing of green

You mean a tree?

Is that its name?

A fiction, unicorns the same.

His words freed me. Writing became a part of my daily practice. I found that because I had to write things down, I could not avoid anything. What I mean is, often when I feel blue let’s say, I try to avoid or change this uncomfortable feeling, but I found that, in the space of avoidance, I couldn’t write. Not even a stream of consciousness. I had to write the truth of what was and somehow the writing of it allowed me to process it and move on. I know this is nothing new. That’s why people keep journals. It’s just new for me.

I became interested in the process itself. I started out printing by hand. Then, a day or two into the twenty-one day challenge, my writing switched to cursive, mid-sentence. Then one day, I started writing vewy vewy small.

May 15,

I am so lonely. I am Yoda’s little brother, only five hundred and eighty-seven years old. I am not a Jedi like my brother. I am an alcoholic.

The rest of the family does not talk backwards like Yoda. We speak in straight sentences. Our father tried to beat it out of him, this quirkiness of speech. He said it’s a big waste of commas, so Yoda ran away.

Yoda came to my room one night. He said, “Fred, running away, I am. Take the beatings any more, I cannot. Miss you, I will.”

I cried. I begged him to stay, or take me with him. He said I was too young, only eighty-seven at the time. That’s young for us Yodas.

Yoda, incidentally, is the family name. The one you call Yoda is Clavsti(((comb Yoda. It’s hard to pronounce in your tongue.

Before he left, he gave me an (((-))) 8, which is a kind of seventeen legged creature from our planet. It wasn’t a real (((-))) 8, but fashioned out of mud and aluminum foil. By swinging it in loops from its tail, Yoda said I could contact him wherever he was in the universe.

At night, I like to swing my (((-))) 8 by its tail and talk to my older brother. I like to believe that he can hear me, wherever he is. Sometimes I hear stories at the bar about the great Master Yoda, about the battles he’s fought against the empire. I like to wave my three-fingered fist in the air and cheer him on: Go Clavsti(((comb!

Epilogue: Day twenty-two

A dose of nature

Free me from this mundane head

All the snakes are out.


Divination

“The health of the eye depends on a horizon.”–Emerson

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the mystical branches of spirituality. As part of my search, I occasionally sought divinations including I-ching, tarot, palm readings, astrology (both Western and Vedic), channelling, past-life regression, Michael charts, numerology, Ifa readings and most recently, the shell divination of the Dagara tradition of Burkina Faso as taught and practiced by Malidoma Some.

I go to see a diviner when I need help from the other side. The strength of a diviner seems to be based on the extent to which they are able to become a vessel for a disembodied being: an ancestor, a spirit guide or angel, a kontomble (the little people in Dagara cosmology), etc.

I consider divination to be a kind of art. Finding a good diviner is sort of like finding a good massage therapist. Everyone has a different style. You just have to find the one that works for you.

Skeptics argue that diviners are charlatans who are only after money, but such charlatans exist in every field. These skeptics also argue that diviners say such general things that may be true of just about everyone, but so do most doctors. Even as a ballet teacher, I find myself saying the same things over and over again to different students because people tend to make the same mistakes.

I go with the understanding that even the shabbiest diviner can extract a kernel of truth from the cards, bones, shells or what have you, and it is then up to me as to what I do with that message. Of course, one should practice discernment when going to see a diviner. When you hear the truth, you feel a kind of resonance with it and it’s ok to trust that. If you don’t feel resonance, go to someone else.

Getting a divination from a skillful diviner is like being served a large meal. You can’t eat everything on the plate, but you do the best you can. Some of the things you may not initially understand and you find that the message unfolds mysteriously in layers as you become better able to digest it.

For example, one of the things Malidoma told me in a divination was that I had a weakness in nature. A weakness in nature, now what could that possibly mean? It’s true, as I said in the previous post, that I have a thing for trees. Is that what he meant? Or does the weakness have something to do with my own nature? What is my nature?

During the divination, you are free to ask questions, but at the time, I was so busy trying to grasp other things that I let the weakness in nature issue go until several months later another diviner of the same tradition told me the same thing. And yet a third Dagara diviner looked at my numerology and verified this weakness in nature yet again.

But what does that mean? I decided to start spending more time in nature. Perhaps I would find my answers there. My husband and I started taking almost daily hikes in the Blue Hills reserve, not far from where I live in Boston.

No matter how reluctant we are to make the twenty-minute drive, we are always grateful that we made the effort. We notice that every time we walk through the woods, whatever stress we are carrying is magically cleansed and there is always a gift: a tiny bird’s nest, six hawks that swooped close by, a gentle rain, a horizon, a new path. And we notice too, that the rest of the day seems to flow more sweetly after the time spent in nature.

As I started to become nourished by nature, further understanding of my divination began to unfold when my husband and I took a trip to Manhattan to look at museums and galleries. The streets were crowded. It was a nice weekend but the more we walked through the chic lower West side, the more I started to wither inside myself. Feelings of alienation and inferiority began to overwhelm me. Everyone and everything was so fabulous. I felt like a dandelion struggling through a crack in the cement, surrounded by rare and exotic flowers.

I grew up in New York City and the place holds a lot of memories for me. At night, I was assaulted by dreams of experiences in which I was made to feel small. In those moments, when I felt weak in the presence of others, I could see how my lack of strength in my own nature caused me to cower. Sometimes this energy was intentionally inflicted but other times not. I was just too easily intimidated because I was un-rooted, not at home inside myself, and easily blown off-balance, like a shallowly rooted tree in a hurricane.

Aha! So this is how the weakness in nature manifests itself in me. I could see how I built up an armor around this wound without having healed it and how the recent initial healing in nature was allowing me to see this issue more clearly in myself.

I could see how my nature is tied to the big nature of the world. And at last, I could feel some compassion for myself. Finally, I could unclasp the heavy armor encasing my heart, and reveal it without shame, naked and bleeding, because in my embrace of nature, I have begun to take root.

Malidoma says that a weakness in nature is common for modern people. During my recent visit to NY, I could see evidence of that. In a city, we are constantly told how to be, what to think and do. Walk, don’t walk. Buy this. Eat here. Don’t stop. Keep moving. Faster. Upgrade. I think even if you are strong in your nature, everyone is influenced by city persuasion to some extent.

And I’m not saying that those things are inherently bad. I like sushi and a fancy pair of shoes. I’m just saying that it’s easy to lose yourself by being swept up in a tide of fabulousness that has nothing to do with who you really are. To know nature is to know yourself. And to know yourself is fucking fabulous.


Gun Gun, Go Do, Pa Ta Pa Ta…

I retired from full-time dance performance almost five years ago. It’s a process. Anyway, most people have to face retirement eventually, but dancers, like professional athletes, are confronted with that change in life earlier than others. The questions are daunting, like the dreaded “now what?” And the “who am I without the what I do?” and the “how fat am I gonna get?”

For the dancer/athlete, these questions tend to unfortunately coincide with the mid-life crisis, thereby causing a real spiritual double-whammy. Suddenly, this vast, open space lays before you. You feel alone, lost, and for most dancers, unlike our pro-athlete brethren, without the financial means to start a chain restaurant.

Also, probably like most, I was in a state of mourning and spiritually sick. My pain guided me to seek healing. But once I was more or less back on my feet, I still had to face the void. Some vague notion of home flitted through my memory-bones. I looked to art. I looked to Africa. Something in the sound of the drum said yes to me in the places that hurt and I suspect that is true for us all.

Most recently, I picked up a drum and started to play. To my dismay, the rhythms of the mother-land did not flow effortlessly from my fingertips.

So, here I am, a beginner again. It’s  not so bad. I like my new teacher and my husband comes to classes with me. We practice to the dismay of our neighbors. Sometimes in class, my teacher, knowing I am a dancer, will ask me to dance while he plays and I am honored to oblige. In those moments, dancing is in its right place, free from the stress, pressure and fear that I often performed under as a professional.

The teacher of this class, Wole Alade, is a spiritual being in his own right. He has shown me that the place I seek is inside of myself. I know that may sound like a spiritual platitude, or simply obvious, but it’s also easier said than done. How many of us can claim the home inside ourselves? How many of us can really sit in it and not be led astray by the seductive glamour of this world?

Looking back now,  I can see more clearly how our gift can be our greatest challenge, how our challenge can be our greatest gift, how our pain can be our salvation by pointing us in the right direction. Even the ego, that part of our humaness that so many teachers of spirituality disparage, has its role to play.

It is the very thing that brings validity to love.

 


“tai jimenez eating disorder”

In case you are unfamiliar with blogging, there is a menu that you can click on for your own blog that reveals internet search-words people used to find their way to your blog. This may happen by accident. For instance, if someone is doing a search for “tides” the entry I wrote called “Queen of Tides” might show up. There are ways to manipulate the search engine so that your blog shows up near the top of the queue for the purpose of increasing your readership. I have no idea how to do that, technology boob that I am. I just write the stuff.

Anyway, lately there have been a lot of searches for “tai jimenez eating disorder.” I haven’t tackled this subject in-depth here, but someone or some people want to know this story. This is a big subject and I pray that I can write about it in a way that is useful to others.

[Ooh chile, wait a minute. I gotta light a candle first.]

Here goes…

I was very fond of Oreos. When I had a little change, I would go to the cafeteria at the School of American Ballet where I was studying, and buy a six-pack of Oreos from the snack machine. I looked forward to this ritual without question. Then, a couple of years into my training there, I was skipped a level. I suddenly found myself in class with girls several years older than me. They talked about dieting. For the first time I heard words like anorexia and bulimia. I wondered, licking the icing from my Oreos, why anyone on earth would entertain such things.

After my fourth year, I felt lost at SAB. I left and went to study in a small, now defunct school that gave more personal attention to its students.  The summer I left SAB, before freshman year at high school, I remember putting on a pair of shorts. My mother shot me a withering look. I was not allowed out in those shorts anymore. My body had started its change. I filled out and continued dancing with my new curves. My new teachers did not emphasize thinness. There were dancers of all body types at this school. There was one severely anorexic girl and the director of the school made her eat under her watchful gaze if she wanted to continue to take class there. It was tough, motherly love. It was understood that you had to be healthy to dance, not too fat, of course, but not too skinny either.

When I was sixteen, I started auditioning. I wasn’t quite ready for a professional company but was encouraged to go to auditions to get the feel for it. I asked my teacher if she thought I needed to lose weight. She said I needed to drop about six or seven pounds which I did by cutting out red meat and the oversized muffins that were popular in New York City coffee shops at the time. Oreos and soda were history. A year later, an audition was arranged for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and I danced with the junior ensemble for a few months before joining the main company.

Company life was very different from the small homey school I had attended. There was no tough motherly love. It was just tough. I won’t get into all the gory details here–

“The word Hitchcock suddenly comes to mind,” says Mr. Octopus.

What I mean is, ballet is supposed to be tough. I loved the challenge! I did it for the challenge, but that challenge is built-in. In a lot of ballet companies however, well, it is tough for the wrong reasons but I don’t want to get into all that here. I’ll save that for the inevitable ballet company reality show. I want to make it clear that I take full blame and responsibility for what I did to myself and will admit also that I was less than a ray of sunshine all those years to my fellow dancers. I don’t think I was an asshole, exactly. I was just…neutral. I adopted a stance of neutrality in order to survive. In order to keep dancing, which was sacred to me. I am still struggling with my default-into-neutrality setting. Teaching has helped with this somewhat because to be a good teacher, baby, you gotta fight.

Some dancers who were not the waify type were chastised about their weight. They were shamed publicly before their peers. I suspected that roles were withheld from those on the weight-list, not based on ability, but based on size. I didn’t want to suffer that fate. I wanted to be a principal dancer and most of the ones I idolized were tiny.

I started dieting with renewed force. It wasn’t even conscious. I was hungry and tired all the time. One day on the way home from work, I bought a pint of ice-cream. I ate the whole thing and, in a sort of trance, I purged. A few days later I did it again. I told myself I could stop whenever I wanted but it quickly became a nightly routine.

One evening, my mother heard me vomiting in the bathroom. (I was still living at home). She confronted me but I denied it. I felt terrible for lying to her and finally worked up the courage to confess. I could barely get the words out through my tears. She got angry at me. She said I was taking the easy way out. I thought she was right and felt humiliated and weak. She abruptly left the couch where we were sitting and came back with a piece of paper that had a phone number on it. It was the number for a therapist.

I went to therapy. For years. My therapist was somewhat impressed with the elaborate and unusual ritual of my disorder: I would stuff myself secretly, until I achieved a kind of numbness. Then I would sit on the toilet and sing my guts out, sometimes for hours. I would sing and sing and sing. By the time I purged, a lot of the food was digested, but I did it anyway. Looking back now, I think it was my soul trying to sing itself free…free from the pressure and constant criticism I received as a dancer, free from my debilitating sense of isolation and feeling unimportant, unrecognized, and unwanted in a mean cut-throat world that I nevertheless wanted to succeed in. I liked my therapist very much, but my “symptom” persisted, unabated.

I lived this way for thirteen years.

Somewhere along the way, I left therapy. I remember one day having the epiphany that mine was a spiritual problem and could not be solved this way. Truth be told, I do not “know” how I healed myself, or that it was all me that did the healing. I do know that I wanted to heal even though it was hard for me to imagine being free.

I started going to yoga. In my first yoga class, there was a lot of chanting. I just let myself cry openly. I realized in my first attempts at yoga that in spite of years of dancing, I was actually very weak. There was a spiritual bookstore at the yoga studio. I started reading spiritual texts and going on retreats. I spent time with like-minded people. I made friends. I enjoyed spending time with my friends so much in fact that I found myself sticking around, hanging out, instead of going home to my secret shame. I guess you can say that I “needed a whole community of people to pull me out of the water I was drowning in,” as the great teacher, Martin Prechtel says. There are certain things, like recovering from an eating disorder, that are too big to do alone.

In the beginning of my healing journey, I still thought about food a lot. Every once in a while, I would binge, but those times became fewer and farther between. I sometimes woke up in a sweat from a dream that I’d started bingeing and purging again. I didn’t consciously work on curing myself. After years of therapy, my will had proven itself impotent in the face of this monster. Rather, I just allowed myself to be pulled out of the water. I turned my attention in another direction. My friends that pulled me out of the water didn’t know that they were doing that. I need to find a way to thank them.

I am close to my mother now as well. Having a daughter who wanted to be a ballerina was the furthest thing from her mind when she gave birth to me. I was a hellion of a teenager. We were both in over our heads. I love her more than I can say. This blog entry is just a little part of the story. There is so much she gave, so much she sacrificed, and I am grateful to her.

It has been over a decade now that I’ve been on the other side of this thing. It is hard to believe with all the love I am blessed with, that I ever lived in such utter despair. There were times when I wanted to die.

I remember at some point opening up to the idea that I could actually love myself. It was just an idea at first, but a seed was planted. However, that hope came at a price. I had to openly look at the time and relationships I’d wasted obsessing over food. I realized that my best dancing years were squandered in a haze of self-loathing. I imagined, regretfully, what I might have achieved with a healthy body. I coulda been a contenda! I knew that in order to move forward, I would have to take all parts of myself, meaning that I had to forgive myself. Now, that was work.

I also had to do a lot of work with holistic medicine, especially acupuncture, to help with the healing process. One practitioner described me as having pushed myself so hard that I’d split myself in two. I still have painfully sensitive gums from all the years of bingeing and purging and for a long time, I had these weird stomach convulsions. But I feel healthy now. There was certainly a lot of grace involved but I am ok.

And if you are struggling with your relationship to food, I hope this story will help you find your way out. I am not a doctor, but I would suggest in the beginning, that you do not try to fix it. It will resist you. It’s very presence is your soul speaking to you. Try to be still. Listen. Turn your energy to what you love and to whom you love. That love will light your way.

A student recently asked me if it (my career) was worth it, and my answer was yes, but not for the obvious reasons. It was worth it because the struggle made me who I am today. And I am starting to really like her.

Blessings.

Ashe.

Peace.


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