Shay, my niece’s 36-year-old fiancé, reached down from the rocky incline above me. I was stuck, afraid to move. “Grab my wrist,” he said calmly, cheerfully. “Put your foot there.” I saw where. I grabbed and stepped and he hauled me up. My legs, which were not strong enough on their own after surgical rebuilds, suddenly had a memory of their former mountain goat selves bounding up similar inclines. Up we went, step by step. My legs struggled but slid into play. A rhythm, a flow. Shay’s abundant strength poured through his arm into mine. It ignited my determination to not give up, not slough off. No. Reach. Try. He imparted physical courage and this reawakened the fiery field of courage in which I have lived my entire previous life. Read more
The curve prepares itself in me.
Rousing Back Roll
Back Roll is a basic piece of my daily practice. I have done Back Rolls since the Sufi get-go with Adnan. He loved them. He would start crossed legs, put on some rousing, boisterous Iraqi drumming, roll back to Shoulder Stand then forward to crossed legs. We followed him. We were a large group, all snuggly pie-pieced into one another on raying blankets. We’d hike forward on our blankets, cast a quick glance over our shoulder to avoid crashing into someone else, and roll back. He’d go on and on, and we with him. Somewhere along the way as we picked up speed, he’d reach out a hand to the sound system beside him and turn up the music–fuel on the fire. The energy built, more force, more speed. Back Rolls were easier done faster because of momentum. Our backs found the perfect rocking curvature until the rise to standing was almost inevitable. Some days we rolled up into a jump then back down to shoulder stand, a wide lively pendulum, like being on the swing set on the playground.
Gentle Back Roll
These winter months I do a different version. I sit crosslegged and rock forward and back gently on my sitz bones which are like little rocking chair rockers. It is a small motion. My psoas shifts my viscera and buttocks press along the rug under me. I go slowly for a while, watching my spine responsively arc into a curvature, my weighty head dropping forward then righting. I feel like a sailor on a sea swells. The curve prepares itself in me. At some point, I roll back effortlessly, hovering briefly on the wide upper back fascial pad where my shoulders are tightest, my feet and legs hover in space high above, their weight funneling down to press my resistant shoulders into the ground. Then I roll back, bending forward into the shadow my body casts over crossed ankles and folded calves. My hands have caught my knees in cupped palms, elbows akimbo. Sometimes I hang forward here, feeling my buttocks and outer thighs lengthen, my low back and my outer ankle open. Because one leg is crossed forward of the other, I know I’ll roll back again to return with the other leg in front, stretching both sides equally though my body’s inherent asymmetry will make the stretch feel like another body-world. Gradually, after several passes, I feel my shoulders wake up. Sometimes, I stay in Shoulder Stand. Sometimes, I roll up and down for a while. Sometimes, I grab my toes, stay on my back, my legs partly or fully extended, like a baby or like a baby bear, and use the floor under me as a rolling pin, smooshing my skin and sinews and fascia and fluid and all the flesh. I love this.
This piece contains an excerpt from my new book, ‘Dancing into the Deep: When Dance is Your Meditation.’ Coming soon!
My work and writing are sponsored by Dervish Society of America, a nonprofit organization helping people realize their human and spiritual potential by honoring their body and its movement ways using evolutionary Sufi Dancemeditation practices. Thank you for your gift. It’s tax-deductible! DONATE
Structural Integration specialist, Mary Bond, says of breathing, “There is no one correct way to breathe.” (I always listen very carefully to what Mary says; she speaks from deepest mastery, dispensing wisdom nuggets in manageable doggie bag size.) What I take from her remark is liberation from the urge to control. It seems that the minute we become aware of Autonomic Nervous System functions like heartbeat or breathing which normally chug along unnoticed, we launch into spasms of controlling-ness and self-criticism. Mary’s comment says, exactly, that we need not make one way right and another wrong yet does not infer stuffing awareness of our breathing back into the closet of unconsciousness. In Dancemeditation, our breathing instigates, inspires, and supports dancing. As well, breathing is its own kind of dancing as a variable as any other kind of movement with as many shapes, timbres, paces, and efforts. Mary Bond would call these ‘special breaths.’ I call them Breath Dances. Read more
I walk along Chambers St. in lower Manhattan beside a massive Victorian edifice of pillars and arches to Gibney Dance, a busy warren of dance studios. It hides somewhere here. I’m meeting Erin Carlisle Norton, host of ‘Movers and Shapers; A Dance Podcast’. Erin is doing an impressive project recording life stories of those who shape the field of dance. I am happy to be interviewed for it. I find the entrance, walk up one flight and down a thin-carpet-over-concrete hallway beneath wall-mounted TV monitors running video loops and slideshows of dance. I mentally prepare, reviewing my life. I remember 1973, walking from the subway at Broadway along 66th St, through Juilliard’s glass entrance, past the security guard, and around the corner to call the elevator. You touched a slightly recessed, lit circle. It was my first touch sensitive technology. I had to take off my glove because it registered heat rather than pressure, which I suppose marked the end of proper ladies wearing gloves in public and began the time of the naked fingers on sensors. Read more
This is what I wrote to Catherine Ryder who I commissioned to paint this piece and who I also know as Layla, when the painting arrived:
“I knew where she would hang so I waited for a quiet moment in the afternoon to put her up. I love her so much. An amazing vision. I love the veils emerging from sky and land, hair combed into the wing feathers, the legs part of the mesa. I could see this in the photo but the reality is far more moving and deep. It is a beautiful painting. A real vision. I am glad I am part of it but it goes far beyond me. Yet I also know I am not just a model. And the raven. Just right. The eye gazes at me. I love the sun glowing at the edge, not a big feature but not absent. I love the tree raying up and the earth raying down, the feeling of roots and source and the ground growing into and emerging from the planet. I love the claws and the hands making diagonals. The glorious raven claws! My eyes closed as if letting my being see through the raven’s bright eye, hearing the wind around us. I love how the raven’s eye and my ear make an attentiveness between them. Everything moves out of everything else and yet there is beautiful definition. You have made something so wonderful.” Read more
Here is a new series about writing embodied nonfiction while loosely connecting to an annotated Skin of Glass. Sharing my memoir, Skin of Glass: Finding Spirit in the Flesh, in small bites allows me to include ancillary ideas that, ultimately, were not part of the printed book, but belong as tendrils, springboards, or backstory. (I love reading about artists’ process! How does that amazing piece happen?) Read more
Every autumn, I spend three solitary weeks at Ravenrock because—this is my incapacity—I feel my depth best when ‘worldly’ cacophony is diminished. The most sensitive dimension of self /non-self eludes me unless I’m away from wifi, news, traffic, etc. Here is one of my Solitude Writings.
It began raining at sunset. I went to bed soon after but woke, worrying, at 11pm. I put on my sheepskin jacket, boots, and a headlamp, everything but pants, and trod bare-legged across the Studio out onto the Stone Porch. A dense mist filled my headlamp light with a befuddling, edgeless miasma. Read more
They are all gone.
After a busy morning of breaking down the last of camp—the Privy Tent and the Shower Tent—stashing garbage, washing final cups, after saying goodbyes to the airport crew who will bump down the mesa road in the pickup to load into a van to the airport and fly back into civilization, after goodbyes to the drivers with many hours of road ahead of them, I stop. I feel the stillness. Soon, everyone will be home to proper showers and baths and laundry and clean hair and wifi, eating what they want when they want, feeling things moving and fluttering inside them. It is too soon to assess the retreat, too soon to understand internal motion. Read more
I have been invited to write on the topic of The Feminine for an anthology. Such an enormous prompt will take its own time; meanwhile I let the theme make its presence felt in whatever other writing I take up. The following piece has come from a solitude at Ravenrock. I didn’t plan to learn what I am learning but think now, in reflection, that the experience is far more powerful than anything I could have theorized and designed.
I’m in a time machine. I read Virginia Wolf’s essays, written hundred years ago, as if they are written now while living in a place without electricity or running water that could’ve been typical in a rural setting a century ago. Only the occasional highflying 747, a propane refrigerator, and a phone where teensy weensy heads of state underscored by terse headlines break the spell. The refrigerator is in a shed in the meadow; sometimes I forget to go to the fridge. Sometimes I forget to look at the phone. Sometimes I forget which current events I’m in. That, it turns out, though I didn’t plan it, is my great experiment—reversing time. Read more
One evening, near the end of the 2018 Movement Monastery retreat, we did Witnessed Self-witness. It yielded for me what our minds might consider a surrealistic episode, yet for the body this is a normal perceptual way.
The exercise: Witnessed Self-witness. Couples sat cross-legged, facing one another murmuring. One person spoke with eyes closed, tracking sensation in the body and speaking out loud these self-witnessings while the partner listened. In this retreat, we have explored listening, or visually witnessing, in a new way. We moved beyond responsibility for and guardianship of our partner, and opened to being influenced. In the Old French and Old English, the meaning of ‘influence’ was “the flowing in of ethereal fluid affecting human destiny.” Read more