Making a World
The Yellow House
I woke with a strong sense of Dad in the Yellow House descending the creaking stair in his white button-down shirt and khaki shorts, holding the sturdy rails. I miss him, gone now for a year and three months. I miss the world that orbited him like moons and rings. Polished mahogany, candlesticks, boats, dressing for dinner, music and conversation, winding a ticking clock. Bits of his being-ness linger in those details. I follow that trail, groping my way into our love—that quiet, secret garden.
Worlds orbit the people we love. It is the magnetism drawing the table, the light of the afternoon, the movement, words, sounds, and smells into a whole. A museum never has this feeling. It is never enlivened, no matter how beautifully arranged.
I must remember the entry at Corvino’s Ballet School in NYC. A soft dumpy couch plopped opposite the desk where capacious Mrs. Corvino in her mumu, gray braids wound around her head, dark eyes magnified by thick glasses, conversed languidly as she took students’ money. Behind the couch, a wall hid two tiny dressing rooms. I never went into the rackety front studio overlooking 8th Avenue, and the back studio, which wasn’t much to look at, just walls with barres, one mirrored wall, and near the door an upright piano where Mr. Corvino in dark trousers and white shirt stood to teach, had the magic.
3—4:30 Advanced Class. 4:30-5:30 Beginner. 5:30-7 Intermediate. Often I took the 3 o’clock, then sprawled on the couch to rest. If one of Mr. Corvino’s daughters, Andra or Ernesta, taught the Beginner, then he might relax in the lobby with us, chatting, laughing, at home and easy in this life of beauty and sweat. Ballet was as natural as breathing, as eating, as talking. Then we hauled ourselves off the couch to rally for the 5:30. Straining at the barre, teetering in center floor on a standing leg in the adage, pirouetting and sautéing. Mr. Corvino chuckled knowingly, suggested an attack on the allegro, or a refinement to a less-than-solid balance. Then the crashing piano carried our grande allegro on the diagonal in leaps and tour jetés of triumph. We finished with the reverence—the elegant bow to the top balcony hovering somewhere dreamily beyond the close walls.
Mr. Covino, despite being a celebrated maestro, was soft-spoken and kind, a wide soul, a dear human being. In all the years I climbed the rickety stairs to his school, I never, ever once had a humiliating, demeaning, souring, diminishing experience. Ballet is hard but it wasn’t a punishment. I looked forward to learning and striving day after day for nearly eight years. The Corvino’s—for it was all of them—created a well-lived, striving, satisfying world. Being an artist was good way to be. I have this sustainment in every cell.
I taught weekly Sufi Belly Dance classes in my NYC Elizabeth Street apartment. I’ve often called this era the Geode—rough on the outside and a jewel within. Students had to climb four long, grimy flights, leave their shoes in the hall, and change into dance gear in the kitchen before coming into the tiny dance room with northern light. On Persian carpets beside rumpled hand-plastered walls, we stretched and breathed, shimmied and bounced, music winding all around. Sometimes we had tea afterward and talked. The world of Elizabeth Street #7, like Mr. Corvino’s, was part of what made NYC wonderful—one of the many rarefied nooks and crannies.
Being with Others
I once asked my aunt, a music teacher, what she loved about music. “It’s a good way to be with people,” she replied. In spiritual seeking, we become intent on our own journey. We walk into a Meditation Hall, barely see the simple, unobtrusive room which is designed to step out of our way—an emptiness, a readiness—lay down our mat, and sink deep into an inner world. We may not notice the others meditating beside us. Meditation is not primarily a social pursuit. However companionship is a comfort in self-intimacy. It is a good way to be with others.
‘A good way to be with others’ is not a lofty view of meditation. No spectacular words about karma and cures and enlightenment and perfection. As I continue, meditation acquires human lineaments. It is less about eternity and more about this particular day. The cup of tea, the smile, the deep breath. We learn not to force these moments into grand meanings beyond what they are, or other people beyond who they are, or ourself beyond who we are, but to experience who we are always becoming, nakedly, a spark bursting and guttering, the tiniest of specks in the grace of sensation floating amidst other specks. Meditation is a good way to be with others, part of making a world, of entering a world.
Surroundings matter. Approach matters. Situation matters. Content matters. People matter. Order and grace must flex and breath like a lung, infused with exploration, woven with relaxation, inclusion, and spaciousness. A shared activity becomes a sort of stitchery sewing the individuals into a whole. I love a room where our human-ness bubbles up from our deep earth, trickles down the trunk and patters on the leaves of the day, perches like a dream, then nests or flits off.
And now, Ravenrock. The mesa property was perfect without anything on it as friend, Iscah, remarked when we first stood on massive rim rock shoulders regarding the long canyon, however, for gatherings and retreat, we needed the Barn. The Barn is up. Hurray! Its particulars emerge like on a polaroid as this new world forms. The people, the place, and the time. The caravan settling and unpacking its heart under the stars.
My work and writing are sponsored by Dervish Society of America (DSA), a nonprofit 501-C3 organization dedicated to the Path of embodied mysticism. DSA provides opportunities for personal development, exploratory inquiry into embodied spirituality, and community connection through practice, service, and performance. DONATIONS are tax-deductible.