Soft & Warm
In case you are meeting me for the first time, I tend to write about my Dancemeditation practice and Path—what comes up, what happens inside me, why I resist, etc. At the moment, it’s about how to survive in troubled times with a little help…
Surviving in Troubled Times
I’ve always loved sheepskins. They are some sort of perfect. For the past few years I have depended on them at Ravenrock which has no thermostat. When temperatures abruptly drop, I stoke the wood stove and curl up on my cozy sheepskin. This winter I am on Cape Cod—cold, damp bone-chill. I bought a quarto (four sheepskins sewn together) to do my practice. It is both soft and warm when I roll on the floor—my hip replacements appreciate this—and when standing, allows foot connection with the ground so I’m not unstable. An intuitive drive lead me to acquire more skins—from Romania, Denmark, Canada, Russia by way of Etsy. Each skin has its own personality. When the drive lifted, I had five. I felt a little foolish until I realized how crucial they would be to my healing and deepening.
Initially, I draped them on my thighs after a cold outdoor winter walk, or across my lap with the computer on top which protected my sensitive, metal-core legs from absorbing electromagnetism. (I don’t know if it does. It just feels that way.) I soon found that I used all of them, all day, every day. Yes, they are beautiful but they feel amazing. In sensoriality lies my comfort.
Sheepskin, a Old Sufi Thing
Sheepskins are an old Sufi thing. I remember going to a zhikr with the Helveti Jerrahi order in NYC in the 1980s. In the middle, surrounding three musicians, sat members of the Sufi order. We guests sat in concentric rings around this nucleus. The Sufis spent the first hour setting up, coming in and out of the room, laughing and chatting, exited anticipation in the air. Toss a sheepskin down, then go away, then come back, move several skins, tuck a new one between, rearrange again. Apparently there was a skin for each Sufi—place mats at the zhikr table. We all sat down and the zhikr happened and it was fantastic and wild and powerful. On sheepskins…
Shadowy Shoulder Humps
Why all this about sheepskin? I seek out soft things because every day brings dismal, Orwellian, exhausting news. To stabilize myself, I gravitate in my practice toward comfort and solace, wrapping in warm womb-ness. Sheepskins and lambskins rescue me. They encourage tactile explorations. They soak up little upwellings of grief coming in the slow wake of my mother’s death. They soothe away political trauma. Soft things. Gentle things. My respect and reverence for my flock grows, and my love. I know they were once alive. They still seem alive to me. They each have unique personalities and qualities. I sink into depths of waking dream as I move on and under them. They convey a strange guidance.
I lie on my back and slide the back of my bare arms across a lambskin I call Brown Bear on my right and its sibling, Baby Bear on my left. These are the tenderest creatures in my flock. I arrive at the end of my motion, swath my neck and shoulders with Baby Bear and Brown Bear, ruching them close. I focus with closed eyes on cervical vertebrae (aka neck bones) and the tight, dense humps of muscle between jowls and shoulder tips. With the assistance of my little lambs, I peer into the dark fog where my muscles are lost, forgotten, hidden. The muscles overwork out of habit and remain rock hard when I sleep, not daring to rest, to unwind. Brown Bear and Baby Bear spill their gentle warmth into those murky absences beside my bones. I breathe and watch with my inner eye. At first I see nothing but dim contour. It is a land of dissonance. Of impenetrable, occluding rubble. Sometimes the muscles deliver a dream or a nightmare. I continue, patiently watching, letting warmth seep in and in. Now I faintly perceive, either by sensation or interior vision, my anatomical dimensions—the accurate distance between jowl and shoulder tip. My neck manages to unclench a smidgen. My head shifts almost imperceptibly on its own, like an infant softly squirming in its sleep.
For me, half the battle in practice is finding my current topic. It gets me into the room, onto the mat. So here I am at my winter topic—neck. Each practice session I decide I will spend time with this compressed mess of pain and crunch. I try to discipline myself not to stretch it, or dick around with the pain. The best way is to recline on the Brown Bear and Baby Bear and focus inner gaze.
One day, I arrive at base camp on my cheekbones, sidle up to my hairline at the temples, follow this down to the jaw, along the gum rim circling the massive billowing tongue, fat and wet, filling my soft palate. It is pleasant to pause here but I have a destination today. The big, sturdy, strong tongue is more difficult to traverse than I had anticipated. At last I’m able to grasp the way down with my mind. I descend into my throat. I pause when I need to swallow, patient with the apparatus of closing this and opening that—the lock system of the saliva river. When I feel where I am, I turn to gaze at the elaborate jungle gym of vertebrae, its ropes and stays crossing and sliding around notched bones and chewy discs. I won’t climb there today. Today, I observe. A wave of swallow comes and washes away the clear view but it has been enough. I let my mind float. My breath sighs in and out. My neck is warm. I am warm. My neck integrates as I rest, uncoiling in the nether regions governed by the ANS (Autonomic Nervous System.) I am rewarded by my head, in gentle automatic motion, bending gently at a completely new angle. Yes, we can find comfort. We can heal.
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.