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Posts tagged ‘Contraction & Expansion’

Summer Mysticism: Returning to the World After Retreat

Post-retreat there is a tendency to go home and blow it. Blow all the money! As one friend says, “It’s easy to piss away all the energy built up in retreat, overworking, over committing, letting it leach away.” It is extremely unwise to squander the work done in training periods because this is dangerous to body and being. In retreat we fill our circuits and forge new tendrils, then these need to ‘set’. They need to cohere. If, after a training period, the we forget about or actively destroy the energy by not caring for our health, eating badly, getting into tumultuous relationships in work or life, then we not only undermine health and mental stability. We also damage spiritual capacity. We damage spiritual potential. We burn our circuits. You can do this a few times, but after a while the body being wears out. It’s like, How many times can your break your ankle in the same spot before it hardens?

I have lifted the requirement of daily practice from those in Intensive Training, but I still recommend daily practice—daily ‘remembrance’, as the Sufis call it. Remembrance of our Truth.  I don’t want to police it, not because I’m lazy; I just think it isn’t serving the people who train with me. It puts the struggle for one’s Path outside the self, keeping the self from ‘growing up’, spiritually-speaking. Each of us has to recognize our resistance, our choices. We need to reflect on them and weigh them. No one can put you on your own center. If you want it—inner peace, authenticity, perception, solidity—you have to strive for it. Struggle for it. A child’s little legs must work. It’s best if I step aside there. Go head—have your own intimate self-dialogue about that.

Our questions: What is important to me? Where does real happiness come from? When do I feel most whole? If spiritual path is where we live in Truth, then a regular return to the Doorway is one of the most crucial stages of growth. Retreat training and personal practice open that Doorway. Over the years, I’ve personally come to rely on a brief but focused daily practice, thus my recommendation. I hope for us all that the heart will cry for it and land us in a quiet room, with closed eyes, breathing, moving, feeling the world beyond thought. I hope the practice calls us to it. Wouldn’t that be wonderful…But if not, well, what are you going to do about it?

Why Retreat?

“Action expresses priorities.”
— Mahatma Gandhi

To change anything takes practice. Addictions — they’re bad habits. Very bad. Beyond our reach, we say to ourselves. Beyond our will power. Breaking them takes more than wishful thinking, more than a few days of intentionality. If you’re hooked on addictive substances, you’re dug in deep; you need a 12-step or more. But if you’re in a self-destructive rut, retreat works.

One part of Summer Movement Monastery is training out of self-destructive habits.  The body needs time and repetition — more than once or twice. Two weeks of preparing and eating cleansing food isn’t only a yearly retreat clean-out; it’s a springboard to taking care of oneself by preparing and eating good food daily throughout the year. Two weeks gives our bodies enough time to retain the new experience, to develop a comfort with it, and a preference for it.

Amazing to think that many of us live on crap, dead food, predominantly cooked by slave labor of others, but we’re so busy, etc., blah-blah-blah. At Summer Movement Monastery, we get rid of blah-blah-blah for two weeks. We prepare and eat good food, envision how we will implement this at home, then prioritize this action.

We also practice Dancemeditation. Why didn’t I say this first? Because its more obvious. We know we are in session 7 hours a day, and we can imagine, or know from experience in other retreats, that we retain a craving, at least for a while, to do practice at home.

The most important thing about the 7 hours of Dancemeditation daily in retreat  is what I call the Operation. Our time in retreat makes a permanent spiritual change. After, we return to our world in a changed condition. Yes, it’s possible to forget that this happened, possible to bury the change under dark choices, but why? A Path has called us. All we have to do is open to it, spend time with the Guide and group, and then not forget. Retreat is a spiritual rip in time. We enter Timeless Time concerned with our spiritual evolution. Permanent change — the Operation — happens because our Deepest Being needs Communion with the Deep, All-Pervasive Subtle. We need what is beyond the daily world of cars and screens and din.

There is plenty of discourse about whether or not a Path should be socially useful. Should spirituality be politically active to be relevant? Are our choices to make a better world a result of how evolved we are? Is positive change possible, and can we even effect positive change without changing our condition? Or is the world a mirage and all that matters is the internal spiritual struggle? Does activism distract from spiritual path?

No matter how you consider your own role in the world, or the role of spiritual path in your life,  retreat is where the most accelerated growth happens. Looking at retreat from the most mundane perspective regardless of your philosophical stance, cultivating positive habits is, at the very least, good for you and  the world.

Mystic Festival in Holland

The Mystic Festival was amazing.

Musicians, whirlers and mystic movers from Iran, Pakistan, Moldavia, Iraq, England, Germany, Holland, Italy, India, France, and — with me — the USA presented (which meant performing or teaching, thus very little talk except the wonderful storyteller) beginning at 10am and finishing with a zhikr late in the evening. The day was punctuated with two beautiful meals.

The festival took place in an enormous hall on 30 or 40 large Persian carpets with brocade cushions for sitting and an absolutely state-of-the-art amplification system (this was heaven for me!) The sensitive instruments and beautiful voices,  both the resonant and intimate speaking voices as well as singing — needed to be amplified for the 200 to 300 hundred people that filled the hall.

The morning was devoted to music including Ustad Mahmud Sabri of the famed Sabri brothers (who arrived predictably late and pushed the whole program into strange timing; not that I really noticed. The day seem to have its own place in time). After lunch, a Gurdjieff movement session was followed by the lovely Sanjana Band (Bombay/ Amsterdam.) By the time I took the stage to introduce Dancemeditation as Sufism, perform, then teach, the hall was packed. The performance felt remote to me; the mood of the room was heavy, though my dancing was freer and lighter than usual. But performance softened us, allowing us to grow accustomed to one another.

Then the class began…Hundreds of people breathed, stretched, shook, danced, the energy building and building until we were all rhythmically swinging our heads up and down in unison and shouting ‘hayy’ ‘hayy’ ‘hayy’.  We leaned into the work, pushed it forward, swallowed it, and burst into flame. No holding back. No judging. Only the joy of shared ecstasy. I danced at the foot of an enormous wave, then it crashed around me and filled me. This meeting of illuminating hearts in a place beyond the ordinary remade me. When we all open out hearts together, offering them freely to one another and to the Eternal Divine, we receive far more than we ever give.

We finished with a long beautiful singing and moving ‘Allah’, something I’ve been reluctant to teach in America during the Bush era. In Holland, now, it was perfect. No fear of Allah there. It felt delicious. The sounds washed through my subtle inner chambers while my fascia slid through the heat of motion. When I looked out, I saw a sea of limbs, faces, hair, swaying, open mouths, closed eyes.

The day continued on with great happiness. I curled up at the edge of the carpets and watched, sometimes closing my eyes and drifting to sleep while music and voices in many languages wove around me. Having that much energy washing through me seemed to tire me in one way and fulfill me completely in another.

To be continued…

Journal Crafting & Expansion

Journal Crafting complimented our Dancemeditation work at the recent Summer Movement Monastery…I think of Kate (Temple-West, herbalist extraordinaire and Dancemeditator), who conducted our session that evening, as I continue on with the wildly unfolding journey with my journal. I have gotten quite elaborate in the pages now, as well as taken to adding pockets where needed. (They are always needed, for interesting articles, or notes & phrases jotted on loose scraps of paper.) Also I’ve gotten into ornamenting re-cycled tea tins and Burt’s Bees salve tins that can be used for…what? Something dry. More tea perhaps, or pens, or cotton balls. If I was an herbalist, dried herbs. Maybe I can coil up my veils and each one can have its own tea tin perfumed with slivers of fragrant sandalwood….Dreamy.

This happiness points to the subject of Contraction and Expansion. I talk about this often in longer retreats as it is fundamental spiritual process of Dancemeditation. Contraction and Expansion have their roots in Sufism and refer to an oscillation of efforts and energetic states. The Contraction period is where we apply undivided attention to the practice we are engaged in (in Dancemeditation this might include Slow Movement, Breath Dances, and other movement mantras) and pursue a deepening inner-ness. This a process is common to many meditation traditions; in Dancemeditation, we actively fold in embodiment. These Contraction efforts draw us away from habituated patterning and tend to result in a sense of detachment from known signposts of identity and self-ness. This initial detachment might be uncomfortable; perhaps the body feels overly tight-skinned, overly electrified; emotions can be edgy and raw; or one might feel listless, awash, scattered, to name a few of the temporary states. Contraction must be tolerated, however, in order to arrive at a fresh perspective and to heal.

The Expansion that will inevitably follow at some point, if not right away, is a period of clarity, renewal, and creativity. It is generally characterized by a sense of well-being, heightened energy, abundant creativity, and freedom from emotional reactivity or at least freedom from feeling snared in a reactivity.

Expansion. I am in that phase.

May Day-ly Practice 5

I’ve been thinking about doing intensive work at Kripalu in comparison to doing it at the Summer Movement Monastery. Kripalu is such a cushy place, wonderfully supportive, with all the cooking and cleaning being done for us. The day-to-day living never brings people into conflict. It is by nature a much easier place to be.

The Movement Monasteries are hard core. Like a blast of convent life. It was good to remember how much more goes into our relationships at Movement Monastery retreat. We cook, wash pots & pans, sweep the floors as well as share intensive Dancemeditation practice. This is a good place to develop clear boundaries, express oneself with kindness, mind one’s own business while receiving high quality connection with others and with oneself. And we are all in very rich communion with Self and the Now.

This year I so needed Kripalu’s nurture; I’m a little worried about SMM. But I also look forward to doing the work for two weeks. Two weeks! Yay!