Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Retreat’

Summer Mysticism: How The Words Started

This summer at Movement Monastery in New Mexico, I began speaking about the Sufi Path. This comes after years of not saying anything. I taught almost wordlessly. This summer, the need to speak about the Path came gushing through me. I felt like the statue of an angel, perpetually open-mouthed, a song flowing through emanating from Somewhere Else. I also realized that after 25 years, I have a great deal of knowledge, both theoretical and experiential.

At Monastery, I would wake in the morning and sit in a little garden at Synergia Ranch drinking my tea and writing. These formed the scaffold of talks with which I closed the morning session. I am slowly transcribing these and putting them on the blog. I think they will help some of us. I include here additional reflections I did not speak about at retreat.

Dancemeditation is like an atom. The inner core is Sufi Mysticism. Around that core orbits a layer of Somatics, and around these two orbits the outermost layer, Art. Though all three are vital realms of exploration, this year Sufism sent me straight into the Mystical Heart. We went into the energy—strong and deep. Oddly, talking about the Path was important. It balanced the time spent in the wordless, thought-free states.


I peer into the angel votive glass as I’m about to blow out the candle and see a graveyard. Ten or fifteen moths are embedded in soft wax while others fragment in the pyre. So this is the Angel of Fire. She has appeared so innocent all these weeks, the flame flickering in her belly. Now moths cast into her. They cannot resist. What an absurdity—to be created to adore something so lethal! Their bodies make the candle spit feverishly and when it hardens, their dark carcasses form oblique dark accents in the pale wax. I resonate with sacrificial ground, the litter of moths, but also with the fire which consumes in steady relaxation.

Read more

Rain Reaches Down

As I chatted with Ric on the phone on the mesa top, a huge rain cloud, a gray whale of a cloud ambled ever-so-slowly toward me. Please come here! Finally it neared. The rain came, not so much falling as stretching languidly down from the mothership belly misty, wispy, glistening tendrils, trailing this patter over the parched land.
And then came a rainbow—a perfect 180º arc spanning the road to the cabin. A fortunate omen.
I write this now by candlelight in the middle of night. The flame dances as it consumes a sacrificial moth, immolated by her dreams.

Difference in Waters

This morning, as I wash my silver tea spoon, I notice the difference between waters. I filled one plastic jug at my friend’s house in Glorieta. Their well-water is full of minerals. I rinse and rinse and still think the item, skin or spoons, is soapy. It is odd to drink this water straight-up; it feels beautiful and silky as it goes down, but filling, and after a while its minerals have a medicinal effect. Once boiled this goes away, so I use it for tea and washing.

Yesterday I filled five gallon jugs from my neighbor rancher’s well which reaches six hundred fifty feet down through rock to the mesa’s aquifer. This water is sweet, clean, fresh. I could drink and drink and drink…It washes over my fingers with ease and clarity. Both of these wells reach into the deep rock, both are in high terrain in an arid climate, neither are polluted or processed or altered, but the water lets me taste the different rocks.

The Road

The way up to my cabin is a steep switchback climb up a gravel-paved road to the mesa top, leading into seven miles of relatively level ground over a dirt and lime shelf road to my property, then along a rutted dirt drive that eventually leads to a windy, tight way through trees over immovable rocks and at last a walk down the rim rock ‘stairs’ to the cabin door. It is a journey in itself. The eight miles total takes me thirty minutes to traverse if nothing comes up, like rain that would turn parts of the road to sticky guacamole, or neighbors temporarily blocking the access as they do repairs or move livestock. That is where I start and end my time for the present.

Spirituality in Dance Tele-interview

Lisa Michaels, VP of Sacred Dance Guild interviews Dunya May 19, 2011.
The Sacred Dance Guild and Natural Rhythms offers an exciting tele-interview series focused on exploring the many ways people express spirituality in dance, hosted by life long dancer and current SDG Vice-President Lisa Michaels.

DUNYA-Spiritual Dance Guild Inteview 5/19/11

Summer Retreat Approaches

As winter temperatures drag on here in the northeast (I am in NYC as I write), I find that I draw myself toward the Summer Movement Monastery through the rays of light that extend the early spring days. Summer has, for over 30 years, meant spiritual retreat time for me, a period where I let the world go, let it go and focus on spiritual intimacy.

I love the Sufi phrase ‘Intimate Conversation’. It refers to intimacy with God, communion with and into the refreshment of One. Before I came to this intimacy,  I was always separated, always lonely, and deeply sad in my heart. Every day in my practice I am grateful to the doors of Path that opened and spirited me away from that sadness. I am grateful to my teachers, who helped me learn how to open the doors again and again, and to the precious companionship of others who have practiced beside me.

Every spring I feel the great relief of knowing I will soon be letting go of the world for a while, letting go of it with spiritual friends. I feel joy and eagerness.
I will soon be in the arms of the Real Friend.

Al hamdu lillah.

Witnessing Expanded

I lay belly down on the deck of my cabin, rolling my thighs on warming wood, smelling the day. I watched a small brown bird hop from blade to blade in the grass. All of sudden my breath opened deep. I felt my body melt into the wood, and my back absorb the blue sky peeling away the fog cover. All the days spent witness dancing in workshop in recent years, where I learned to watch people without ‘leaving my body’, suddenly clicked in. I’ve worked diligently over time to stay in my body and see, stay connected to my breath and see. This morning it blossomed naturally,  unbidden and un-labored. I was seeing, breathing, feeling my body.

In the past, I’ve so often seen through a haze of my preoccupations. I’ve been afraid of letting time pass, of letting it slow, of letting it stop, sit beside me, and open the tight little packet in my chest.

Today the bees still toddled from dandelion to dandelion, but there were the front edges of autumn — choke cherries veined with burnt red, the sun leaning down at angle, and the first migrating ‘v’ of birds. Time so full. My body filling with it all.

Summer Movement Monastery

Home from Summer Movement Monastery, I look back before completely moving  forward. I ate like a horse (raw food and plenty of it), and now fit into all my thin clothes, move painlessly, & dream in vivid, Scriabin-esque, Baudelarian color.

Our studio was gargantuan, with a lofty sky view over the lyric Columbia County surroundings. Birds stopped to sing or chant in rhythm with us and the old wood floor was bouncy and soft as suede underfoot.

The Dancemeditation work was deep and steady. So many beautiful, precious dances floated around the room. Dancers with fans, veils, silky pants and skirts, lycra tights, loose hair, shaved heads, castanets, zils. Breathing, looking quietly out and in.

A few things that happened:
~ We started up a zil choir!
~ Kate Temple-West took us on a brilliant weed-walk introducing delicious, healing wild greens growing everywhere.
~ Kate Russel opened up the gorgeous vista of veil-painting with her quiet mystic energy and deft suggestions.
~ Karleen Koen read spiritual poetry for us in her smoky tones.
~ Laurienne Singer, faculty at LACC, brought us a new quiet, way to listen to our partner’s body.
~ The Store in the Mansion’s front parlor was a continuous hot-spot.
~ Nathalie Molina helped produce an evening presentation about Dancemeditation’s past & future.
~ Nisaa Christie  & Liz Abbene made an amazing final feast the followed a dyamic performance evening that included  Kryss Statho, Carol Henning, Alia Thabit and Core Alembic (Dunya, Nisaa & Kate Russel.)
~ We closed with a Ceremony of completions for several Teacher Certifications, and  initiation of  those entering the TT Cert program as well as those entering into Advanced levels of our work and into our practicing community.

Thank you to everyone for making it such a remarkable journey.

I look forward now to our next 2011 Movement Monastery in New Mexico, as well as the exciting purchase of a property to be a dedicated home for Dancemeditation.

This is an exciting and happy time.

Departure Poem

Turning away, turning toward.
Whirl clockwise and you’re on your own.
Turn counterclockwise, against time, and you’re with the Sufis.

Sufis melt fragments into the sky sea,
rain them on a desert garden,
bloom them in the shape of every Other flower, forgetting the birthright fragrance.
Foreheads rest on a warm iron planetary hub
and toes wander near the nearing moon.

Upside down, you think.
Inside out. She said this time and time again.
The wet smoke and dry blood,
sprouts dancing backward into the seed.

When the Earth is oiled with her own feathers
and the sky tumbles here and there,
we can still write still poems
and watch them drift off in our bottle minds.

To the monastery!
To where cleaner lies think themselves,
& where, thinking gone walking,
we get at least one trustworthy breath.
And another.

— D. D. McPherson

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.