Wednesday, October 31, 2007

OSA 196: The Love March of Henry Moses

On October 30, a family gathered to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a beautiful, radiant, compassionate, and loving being--Henry Moses. I only met him less than two years ago but he enriched my life with love and enthusiasm in every moment we shared. I knew him as a drummer and he blessed many dances for me in various venues. Last night I sat squeezed into the Harry S. Washington and Sons Funeral Home between all the intersecting factions of his life; the immediate family, the loves, the musical people, the political justice people, the youth he worked with--everyone was there, together, in one small, hot, emotionally-charged, spiritual space.

We sang, we swayed in the chairs. I wondered where will I dance when they break out the drums; there's just no space here, I thought. There was a song permeating the spaces between our bodies, filling in the gaps of misunderstanding and judgment. This song connected us across barriers of ethnicity, age, colors, talents, spiritual traditions, love interests, experiences--this song was the life blood of love, and we all sang it together willingly. The song, "Thank you, For Letting Me, Be Myself, Again," was Henry's favorite. We clapped together; there was an unspoken current of cooperation present at the service. That level of harmony that we more easily manifest when someone is dead, saying inside, "He would have wanted it this way."

It is so hot in my seat. A man crouching, tired of standing behind me, is breathing down my neck. My claustrophobia is scratching at me, and I kick my shoes off and stand where there is no more room for anyone to stand. I clap, I raise my arms to the Creator, lower them for the ancestors, and spread them to the side for all of us still alive. The Drum Lady, Kristen Arant, is leading the artists and the youth in front of Henry's closed casket. The dance is welling up inside of my heart and I release the anxiety of "where" will the space be to dance, and just dance.

I dance with Ms. Dana first. We spin and dip, rock and break together. I feel as if we might have been dance partners for a very long time. My partner's clothes spin beautifully in waves of brown and white and we smile in Henry's spirit. People start moving folding chairs out of our way. And suddenly there is SO MUCH SPACE! We are leaping, jutting are arms and knees into spaces, calling others up to dance with smiles and loving stretches. Please people, won't you come and dance the love of our beloved? Won't you come and sway and play to the drum's celebratory mourning? Won't you love Henry one more time with a big dance?

And they did. I dance up to the front where Henry's sister, Lecia, sits watching us moving. I reach out for her to take my hand and dance with me. A beautiful light emanates from her as she rises into the dance. She stomps, she shouts, she flings her arms, rocks her hips, she is the love, the sorrow, the grief, the joy. She is the dancing life that survives her brother's deceased body. I am so in love with her dance that even as my chest cavity burns (as I am still recovering and am dancing too hard because I just couldn't resist sharing dance at such a spiritual event), I am called to dance more. The family, the friends, the children, the elders all join in the dance more. The songs and voices of the mourners is transforming into calls of joy and elation. It's such a blessing to be here in this space, sharing a bit of my soul with everyone; healing the woes with constant motions of love.

"Love is just Love," the minister says. And how we all did love a man named Henry Moses, with our dance, with our song, with our tears, with our words, with our drums, with our smiles. When we come together in truth we activate the miracle of love, it's eternal "present-tense" quality. Tonight our love, collectively and individually, is expressed now and forever. Thank you for the dance, my dear, dear Henry.

won't you dance
the tears
into your feet

your body carries
the joys and sorrows
of the whole

indigenous motivation
the ancestral celebration
Love, sister

Love that
it is all
we have
of our brother's spirit

(poem dedicated to sharing the dance with Henry's sister.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

healing the binah: awakening bali

greetings all,

Today is OSA 183, and I have been bathing myself in the awareness of my eternally flowing blessings. Last night at a Navaratri (night nights of the divine mother) celebration, I was singing with a throng of beautiful people and felt tears of joy welling inside of me. I danced in my seat, with my eyes closed, seeing all the beautiful ancestors who have come before me join me in the dance. We shook booties, rubbed bellies, jumped into each others arms, and rolled in the sands of time until our tears of laughter brought water back to the Sahara. We celebrated how many places I've been, all the beautiful people I've met along the way. I felt so free, so full of bliss, high on life, thankful for all the awakenings, sharings, meditations, and healing coming through me in this transitional time.

As I am restructuring the Open Space Activation project, please journey with me to dance-miracles that occurred before April 18, 2007 (OSA 1). This entry, "The Place Where Life Begins" is excerpted from a book, "Moving Sukma," about my dance work in Bali, Indonesia. This story takes us back to May of 2006, to a magical time in a little town of Ubud. Enjoy the dance, it is upon us, seeking us at every moment.

Winding through the intricate, natural garden of the Ananda Cottages in Ubud, Bali, I have no idea what journey is about to commence. It has been less than two hours since disembarking from the twenty-four hour flight that began at Washington Dulles. Upon arrival to Bali, Singapore Airlines informs me that JFK forgot to load my bag on the plane. I am exhausted but there’s still ten more hours of day in Indonesia. My rambling thoughts are crowded out by the endless marvels of this lush passageway. In a space so ripe with life, with sound, with mystery, my petty grievances begin to evaporate in the humidity. Sensing my awe, the Balinese guide is silent as he leads me to the in-progress Quest for Global Peace & Healing’s Pre-Conference “Youth In Action” Summit. My left arm rises instinctively and moves through countless cycles of my “give thanks” movement prayer. It is, after all, a miracle that I am even here.

I stumble along the narrow footpaths that weave together the muddy rice paddies in what has to be the green paradise of Mother Nature’s original design. Trees of all sizes loom above. Their branches bless me with gentle nudges and pricks. A parade of flowers welcomes me into their sacred space. “Give thanks,” I dance through my hands, “the Mother of Movement has arrived.” Wrapped in yellow and pink lapas, traditional cloth wraps African women wear when dancing and doing everything else we do, a smile overtakes me—I, too, am one of these flowers. I feel so small in the enormous majesty of this garden’s universe. The fertile ground underneath my feet awaits the dance I have come to bring; a new home is forming around me.

The eighty-five other youth activists who arrived the night before from all over the world have been in conference all day. The energy of the open-air meeting room is heavy with heat and analytical-brain overdrive. I can tell they have been sitting too long because their eyes jump with relief when I enter the space. A huge smile comes over an African boy’s face. (A sigh of joy, I’m not the only one.) I am suddenly preoccupied with scheming up a plan to get us dancing. What good is preparing for a “Movement” if we ourselves are not moving? No worries, I communicate with gentle eyes; I will make a space for the movement. We must, in spite of everything, always integrate the mental work into our physical bodies. We must be willing to move our-Selves for the sake of the whole Movement.

Looking around I see that we truly are a global assembly—representing all continents, colors, ages from sixteen to thirty, religions, skills, students, teachers, healers, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists—we are the world, literally. An editor from Bangkok, a math wizard from Mumbai, a youth counselor from Sydney, an economics major from Capetown, a teacher from Denpasar, a poet from New Mexico, the leading mayoral candidate from Machu Picchu. We have all come with our different stories, our impressive three-page curriculum vitaes, our sure-fire plans for healing our communities, our globe. But who, I wonder as I look around at my revolutionary sisters and brothers, has come to heal themselves?

Gathered in small groups for a series of ice breakers, I share that my “global healing” is the literal movement, the dance that we all do together. The breath is the first dance, the origin of all movement, the indication of a life force. When we start there, when we start with Self, when we honor the unifying truth that the breath makes us all One, then we embrace a harmony of spirit that enables a global shift in consciousness, in values, in compassion for human life.

Samantha, one of our facilitators, instantly connects with my words and decides that the group needs a movement interlude. “This is what you do, right? You can do like fifteen minute energy booster on-demand?” she asks with intensity. “Yes!” I assure her, zapping out of the slump of jetlag. A request for dance always brings me back to full awareness.

During the snack break my mind races over all the movement activities to choose from; there are so many! I could really do a fifteen-day interlude if they let me! I am too overjoyed. I think, what a blessing it is to be able to share my gifts with everyone—and I just landed! I am reminding myself to breathe, to not talk too fast, to be natural and let the dance do its magic.

I assemble everybody in a large circle. I want to see all of their beautiful faces as I introduce myself. “I am Binahkaye, and I am a Mother of Movement. I translate the energy of the universe, the energy around me into movement. The breath is the first dance. Let us breathe together. Inhale—” I can barely hear them! “No, inhale so we can hear it!” Everyone takes a deeper breath, trying not to laugh. “Good, now exhale slowly.” We continue breathing a few more rounds; a peace illuminates from our circle.

I begin sharing the “give thanks” movement prayer with them. “This is how I begin all movement experiences, with a prayer, ‘give thanks.’ I will show you the basic moves, but once you have it, make it yours. It’s your own prayer.”

First, we reach up to give thanks to the Creator for giving us life.” Arms of all colors rise up to be in unison with me. The composition of our elongated bodies mimics the tall trees encircling our space.

“Then we reach deep into the earth and give thanks for the ancestors that support us, that give us wisdom.” We widen our feet, bend our knees, extend our arms downward, reaching symbolically into the wood-paneled floor. Curving our spines down and letting our heads surrender to gravity, we relax our necks. We allow whatever is clogging up the brain to slide onto the floor.

“Then we pull the chi, the life force energy from the earth, up into our center, the home of our creative chakra, and give thanks that we are here to give our love back out into the world.” Grabbing the invisible energy with our hands, we rise slowly. Bringing our arms into our abdomen area first, and then extending them outwards and around to our sides. We repeat the “give thanks” cycle several times in silence before moving on.

It is such a blessing to be a witness to the multitude of experiences occurring. Some move with hesitation because they have never “danced” before. Some are naturally in-tune with their movement and have their eyes closed so that they can relax deeper into themselves. Some move in perfect imitation of me, keenly watching for the next move because my English was too fast for them to understand anything I said. Sensing that “give thanks” has warmed the blood, I begin to initiate bigger, “louder” movements to wake up the rest of the body. We jump, we stomp, we spin, we laugh, we shout—we are now ready to play.

I am about to experiment with a new game I have just conceived—“Shake-a-Hug”—literally ten minutes prior. I think, this type of arena is the best inauguration my idea can have anyway, good or bad! “So that we can get to know each other a little more,” I begin, “we’re going to do a hugging exercise. Try to hug as many people as you can. All the while we’ll sing and clap to the beat ‘Shake, shake, shake—Hug!’ When you shake, let your body loosen up some more.” The circle breaks a part in all directions as we meander through the space trying to shake and hug and clap to the beat. It brings forth much laughter and relaxation. Simple things can get us out of our head and into the joy that is our true nature. After singing many rounds and hugging lots of people, we reconvene in the big circle. Reading the group’s vibe, I can tell we are ready for more.

“Find a partner,” I instruct, “preferably someone you don’t know.” Murmurs begin. Bits of many languages pop into my ears as everyone makes sure that no one is left out because of a language barrier. “This game is called ‘Mirrors’. The shortest person in the pair will be Partner A. The taller person, Partner B.” Everyone’s eyes bounce around, what are they going to have to do, they wonder. “Partner A will start, and can do any movement or dance and Partner B will follow. Try not to talk. When I say switch, Partner B will be the leader. Feel free to do any type of movement!”

As it would be, my partner is a tall, beautiful goddess named Kasey. She is a graceful mover, completely trusting her body with my movement. We dip into the floor with knee bends. We spiral our torsos and wave our arms. We are in-sync. You wouldn’t be able to tell that I was leading and she was following. We smile. In between movements, I steal glances out into the room to gauge how the group is responding to the exercise. Everyone appears to be having a good time. I see so much creative movement happening all around me. After a couple of minutes, I announce it’s time for the switch. Kasey leads me into expanded swings and turns, I am having so much fun that I don’t want to stop our activity. All around me I see and hear the joy coming from the group. Each pair is forming a sacred bond unique to this sacred moment, specific to this shared movement.

When we finish “Mirrors,” we reform the big circle. I invite any volunteers to share movement that came up with their partner. Jim from Australia steps forward with his partner and they do a dance mimicking the kangaroo; he says it is native to the aboriginal peoples. Everyone is excited and applauds them. I look around to see if others want to share, but no one steps out. Now that we have returned to the big group, fear and hesitation are crippling some people’s feet to the floor. I smile and remind them to “just honor where you are. Be aware of that feeling or that voice in your head that is holding you back from coming forward. Don’t judge yourself, but just be aware of that resistant feeling you may be experiencing to come into the center.” Some people chuckle as they admit to themselves that their reluctance to share is rooted in that fear.

It is only the first day, I tell myself. In this moment I will not delve into the implications that their “reluctance” to move has for the greater, global “Movement”—the subject we so passionately came to meet about in Ubud. I recognize the delicate and, for most, new space that the dance activities has brought everyone to. Within the diversity of our circle I begin to see the magnitude of the dance work I will be sharing over the conference. I sense it will manifest in many ways with all the different types of people I am going to meet and move with.

How to bring others into the powerful awareness that the “Movement” begins with our actual, moving bodies? How to bring people into a space where fear can arrest and truth can take over? I ponder these thoughts as I scan the faces of my peers. With a deep breath, I begin “give thanks” to close out the movement interlude. “Let us end where we began with ‘give thanks.’ Remember to make it your own.” They join me in the prayer. A natural silence falls over the movement. After four cycles of the prayer, I gather my palms at my heart and bow to all of them, moving my hand from the heart to the floor at their feet in all four directions. They receive me and give love with claps, cheers, pats on my back, hugs, smiles.

Stepping out of the center I turn the floor back over to the facilitators. I am listening, but really my heart is racing. I am so wired, so amped up, so ready to dance more, share more. My awareness of all my blessings is expanding exponentially—the flight was safe, the people liked my dancing, Ubud is so beautiful, so fertile, there are trees everywhere, we are breathing fresh air—what better way to birth and nurture our dreams than immersed in all of this life energy?

Inhaling the beauty of the moment, I am overwhelmed by my wealth of life. I am so honored to be in a space to share it all with others. I sit, breathing, contemplating, imagining the infinite ways in which this journey will spiral outwards, beyond me and into the world. I give thanks for being in such a fertile place, for bearing witness to the birth of the movement.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

healing the binah

I have been on a journey within. The dance these past weeks has been an insatiable quest of knowing self. I am developing a series of essays to elaborate on all that this means, for me, for my dance work, for the OSA endeavor. I thank you for your enthusiasm, your prayers, your encouragement in this time of healing. It is my prayer that you honor yourself, and listen closely to what your body is telling you, always. In the meantime, I will post some pre-OSA Dance 600 stories while I craft the writings about this intense, transformational chapter in my evolution as a total being.

Let's rewind to February 2006, to India, to a little village in Karnataka called Hampi. I call this one, "The Priest at Sunset".

At sunset, I always pray. It has become more of a natural part of my day than a concerted effort since being here in India. Eleven days ago, the journey began in chaotic Bangalore—near-death misses with road rage and rikshas, hordes of bright-saried women grabbing my locs, incessant horns honking amidst five-way intersections, non-existent paths through the bush attempted by moonlight, impromptu dance explosions with Indian brothers on dirt parking lots all the while rousing dust into the mouths of onlookers—and it is time for a rest.

Now I am in Hampi, a quiet town of ancient ruins, holy temples, gypsy women, feisty monkeys, and of course, priests—the caretakers of tradition. It takes us an uncomfortable, overnight train ride from Bangalore to arrive at this oasis. I am eager to move after being crammed into the luggage rack for ten hours, with someone else’s legs and feet as my pillow. When we find a place to throw our bags, we set out to explore wherever we can get to on foot. Now that the sun is shifting out of reach, I begin to seek out a place to give thanks with a dance. A drum calls me into the temple.

The temple is massive from the inside. It is the tallest structure upon arriving to Hampi. Ornate carvings and smooth stone floors have witnessed many generations of humbled feet passing through to make offerings. There is a big elephant being guided on the path opposite us. We can see it through the pillars, illuminated by light seeping into the dark rooms of the temple. Even though we want to film this big giant, we don’t because cameras are not allowed in this temple.

While some Hampi residents use the temple as a shortcut from the main road to the back road, most people there are making offerings in the room where drumming and chanting are coming from. Migrating into the clearing at the entrance of the temple, I drop my camera and sandals and slip my feet into the warm, sacred space of the temple’s stone floor. I have found my offering place.

I begin prayer as I always do, by giving thanks. I reach up into the sky with both arms. It is a majestic flood of pinks, oranges, and light purples. The sun is painting us the last picture of the day. Soaking up the creator’s energy from above, I surrender to gravity and release my spine and knees low to the earth’s temple floor. I graze my hands over smooth stone and feel my ancestral awareness growing. I am grateful, I say to myself, for all who have sacrificed for me to be here. Pulling all this love into my center, I rise with my hands coming into my stomach and blast my self with all this positive, healing energy. I smile as I extend my arms back out into the world, giving thanks that I am here to bear witness to my own life.

I continue to move through cycles of the dance-prayer. Four times in each direction, north, south, east, and west. Each set of four is different as I experiment with new ways to reach up and spiral down. Sometimes I leap up and then dive into the earth with outstretched arms piercing through stagnant space. A few people slow down as they pass our moving bodies. Are they South Africans? Are they really dancing? Eyes of wonder bridge the language barrier never to be resolved. Yes, I smile back, we are really dancing in this holy space!

As the prayer evolves, I reach my limbs into unchartered movement. Spinning on one leg at a time, trusting the lean of the universe will catch me if I stumble—I never fall when I’m in the spirit. There is so much space around us. I close my eyes and follow the intuition telling me when and where to place each foot. I twist my torso and hips, honoring the sacred womb of all creation that rests within me. The drums are steady but if they stopped it wouldn’t matter; the dance has taken us over.

I sense a crowd is forming because of murmurs and the sixth sense you have when you are being watched. I open my eyes and sea of women, girls, and babies wrapped in saris is planted a few yards from our dancing feet as if we are the evening show. I smile at them all and move my hands from my heart to the ground at their feet to acknowledge them. They smile and nod back at me. They want us to keep dancing. They have never seen such a happening in their old temple.

Lost in the flow of joy, we do not see the angry man approaching us. Had I not been waving my limbs about the blessings of the universe and finding harmony in my pelvis with the pulse of drum, I might have known the violent gestures of the approaching man was not a dance, but a warning. I might have prepared a response to the attack that was imminent.

“Stop this! You must stop this at once!” he screams. He was dressed in slacks and a button-up shirt. I keep spinning, barely hearing him at first. I look at my partner who is ecstatic with praise; his eyes are still closed. In the absurdity of the man’s anger, there is something fleetingly comical. For a moment, I think I am about to laugh.

“Stop this. You cannot do this here!” he insists. We still are dancing and praying. I never can comprehend being told to stop dancing. Would the Earth any sooner tell the ocean to stop making waves? Would not the whole planet die if the ocean did in fact obey and stop breathing? So too is the delicate relationship of our dance to our beating hearts.

Who is this man who challenges my right to live through the dance? This fiery opponent to our movement appears to be one of the leaders of the temple, likely a priest himself. Perhaps he has already made his offerings and that is why he now has time to harass us. His aggression brings me into the moment with him; he is not playing, he really wants us to stop.

Not that I am going to stop dancing, but I am taking in the whole scene now. The women at our feet are yelling at the priest. More people have surrounded to watch this exchange. The priest is reaching out to us with more than words now, but with his hands.

“Please,” he pleads, “this is a holy place. You cannot dance here!” With that he thrusts himself further into the circle of dance we’ve created around ourselves. He attempts to physically halt my partner’s movement and grabs his arm. We both dodge his desperate grasp. Wow, this man’s crazy, I think. He really thinks he can stop our movement with his hands!

“This is Shiva’s temple!” my partner bellows, pivoting on one leg and hopping out of the priest’s reach again. He never misses the drum’s beat through the holy man’s assault. “Shiva is a dancer,” my partner continues, laughter swelling into his tone. “How can we not dance?” We laugh at the blatant hypocrisy of the priest’s demands. Here we are embracing the pure essence of Shiva, and his servant, his keeper of the faith, his custodian of the sacred—the priest—does not recognize our dance as holy.

I wonder how many others have had the misfortune of being silenced in their spiritual exuberance because one of the Lord’s servants does not feel the spirit. When did our spirit, our inclination to dance in celebration, to praise, to sing, to run in harmony with the raging winds of our hearts, become the judgment of a (so-called) chosen holy man (authority figure)? Really, my global family, do we have time for such backwards behavior? In this urgent time when our spiritual freedom is increasingly essential for any “Movement” we purport to participate in, do we have the luxury of dimming our light for the sake of preserving the comfort zones of the less courageous? Is it in our best interests as a human family to allow our leaders to suppress the very thing that gave us all life in the first place? These questions and more zoom through my consciousness during this sunset prayer. In between flailing arms and asymmetrical legs, bent backs and rotating hips, I see that there is still so much that the movement has for us to explore as a world village; there are so many reasons why we must keep dancing, despite the protesters.

Even still, the priest is not the first misguided authority figure that I have out-danced, out-loved with a shimmy. In the middle of our dance-in, our movement gives way for an even bigger miracle of humanity to emerge.

The community has become our petitioners. In a language not our own, they tell the priest to leave us alone, we are praying, we are holy people. He barks back at the women, but he is clearly outnumbered, out-spirited really. The movement emerging in love never ceases; the holy dance won’t be sacrificed for the ignorant.

The priest’s frustration hardens his face and stiffens his body. He has lost and we have won. We are all relieved that he goes about his grumpy way. The women smile at us, nodding once more that we should continue dancing. I begin the eternal spin of joy’s rapture. Losing myself in what would be dizziness if it weren’t for my awareness, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that these people defended us, strangers on the outside, but kindred folk on the inside. We are laughing now; it is all so humorous they ways in which God plays with us.

My dance-prayer is beginning to settle. The sun is no longer in sight, but its warmth moves through my body. I slowly return to the original movement prayer of give thanks. Reaching up delicately into the bottom of the heavens, curving my body down into the earth to gather the strength of the ancestors, and then pulling it all into me so that I may give more back out to the world. I repeat this gentle motion to all four directions. As I open my eyes, I honor our defenders who are still at our feet, touching my hand from my heart to the stone gathering around their soles.

As we put our sandals on, the people rise and move with us outside of the temple. We do not say so much in words because our tongues are different, but we speak volumes in gesture, in nudges, in smiles. Several women clasp their palms into prayer hands and bow slightly towards us. I am so happy; they recognize that we too are a branch of the cosmic priesthood. Our energy resonated with them, burst through superficial barriers of language, race, gender, class, faith—and they protected us from the wrath of man-made authority. Their love of the spirit honored our pure intentions of celebrating in movement. The people, after all, are the caretakers of the spirit.

(This essay is an excerpt from my auto-choreo-biography about my early artistic awakenings that took place from February 2003 to February 2006. My journeys through India in 2006 opened me to my dynamic, artistic, spiritual beaming-light self in a way that hadn't been done before. The pictures in this posting are from various places in India. A more in-depth exploration of my India experiences is coming.)

On with the healing...