School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Dancing Across the Great Divide

By Ya'Acov
21 years ago, at midday on a sweltering summer’s day, a few miles outside the village of Snowflake, Arizona, I crawled out of a sweat lodge into the harsh glare of the desert sun. It was even hotter outside than it was inside. And this was the fourth lodge we’d done in as many days as we prepared for the Deer Tribe’s Sundance.

We had an hour to recover. And then fully dressed in our ceremonial gear, all of us, men and women, in long skirts and fringed shirts, circled the Sun Dance ceremonial ground. We danced for 20 hours a day for the next three days and nights. We each had a lane and we danced backwards and forwards up and down that lane to the repeating rhythms of four Sundance songs, without food and with a tiny amount of water. We were dancing for life. We were dancing for our families and we were dancing for our dreams.

I had left our young son at home with his mama and I had lots to pray for. We were right at the beginning of our professional journey, having been teaching for four years, and we were just about breaking even. Things were tight. We were a young family and we were reliant on making the work we were teaching known and accessible in order to make a living. And so we travelled and set up lots of dancing communities in as many places as our young bodies could take us. We worked hard. We prayed hard and we played hard too. There was an edge to those times. Many times, I experienced the cold pit of fear in my stomach as we struggled to make ends meet. We were super passionate about what we were doing. And we had experienced its benefit in very tangible ways. Gabrielle Roth, one of our central teachers at that time, had a love of the artist inside everyone. The dance was the pathway to discovering the vast and untapped reserves we had inside us. And so tap we did. I practiced like a man possessed. Maybe I was. The dance had taken hold of me and there was no way back.

The Sundance was an extraordinary event. We were 140 dancers from around the world all determined to dance past our previously known limitations and take a big leap across that great divide into the arms of the unknown. Carlos Castenada’s teacher, Don Juan, had famously written about the unknown in this way. When you look out into it, it is vast and it simply stares right back daring you to enter. The unknown has always been my oasis. I fell asleep just beyond its gates every night for years when I was a child. But to meet it in this way, dancing through the hot sun, dancing past my thirst and my hunger, was a whole new journey. I turned my heart towards the Tree of Life at the centre of our circle and lifted up my prayers again and again. I went past so many barriers in those 72 hours. There was so much in the way of the conversation I was trying to have with the Great Spirit but our ancestors were wise. They knew it takes time for the everyday mind to let go. They knew that giving up on sleep and food and comfort was a certain route to the ecstatic communion with life that nourished them deeper than anything else whilst reminding them of the big picture in which their lives existed. And so here we were, thirsting for the spirit, hungering for surrender and approaching that great mystical doorway on our own two feet. The Sundance drummers and singers carried us, holding us steady as our spirits danced along the thin line that divides the everyday from the eternal.

To say I was changed by that ceremony would be to make a molehill out of a mountain. It was as if the silence that dawned with the rising sun and deepened on its journey through the sky, struck a mortal blow to the part of me that was committed to my limitations. When I walked back in through the front door of our tiny cottage in the village of Ashburton and picked up our young son and held my beloved close, I knew that I was carrying the seed of a dream that would never let me go.

It took years for me to unwind the golden thread that had wrapped itself around my heart. I was never exactly sure how it would unfold or where it would lead. I just knew this. I am not a Native American. I am European. And our European shamanic roots were viciously and consistently attacked over many generations, and the connection we had always enjoyed with the nature we are, was left hanging by a thread. But like the song we used to sing on the many nonviolent political demonstrations we loved so much says:

You can’t kill the spirit

She is like a mountain

Old and strong

She goes on

And on and on

When our new body of work landed so forcefully over a period of years that was heralded by two dreams, one that brought me the image of the mandala we work with, and the other that brought the name Movement Medicine to Susannah, that golden thread had found some form. Having been a pipe carrier in the Native American tradition, I was always certain I was being leant a means through which to remember what we as a culture had forgotten. Through that pipe, I remembered how to pray, not reading someone else’s lines, but directly from the embodied heart, in intimate conversation with the spirits, the elementals and the Yin and the Yang of the Great Mystery. And once I had remembered, with deep gratitude, I returned the pipe to a full blood Native American Medicine Woman who had dreamed of it.

I knew, and I really cannot remember from where I knew this, that one of my creative challenges was to do my part to build a bridge between the cultural graveyard where our European traditions used to thrive and the ancient wisdom of the land and our ancestors. Susannah and I both knew that we wanted to weave this together with the contemporary cutting edge wisdom that is mapping our intelligence and how it works. Science and mystery are a beautiful couple. And as we have discovered a little more of how our brain functions and how the right and left sides of the brain are bridged by the nerve filled fibre called the corpus callosum, we are starting to discover a new story. This new story is healing the ruptures caused by the story of separation we have been telling for several hundred years. Separation was the name of the game. And now it’s interconnection. We talk not in terms of one side dominating the other but in terms of the gift of dynamic polarity through which all creation happens. Bridges it seems, are necessary to join one thing to another. And it’s not just the two sides of the brain that are enjoying the recognition of the mutual necessity of the others existence. It’s also the rising recognition that we ignore the intelligence of the body and our neuron filled guts at our peril. And the heart, for so long marginalised to the unreachable fantasy of romantic love, has also broken free from its shackles and we are aware of the need to recognise and value our emotional intelligence. But, bring them all together, in the delicious threesome of body-heart-mind working together and the fireworks of intelligence start to explode carving new neural pathways like shooting stars across the sky.

Shamanism is down to earth and it embraces the heights. It’s practical and creative. It’s about relationship. It’s about what and how we create with life. This is the mantra of our ceremonies and our work in general. Over the years, beginning with an overnight ceremony called The Alchemist’s Garden, alongside Susannah and many others, I have developed a way of being in ceremony that is real, challenging and full of potent healing medicine. It’s a way of being with spirit through the body-heart-mind that is a bridge between old and new, yin and yang and giving and receiving. It’s a place that honours the Fool, the Dancing Warrior, the Wise Elder and the many different experiences we each bring to sacred space. And most of all, it is ceremony that is relevant for our culture and for our times that honours the many indigenous traditions through which we have learned and yet doesn’t mimic any of them. The deepest expression of this that we have so far found is our annual School of Movement Medicine Summer Long Dance.

Ritual is the way that humans have always used to place their own lives back in relationship to the bigger picture of existence. We remember where we came from, what we are dependent on, our community and the wider community of all life. We bring things inside ourselves and between us back into balance by committing a certain amount of time to giving back to life. It’s called reciprocity. We only take what we give. And ritual is the weighing scales on which we measure where we are and bring things back into balance.

Last year, in 2013, the Long Dance finally landed in its originally dreamed form. It took many years and a lot of hard work from a lot of people for us to create the ground and the safety to be able to enter into such a deep journey together. Last year, we danced the full 72-hour version for the first time and it was beautiful how everything just fell into place. The ceremony went on a full 24 hours longer than it had done up to that point but the overall feeling amongst the dancers was that it was in fact more relaxed and more fulfilling than the 48-hour version. When things fall into place, there is a relaxation in the whole system. It took 21 years to find its shape but there we were, 135 people in a circle, dancing our way back home. At one point in the ceremony, I was watching the dancers and praying, singing. As I sang, my voice vibrated and cracked the mould of my seeing. Suddenly, there was just movement, and then, there was nothing, just a vast shimmering void of absolutely nothing at all. For a while, as Susannah (my beloved) and Sarah (a good friend who supports us at these ceremonies) held the space, I disappeared once again into that place that is always waiting behind the doors of our perception. It is always there. It is us who come and go.

This year, our Summer Long Dance will take place June 28th to July 4th and at the time of writing, there are still a few places left if you feel in your heart to take your place and take the journey. To date, the School of Movement Medicine’s Long Dances have raised well over £200,000-00 for a whole host of fantastic projects that support people who would have no chance to attend the ceremony itself. This year, we are very honoured to have Manari Ushigua Kaji, a native of the Sapara nationality from the Ecuadorian Amazon, visiting us. During his years as a tribal and political leader, he has been the President of the Sápara Nationality of Ecuador, the Binational Coordinator of the Sapara of Ecuador and Peru and the Vice National Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of Ecuador called CONAIE. We met him this past January in his home village in the Amazon and we are delighted that he will join us.

Sometimes, we have to take a leap in order to find out that the dance is holding us. As Gabrielle Roth used to say, after you jump and before you land, there is God.

Ya’Acov Darling Khan. June 2014

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.