When it comes to self-development there are so many options and so many ways to reach the same destination. There is no right way, as long as it’s effective and you get the results you are looking for. The results of your spiritual practice can range from simply being able to enjoy your life, being open and connect with people to getting clarity about the issues you are dealing with and creating new possibilities for you and your loved ones. All these require a transformation of your way of being and acting in the world, so any practice that empowers you to take action on these issues will be suitable for you.
Meditation will be helping you in becoming aware of your feelings and not react to them. Yoga will help you engage your physical and energy body, deepening your awareness of this vehicle that enable us to do things here in this reality. Both of these were originally solitary practices. Nowadays, yoga seems to move towards getting together with other people to practice – as it’s easier to keep the focus and motivation with a group. Whatever you do – when there are other people involved it stimulates you to be more present and show up not only for yourself but for the whole group. It enables you to expand your perception of self beyond the skin bag the solitary self believes to be.
Dance has always been a group practice in all the traditional cultures. It is what we do when we get together to mark important moments of transformation in our lives. It is the moment when we shout out to the world that we are transforming and we are taking a new path in our life. It is a rite of passage that helps us transition in the new shape. Why do we need this ceremony and why we cannot do it on our own?
Recent studies have confirmed that there is a real power that comes with gathering as a group. Lynne McTaggart has conducted an extensive experiment over ten years involving small and large groups on how group intention can heal longstanding conditions, mend relationships and rediscover the joy of living. She finally organized a major independent university study called “The Power of Eight” – Harnessing the Miraculous Energies of a Small Group to Heal Others, Your Life, and The World.
In this study, the group focused their intentions for the wellbeing of each individual member with tremendous effects. This is not a new concept – all the major religions know the power of group prayer. The most interesting finding was that the group intention was not only affecting the recipient but also reflecting back on the sender. In other words, the people that wished another well wholeheartedly, they got back some of the most powerful breakthroughs in their lives.
This shows that just praying for ourselves and have others pray for us is not enough until we wish others the same good we wish for ourselves. Wholesome healing comes with the intention of the highest good and the most harmonious outcome for everyone involved.
Wishing well everyone else is the ultimate acknowledgment that we are all in this together and the confirmation is in the real outcomes of this experiment.
This is the power at work in the opening circles of each ceremony when we listen intently to the prayer of each person and wishing them the same healing and fulfillment that we wish for ourselves.
After intention setting, we step into acting out and trying on our new self with the support of others. Many times we know what we need to do but simply knowing it and intending it is not going to complete the transformation. The old version of ourselves has a momentum supported by the people around us. They will expect and reflect back to us the familiar version of what we have been all along. This is the reason we invite everyone in the community to be part of our rite of passage ceremony – so they can see our transformed self.
When a boy becomes a man, the whole community has to start to acknowledge him as a man. When a girl becomes a woman, everyone starts to treat her as such. In the same way, no matter what transformation we are going through, the community around us will support us into our new identity. This is of paramount importance at the beginning when our new self is just a seedling – frail and sensitive. The seedlings need a safe space until they can face the elements outside.
The dance is the first step entering the community as a transformed individual, with everyone holding space for what we wish for ourselves. Being in a safe space is easier to lean over the edge of the familiar, over our fears and doubts and see what is waiting for us on the other side. Doing this directly in the outside would be more difficult, as the reactions of others would not be always supportive. Sometimes the others will react normally, but the story that we tell ourselves about what they might think of us can become the reality. In this case just being around people that are on the same page with us will leave no room for assumptions.
When we start to act in a new way, the body will experience holdbacks and hesitations. Pay attention to the ways you hold back. Does your breath run shallow? Do you keep your arms close to your chest rather than expanding? Do you look down when there are people in front of you? Do you find yourself lost in thought rather than enjoying the moment of exhilarating full body sensation? Just notice and accept it as part of the process. It’s like when a trapeze acrobat is trying a new exercise – jumping without a safety net will be paralyzing but knowing that there is a safety net to catch him if he fails will make that fear more manageable. It will still be there but just to keep him alert. In the same way, the ceremonial space is life with a safety net. It’s not like having our job or relationships at risk. It’s just a practice space to get comfortable before we go out and do the real thing. Most of the time what we want to do is not even that difficult or dangerous but the simple fact that it’s something new, will paint the whole experience in terrifying emotional colours and prevent us to take the first step and try it out.
To Dance is to connect with what is important for you and show it to the people around – give them a preview of your heart and your yearnings. If you are a nurturing and loving person – show them that. Maybe your sensual and cuddly nature wants to come out or it can be your joyful energetic presence or all of them at the same time. How would that feel like? Whatever it is, give yourself permission to express it with your whole body, just for a moment… it’s all welcomed.
Karl Jung was saying that “We are not alone because we don’t have people around us. It’s because we do not share what is important with them”.
So give each other the chance to have a glimpse within your heart, so by the end of the dance people will say “Oh wow – I never knew she had it in her/him”
During the whole process do not forget to breathe deeply – emotions are intimately connected with our breath. Sage is used during ceremonies to clear out what is not relevant for here and now. The sense of smell interrupts the train of thoughts by bringing you instantly into your body. It might be a survival instinct activated with the smell of smoke, or simply a new sensation that invades our brain without needing to focus on something. Whenever you feel the Sage smell in a ceremony, take a deep breath and reconnect with all your senses, interrupting those thought patterns and make room for what is real in front of you.
Those thoughts are many times a distraction from some challenging feelings that surface in the dance. It is important to allow those feelings and behaviours to surface, playfully interrupting their repetitive reactive chain and replace them with an alternate behaviour. This can look something like “wait a second, this is not my father or my ex-partner in front of me, even there is something that reminds me of him/her”. Instead breathe deeply and look at the person in front of you and what makes them different from what your memory brings back from the past. Be present with them and once the feelings transform, the next step is to anchor them with an authentic action – an expression of what you feel in that moment. This is what makes the transformation expand from a simple shift in perception into a tangible alternative behaviour.
This is another reason why it’s important to get to know a bit about the people we dance with and pay attention to their sharing in the opening circle. When looking at a complete stranger, we project what we know and we are familiar with over the unknown and unfamiliar. We start imagining things that come from our own story instead of seeing the person in front of us. This will help when we need to separate our objective observation from the subjective perception and adapt our reaction and behaviour for a better and more harmonious relationship. So in the opening circle, listening to every sharing is more useful than thinking of what I have to say when my turn comes. This will also help in sharing from what I feel in the moment rather than share one of my stories I made about what is happening in my life.
All this process is self-directed, from the moment you look into someone’s eyes, engage with them in a dance and conclude when it feels complete. It’s about taking initiative and acting on our own instincts like in our day to day life. Reading the energy of the other person, interacting and getting instant feedback every moment. In our daily life nonverbal communication represents 90% of our interaction – it’s just about becoming aware of all the subtleties, trusting and acting on them. This is what makes the free form dance such an empowering practice – each session can be a learning experience that is directly applicable the moment we step out of the dance floor. The simple fact that we are acting from our own authority and not directed or guided by someone else it’s empowering us to shift habitual behaviours that many times do not belong to us. Since growing up, we are conditioned to obey and follow directions from our parents, teachers, and managers. By the time we reach adulthood, there is very little room for self-expression. We are so conditioned that even the most insignificant activity that does not have a set format, seems intimidating. We are afraid that we might not do the right thing, as most of the things we know have been shown to us how to do “properly”.
The ceremony is a way to grow as a coherent community. To bring back to life our capacity to connect and empathize with each other. To share our individual vantage point and contribute to the collective wisdom for everyone’s benefit. Owning that knowledge empowers us to take action on our own authority, question what does not make sense and break the habitual patterns sourced in obedience. This is what gives us the bigger picture of our own life that helps us complete our transformation. It is also what validates our transformed self after the transformation – it’s the reflection from others around us that strengthens it and makes it last.
I will end with a quote from Alberto Villoldo from his book Courageous Dreaming: How Shamans Dream the World Into Being:
“We are a drop of water in a vast ocean of life. Being aware of our connection with the infinite (I’m not alone, we are in all this together) gives us the power to dream powerfully (transform reality).