Movement 1 - There are Teachers Everywhere
The Nature of the Dance
"Death pushed me to the edge. Nowhere to back off. And in the shame of my fears, I danced with abandon in his face. I never danced as free.
And Death backed off, the way dark backs off a sudden burst of flame. Now there's nothing left but to keep dancing.
It is the way I would have chosen had I been born three times as brave."
- That dance is what we're here to explore. That dance is the vibrant, life-giving act of spirit and how it expresses us. Whether it appears as a cry of pain or a song of joy, this unseeable presence is the lifeblood of our health. As blood must circulate through a body for that body to be vital, as water must pass through the gills for a fish to stay alive, the dance of spirit must move through us if we are to know and feel our place in the mysterious scheme of things. For it is the dance of spirit that opens us to who we are. In this way, the act of being who we are is at the heart of staying well.
- So, let's talk about the nature of the dance. To begin with, why is being who we are essential to staying well? Because we must meet the outer world with our inner world or existence will crush us. It is a spiritual law, as real as gravity. If we don't assume our space as living beings, the rest of life will fill us completely the way water fills a hole.
- Then, how do we assume our presence and inhabit our living space? It seems that this requires another, more personal form of meeting in which our inner life helps to define our outer life, where who we are shapes what we do.
- This meeting of our inner and outer lives is called integrity, and the health of our integrity often determines our inner strength and resilience in meeting the outer world. This is the purpose of integrity to balance the outer forces of existence with the inner forces of spirit.
- One of the most useful definitions of integrity comes from Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man:
- "Integrity is the ability to listen to a place inside oneself that doesn't change, even though the life that carries it may change."
- Still, what do we mean by a place inside that doesn't change? For we are not defining integrity as a license to stubbornly adhere to our own point of view. Rather, we are offering a sense that goes deeper than what we've been taught or even what we've experienced. This deeper place inside that doesn't change serves as a threshold to an Original Presence we all share. It is an inlet to Wholeness and all that is larger than us. Given the chance, that force inside will speak to each of us. In essence, the soul's calling is to keep dancing and listening to that Original Presence that doesn't change.
- Of course, being human, things get in the way. We often get in our own way, repeatedly. In truth, we all struggle with these recurring life positions:
- To journey without being changed is to be a nomad.
- To change without journeying is to be a chameleon.
- To journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.
- It would be easy to see the first two positions as bad or at least counterproductive. But all three are unavoidable. We cycle through them as part of the human process, as part of our unending path to and from integrity - both in our personal landscape and in finding our balanced place in the Universe. It is our continual efforts to live from the pilgrim position that keep us close to the pulse of what is sacred.
- In truth, listening deeply and inwardly allows us to keep meeting the outer world with our inner being, and this mysteriously keeps us and the world vital. Often, the nature of the dance cycles us from being self-centered to being other-centered to being balanced as an integral part in an integrated whole. And when we're blessed to experience those balanced, integrated moments, it becomes clear that everything is relational. Everything inside us and between us is circulatory - an ongoing exchange of what matters.
- My own transformation as a poet speaks to this. As a young man, I started with the ambition to be a great artist. The everlasting poem was the goal. When I had cancer, though, my writing became a rope of self-expression by which I climbed into tomorrow. For instance, the poem that began this chapter came to me while being wheeled into surgery. I kept staring at the fluorescent ceilings whipping by, the IV draping off my arm, while some voice larger than my frightened self kept saying. THERE'S NOTHING LEFT BUT TO KEEP DANCING.
- And so, greatness became irrelevant. Waking was a triumph. Now my ambition, if you can still call it that, is the great chance to be. It's all given way to a different experience of expression - one that goes beyond the writing of poems or the creating of art. I now see that expression - with ourselves, each other, and God - is a constant way of timing our instrument of being, of staying faithful to that place inside that doesn't change. But expression is more than just the mouthing of words. It is the exchange of what matters between living things.
- In this regard, expression can be the placing of bread on the pathway of birds. It is simply the way we exchange vitality - the way that plants and humans exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, each giving the other what it needs to live. In a daily way, the exchange of what matters is the dance by which we stay alive and true.