Dance as Meditation

Someone once said to me “A bird can sing with a broken wing but not a broken heart.” And what about us? Can we dance or sing when the body is whole but the heart is not? I believe we can because song and dance are a medium of the heart’s stirrings but also a medium by which that same heart is healed and made whole again.

When I dance as a form of meditation, I experience not only the soaring ecstasy of the bird’s flight but also the tumbling dive experienced by Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (Jonathan Livingstone Seagull – Richard Bach) which left him bruised and bewildered. Both the heights and depths touch upon the Divine with me.

The movements of the dance symbolize this two-fold rhythm by which I am transformed. My feet are firmly grounded on the earth, while my body stretches upward and outward. The pattern and variety of the dance necessitates always a return to the earth before flowing out again to a different physical level. As the weaving shape of my body flows in time and space, I touch upon my truest centre where God is and my spirit is stilled.

Like Jonathan, who felt the stirrings of something new striving to be born within him, for a long time I danced alone. Perhaps my experience is best articulated in the words of the lyrics of Neil Diamond which describes Jonathan’s creative vision.

…And we dance to a whispered voice/Overheard by the soul/Undertook by the heart…

The dance is of itself, like all creative expression, a journey toward our centre. It is a dangerous journey because it takes me not only into the ecstasy of the skies but deep into the dark underground places of my own alienations where the spirit is remoulded and made new. Because it is a spiritual journey, the dance is a transformative force and must of necessity, spiral out again into the human circle. There I reconnect in compassion to all that is and a sense of responsibility and commitment is born. The gift must be breathed out again into the universe in gratitude, birthing beauty and calling to life the Divine within the other. Jonathan passed on his gift because it belonged, not to him alone, but to the whole flock. So he exhorted his pupil “…Night bird find your way/for none may know it just as you may/seek out your harbour of light/let your song be heard…” (Richard Bach)

Sacred meditation dance is a special mode of this expression. Every dance expresses a spiritual essence hidden within an outer form. The dance seeks to shape the dancer’s own inner reality, while at the same time, communicating this reality. Together we create a sacred space wherein the Divinity is touched. In this sacred space, we look together into the well of our being and find reflected there the image of God.


Nature as Metaphor

Growing up in Ireland, my former Catholicism was influenced and perhaps softened by a cultural heritage of Celtic Christian spirituality. This was something I simply caught rather than something I was formally taught and though I have long moved on from organized religion, the influence of that Celtic spirituality is still with me and continues to influence how I perceive my life.

The Druidic and Celtic spiritual tradition experienced all life as one, and recognized and celebrated the constant breaking through of the Divine into the mundane everyday realities of life. In Celtic understanding, we are not separate from nature. The natural world of earth, air, water and fire finds a home in us too. Nature was understood as a threshold where the Transcendent (the spiritual) and the immanent (the material and physical) meet. It is the place where the sacred mystery speaks to our world in metaphor and symbol, a direct expression of Divine imagination and creativity.

The passage of the seasons mirror the cyclical passages of our lives. The Celtic mind understood this and embraced life as an evolving spiral of birth, death and rebirth. As the years pass, we can meditate on how the turning of the seasonsĀ  reflect the human journey of transformation both individually and collectively. We have all experienced a time of winter in our hearts when, like the tree which stands naked against the sky, we find what we thought was permanent and familiar change suddenly and slip from our control. But we have also experienced the spring of rebirth as the work of winter in our souls creates new growth and we learn to begin again. At times summer fullness has manifested in our lives perhaps in the joy of friendships, the love of our partner, work satisfaction or an artistic creation. Then Fall arrives in its golden beauty and like the tree which sheds last year’s foliage, we learn to let go of what no longer serves us. Then the cycle begins again. As the chaos and the despair of the world threatens and wearies our spirit, it is good to go into “the peace of wild things” and in the solitude and silence rethink our story in the context of mother nature’s cycles.