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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Dance of Becoming

I've been listening to Oriah Mountain Dreamer recently. I love the quiet yet intense way she writes. I love that for all her peace and self awareness she still struggles with the self same things that I struggle with. That her journey towards living fully and passionately in the moment and 'loving well' is still fraught with all the same dilemmas, habits and patterns that mine is. It's not that I am comparing myself to her (either favourably or unfavourably), its more that I have compassion for her struggles and find that they inform my own.

Today, as I drove my little girl to her nanna's for an afternoon of sultanas and gardening (and probably very little sleep), I listened to Oriah talk. In a culture obsessed with pro-active self development, knee deep in positive affirmations designed to 'change' and 'free' us (and I am an active surfer of this wave of self development), her question was not “Why are we so infrequently the people we want to be?” but rather “Why do we so infrequently want to be the people we really are?”. I found myself holding my breath. There was a truth to this question that landed in me with an almighty thump. I have (and am) fighting so hard to become a better person that it had never really occurred to me that it's not about changing myself as much as it is about allowing my truest self, my essential nature to unfold. Instead of trying to batter my stubborn mind, ego and patterns into submission, I could be surrendering, allowing my real self to manifest. And not towards any other end than that of self-realisation, the very thing that we are all limping along towards in our own strange and wonderful ways. The thought that maybe instead of fighting myself and my nature I could be exploring it in thoughtful, compassionate ways was new to me and I turned it over in my mind like a bright, shiny penny. Oriah's book The Dance is all about this - ending the struggle with the Self and finding the truth about who we really are. We are not flawed beings trying to become whole. We are whole. The struggle is really in letting go of the illusion that we are flawed. Our essential nature is like God's own, pure, passionate, shining. We need only to remember that in order for the struggle to be over.

The difficulty of course is in living with this awareness every day. I move in and out of consciousness of my essential nature with alarming speed and frequency. Sometimes I think that a more flawed human being it would be hard to find. Sometimes I become frightened at just how powerful my mind really is and how it can keep me running around the same endless tracks like a greyhound after the rabbit. Just when I think I have fully understood something it is gone from me like a snowflake in the snow - I know its there, I saw it land but no matter how long or hard I search, I cannot find it again. My mind tortures me endlessly with questions. It comes up with endless ways to touch God, Great Mystery, the Goddess, Great Spirit or whatever else you care to name it. It keeps me awake at night wondering if I have correctly carried out this meditation or that visualisation and asking when I will get the results I seek. The trouble is that focusing on the results we want, on the goal we intend, keeps us from truly being present, here and now. It keeps us from really being present with ourselves. I very rarely know how I am really feeling. I very rarely ask myself. At the first sign of emotional discomfort I am off. My mind comes up with a million different things that I really must do and, of course, there is my daughter. Strangely enough though, she is present to herself. That is why I find her needs so hard to deal with sometimes. They are so 'now', so immediate and there is no 'later' for her.

Ah Oriah, you do get me philosophising. My eternally questing nature seeks truth and then bolts at the merest shadow of it. I seek a more ready access to and connection with the Divine and then hide when it appears. I search endlessly and then pretend that I don't find because sometimes to face the truth of who we really are, to enter fully into the dance of becoming means giving up all our dreams of who we could be if we only tried a little bit harder. I am guilty of that every day. The thought that I might not achieve the lofty heights that I seek for myself, the prospect of not having 'something to show' for my life terrifies and depresses me. It is as though it is not enough to merely live a good life, we have to achieve, achieve and achieve some more. We must parade our awards, our gifts, our achievements before us, wave them ahead of our parade to let people know that we amounted to something. In my darkest moments I fear that I will simply disappear into the role of 'mother' and never reappear to 'become' anything more. I don't see the beauty of the work of the mother. I don't learn the lessons brought by my child. I see only an endless pit of need that I can never fill and I worry that I will be left with an empty heart where once there were lofty dreams.

That is not to say that we shouldn't dream. Of course we can and must (I don't like the word 'should'). I think our dreams are the Divine's way of showing us where our journey may take us and putting our feet firmly on that path. Without our dreams we would be chained to life, merely existing rather than living. I think the danger comes when we let our dreams become an excuse for not being here now. Then we are in danger of becoming caught up in that cycle of attainment - seeking always the next and brightest thing before we can be happy. I see it in myself all the time. Oriah's longing for being passionately present and loving well echoes my own. I think it is a universal thing. In each of us that longing cries out to be heard, to be noticed, to be assuaged by love and by the Divine. Our souls laments are keened into the desert of modern life and when our needs are not immediately satisfied, we think we have not been heard, that we have been abandoned and that we are alone and we give up. We are always heard. Our knock on the door of the Divine is always answered it is just perhaps that we don't always recognise this. It may come in a form that we had not anticipated or expected. It may come in a way that is not comfortable for us and so we dismiss it. We expect our journey to be straight and narrow with no unexpected potholes or speedhumps along the way.

For me, this journey is circular - or more accurately, a spiral. I dance into the centre of my own being, rest briefly marvelling at how different the world looks from in here, before being inexorably drawn back out again to dance with life. In I go again, sweaty and breathless from twisting and turning on the edges to find a tiny window of repose before the music draws me back out again. The Dance of Becoming reminds me of the fable of the Red Shoes, how anyone who wears them must, no matter how exhausted they become or how much they want to stop, dance until they fall down dead. I think that's how many of us interact with life every day. Maybe when we can stop seeing our spiritual journey as a dance unto the death and see it for what it is, a spiral dance of surrendering and becoming, being lost and being found again, we will truly be 'in step' with our essential natures. It helps me sometimes to remember that my dance of becoming is a dance with God, with the 'Beloved' and then I can sit back and let him lead.

So, if music is the food of love then let the dance be the eating.
Bon Appetite.

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