Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Eliezer Sobel - The Tribal Embrace

Interesting post.

The 99th Monkey

One man's spiritual quest—and his continuous and utter failure to find the answers.

The Tribal Embrace

On grief and vulnerability in the presence of others.

I spent last weekend in a very deep workshop that provoked a lot of tears and feelings, both of which are often in short supply for me. It was a "5-RhythmsTM"-based group, the healing-through-movement practice developed by Gabrielle Roth, a work that I have been engaged with, on and off, for 30 years, (and lately, I also teach it.) Gabrielle is currently dealing with a serious health issue, so I send her prayers of healing and love and offer this missive as a testimony to what she has given the world.

In Gabrielle's work, the dance floor is a metaphor for our lives, and thus what goes on there can be as complex, messy and exhilarating as the rest of life. While on the surface, the 5 Rhythms may seem to be about dance, movement is merely the vehicle for a powerful, healing process of meditation-in-motion, aimed at unifying the body, heart, mind, soul and spirit into our original wholeness, and addressing our collective cultural disease of fragmentation, or what Gabrielle has called "trizo-phrenia": thinking one thing, feeling another, and doing a third. In this particular weekend, I experienced and expressed a deep well of grief throughout the four days—primarily around the inevitable loss of my parents and everyone else I love, the unthinkable sufferings of the world at large, and my personal and private litany of unfulfilled dreams and dashed expectations I had for myself as a young man.

But I quickly recognized and remembered that I am not a special case; there were as many wounded hearts in the room as there were people, and our leader—the wondrously talented Andrea Juhan

kept reminding us that although we each have our personal and unique histories, we also share a greater field of unified awareness, one that includes all of our individual hurts, all of our betrayed, crushed or terrified hearts, all of our disappointments, loss, rage and grief. (Sound like a fun workshop so far? Fear not: underneath and alongside the pain we also collectively entered an exquisite field of profound beauty, the deep joy of loving connection, our bodies and hearts dancing wild and free.)

Then, with only a few hours to go in our time together, a young man in the group suddenly received word that his father had just died.

His first overwhelming impulse was to leave the group immediately and grieve alone. But a gentle coaxing from several of the participants and staff brought him back into the room and onto the dance floor, completely shattered, and completely supported. Never in my 30+ years of being both a workshop attendee and leader have I experienced a group so instantly and dramatically let go of their own self-preoccupations and drop down seven layers into a tangible and collective well of grief and love, surrounding and bearing witness for our fellow participant.

When I worked as a lay hospital chaplain, I learned that it is a holy and sacred occasion to sit with someone at the time of their passing; on this occasion, we learned as a group that it is equally profound to be with someone experiencing their first wave of utter loss, shock and sorrow at hearing the news of a beloved's death. The man e-mailed our group several days later, saying "I almost walked away and isolated myself from the greatest gift I have ever received."

How often in our time of greatest need do we choose to completely withdraw, and attempt to deal with our inner turmoil privately, waiting until we have put our messy insides together sufficiently to be "presentable" enough to gingerly make social contact again? We each received a profound lesson from this man, about responding to deep pain and vulnerability another way, a way of remaining present to unbearable suffering, while allowing that raw, naked place within to be seen and tenderly held by others.

Earlier in the weekend, Andrea had asked us to "Enter the space within you that loves to dance," and I heard myself thinking, "I don't love to dance. I do it because I think it is good for me, kind of like going to the gym. But love it? My hip is killing me, my arthritic toes hurt, I can't keep up with the 20-year olds—who loves that?" As our shells cracked, however, and all of us walking-wounded began peeking out of our inner, private worlds of separation and pain, I began to remember what I DO love about the dance: connection. The magic on the dance floor (remember, dance floor=life) primarily occurs for me when I drop into my essential Self and deeply connect with others, in this case through a non-verbal, moving exchange of essence and energy. That's where the love is.

And that's also where the hurt can be, so we all tend to proceed with great caution when approaching another's world. Dare we toss caution to the winds and risk being seen? If we drop our masks and stand naked and emotionally vulnerable before another, will we still be loved and accepted? Can we release the habitual presentation of our social personas and stand inside our authenticity and connect from there?

When we are able to do these things, something magical happens; the world shifts, and becomes a much friendlier place, one that can welcome and hold whoever we happen to be, without our habitual and often unconscious obsession with trying to change or fix who we are in the hopes of pleasing some imaginary jury and gaining their love, acceptance and approval.

What if all of who we are, just as we are, was not only sufficient, but loveable, mysterious and ultimately an empty, clear vessel of Divine transmission-in-action? That recognition, when embraced, instantly transforms us from someone who is constantly looking for love (in all the wrong places), into a beacon of light, someone able to freely dole the love out. As Gabrielle used to intone in the early days, "You have to give to live." The spiritual path is never about getting something, despite all of our efforts to do so. St. Francis made it very simple: "Let me not so much seek to be loved, (and understood) as to love, (and understand)."

I remember a poignant and profound moment with Ram Dass, several years after a stroke had temporarily robbed him of his former verbal lucidity, and it was almost as if he had been forced to become a poet, to express himself in only a few words instead of the two-hour entertaining lectures for which he had always been famous. We happened to find ourselves together in a tiny meditation room at the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram in Taos, he in his wheelchair, me on the floor, and we shared a moment of silently gazing into one another's eyes. Then, as his attendant began to wheel him out of the room, he simply commented, "Every individual, like a flower," and I burst into tears, feeling the purity of my "flower-self" seen and acknowledged in a way that I never even recognize in myself, let alone another. And yet, when all is said and done, we are all co-existing in a great, beautiful and multi-colored, infinite field of...well, yes, flower-children! (It is the anniversary of Woodstock, after all!) May all beings water, weed and tenderly care for our shared, global garden, and may you, Gabrielle, get well soon and resume your work as a Master Gardener.

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