“The 5 rhythms are a contemporary shamanic Zen practice” ~ Gabrielle Roth

Okay, so science has recently showed us that dancers have genes for transcendence and social connection. (And if you don’t dance, maybe you have these genes too and don’t know it yet. And consider this: if stress turns on the bad genes, maybe the opposite of stress — joy? contentment? — turns on the good genes! Just sayin’….)

In this interview, Gabrielle Roth explains the connection between ecstatic dance, Zen, and shamanic practices.

The 5Rhythms are a contemporary Zen, Shamanic practice. Zen, in that they are a map to an inner journey for seekers of wisdom and freedom, the wisdom to know who we are and the freedom to get over ourselves. Shamanic, in that they address the Great Divide, the divorce of spirit from flesh that has created the loss of soul, which haunts us. We’ve rendered the soul homeless, it can’t breathe, exist, or move disconnected from the body. The body is the womb of the soul, a begging bowl for spirit, like Aretha when she sings….

The fastest way to still the mind is to move the body. All the profound spiritual teachings in this world don’t mean anything if they’re not embodied. Feeling totally high and connected to the divine mystery while sitting on a meditation pillow is fine, but how do we put the rubber to the road? As Charlie Parker said, If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. So I take refuge in the 5Rhythms practice to keep my horn in tune.

There are videos of Gabrielle as well on the site. Check ’em out!

In remembrance of Gabrielle Roth: freedom is our holy work

One of the significant teachers in my life died yesterday, and I’ve struggled with writing about it. I find myself getting too heady, and yet this loss is actually so profound that when I took a nap yesterday, I dreamed I was balancing upside down on my head on a dance floor, surrounded by lively, active children.

When I woke, I could feel the pressure on the crown of my head.

Headstand is definitely about changing perspective.

I stumbled into ecstatic dance 18 years ago, first encountering the 5 rhythms of Gabrielle Roth and Sweat Your Prayers after I left church as something I could no longer take part in with integrity.

I found a tribe, a practice, and a way of experiencing myself and the world as energy.

I’m not sure, but I suspect that the latter is the change in perspective that I’m integrating with this shock of loss and review of Gabrielle’s influence on my life, that it’s all just energy all the time, and it’s always changing, always dancing. The best I can ever do is to be centered, grounded, embodied, and ready to meet it. What’s solid is awareness.

I’ve had issues and struggles at times with that tribe, practice, and worldview, and they have deeply shaped me. I keep coming back.

Here’s what ecstatic dance is to me: being free, feeling joy, being embodied, clearing, cleansing, breathing, sweating, extending myself, being aware, taking care of my body, pushing to my edge and beyond, being in the moment, sharing, delighting, inquiring, discovering, connecting, having compassion, being inspired, seeing, allowing, playing, surrendering, breaking myself open, feeling what comes up, being danced, letting go, grieving, dancing with other versions of me, dancing with the entire room including the space, letting life and everything flow through me, being totally and completely alive, being fully present, blowing all the blocks out of my energy channels.

I feel so grateful to have found this and that I am able to do this.

Thank you, Gabrielle Roth, for your life’s work. Thank you, dancing tribe.

Here’s Gabrielle in her own words.

I became a mapmaker for others to follow, but not in my footsteps, in their own. Many of us are looking for a beat, something solid and rooted where we can take refuge and begin to explore the fluidity of being alive, to investigate why we often feel stuck, numb, spaced-out, tense, inert, and unable to stand up or sit down or unscramble the screens that reflect our collective insanity.

The question I ask myself and everyone else is, “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” Can we be free of all that binds and bends us into a shape of consciousness that has nothing to do with who we are from moment to moment, from breath to breath?

Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth — not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind, the what’s-happening-in-me-right-now kind of truth. We dance to reclaim our brilliant ability to disappear in something bigger, something safe, a space without a critic or a judge or an analyst.

The dancing genes, sociability, transcendence, and genetic flexibility

A recent article published online says that dancers are genetically different. Some Israeli researchers found that dancers show consistent differences from the general population in two genes.

The researchers said this did not surprise them, because studies have found that athletes and musicians have genetic differences.

I can only speak for myself, but my dance is very connected to music — my movement is a way to participate musically, as if I were playing an instrument. It’s also very physical.

I did a little Googling to see if I could find which specific genes differ in athletes and musicians, but I didn’t find anything that was very clear. Race seems to be the biggest issue in the media when it comes to genetics, athletes, and musicians.

The researchers studied dancers and advanced dance students and found they had variants in two genes, those affecting serotonin transport and arginine vasopressin reception.

Serotonin (“the happiness molecule”) is a neurotransmitter that contributes to spiritual experience — the capacity for transcendence and a proclivity to spiritual acceptance. (See this Psychology Today article for more about that.) It also affects optimism, the healing of wounds, resilience from stress, metabolism, sleep, and more.

“Serotonin transport” sounds like a dance inside the body!

Interestingly, exercise can raise serotonin levels in the body, so dancing itself reinforces dancers’ high serotonin levels!

I admit — I get into an altered state from ecstatic dance. That’s why they call it ecstatic dance, I suspect. 😉

The vasopressin receptor modulates social communication and affiliative bonding. Wikipedia says “…accumulating evidence suggests it plays an important role in social behavior, bonding, and maternal responses to stress.” It has a very similar structure to oxytocin (“the love hormone”), and the two can cross-react.

When the results were combined and analyzed, it was clearly shown that the dancers exhibited particular genetic and personality characteristics that were not found in the other two groups.

The dancer “type,” says Ebstein, clearly demonstrates qualities that are not necessarily lacking but are not expressed as strongly in other people: a heightened sense of communication, often of a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait.

I know this is controversial, but I want to weigh in on the side of flexibility when it comes to genetics. For much of my life, genes were thought to be destiny, unalterable. Now it is known that the expression of genes is much more dynamic than previously believed. They can switch on and off.

I don’t know that much about it, except that stress tends to switch on the bad genes. I don’t know which or how many genes truly create destiny and therefore cannot be influenced, except that there probably are some. We just don’t know enough about this in our current level of understanding.

I want to encourage people who believe they don’t have the dancing genes to give dancing a try.

Two left feet? That’s a myth. If you can walk, you have rhythm and coordination.

If you think you can’t dance, try just moving to some music alone in your own home if you feel self-conscious. Play something catchy, like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Start simple, just swaying your hips to the beat, keeping your feet in place. Do you like it? Do you feel any sense of pleasure? Play with it. Add your arms. Walk to it. Make it fun and goofy!

Those dancing genes may be just sitting there waiting to be activated, for all we know, and they might help you become happier.

Day 17 of the Work: turning around question 6

There is one last turnaround in Byron Katie’s The Work. This one is sometimes overlooked. Back on Day 1, I filled out the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet. Question 6 asks:

What is it in or about this situation that you don’t ever want to experience again?

I responded:

I don’t ever want to feel so disconnected, frustrated, and helpless about someone I care about [as I did with my father].

Question 6 has its own turnaround, which is:

I am willing to feel as disconnected, frustrated, and helpless about someone I care about [as I did with my father].

I look forward to feeling as disconnected, frustrated, and helpless about someone I care about [as I did with my father].

Whoa. I definitely feel a lot of resistance. Those statements are not true!

So let me inquire more deeply. I’m going to consult my worn, autographed copy of Loving What Is and see what Byron Katie has to say about this turnaround:

This turnaround is about embracing all of life. Saying — and meaning — “I am willing to…” creates openness, creativity, and flexibility. Any resistance you may have is softened, allowing you to lighten up rather than keep hopelessly applying willpower or force to eradicate the situation from your life. Saying and meaning “I look forward to…” actively opens you to life as it unfolds.

It’s all there in the title of her book, Loving What Is.

So my understanding now is that it is entirely possible in my future that I will again feel as disconnected, frustrated, and helpless about someone as I did with my father. Do I know my future? No. So to resist a possibility in advance is to cut myself off from potential reality. What will happen will happen.

The truth is that if this does happen, I don’t have to respond the way I did in the past. I don’t have to fear it or repress it or even suffer at all. I can embrace whatever feelings arise and do inquiry on them if painful. I can embrace that person.

I can recognize the similarity with my old story about my dad and know this person is not him but could definitely have some similar characteristics (which sooner or later everyone will, because the common denominator is being human).

I can get fascinated with that.

I can even thank them for bringing me something to do The Work on.

Another approach to this statement is to ask question 3 again, “What happens when you believe that thought?” When I think about feeling like that in the future, I feel disgruntled, unwelcoming, armored.

I can not only let that thought drop me, I can embrace that possible future! It’s one of many!

Does anyone’s future hold only that which they want? Probably not. So get ready. Shit happens. I am willing to experience conflict, to feel pain and suffering, to be confused, even to be mortal and to die.

I am going to do those things anyway, so I might as well be willing.

I can even look forward to doing these things with as much serenity, acceptance, wisdom, and equanimity as I can muster.

~~~

I originally wrote this post two days ago, and then I lost it somewhere in the ether. So this is the second time I’ve written it. It was a struggle the first time, less so this time, and I got even more out of it by doing it again.

Knowing and Mystery walked into a bar…

The Curse Of Certainty In Science And Religion : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR.

Thought-provoking essay on an NPR blog (Cosmos and Culture) by Adam Frank about the only constant in life being change, and how we hunger for certainty, solidity, knowing.

Religions try to provide certainty:

Scriptures are transformed into unwavering blueprints for an unchanging order.

Science might seem the antidote to the constrictions of religion:

Science, in the purest forms of its expression as a practice, holds to no doctrine other than that the world might be known.

But:

When science as an idea is used to push away the tremulous reality of our lived existential uncertainty then it … becomes just another imaginary fixed point in a life without fixed points.

So how about “spiritual but not necessarily religious”?

The world’s history of spiritual endeavor contains many beautiful descriptions of authentic encounters with uncertainty. Ironically these often serve as gateways to the most compassionate experience of what can be called sacred in human life… Dig around in most of the world’s great religious traditions and you find people finding their sense of grace by embracing uncertainty rather than trying to bury it in codified dogmas.

For science, embracing uncertainty means…

… embracing the fuzzy boundaries of the very process of asking questions. It means embracing the frontiers of what explanations, for all their power, can do. It means understanding that a life of deepest inquiry requires all kinds of vehicles: from poetry to particle accelerators; from quiet reveries to abstract analysis.

So how can we live with so much uncertainty? We become patient, forgiving, generous, and inclusive. We find humor, good will, and compassion.

We embrace the mystery of ourselves and these lives we live. A little humility goes far.

I like knowing, or rather, believing I know. I’ve spent much of my life wanting to know, trying to know, believing if I just knew, then … I’d be protected from misfortune, or something like that.

Misfortune happened anyway.

Yet can I really know? Can I really know you? Can I really know truth? Can I even really know myself? No, I cannot.

I operate on assumptions that involve temporary (fictional) certainties. I cling to certainty from moment to moment as I go about my life, taking this-that-the other for granted, and it could all change in any given moment. Yes, tomorrow will come. Yes, I’m going to take that trip, do that thing in the future. I’m going to arrive safely on the other side of the street. I’m going to get home again. I’m going to be emotionally intact at the end of the day. I will see the people who have been important to me again.

And I don’t really know.

Knowing is a convenient truth that works better for me when I understand that it is always accompanied by something much bigger and more powerful, The Mystery. This is the sea of the Nagual.