Tonight I had a very happy experience: I paid my dues and became a registered, active member of the Leader’s Guild for the Dances of Universal Peace!¬† ūüėĬ† ūüėĬ† ūüėĬ† I confess that I have officially been in training since January of 2012 (yep pretty much exactly a year ago) when I asked Timothy Dobson to mentor me, but have not felt like I could afford the dues until now.¬† (My mom gave me the money as a Christmas present.¬† Thank you, Mom!!!)

I am super, super psyched.¬† The main reason is that I will be able to access the database of Dance write-ups … at last!¬† Up until now I have been gathering Dances here and there … sometimes quickly scribbling them down in the afterglow of a Dance evening, then figuring out the chords later; sometimes exchanging PDFs with other lovers of the Dances; sometimes pestering leaders to tell me the movements, or chords, or the rest of the words to Dances that spoke to me so deeply that I couldn’t go on without knowing how to play them and teach them and pass them on.¬† These methods have given me plenty to work with over the past years, and there are several Dances of the collection gathered in this way that I am still learning.¬† But I have been dreaming of being able to access the huge accumulated body of work that is the PeaceWorks database of Dances.¬† I can’t wait to be able to immediately follow up with learning all the Dances that I feel a connection with, and find new ones to suit specific occasions.¬† As I said: Really Excited!!!

This evening I was going through the folder of Dance write-ups and hand-written instructions (sometimes even hand-transcribed musical notation … though it was tedious, I actually had a beautiful time copying from the original Dance booklets at Hakim’s house in Florida … I felt a connection to the old Irish monks) in preparation for leading some singing tomorrow night.¬† The Sufi Order in Denver just started this new monthly gathering called Heart Song: Sufi Singing and they invited me to contribute.¬† I felt, and feel, incredibly honored and humbled to be called upon, but also deeply thrilled, because sharing this music is my passion.¬† I really just couldn’t believe that they would ask me to contribute to the community in this way.¬† I feel like … I want to do the utmost honor to my teachers by sharing music and leading singing in a way that creates an opportunity for the people participating to really connect with their hearts, to feel a sense of expansion and unity and the joy of praise.¬† I know those are just some of the things that I get out of this form of music, thanks to the incredible spiritual musicians and song leaders whom I have been very privileged to be around.¬† Part of me feels like it’s silly for me to think I could ever contribute anything worthwhile, and that my attempting to do so just shows my naivete, or perhaps my upstart-ness … I want to serve with respect for my teachers and with humility toward those I might lead, but of course I question the purity of my attitude.¬† I’d like to say I know what an idiot I am inside … but sometimes I still surprise myself with new levels of idiocy.¬† In the midst of this internal muddle about “how to be,” when I have a moment of consciousness I just try to get out of the way and let something come through me.

One of the songs I want to share tomorrow night is from the Dance called “Clouds” by Susan Sheely.¬† This was one of the first songs I learned to play, back when I did everything on ukulele.¬† I got to meet this amazing woman this summer, at “The Crestone Experience” Dance Camp.¬† (She actually led a Dance playing the ukulele!¬† !¬† !)¬† I went up to her and thanked her for composing or bringing through this Dance, and this chant, which have given me so much heart-felt ecstasy.¬† The best way I can put it is this: The mantra OM MANI PADME HUM is said to be untranslatable, though it uses actual words that gesture toward the concept of a jewel in the lotus heart; it is also said to contain and transmit the whole essence of the teachings of the Buddha.¬† I feel something similar, though more personal, with this song, with or without the Dance.¬† It is like the song carries the whole essence of Sufism for me.¬† It’s like the song is a doorway into another plane of felt knowledge, of understanding beyond mental doubts, beyond explanations.¬† The words are from a Rumi poem, one of Coleman Barks’ translations.¬† Each line is repeated twice:

This is how I would die, into the love I have for you,

As pieces of cloud dissolve in sunlight.

La illaha illa’llah, La illaha illa’llah,

Hu Allah Hu, Hu Allah Hu

I looked and looked for a video of this Dance online, but couldn’t find one.¬† I remember the first or possibly second time I experienced doing this Dance in Columbia with Hakim (going by Hakima then) leading — as I spun out singing “Hu Allah Hu,”¬†I did feel myself dissolving into the light.¬† As I waltzed with the new acquaintances who would become such close friends, my heart expanded far beyond its previous borders, to include everyone in the room, and the world beyond.¬† That was one of the moments when I felt released from my usual mental background noise, and fully present with the Divine in myself and in everything and everyone else.¬† That was when we Danced in the Unity Church hall, which I loved, with its shiny concrete floor and beautiful, dramatic, glittering felt wall hangings.¬† For me, it was the beginning.

And I remember singing it again with Hakim this fall at Ozark Camp.¬† We were gathered in the Healing Temple, people sitting all around the room on chairs and bunk beds and floor pillows because it was too cold to sing on the porch.¬† It was late at night and everybody was finding their own harmonies.¬† The music filled the room like a golden shimmer; the energy was tangible to a sensitive hand.¬† My chest opened and my heart soared upward and I thought, This is where it’s at for me.¬† Everything I need is in this song.

So it’s with great gratitude and honor especially to my beloved teacher and original mentor Hakim, and to all the teachers that I have had, that I go forward on this path, knowing that I have been blessed to sing with and learn from some truly, truly great leaders, with the real gift for drawing out people’s heart songs.¬† I carry the imprints of these blissful and life-changing experiences within me and I hope that some of the energy of those times may come through what I offer.¬† I think maybe it’s part of my ministerial calling, to lead and share and join in worship music.¬† At least at this point in my life, it’s what I love doing most of all.

Okay, I will leave you with this video — it’s not the same as “Clouds” but this chant is another one that early on had the power to transport me out of my ordinary experience and into a more connected state — like maybe the song is the outlet that I plug my cord into … or is it the chord?¬† Clearly I’ve stayed up past my bedtime writing this, so.¬† Shakur Allah — the quality of Divine Gratitude — when we give thanks, we experience God within us.¬† Sweet dreams!


There’s this woman who leads kirtan at the yoga studio where all my friends go.¬† I don’t do yoga (that is, I don’t have a yoga practice) but I do do kirtan, that is, devotional chanting.¬† Or say, rather, that I want to do kirtan.¬† I go every month and chant, but for the past year or so once a month hasn’t been enough for me, I want to go deeper, actually learn what I’m saying. ¬†I understand that the heart can be singing without the brain knowing the language, and that the sound itself, the syllables and the music, is a channel through which one communes with the divine.¬† But that’s me.¬† I want¬†to know stuff.¬† I feel like learning the traditions and stories around these prayers helps me to ground them in my life.¬†

I want to learn how to really use this practice of kirtan to open, open, open my heart! 

So I have been pestering this woman (in kind of a shy and hesitant way for me) to teach me independently.  Then today I got to join her in observing the last of nine days of Navratri, with a morning fire ceremony.  I showed up at her house with no idea what to expect.  She met me in her basement where she has a separate kitchen just for the preparation of rituals.  !  She asked me, in so many words, Why are you here?  What is your background?

I stumbled around a little — “Well, uh, I had an eclectic religious upbringing, and I, uh, do what I feel called to¬†… ” — not at all the concise and thoughtful summary I would’ve liked to have had at the ready!¬†

She says, “So you’ve never studied Vedic practices … ?”¬† Read: This¬† oughta be interesting!

Well, she was extremely gracious, took me right under her wing, explained a little bit of the complicated ritual she was performing, gave me some little tasks within it, like you might tell a child who’s helping you bake cookies, Okay, now you stir this really well!¬† It was really a sweet, sweet ritual.¬† The essence of what we were doing, as I learned, was offering the best in us back to the Divine, back to the Source.¬† “Aarati,” this¬†woman wrote to me,¬†is offered to the fire, one‚Äôs teachers, and all the manifestations that aid our illumination.¬† Aarati means ‘light.'”¬† I was very moved.¬† It really touched me to imagine myself putting all I have that’s good at the service of the universe.¬† I felt illuminated.


Afterward we were sitting outside enjoying the spring morning sunshine and she was telling me about how she came to be a devotee of Babaji (the only one she knows of in Missouri); how once she found his teachings, following the path he taught became the consuming passion of her life.¬† And she was asking me, “So, you want to learn to play the harmonium, or what exactly do you want to learn?” “Anything,” I¬†said.¬† “Ah, you just want to be in it,” she said, nodding like she understood.¬†

Maybe — yes — I DO just want to be in it. But I was thinking at the same time that I don’t think I’m ever going to be one of the people who gets struck by a lightning bold of truth and devotion one day and knows that they belong to one¬†path.¬† I can’t speak for the future, but I just don’t think that’s going to be me.¬† And that’s been hard for me to accept.¬† I’ve really, really wanted to find “one thing,” a church, a structure, a teacher, a guru that called ME — that wanted me.¬† I’ve even tried making up my own religion,¬†attempting to include all the elements I thought were most important, just so I could say “I am this.”¬†¬† But now I don’t think that’s what I’m here for.¬† I’m a synthesizer.¬† It’s the same impulse that led me to American Studies for my graduate work — I can’t stop myself from sampling the kinds of knowledge produced in lots of different fields.¬† (Maybe that’s the same impulse that makes the Chinese buffet my favorite type of restaurant … )

But there are also themes.¬† I guess, for me, it’s about themes more than anything else, themes that dissolve into each other from one month to the next, and big themes that grab ahold of me for years.¬† The big theme that has me right now is singing and the sacred.¬†¬†If there’s ever been a time when I actually felt an inner call to pursue something spiritual, to learn as much as I could about it from as many angles as I could, it’s this, and I’m in it now, and I have been for several years.¬† ¬† And that’s how I ended up at kirtan.¬† And it’s also how I ended up at Dances of Universal Peace, and in the Inspirational Choir at¬†Downtown Baptist, and in the Columbia Chorale singing classical requiems, and hanging around the singing circles at women’s music festivals.¬†

I’ve got a whole big basket full of pieces right now.¬† Someday I’m going to be able to fit them all together.¬† Sometime when I’m not even thinking about it.¬† Maybe it’ll come like a lightning bolt.¬† But probably it will be more like a thousand¬†fireflies all across the field of infinite possibilities.


Peace to all,

Heartland Soul