Dance today is experienced anywhere from fun, sexy and a way to keep fit to entertainment, forcing oneself into a certain popular image or high art. Itʼs deeper spiritual dimensions call out to us and can be tapped regardless of the means if we choose to listen, if we believe, if we long for it.
“Come forward, do not stray in unbelief”, says Rumi, “come dancing to divine knowledge … and come, return to the root of the root of your own self.”
A great number of poems by the 13th Century Persian mystic poet, Rumi, loved by so many throughout time, emanated from him as he was whirling, flowing in perfect rhyme stanza after stanza as he danced his glorious journey into union with he Beloved Creator.
Dance as a sacred practice is a meditation in movement that can be peaceful, liberating and passionate, integrating all spects of ourselves, both the spiritual and the sensual.
Itʼs a way to embody ourselves fully in the NOW, transforming what keeps us small, broken and limited into possibility, holeness and vastness on a level that both surpasses the mind and informs it simultaneously. It is a participation in beauty and letting go of the unnecessary that can bare us down to our essence, a shedding of the veils that keep us from experiencing what it really means to be alive. And what it really means to be alive says the Dalai Lama is to “embody the transcendent” – living the infinite in the finite day to day life – in all aspects of our living.
Once you taste the infinite in the context of dance and literally experience how youʼre not just a body as an end to itself but as a temple to spirit and to that which animates the body then this kinesthetic knowing carries over and informs your daily living.
Many describe enlightenment as the transition from I am a body to I am spirit. Through sacred dance, body and spirit are infused where there is no longer a difference, a separation or hierarchy and they are felt as one. “The soul is not greater than the body and the body not greater than the soul” writes Walt Whitman.
The sacred dance of Sema or whirling as practiced by the Mevlevi Order or Whirling Dervishes is a journey to embodying the transcendent. Sema which literally means to listen is a meditation in letting the chaos of the voices in our head quieten down so we can listen to the voice of the Beloved in our heart. The ceremony of the Sema consists of seven sections, replete with great meaning and deep symbolism. The fifth section which is the actual whirling segment of the ceremony maps out a complete spiritual path in four part known as salutes or Selams.
The first salute is the complete recognition of the whirler or Semazen of the existence of the Creator – the testimony that YES the universe has divine origin and not only have I been simply created but created in the image of the Creator.
The second salute expresses the Semazenʼs recognition of the Creator within all that is created, namely seeing the holiness in all people and all of nature leading to a sense of reverence for all.
The third salute is the annihilation of the self in the Beloved Creator. This is union, synonymous with the highest station in Buddhism known as Nirvana. Interestingly, the more one recognizes and experiences the holiness in others and in nature and feels reverent towards the created no matter what, the more one lives in oneness with the Beloved Creator.
The beauty of the path as outlined by the Sema is that it does not end with union, but goes further. The fourth salute expresses service. True embodiment of the transcendent is to serve the Beloved in the world, to help others reach their highest potential. With the right palm reaching up in an outstretched arm, the Semazen or whirler receives the light of grace descending down to her heart which then she gives to the world through love reaching out from the facing down palm of her left outstretched arm … receiving and giving love. It is only by giving that we come to truly understand and experience the grace we are receiving at all times.
“For how long do you want to reach personal ecstasy?”, says Rumi, “let your ecstasy open others to ecstasy then your ecstasy becomes thousandfold”.