For most of my adult life, despite consistently engaging in ‘spiritual’ practices from 18, I have avoided creating altars. The whole business resonated uncomfortably with traditional organised religions, not to mention the disorganised religion called ‘new age’, none of which are my thing.
But there was also a vulnerability that I was skating around. I didn’t want to depend upon anything outside of my own skin for a sense of the sacred. I’d be up for any inner journey, no matter how raw, volcanic, deep or dark, but until fairly recently I shied away from any need for a candle to light my way.
It’s no coincidence that I began to devote myself to a small beautiful altar in our home at around the same time as I began to actually touch the painful wounds from my very early life. The wounds I’d known about for decades but never managed to feel into, so intent was I upon eruptions and strong experiences. The wounds that required an entirely new phase of my movement practice, involving less action and more listening. After decades of craving catharsis, often approaching dance as a turbo-charged ‘fix-my-dysfunctional-self’ operation, something changed. My dance, and my life, became a more subtle prayer.
Well, we all grow, and grow up, at our own pace.
It’s always been relatively easy for me to have a sense of the sacred on the road. Partly because I am a pilgrim at heart, but also because I’m generally spending way more hours in the day explicitly dedicated to prayer and less time doing the dishes. A couple of weeks ago, returning from an unusually long and deep journey away — especially the last segment in Bolivia — I could see a choice in front of me. I could let the glow from that time fade into the background, or I could intentionally integrate what I’d learnt more deeply into my daily life. I chose the latter, deepening my formal practice, but also paying more attention to the way I attend to earthy tasks such as cleaning the house.
Tending to the quality of practice, both on and off the dance floor, I endeavour to remember the old ways that are still encoded into my blood and bones and breath. The ways that got stamped out of so many of us, as violence against indigenous culture swept across Europe, and then the rest of the world. I move, breath, listen.
Now, in the quiet mornings and nightfalls of this midwinter time, it might be a good time to nourish the sacred. To create a simple altar, or renew it if we already have one. To light a candle before we dance, and listen to the silence inside our breath.
Maybe not only in our formal moments of practice, when we’ve set aside some time to dance, but also in the moments when we’re doing the dishes.
Because it’s all a dance. Everything. We just need to remember.
I need to remember. Re-member. Re-connect to our primary membership: with life on earth.
Winter Solstice. A good time to remember.
Fare well, everyone. May it be so.