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Maps to Ecstasy
A Healing Journey for the Untamed Spirit
By Gabrielle Roth, John Loudon
New World LibraryCopyright © 1998 Gabrielle Roth
All rights reserved.
freeing the body | the power of being
ain't it strange
hand of god feel the finger/hand of god I start to whirl
hand of god I don't linger/don't get dizzy/do not fall
turn whirl like a dervish/turn god make a move/turn lord
I don't get nervous oh I just move in another dimension
come move in another dimension
come move in another dimension
— Parti Smith
"Ain't It Strange" fromBabel
The first creative task is to free the body to experience the power of being.
It is first in that it is both where we must begin and what is most fundamental. Your body is the ground metaphor of your life, the expression of your existence. It is your Bible, your encyclopedia, your life story. Everything that happens to you is stored and reflected in your body. Your body knows; your body tells. The relationship of your self to your body is indivisible, inescapable, unavoidable. In the marriage of flesh and spirit, divorce is impossible, but that doesn't mean that the marriage is necessarily happy or successful.
So the body is where the dancing path to wholeness must begin. Only when you truly inhabit your body can you begin the healing journey. So many of us are not in our bodies, really at home and vibrantly present there. Nor are we in touch with the basic rhythms that constitute our bodily life. We live outside ourselves — in our heads, our memories, our longings — absentee landlords of our own estate. A brochure I saw at a chiropractor's office says: "If you wear out your body, where are you going to live?"
One incident in my search always sticks out for me: I ran into a rabbi in a shopping mall. We got to talking and I asked, "Do Jews hate their bodies as much as Catholics?" He started to laugh in mock shock, but then gave me a more quizzical look. It seemed I'd hit on something close to him. He told me that he'd just buried his father, who was also a rabbi. He'd asked his father on his deathbed, "What was the most important thing in your life, the Torah?" And the old man had answered, "My body." "I was stunned," his son now told me. He stared past me in awkward silence and finally said, "I always thought my body was just a vehicle for my mind; feed it, clothe it, send it to Harvard."
Being — existence, energy, vitality — means that our spirit fills our body. Our full self is embodied. But when we look in the mirror, what do we see? A dull, vacant stare? A sunken chest? A phony smile? Go take a look. What do you see? If it isn't a vibrant self brimming with energy and presence, then you're shortchanging yourself on the gift of life. I know. I've been there. I've seen thousands of absentee selves, and you have too — on the subway, in rush-hour traffic, in the supermarket, profiled in the eerie evening glow of the tube — and you know, all too often, you're one of them.
For many of us, the body is a feared enemy whose instincts, impulses, hungers are to be conquered, tamed, trained for service, beaten into submission.
Ironically, that's what I did as a "dancer" — I learned to ignore, deny, control, misuse, and abuse my body. I could make it do fancy steps, rev it up with one drug and knock it out with another, starve it and adorn it, but I didn't trust my body, I didn't like it. No wonder I didn't live in my body, or seldom let my breath move below my neck. Mine became a body disconnected from the waves, the rhythms, the cycles that comprised the ocean of my being. I could dance, but I'd forgotten how to really move or be moved.
My way back into life was ecstatic dance. I reentered my body by learning to move my self, to dance my own dance from the inside out, not the outside in. And over the years, I discovered — in observing my own body and thousands of others — the five sacred rhythms that are the essence of the body in motion, the body alive:Flowing ... Staccato ... Chaos ... Lyrical ... Stillness.
The Five Rhythms
The rhythm is below me
The rhythm of the heat
The rhythm is around me
The rhythm has control
The rhythm is inside me
The rhythm has my soul.
— Peter Gabriel
"The Rhythm of the Heart" from Security
Picture yourself in your room alone, about to pray. Standing perfectly still, quiet as night. Imagine a gentle drumbeat and feel your breath rising and sinking with it, expanding and contracting. Your head drops forward. Feel its weight, it rolls from side to side and up and down in heavy, slow movements that slide through your shoulders to your elbows, carving shapes in space. Then your hands take over and do their own dance. Your hips catch the spreading fever, rocking and rolling, twisting and turning. Your knees bend and lift, while your feet slide, stamp, tap-experimenting with a dozen ways of walking. All the parts of your instrument are tuned.
A rolling drumbeat captures your feet. You go with this flowing rhythm, enhance it, exaggerate it: inhaling, rising, expanding, opening; then exhaling, sinking, contracting, closing. You ride this wave of movement again and again until you're stretching like a walking cat. You become a continuum of movement, creating an infinity of circular shapes as you move up and down, breathing deeply in and out, rising and sinking like a heavy sun. There are no sharp edges to your movements, only curves, endless circles of motion, each gesture evolving into the next. Your body has become a sea of waves — powerful, constant rhythmic motion rooted in the earth, relaxed and centered, flowing in all directions.
The drums intensify. The pulsing of the bass grabs your belly and you begin to move in sharp, staccato, defined ways, each movement having a beginning and end. Your arms and legs become percussive instruments. You're staccato incarnate, torso twisting sharply, arms flashing, feet pounding, one with your pulse, living on air, exhaling into one movement, and breathing life into the next. Your body's jerking, jabbing, jamming, falling into patterns and repeating them over and over till they die and a new pattern is born.
Now the beat builds, the pace quickens. You dance over the edge into chaos. You're swept up in some primal rite, falling deeper and deeper into yourself an intuitive stream of essential movements. Your body is gyrating, limp as a ragdoll, spine undulating, head loose, hands flying, feet locked in the beat. You're electric, turned on, plugged into something huge, something bigger than yourself. You are vibrantly alive.
After the peak of chaos the drums lighten up, and your body shifts into the trance-like state of the lyrical rhythm — grounded but soaring. There is a lightness of being in your feet, a sense of being airborne in your dance. Your body sweeps in graceful loops like a bird in the wind, bouncing, darting, dipping, diving.
Finally, stillness enters your dance, calling you into spaces between the beats, between your bones, between your moves. Your body shifts through many shapes, sometimes holding them, feeling their vibration, sometimes letting them go. Your attention is drawn to your inner dance, where everything is alive, awake, aware. You have disappeared into the dance, and the dance has disappeared in you. Picture yourself sitting doing nothing, just being.
The rhythms don't only exist in the dance; they infuse every aspect of our lives. Think of one of your most memorable sexual experiences. Although often sex gets stuck in one rhythm, sometimes we ride the whole wave. Sensuous and slow, gentle and tender your energies flow together. As it heats up, your passion ignites into a pulsing staccato beat. As you lose control, moving beyond all thinking and fears, you surrender to the orgasmic rhythm of chaos. And then there's the luscious lingering of the altered lyrical state before we settle into the afterglow, the bliss of stillness.
Or recognize the rhythms in the birth of a child. Labor begins with gentle, undulating movement in the womb; builds into strong, stabbing contractions; Crescendos with impossible, body-engulfing pains and the final bursts of pressure that whoosh the baby out and send joy racing through every cell, culminating in the ecstatic stillness of embracing your nursing infant.
Over the years I've found that these five rhythms constitute the fluid structure, the DNA, of our physical lives. We know from physics that everything is in motion, and that the authentic way of understanding reality is to think in terms of motion: rhythms, vibrations, frequencies — the language of constant change, of flux.
So our challenge is to become conscious of these rhythms, to truly experience them, to enter into them. We have to learn to know what rhythm we're in, how to ride with it, how to shift; to sense what rhythm others are in and how the different rhythms are complementary or discordant. We need to discover what rhythm predominates in us — are we a flowing type, a chaotic type? What rhythms characterize the main people in our lives? We need to tune into the undulating rhythms of our days, our weeks, our months, our years.
Practicing the Rhythms
So how do we get in touch with the rhythms that are our body's native language? The simplest answer is to "do the rhythms," to act them out, enter into them. And the simplest, most natural way to do them is to dance them, and trust that ultimately your own body, your own energy, is your teacher. The rhythms are the practice.
Dance is the most immediate way of expressing the body's essential rhythms; dance is spontaneous, universal — watch how children respond to music, and remember that every human culture has its dance forms, embodying the varying rhythms. In my workshops, I provide appropriate music for each rhythm and invite participants to discover their own expression of them: the flowing, contour-following rhythm that may look like tai chi or moving through honey — slow, mellifluous, elegant; the sharp, defined, syncopated, karate-like moves of staccato; the wild tribal, out-of-your-head, into-your-feet, total release that is chaos; the light, airy, trance-dance of lyrical, and the mime-like dialectic between movement and stasis that is dynamic stillness. The spontaneous choreography by people who have never been formally trained in dance constantly astonishes me: it's as fresh, bold, and inventive as most work I've seen done by dance troupes.
Anyone can do the rhythms. They are in us, and are part of our essential makeup; they just need to be evoked, to find expression in our own unique beings. I've worked with everybody — rock stars and priests, kids and old people, schizophrenics and uptight intellectuals — and they all discover the dancer within as the procession through the rhythms liberates their limbs and they rediscover their body. I've "taught" thousands, and there's never been one who couldn't do the rhythms.
Even my friend Stanley. In 1975, I did a lecture/demonstration at the big Unitarian church in San Francisco. Afterward a sixty-five-year-old man, who had been in an industrial explosion that had left him half deaf and severely palsied, came up to me very excitedly and told me in slurred speech how thrilled he was about the dance. So I invited him to come to the next workshop I was giving. He came, and he's been working with me ever since. In the course of the last twelve years, by regularly doing the rhythms, he's been able to move beyond his palsied, spastic condition and to open and expand his movements and his speech.
Stanley has been like a withered flower coming back into bloom. When I first met him, his arms were contracted tight against his chest, his hands were tight-fisted like gnarled clubs, and his body was shaking in a perpetual state of chaos. In doing the rhythms, Stanley entered into this chaotic state and from there, found his way into the other rhythms — first staccato, then flowing, then lyrical, and finally achieving a kind of stillness — gradually reintroducing his body to its other ways of being. Doing the rhythms relaxed him tremendously and opened him up to the whole repertoire of human movement. His progress, needless to say, has made all the difference in the quality of his life and has been a joyful discovery for me. Stanley has become a grandfather spirit of my work. He now wears dance clothes and funny little hats, and he's not only picked up the spirit of dance but developed his own distinctive style. Going strong at eighty, he's discovered the dance of life and is a constant joy and inspiration.
People are surprised to discover that the rhythms are not only healing but also energizing and relaxing. In exploring the full range of our body's natural movement, we reconnect with our native animal energy, and start to be present in our bodies.
In my workshops I use live or taped music appropriate to each rhythm and briefly demonstrate how each rhythm looks and feels, how it can be embodied. Sometimes I don't use music at all and instead encourage people to follow their own inner sense of rhythm. I don't teach steps — your body has its own steps, its moves, its own ways of being in each rhythm; you discover your dance by doing it. I have put together a tape of my own music to accompany this book ("Initiation") and to lead you through the five rhythms.* But you can make your own rhythm tapes. It's important for you to discover what moves you.
It's ideal to set aside the same time every day, five days a week, and devote that time to doing the rhythms. Find a time structure that works for you — morning, afternoon, or evening. The ritual of your movement work is up to you. If you don't want to do the rhythms every day, do them when the spirit moves you. You can do the rhythms alone or with others. For some it's a daily meditation. For others, it's exercise. For me, it's both.
You'll want to wear light, loose-fitting clothing and light shoes you can dance in, or just bare feet. You can put on my rhythms tape, starting at the beginning of side one. Or put on some smooth, undulating music of any kind. It's the flowing rhythm that's important, not whether it's rock or classical or ethnic. Tune into the music, let it penetrate you. Feel its pulse, its contours, its waves. Music is an ally, an inspiration, a lure: it spontaneously evokes our inner rhythms and induces our body into movement. Gradually begin moving with the flowing rhythm of the music. Stretching, undulating, feeling the weight of each movement in space, you're inventing your own tai chi. You feel your feet firmly on the floor and the circular movements of your legs, your arms, and your hands describe an evolving continuum. You're centered in your belly and all the movement begins and returns there: rising on the inhale, exaggerated and prolonged, and sinking and contracting on the exhale. Now follow your feet and flow with the music as the spirit moves you. There's no right way to do it, only your way. And gradually your own style, your unique way of being, will emerge, and the movements, and the breathing, and the flow of the music will blend into a dynamic unity so that you will feel you are the rhythm, you are flowing.
Next you move into staccato following my tape or whatever music you choose that has a hard, driving, pulsating beat. Let the beat take hold of you. Then, inhaling with each movement and letting out the breath explosively, making whatever sounds come out, your movements become fast-paced, thrusting, pounding — each movement isolated, with a beginning and an end. You're moving in lines and angles, no longer in circles, and your moves are percussive, short; they've got edges, and your breath releases in bursts of sound. As in every other rhythm, if you ground your awareness in your feet, the waves will flow through your whole body and you'll become more and more aware of all the parts of your body as they're swept into the beat.
To move into chaos, I love to be carried away by tribal drumming. Chaos is rooted in flowing and staccato rhythms but revs them up beyond control. Jerks, spins, releases, taking every movement over the edge, yet totally grounded in your feet. You're carried away, surrendering to the surging of the music. Letting the brain and the controlling mind go, and letting the body loose — no blocks, no inhibitions, no doubts, just pure animal gyrations.
When you have let go in chaos, you enter the rhythm of lyrical where you let go of letting go. It's really chaos inside out. The intuitive moves that have driven your dance are shifted into the zone of your imagination where you reinvent yourself, make yourself up from scratch in every moment.
Excerpted from Maps to Ecstasy by Gabrielle Roth, John Loudon. Copyright © 1998 Gabrielle Roth. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
FOREWORD by angeles arrien,
CHAPTER ONE freeing the body | the power of being,
CHAPTER TWO expressing the heart | the power of loving,
CHAPTER THREE emptying the mind | the power of knowing,
CHAPTER FOUR awakening the soul | the power of seeing,
CHAPTER FIVE embodying the spirit | the power of healing,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
What People are Saying About This
Gabrielle Roth's book is a joy, a truly moving experience from a very fine teacher. It is both fun to read and immensely instructive. Don't expect to finish the book in a couple of sittings -- keep it around and work with it over time like an old friend. Five stars for Gabrielle Roth and Maps to Ecstasy
She might dance on the path, but she also rocks on the page.
A wonderful and inspiring book that can lead people to a new level of understanding and give them the courage to follow their dreams.