A Dancer’s Faith

Do you ever feel like you are stuck in between where you are and where you want to be?

You are doing everything you can for your Art, and you know you just have to STICK it out, and yet, you want to yell out,

When will I GET THERE?

We can have such a clear vision of our success, but the journey can be downright exhausting.

Could we just skip to the raving fans and thriving career?

Wouldn’t that be AMAZING!

But since this is not our reality, the question arises, what helps?

When we are feeling stuck…..what is there?

 

Back in early July, I found myself in excruciating pain.  My right shoulder was killing me, and what I would normally think was a tight knot, wasn’t going away.

Something was wrong.

I soon found myself staring at a large x-ray in my chiropractor’s office, with the diagnosis of swelling in my disks, arthritis, and my skull at a 9 degree angle off from center.

I had injured my neck, and now had to go into treatment.

And stop dancing.

I’ve always been a good patient, and showed up for all my adjustments.  I started to see improvements quickly, and after two months, started taking yoga again.  It was feeling so good to move my body, and then I pulled a muscle in my back.

And was back at square one.

Still no dancing.

It took another month of recovery before I could take class.  When I walked back into the studio, I was both excited and scared.  This was the longest time I had taken off from dancing in my whole LIFE.

I was shaky…..I was off balance, but I was there.

In the coming weeks, it was frustrating.  I didn’t have full range of motion, and it felt so strange to be in dance class, my place of joy and expression, and NOT be able to fully let loose.

My back was still tight, my neck still tight, and I felt like I was managing it all.

And I didn’t WANT to manage it…I wanted to just DANCE.

Have you ever felt like this? Constricted in your Art?

Dance hasn’t been my place of safety and conservation…it’s been my place of FREEDOM!

One week, we did a fast combo, and I found myself hunched over, desperately trying to get in enough air.  My stamina was in the toilet…..class was feeling HARD.  I was really questioning if I would ever feel the same in my body again.

I wanted to feel strong again.

But, with each week, it got slowly better.  I was still going for my chiropractic treatment, and feeling my neck loosen, my back widen….

Incrementally, I could feel the change.

 

Last week, we learned this really fast combo.  As we learned the steps, I felt full range of motion.  I was feeling alive and strong, and having a blast. I had no idea what the song was, but the movement was so much fun!

And then my teacher turned on the song…and I grinned ear to ear as the familiar guitar strum reminded me of my early teenage days….George Michael singing on my Sony Walkman:

Faith.

Before this river
Becomes an ocean
Before you throw my heart back on the floor
Oh baby I reconsider
My foolish notion
Well I need someone to hold me
But I wait for something more
Yes I’ve gotta have faith
Unh I gotta faith
Because I gotta to have faith, faith, faith
I gotta to have faith, faith, faith

And then I danced…..

Five months after walking into the doctor’s office, I danced.

 

What does Faith mean to you?

Is it a part of your Art?

I see so many Artists struggle because they are stuck in their circumstances.  They can’t see PAST it.  They are disconnected from a larger picture.

The picture of their vision
The picture of their audience

The reason WHY they came to their Art in the first place.

What DO you have Faith in?

If we are going to take our work to a larger audience, we need to realize we are larger than our challenges. 

And I get it, it can be deeply isolating when you are in pain and struggling. I felt so self conscious being in dance class and falling out of turns, and doubled over from exhaustion.  But I kept showing up, each week.

If the only reason you are doing your Art is confined to your Ego, you will suffer again and again.

We ALL face challenges along our path,

Rejection
Disappointment
Loss

We don’t have control over people. There is a letting go here.

So, what can we CREATE and NOURISH to get back on the dance floor and be strong?

FAITH.

And this is personal TO you.

Two years ago, I interviewed four successful Artists that are dear friends.  They were at the top of their field, in choreography, performance, teaching and writing.  They were on Broadway, large films, and turning down work.

The common thread with them all?
Faith.

Faith in their Art
Faith in their audience
Faith in the larger picture of what ART actually is doing FOR themselves AND the world

You may be shaky and off balance in the process, but tap into something larger, and find the support that FEEDS you.

We are stronger together.

 

 

Photography: Caitlin Cannon Photography

The Compassion Course

ZMM

“How do you let go?”

Tears stream down my face, as I sit on the cushion in front of Ryushin Sensei, the Abbott of the Zen Mountain Monastery, any last illusion of keeping it together completely shattered as I choke out my question.

He gently grabs a box of tissues from behind him, and places them in front of me.

“That is a very good question. Now I’m going to ask you a question.”

I look into his eyes after my fists grab around a handful of white Kleenex and I fumble to ease the stream flowing down my face.

“Are you ok without him?”

Everything stops for a moment. I feel my breath in, my breath out, and realize my present truth, eyes widening as the tears abate and I slowly speak from a very basic place.
“Yes, I am.”

 

In my search for answers and clarity two years ago, I found myself drawn back to spirituality. I knew I wanted to add meditation to my yoga practice, and ended up discovering Buddhism. The practice resonated with me deeply, speaking to my anger, pain, and the massive surge of change that was steam-rolling a marriage of 15 years. I was getting a crash course in impermanence and needed study guides, and a teacher.

Raised Methodist, I enjoyed many childhood Sundays in the community of our church, ringing in my mother’s bell choir, and going on Youth Group trips. I read the Bible and prayed, believing in the Pastor’s word and taking great comfort in the teachings.

I had a compass.

My high school sweetheart and first really serious relationship lasted for three years. He was a year older than me and an atheist. Some of our worst fights were over religion and I ended up just accepting it was one of many things we would not share.

I ended up getting accepted into the BFA for Musical Theatre at Penn State, and college opened me on many levels. As my friendships deepened within my theatre community, I was very troubled by the church’s stance toward gay rights. The language felt harsh and judgemental, a complete untruth aimed at my gay friends.  I began to pull away, and didn’t seek a church community at college.  Sundays turned into time to sleep in and recover from the long week of classes, late rehearsals, and show performances.

I married a man who shared my religious views, and while we bowed our heads in prayer every night before dinner, church was an experience saved for family visits, and holidays. In the early years, we went to a church on the Upper East Side, participated in Lenten devotions, and gave up vices for those 40 days leading up to Easter.

While we were not a part of a formal church community, I believed God was in our home, and something we shared. We had our faith together, and in each other.

Until we didn’t.

Until I didn’t, particularly in myself.

Prayers became desperate, secret admissions, whispered in the dark, or as hot water fell around me in my solitary morning shower, my hands splayed on the white bathroom tile, reaching for support from the cold wall. I was asking for forgiveness, but not really addressing the rising panic or lies between us. I prayed for elimination of my suffering, but didn’t understand the inception of why I was scared and exhausted.

A month after he left me, in a moment of absolute anger, I yelled at him, “Did the vows you took before God mean anything to you?”

His harsh, loud return stopped me cold, “When was God a part of our marriage?”

Not only did I hear his loss of faith, I knew it was reflecting a gaping hole within me.

I began seeking, trying different centers and different sects of Buddhism, and three months later, found myself at an Introduction to Zen Training weekend at the Zen Mountain Monastery, weeping in meditation and waiting in line to speak one on one with the master teacher, Ryushin, in formal interview, or Dokusan.

In the moment I left the small room, my hands still clutching the wet tissues, I connected back to the basic level of living. Despite my inner pain, and the daily intense reminder of loss, I was ok. My ground of being always existed, but had been covered in a fog for years. Now I saw a path.

After that weekend, I knew I had found my practice and for the first time in years, embraced a childhood constant:
Faith

I started going to the Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn, and enjoyed community within this recovered space. Sundays became spiritual days again, and chances to connect.

Church dresses were replaced by loose pants and basic colors, but I was cultivating another gift within those walls, on my yoga mat, and back at home on my meditation bench:
Compassion

By embracing and recognizing my own suffering and giving it a voice, I found compassion towards myself, and began to see it in others, all around me. I wasn’t alone, and neither were those with bowed heads and heavy hearts I encountered throughout my daily life in the city. The separation I formerly believed was an illusion of my mind.

I wasn’t praying for the pain to stop, nor turning away. Instead, I turned towards it for answers, and was rewarded tenfold.

 

Last year, I opened my mailbox to find a sampling of The Sun magazine. It was full of short stories, interviews, and poems, all written from a conscious point of view. That it coincided with the beginning of ZenRedNYC was a beautiful synchronicity. After one issue, I was hooked, and signed up for a year subscription.

With a heavy heart towards recent acts of terrorism, I recently read an interview with African-American lesbian Reverend Lynice Pinkard on “The Revolutionary Act of Living The Gospels”. She resigned from her position as senior pastor in 2010 and became a volunteer and board member of Share First Oakland (sharefirst.org), and the community-training institute Seminary of the Street, with side work as a hospital chaplain. She intended to decentralize the church’s hierarchical leadership and put her resources into helping the surrounding communities. Her words:

“The problems that beset us aren’t insolvable. The world is not full of scarcity, and we do not have to scramble to get our share. Our hurts are not as endless as they seem. Hope doesn’t have to be stifled by frustrated cynicism. Peace is possible when we tell the truth about our hurts and our hopes.

The bottom line is that we are called to lives of compassion. We are called to the work of liberation through love. That calling is the only thing worth suffering for.”

Amen.

The Sun