For Ratna Dakini, dancing is a joyous form of spiritual practice that allows her to “merge with the flow of the moment.” Here, she explores the dharma of dance.
Dancing is the most joyous way I have found to practice dharma. For me, dancing is a way of merging with the flow of the moment. As a practice of softening, strengthening, stretching, relaxing, opening, and feeling, dance has allowed me to understand my dharma practice in a more open and flexible way. After years of formal dharma practice that included chanting and sitting meditation, dancing has emerged as my main practice in the past year.
The more I dance, the more duality loses its grasp.
Dancing as dharma practice is not the same as dancing for the stage. As a spiritual practice, it’s not about form, skill, precision, or even beauty. Dancing as dharma practice is about developing awareness through the body and its mindful movement. It’s also about developing wisdom, compassion, and loving-kindness. Ultimately, my dancing is about embodying bodhichitta. It’s about flowing with the intention of awakening oneself and others.
Dance as dharma practice implies joyful effort. As with all practices, dancing pushes the mover to purify obscurations of attachment, aversion, and ignorance. This process happens naturally. As a discipline, dancing every day requires a sustained effort. We have to push ourselves beyond the tendency to self-sabotage, or the preference to quit moving and rest, or check our phones.
On many occasions, these ordinary urges are just obscurations in disguise; strong habits of cravings and emotions that we don’t want to face. But if we do, if we succeed in setting ourselves to dance mindfully — no matter what is calling us to quit — then an underlying stream of desires come clear. We must keep dancing and focused in order to see and move in a clear way. That is, in a way that is connected with the actual place and time, with the surroundings in the present moment. Sometimes the extra effort demands dancing slower, stronger, or with a greater sense of happiness. In my own practice, I often fail to arrive at the point where the effort becomes truly joyful. Sometimes I succeed, but within either occasion lies an opportunity to learn and polish oneself.
When I dance, I turn on some music in my father’s garden and move in a mindful, yet improvised manner. As I move, I allow the true longings of my heart to appear without disguise. I let my entire body strengthen and soften at the same time. My process begins with the choice of music, through which I shift from operating from my head to allowing a process of tuning in with whatever music truly resonates in the current moment of starting the practice. Then I let the wisdom of my body guide my movement. This happens as a practice of listening, feeling, and accepting. When I let my body be guided by the flow of sounds, my mind is being trained to participate in useful ways — that is, keeping myself present, and giving importance only to the thoughts that entice a sense of purpose and direction.
My dancing practice has allowed me to let go of preconceptions, such as ideas of what music is considered appropriate for spiritual practice. At first, I thought I needed to dance only to Tibetan chants, sound healing playlists, and “spiritual” music, such as Ajeet or Wah, but over time, I’ve learned to listen to and respect my body and emotional state with honesty. This deep listening has brought a myriad of musical styles into my practice. Sometimes I feel called to fire-igniting, upbeat music, such as Sia, Jennifer López, Beyonce, Gerald Toto, Juls, or Bisa Kdei. Other times, I’m pulled toward more airy, abstract music like Wim Mertens, Alexandra Streliski or Olafur Arnalds. When I’m looking to bring forth more of the water element, I turn to Efterklang, Miguel Bosé, Celine Dion, and Sona Jobarteh. Sometimes I turn to my dad’s music collection, filled with Lionel Richie, Phil Collins, and the Bee Gees. If my energy is low, or my emotions are heavy, Latin hits from artists like Sonora Santanera, Celso Pina, or Shakira become my medicine. One of my favorite songs to dance to is Sia’s “Elastic Heart,” as it reminds me to keep my heart and mind open and elastic — ready for the changes and directions brought about by each practice.
The more I dance, the more duality loses its grasp. In the realm of the dancing body, there is no contradiction or opposites. As we experience movement and stillness converging in a fluid experience. At times I fall into fiery — even wrathful — flow, and at other times a soft, joyful flow. For me, dancing is a way of becoming. Becoming fire, air, water, and awareness. Becoming Earth, becoming you, becoming that which is essential, and everywhere.
May we all find ways to let our hearts dance. May we all succeed at following our genuine and highest pathways across the Dharma. Sarva Mangalam!