I am a Spirit Dancer

This weekend, I will be celebrating the 7-year anniversary of my death and rebirth after a 4-day ceremonial dance at Madre Grande Monastery in California, with a 4-day ceremonial dance for Peace & Healing at Birdsong Peace Chamber in Pennsylvania. The symmetry has a lovely appeal. Preparing for the next few days has absorbed most of my focus, hence my silence for all of June and most of this month. The thought brings joy and calm this morning, but it raised a lot of fear and questions that I’ve had to address over the last weeks.
I was hospitalized after that last Peace & Healing dance. Despite good intentions, I was not properly cared for or watched over then, and checked out of my body after day 2, but was kept through day 4 and packed off alone in an ambulance when the ceremony was over, although not complete. It may be disputed, but I briefly died in the hospital and checked back in after the machines screamed and people started running to help. I was resistant and confused to return, but made it. The next Spring, I was ousted from the Tokala Society that hosted the dance. I had completed 2 years of a 4-year dance commitment. Although I was present in spirit, I did not complete that cycle in person.

A few years ago, I went to my first sweat lodge after that with a group here out East. It was supportive and the energy well-balanced between male and female, light and dark. There are several lodge leaders nearby that follow the teachings of Beautiful Painted Arrow who gifted the Sun/Moon Dance for Peace & Healing to some of them. After several sweat lodge ceremonies with different members of this group, I participated in the Long Dance  at Birdsong for the first time. Contrary to its name, this dance is just one night and self-supported. It was a lovely and healing experience. Last month, I danced a second beautiful and healing Long Dance with the same group at the Birdsong Peace Chamber, and a few different people.

In the hush of early morning, it came clear to me, that I had completed the cycle of my first dance commitment. It is time to start a new 4-year dance cycle in a good way with this new group of people. It must be now, although now is not a logical time. I had just one month to prepare, since I made the decision on the Summer Solstice: find a supporter to stay with me through the dance, find the money to cover it, find the money to ease my mind about our family’s financial woes, find supporters for my husband and son, get fresh sage for my giveaway from Southern California, make prayer ties, prepare things for giveaway, fix my dance dress, find more dance clothes, and so on. My husband is afraid I’ll die for good this time. I’m concerned for him and pray that I will be strong enough to surrender in the right way.

So many good questions have been raised by loved ones concerned with my well-being and answered with love and patience.  I am so very grateful that they would care to caution me as they did, and offer their insights into me and fears for my safety.

Have I thought of my son and husband? A child should have his mother. Yes. I am taking every precaution I can for my health and safe return. What kind of example would it be for my son if I were to deny who I am and what I believe is right because it is unpopular or misunderstood? I’ve taken good care of myself for many years now and that habit is one I mean to keep. I ask my loved ones to have faith in their experience of me rather than in unfounded fears of what could be.

Should I just grow up and get over this “foolishness”? Am I searching so hard for something that’s right here inside me? No. I have found peace in my own heart, love and wisdom in the world I experience every day. Back when I started on this path, I was searching very intently, and reveling in whatever I found that answered my questions. I was a zealot, in the words of one friend, uncomfortably passionate and enthusiastic at times. I threw myself into ceremony with the ecstatic bounce and swagger of a drunk teenager, sober and clean as I was. It wasn’t too much for then, maybe, but it was … too much to last. Consistent practice was bound to focus my unbridled passion, channel my visions.

Warned by dreams I’d had from childhood, I knew I was going to die in my 35th year, but I didn’t know how or when. I didn’t know I was going to come back. Surprise! Oh my friend, I was so angry and sulky after I made the choice. I had my own personal It’s a Wonderful Life journey with a twist. I saw what life could be if I returned and what life would have been if I didn’t. The latter was unacceptable and so I came back, defiant and confused and angry and exhausted.

I took my time to recover and ease back into ceremony. I had my former commitment, but I’d been broken. I had no choice but to be gentle with myself. I tried to find out the specifics of what had happened when I’d been unconscious the last 2 days of the dance, but could never get a full or clear picture. The bits I’ve been able to piece together are consistent with what I experienced watching my mother’s spirit separate from her body while dying of her brain tumor. Nobody knew what to do with me, some thought I was on drugs, some thought I was sick, they tried what they could to help but with modern tricks or intuitions not practical ceremonial responses. Nobody took any responsibility for the conditions of the dance, and so I took responsibility for the whole thing for awhile. I was not surprised when the dance tree was felled by lightning. It felt right to me, like justice.

There was jealousy and undermining that carried on according to friends that were there, but I continued to love and wait. Usually, if I deflect the most obvious damage and keep focused on my own work, after awhile the situation resolves itself with a deep friendship or a separation. This time it was the separation. The shock of that shook me up and made me question my tokala commitment. Am I still a Tokala? What do I do now? I prayed a lot about it and went back to Madre Grande for a final resolution after a few months. After a few days on the land camping and praying, walking and singing, a hawk met me on a path and I sat with her for some time before she turned and hopped off the log she’d been perched on. It was then I knew that my commitment didn’t rely on Daniel Moon and the Medicine Shield Tokalas for approval. The answers came from the land and a hawk at Madre Grande. Yes, the commitment was between you and Creator for the people. You do now what you always did – pray and live in service. If it must be alone, so be it. Every day, I live this commitment in the way of a flawed human surrendering to the greater good as much as I can. My ego and desires still want to take hold more than is good for me, but I manage to make small improvements over time. I help in my small way.

My work is to hold the spirit line and live as a hollow bone in the center of the Medicine Wheel to the best of my humble abilities. I’ll explain that over time. For now what matters is that I carried on praying and healing, working the medicine and letting Creator work me. I didn’t go to an Inipi for 3 or 4 years, doing ceremony as guided on my own. When I was pregnant with my son, I built the new habit of taking meticulously good care of myself. It started off as being just for his sake, but after 2 years of it I could see the way nurturing myself expanded what I could to for others and the habit was cemented. I’m not searching anymore. The love and wisdom of Spirit is within and around me, undeniable and perfect. I’m integrating now, getting on with my loving and steady little improvements, steady richer joys.

So now we come to the dance and timing issues. I was actively avoiding doing ceremony in groups up until two years ago or so. Then I needed to go West to do some closing ceremonies for all the doors I’d opened and forgotten to close. To prepare, I needed to do a sweat, so I put out the question to people I knew and trusted. One sent me to a lodge in Malvern.

The caretaker of the land and the people there welcomed me easily. The first of 4 water pourers taught by Joseph Rael, Beautiful Painted Arrow that I encountered and sweat with, he was a surprise to me: very human and wise and understanding with the kinder part of coyote medicine. Through him, I met and did ceremony with others. One put lavender on the wood with the tobacco when the foundation for the lodge fire was built and used fewer stones than I was used to. This way is much more nurturing than the way I was taught, which is wonderful. I was skeptical at first, but went to a few more ceremonies, introduced my family to the circle at casual picnics on ceremonial land, and met more good people. There was never any cost for ceremony or guilt to give a donation when times were tight. The leader would say what it cost to put on lodge if you asked for a suggested donation, but always emphasized that you should never let lack of money stand between you and the healing ceremonies. They remain consistent.

I first chose to dance a personal Long Dance, co-chiefed by two water-pourers last year. It’s one night, “self-supported” they said, so I used it as a test case. Yes, I brought my own stuff, set up my own tent and drummed or rattled for myself when I needed it, but it was far from unsupported. Both chiefs were really specific in details that could help me support myself and the incredible force of love there just carried me both last year and in the dance I repeated a few weeks ago.

All of the people supported the others in our own way and never abandoned anyone in need – truly magical. I should have accepted last year the vision of me dancing the 4-day dance at Birdsong with them, but I was too afraid to accept it then. It took having the same vision repeated for me in this year’s dance before I would accept the truth. I didn’t want to accept that I was ready, didn’t want to let go of the past and accept my role in Creator’s plan, so I delayed everything as long as I could. It was making me sick to deny it and so I’ve embraced it in that crazy-love way I have and here we are. As one dear friend pointed out, the dance is inside of me and the spirit is in my dance. I can no more deny that without wilting than a sunflower can turn from the sun.

The question of MONEY made me wonder and hesitate too. The cost seems high for ceremony, but it is also a suggested donation. They try to recoup the costs of the dance and give something extra to the drummers and for the support of Joseph Rael or the medicine person for the dance if they can, but if I’m called I shouldn’t worry about it. Fixating on the cost gave me an excuse to delay the commitment to this dance and that’s one of the few things I’ve denied in the past  years when it spoke to me so clearly and cleanly.

That denial was a mistake. My friends are right that Spirit wouldn’t ask anything of me that would jeopardize my family and well being. When I raised the question of payment, the dance chief and her husband, who’s danced this dance for about 25 years now, both told me there are scholarships available if the need is there. They told me to pray on it and let them know, to simplify my approach to the ceremony. I was relieved. From my part, if I’d been preparing for the whole year as I would have been had I heeded the call last year, it would have been no problem to use the $2 or so per day to help me focus my intentions and preparations for the dance. I do feel called to support those that hold the dance space, caretake the land and support me as I dance, and I will eventually donate the amount that Creator shows to me, probably the suggested donation or more. They don’t call for a giveaway, but I am releasing a number of ceremonial things that will serve others better than they would me at this point.

I know this is the best thing to do for the highest good right now and everything is coming together to support me in this choice. I am one who dances with spirits to amplify the prayers that come for a better world. If I do not dance, a part of me dies, corrupting the rest. Might you understand what I mean? Sometimes things are so clear to me that I’m not sure if I’m communicating well. Thanks for bearing with me.

When I started the preparations last month, I gave myself, this dance and all my worries over to Creator. That was after I broke down and cried with more of my heart and soul than I wanted, of course. A single breath of thought for me as I prepare and dance is an incredible treasure that I value. A little food and water wouldn’t hurt either. It will all come from somewhere, and so much has come already from friends old and new. God, by whatever name, always provides the means to do what is requested of us. The goal of this dance is to promote peace and healing for all beings through dance, prayer and sacrifice. I can’t think of a better way to give thanks for all I’ve been given, particularly those I love.

Thanks for taking this journey with me today. I’ll dance for you tomorrow.

Aho, mitakuye oyasin (amen, for all my relations)

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