Hello you beautiful soul,

Last week I wrote about how dancing keeps me from losing my head, returning me to a state of hope and abundance even in the context of loss and uncertainty.

But I have to say I’m interested in more than stress relief. After all, many of the stressors I experience are tied to the pain of living in an unjust and unsustainable culture. I want to change the culture so I’ll have less things to stress out about!

I’ve spent most of my life pondering social change. While I’ve been chasing the holy grail of justice and sustainability I have historically found myself in perpetual cycles of depletion. Can we really build a sustainable society through a culture of burnout? I don’t think so.

While I have intellectually known that working myself to the bone was to succumb to violence (thank you Douglas Steere) I found it nearly impossible to behave differently. Two things finally helped me shift: a health crisis that demanded my attention and traditional women’s dances.

It was only through learning to embody some of the principles of sustainability, in my case through dance, that I began to be able to truly live them. I’ll talk about two aspects of sustainability here: endurance and sovereignty.

Endurance. When dancing to live music many songs last for 10 minutes. A dance event is often at least three hours if not much longer. Endurance is part of the dance style. Inefficient steps and wild movements can take away from my ability to sustain a dance for a long time. As I learn what a sustainable pace feels like in my body it can affect my pacing in the rest of my life and work.

If I have a part of my body that is getting particularly tired as I move it is usually a sign that I’m straining too hard. If I am to keep going I have to figure out a way to let go of that tension. My movement becomes increasingly efficient and focused on the energy moving through me. My body learns how to stop muscling through and surrender to something greater. How much greater would all our endurance be if we were not forcing things but instead following the flow of life?

Sovereignty. I used to think that women’s traditional dance styles looked too small and boring. Big kicks and arabesques are fun. Yet as I listened to my teacher Laura Shannon’s insistence that I lift my feet only subtly off the floor I started to tap into what she wanted me to discover: that I can be nourished and strengthened by my movements. Instead of giving all my energy away in big kicks I learned to draw in life energy through subtle lifts. Dancing in this style continues to teach me what its like to savor the pleasure and joy of the moment and contain it in my body so it can nourish me. “Own it, don’t sell it,” Turkish dance teacher Ahmet Luleci once said. Until I had to learn the difference in my body I had not realized my propensity to over giving.

I wish for everyone to have the experience of containing treasure on the inside. This is the secret within all embodied wisdom traditions. Such a feeling of inner fullness radiates happiness from an inner furnace. We don’t need more stuff. We don’t need to exploit each other.

What does living sustainably feel like?

While it might feel like we should all be emergency mode right now, what we really need is people in endurance mode. What would it look like to be showing up for your family and community not from a place of “muscling through” but from a place of deep surrender to an energy that is carrying us all?

What would it feel like to move through the world with a feeling of sovereignty, sustained by inner treasures that no circumstance can take from you?

By living into these questions together may we discover what sustainability truly feels like for ourselves and for our future.

With big love,

emily

Help sustain Wisdom Dances’ healing work in the community on Give to the Max Day

Wisdom Dances offers three free dances events each year to mark the seasons, bless the water, and build community: the Winter Water blessing, Earth Day Celebration, and Mid-Summer Celebration. These events are gifts to the community and we rely on reciprocal gifts from the community to support us. In addition in 2020 we will be bringing our guiding teacher Laura Shannon to Minnesota for the first time and we need your help to make it possible for her visit to reach as many people as possible. Can you help us raise $4,000 on Give to the Max Day, November 14?

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