In the summer of 1987 I was persuaded by my partner at the time to take part in a 5-day dance workshop led by an awesome shamanic dancer called Gabrielle Roth. At the time, I was emphatically not a dancer, and habitually avoided such confrontative activities. In fact, expressing myself through moving my body was a practice I associated with the type of torment so-called sinners experience in hell. There was only one problem: I was in love.
I wanted to live and grow with my partner, and recognized this workshop as an amazing opportunity to share something with her that could create a new bond between us, one of healing, creativity and greater intimacy. It’s quite true that the experiences that transform us most are the ones we would never voluntarily choose, and which force our backs up against the wall. I recognized that this workshop would either bring us closer together, or would drive a wedge between us, depending on my decision. No-brainer. I chose to face my fears, and dance.
We arrived at a huge granite hotel in the muddle of Dartmoor, a wilderness area of oustanding natural beauty in the southwest of England. There were about thirty other participants, and I was amazed by the beauty and talent of most of them. In fact, it seemed as if I was the only beginner; I felt overshadowed, clumsy, and very small indeed.
So I dance and dance. Life is a dance. I learn how to join and immerse myself in the Dance. At last! I feel a new freedom enter my life. It is the third day. I am dancing the Dance of Life alone, outside in the hotel grounds when a white wolf appears in my mind’s eye and prowls around me. After my initial surprise, I am happy and deeply honored at the visitation, as all white animals signify the presence of the Sacred. The wolf in particular is the guide and teacher that shows us how to transform our life path into a path with heart. I realise that dancing, in one form or another, is to be an important element on my life’s path.
In our daily meeting, I share with the group about my encounter with White Wolf. I notice that Gabrielle is very interested and she approaches me after the sharing, asking questions about my experience. I can tell that she feels that this is somehow very auspicious. As usual, I am tongue-tied in her presence and cannot express myself very well.
In the evening after dancing, some of us laze and wash away our fatigue in the jacuzzi. For some reason, when we are all finished, I become separated from the others. Warm and dreamy, I walk naked into the dance hall where I have left my clothes. I feel relaxed yet alert, and there is that certain crackle in the air that announces the presence of Spirit. I can feel magic in the air, and I wonder how it will manifest this time. From my shoulder bag I take out my clapsticks, two nine-inch long pieces of polished hardwood used by the Australian Aborigines to create rhythm. I tap them together a few times, and soon I find my rhythm. Naked and already in Dreamtime, I become the beat of the night.
In the Dream I see Gabrielle and her friend Heather enter the room. Their faces express a moment’s surprise at finding me standing there in such an unusual condition, and then they relax. They leave their human, standing postures, get onto all fours, and start to move around the room. They seem relieved to cast off human shape, and return to the form that brings them alive in grace and power. Gabrielle bounds sinuously to the music machine and inserts a tape. She switches it on, and Heather hits the light switch. The room is plunged into darkness. There is silence for a moment and then a wolf starts howling. The hair stands up on my head. Another wolf sings its heart out, and yet another.
Suddenly the whole space is filled with a pack of lithe, majestic animals taking pleasure in celebrating their bodies and voices in the intimacy of the night. They pad and race about the large open room with abandon and grace. The place is filled with a delicate yet powerful chorus that rises and falls like a silver fountain; the moon and the starry heavens are being fully honored tonight. The atmosphere is magical and electric. Some of the magnificent beasts approach and investigate me, sniffing curiously and rubbing against my body; I know that I could potentially be ripped to shreds if they reject me as an invading stranger. But that is not going to happen here, tonight. Abruptly the atmosphere changes and I feel accepted into their pack.
I feel my snout grow, and find myself covered by a deep silver pelt as I dance under the spinning moon. My heart explodes with joy when I realize I have been accepted into Gabrielle’s pack. I have found my place, my role, in the group. I surrender to the power of the moment – yet keep the rhythm.
The five-day workshop was leading up to what Gabrielle called a ‘Puberty Rite’, a rite of passage designed to bridge childhood and adulthood, and a precursor to taking full responsibility for our lives. We had been set a task: to write a poem describing the transformation we were experiencing in the unfolding of our lives. The actual rite of passage, or initiation into adulthood, would be the performance of this poem, on the stage, in front of all present. We were all terrified.
The evening before the last full day was allocated to composing the poem. The students all seemed to be taking it very seriously, and we were locked away in our respective rooms. Very few people were out and about and the hotel was like a ghost town. I was experiencing terror and confusion. I could write a poem well enough, but I knew there was no way I would be able to remember it by heart, let alone perform it in front of others.
I didn’t know what to do. In despair I called out for help. Suddenly I received inspiration. I was instructed to call for a vision and remember its main components, in the order they appeared. At the performance, I would ground myself and then allow a spontaneous, unrehearsed rendition of the vision to emerge. Satisfied, I enjoyed the rest of the evening and slept well.
I called for a vision, and it came. It described the unfolding of my life perfectly. Next day in the late afternoon all the dance students helped to prepare the space. The stage was swept and cleared. A circle of candles and crystals was placed at its lip, so that each performer could walk up to, and then enter the circle of sparkling light to offer their presentation. I could see how much tension everyone was experiencing, and it made no difference how experienced or proficient each participant was. After we had run through a series of exercises to make our energy flow, it started. As each person felt moved, he or she walked to the stage, sat down or stood inside the golden ring of candle flame and bared their soul.
What a collection of talent there was in that room on that night! I felt humbled to be there among people with such huge hearts and so much courage. Somewhere in the proceedings I felt my legs start to move and I mounted the stage. I sat down in the light and composed myself. My fear was immense yet I knew that there was no way I could allow it to disrupt what I had to do.
I am an immense black bird whose wing tips span eternity. Galaxies spiral in my eyes and I travel at the speed of thought. I am Mystery, I am Spirit. I can see for immense distances and can go anywhere I please, yet I am incomplete. I am missing something. It is so beautiful up here, I experience total freedom, but I am lonely, so lonely. There are no others to share my life with, no excitement, and no warmth. My playground is infinity yet, for the first time, I experience all this space as a prison.
I become aware of something unusual, compelling. I spiral towards a beautiful blue planet spinning around a golden star. I am drawn closer and lower until I see, far below, a beautiful golden creature with four legs and a proud mane pacing incessantly round and round in a circle. I see it connected by a golden chain to a metal stake in the ground. From time to time it roars its frustration and dismay to the four quarters. I can see it is fully alive and healthy yet it seems to have lost its spirit. Feeling compassion and a strange connection to the creature, I fly as close as I dare and whisper hello. The creature doesn’t even hear, and however I try to gain its attention, nothing seems to work. I can’t bear to leave. I become one-pointed, obsessed in my attempt to make contact, and slowly it starts to take notice. Finally, the beast stops his pacing, cocks his head, and listens.
“I am the gift of vision”, I sing, “You are a powerful being, no chains can trap you. Run free as nature intended. I am your friend, and will let no harm come to you. Now, run free!”
In a magical transformation I don’t really understand, I find myself inside the magnificent creature. I know instinctively it is called ‘lion’. I am very disorientated for a time, yet soon I find my balance. I became aware of my new body, the power that resides naturally there, and the chains that imprison me.
With a roar, I gather all my strength, infuse myself with courage, and run in the direction my newly awakened spirit indicates. When the chain becomes taut, it snaps and dissolves as if it were made from the stuff of dreams. With a new sense of purpose and burgeoning life force I run and plunge through the landscape, exploring my newfound freedom.
As I run like the wind, I feel a strange sensation between my shoulder blades. It increases and I realise that wings are slowly growing on my back. Soon it will be time to leap into a new future…
We all complete our performances, and then Gabrielle carries in a huge cake covered in cheerfully glowing candles. We honor each other, ourselves, and celebrate our renewed energy bodies that sparkle and shine in the candlelight. We have all come of age tonight – it is truly our birthday!