Ecstatic Dance

When Raven and Pia opened the door to the empty Mahonia Community Center, its characteristic stuffy smell assailed them. It would soon be alleviated when the other doors were opened. Such a dear familiar space. How many times had it been transformed into how many different magical settings?

They lugged in a couple of bags of supplies and a basket of scarves and skirts as well as bags of Christmas lights and things for an altar. Raven hooked up his laptop to the sound system and cued up the play list he’d organized including Gabrielle Roth, Bob Holroyd, and James Asher. While he did that, Pia laid red, orange and blue strings of lights around the perimeter creating a circle within which to dance. In unspoken agreement they pulled down the window shades to give privacy.

Pia dug in the bags and found a red-and-orange-stripped square of silk embroidered with flowers to drape over the piano stool. A large mandala painted on silk by one of the young people went on the wall behind it. She reached in for the small trash art statue Raven had made of Shiva Nataraj – the dancing, many-armed masculine deity who graced so many Hindu temples – and put it in the center flanked by prismed glass candle jars that would refract the light. A series of small dancing figures went in a semi circle around the larger central figure – a Sufi whirling dervish, a belly dancer, a hula girl and a Native American fancy dancer. Pia stood back with her hands on her hips to survey the effect. Satisfied, she took a deep breath, bowed and began to move her body sensuously to the slow strains of Margo Anand’s, “Calling the Sacred Yoni.”

Meanwhile, Raven donned a sparkly shirt, tied an orange silk scarf turban-wise on his head, and added a half-mask with peacock feathers sticking up along the top. He too began to dance, his arms reaching out to swirl around him. The two of them moved to dance together, not touching physically but with the energy shimmering delicately between them, especially between their palms mirroring each other, inches apart. This was an important moment, one they’d been dreaming of for months, maybe even for years. Lifetimes?

Of course, with the arrival of others, the spell shifted, but they grinned with the promise of group energy to build on in a bit.

“I couldn’t get Charley to come,” announced Ursula as she came in the door. “But I did bring the spring water you requested. And some plastic cups in case you didn’t have any. People can put their names on them so we don’t have to throw them away.”

“Or wash them even,” said Pia. “Thanks.”

“Owen is not coming either,” said Thea who had gotten a ride with Ursula and the young people. “We stopped by but he was reading up on animal symbolism and didn’t want to go anywhere.”

“I thought you’d like a little male support,” said Carlos as he swept dramatically into the room in a purple cape under which, it soon became apparent he wore a gypsy skirt and blouse.

“Thanks. Nice outfit,” Raven grinned, his eyes twinkling behind his mask.

Rhea was decked out as well in a swirling cobalt blue rayon dress with a low neckline. She had bright ribbons braided into her hair.

“You look smashing,” Thea said, hugging Pia admiring her sexy black top with sparkles all over it and her swishy full skirt that flashed with bands of sequins. “I wasn’t sure what people would be wearing….” She was a little embarrassed at her plain black yoga pants and top.

“Have at the basket there. All sorts of things to play with.”

Thea dug in and found a jingly belly dance belt and a rainbow colored skirt. She’d had the forethought to put a tank top under her long sleeved shirt. No matter what this type of dancing was, she couldn’t imagine not getting sweaty and wanting to shed a layer.

Molly had walked to the community center with Mariposa, her new tenant. Dressed in her usual plaid flannel shirt and jeans, she soon found a blue headband and picked up a purple scarf to tie over her shoulders. She felt pretty self-conscious but maybe in a bit she would put on one of the gauzy skirts in the basket.

Pia lit the candles. “Let’s gather in a circle,” she instructed. “The candles bring fire to the circle. Let’s feel our roots going deep into the ground, the blood flowing in our veins, and our wings beginning to sprout. I call in Crane and Heron to help us with the dance, as well as Shiva and Shakti. Our intention for tonight is to be fully in our bodies. I’m convinced that eventually, if we keep playing with it, we can find our true selves that way. Feel free to move uninhibitedly. As your body wishes. Nobody can see in the windows if that’s a concern for you. Sit if you want, roll on the floor, play. But no talking. Let’s stay out of our heads. We’ll dance for an hour. The music will start slowly and build to a crescendo before it gentles again to softness. I’m imagining ending in silence.”

“But let’s see what happens,” interjected Raven. “I’ll start the play list I’ve put together.”

 

“I’m scared,” thought Mariposa as she donned a sequined skirt from Pia’s basket. “Next time I’ll dude it up with an outfit anyway. I wonder what I’m supposed to be doing.” She watched surreptitiously as people began to move with the slow dreamy music. Some stretched, doing standing twists and backbends. Some twirled gracefully. Others were stiff and self-conscious. That made her feel better. She wasn’t the only one unsure of herself. She spun a little to see if her skirt would swirl and was captivated by the sparkle of it. Pretty soon she was in her own little world.

Ursula stretched slowly to get herself warmed up. A forward bend became dog pose which, as she rose with her arms held out, turned into warrior pose. Strong and firm. But then, almost of their own accord, her arms began to flutter with birdlike movements. She went up on her tippy toes and then slowed like a heron coming in to land. How would a hummingbird dance? Flit, flit. Seeing Pia with a long iridescent scarf, gave her an idea and she went to get one to give herself wings.

“Can I let go of decades of Dancing and shift into Movement?” wondered Thea to herself. Though this music was different from her usual, her hips still fell automatically into the familiar shimmy and shake, egged on by the jingles tied there. She loved this feeling and went with it for a while. It had been another long painting day so it was good to get her wiggles out, but as the music went into Lorena McKennitt’s “Santiago,” even the belly dance figure eights and bicycles rolls began to feel too formal for tonight. “If I dance the same ol’ way, I’ll be the same ol’ person and I want to feel differently. How do I do that?”

Keep moving.” The notion from inside her head startled her, but the advice was sound and she had asked for help, after all. She moved faster as the music sped up and lightened. Noticing Ursula and Pia running playfully with bright scarves streaming behind them, Thea had an inspiration. She imagined her Cougar prancing beside her self as the little girl of her Soul Retrieval. She grabbed a huge veil and soon was leaping and skipping with the other two, enjoying giggles and flirty eyes as they swooped their veils over each other’s heads. Raven joined in with a scarf of his own, his mask making him both mysterious and fey. Ariel found a rainbow streamer on a stick and began to swirl it around them all. “What a lovely romp,” thought Thea breathlessly as the song ended. Surely, that counts as play,” she told her Higher Self as she got a drink of water. Then, “African drums. Yum.”

Draw your energy down into your second chakra.” That felt good. After a bit she noticed she was paying less attention to what others might be noticing about her and could tune into the ancient fire that her ancestors had danced around. The music changed again to a didgeridoo and some animal sounds. She liked it that there were no words to any of this music that she could understand. It wasn’t emotional music. Especially not all that lost and lonely whining about being done wrong. She was so over that co-dependent shit. This sound and beat hit her in the gut – right where she needed to be.

 

As the music sped up and became Middle Eastern again, Pia began to move in a pattern like the hora’s grapevine, familiar deep in her bones from her Jewish and Palestinian ancestors. But soon her movement became looser with a dipping motion that reminded her of the birds she’d called in. Others joined with her and they spun in a circular motion around the perimeter.

 

“Tribal,” thought Ursula, “What bliss.” As she began to tire from the strenuous dancing she entwined her arms like two snakes to conjure up a new sort of fire, which she could then feel rising sinuously from her root up to her belly towards her throat. Watching the tracery of lights through her fingers made her feel delightfully trancey, a feeling she was learning to enjoy.

 

Rhea and Carlos mirrored each other, their hands doing a kind of push pull. Rhea was conscious of how this was different than dancing in the barn. The floor was better for one thing, though they missed the live music. Experimental and rough as their jamming was, Arlo and Gabe’s drumming and Fern’s keyboarding added an aliveness even though off notes or children’s bounciness created jerky hesitations in their connections. It had been deepening lately, as they’d hoped, with the addition of Uri’s didge. Dancers and musicians increasingly were able to feed off of each other in a way that canned music could never do, but it was chill to hear the crazy beats of Brent Lewis. “Maybe I’ll borrow a few of Raven’s CD’s to inspire me.”

 

Raven felt flushed and sweaty after putting so much of his attention into tracking the energy of the group as he danced. Not that they needed much tracking he was happy to see, but he was curious how everyone would react to the music he had put together – how the flow would go. It was different, of course, than just he and Pia, but as he had hoped, the energy was magnified. No doubt there would be people who would distract from time to time but they definitely had a core here who could carry it. Assuming they all wanted to play again.

As the last piece started up, Ashana’s Embrace, he was pleased to hear others begin to tone with it. Most settled on the floor in the center of the room, a few still floated around. He lay down with his head towards the middle and soon others had shifted so they were the spokes of a wheel. The music faded but their toning continued – soaring voices, fed by the energy of their loosened bodies. When they finally settled into silence hands reached out around the circle and the energy buzzed clockwise around. He could feel his own and everyone else’s hearts soaring in a great cone of power into the sky.

“There spirits, take that. Take our energy and feed the hungry world.” Raven spoke aloud.

“Wow,” said someone, descending again into earth plane reality. “That was incredible.”

“Indeed, and it will only get better if we keep doing it. See you next week, I hope. Same time same place.”

 

“That went very well,” said Pia, as they drove home. Cleanup had been quick with several hands staying to help.

“Fabulous, if I do say so myself,” responded Raven. “I loved it that everyone got into the spirit of it. Or perhaps I should say, ‘let Spirit come into them.’ I saw some new looseness in a number of folks.”

“Wasn’t it great to see Molly cut up? Maybe next week we’ll get her into something flowing. I loved it that the kids from Benden Farm came already dressed to play.”

“And it wasn’t even Full Moon.”

Pia’s Morning 2

The Bay was peaceful, a slight drizzle making lovely little splashes on the water. The hills across the way were fogged in, hiding the crest above with the craggy tree they climbed to sometimes for ceremony. The tide was coming in, so the river was flowing backwards, the salt sweeping the fresh water upstream as it did twice every day. What a potent dynamic. She wasn’t exactly sure how far up its influence was felt, but she knew it flowed back and forth in front of the land upriver where they hung out in the summer and even further up, one was wise to take the tides into account when kayaking.

She took a deep breath of the all the watery influence, the clean rain and salty ocean mixing with the tang of the mud flats. The ocean’s sound was faint today on the other side of the dunes, though the buoy at the mouth clanged every few minutes. Waterfowl twittered out where the tide flowed.

The River. For a moment she could feel its current through her body like the flow and saltiness of her own monthly blood. She could also touch into the river of her growing up years in Michigan, as well as the river by her college campus and even the storied rivers of the earth…. the Tigris and Euphrates, the Amazon, the Mississippi, the Nile…. Arteries of the earth. Lifeblood of the Mother.

She pulled up the hood of her sweatshirt and, leaving her tennies by a log, walked along the shore. Acclimated. Attuned. A little ways north she turned to head across the inter-tidal area towards the edge of the woods. Not much of it flooded daily this time of year, but it still had a boggy quality to it. It was do-able in bare feet but she had to pick her way carefully to avoid the slightly prickly stems of silver weed and grasses, as well as a few broken bottles and other detritus of the summer visitor season. Picking the latter up and putting them into the plastic bag she carried in her backpack, she splashed through little pools, enjoying the squishy places, and climbed over silvered logs that had drifted ashore last winter and would no doubt be moved about in the return of the stormy season. Many of the logs had been journeying hither and yon in the same vicinity for years.

The shrine was tucked into the clutter of logs, salal, Nootka rose and huckleberry at the edge of the marshy area. To get in she had to duck under a low hanging branch, but other than that the way was clear. It would be a different story come spring. By April the logs would be scattered like matchsticks against the rise of the bank, a new configuration every year. Either Raven or Owen came out before the annual Mother’s Day re-dedication ceremony to make an opening again. Some years the way in was cleared from the north end and some years from the south, depending on what was moveable or could be climbed under.

The sand was still dry in the tiny clearing, the large overhanging Sitka sheltering it from the slight precipitation. She called a quiet welcome to the space, and kneeling, swept aside a million tiny crystals with her hand. There was the stone. Flat granite from the Mountain, carried here 15 years ago by her tribe. The Fibonacci spiral at its center seemed to wink up at her and as always her finger was drawn to trace its double curves. She poured a few drops from her water bottle as a libation and then settled, legs crossed, to breathe in the stillness of the place.

Well, almost still. A jay squawked insistently from overhead and a squirrel chittered, both announcing her presence to the woods further inland. It was quiet again for a moment and then a heron honked a greeting as it passed by out on the water. Was it the same who had sent her this way?

She certainly felt she was in the right place. The angst of her morning had been left behind. The River flowing by had put things back in perspective. She was prepared now to listen to its song. How wonderful if it had a message for her….

She thought of the native peoples of the place who had summered in this area. Perhaps camped in this very spot as they clammed and fished, enjoying the bounty of the season before the higher tides and wild winds of winter chased them upstream and inland to their more permanent long house villages. She loved to think of them squiggling their feet in the sand as she and the children of her time did around a campfire under the summer stars.

Another loud squawk reminded Pia of the year a crow kept noisily complaining to the small group present for the dedication. It had swooped in and out every few minutes and scolded them roundly each time. Towards the end of their communion someone had looked up and there above them was the half eaten carcass of a salmon dangling precariously from a branch no more than ten feet over their heads. It could have been disgusting. It could have fallen on their heads. Instead it made Pia feel they were an intimate part of the sacred round of eater and eaten and as such it was like a blessing. No wonder the poor crow had been so upset, its feast interrupted and, as far as the bird knew, in danger of being stolen by these larger intruding five fingered ones. They had apologized and, their ceremony over, had left soon after.

The memory of the fish now had Pia thinking of the salmon and the meager flow of them compared to the time of the Old Ones. A university student passing through a few years ago had spoken of his work for the return of the Columbian Condor, sighted by Lewis and Clark not far north of here and last seen towards the end of the 1800’s. A worthy endeavor, certainly. But as a local wildlife aficionado had pointed out later to Pia, the condor depended on huge numbers of salmon and the area was no longer rich enough in this resource to support that piece of the cycle. The salmon were still giving of their largesse, but the wiles of the white “civilized” branch of humankind had brought them dangerously close to extinction and ruined much of their healthy habitat. The hatchery fish were no match and lacked the nutrients and hardiness of the native ones.

Salmon. That amazing magical fish, creature of both River and Ocean. Spawned up towards the headwaters of every tributary, even the tiniest, they swam out to the ocean and then years later, made their way back to the very spot from which they had come. Such a dance of instinct and mystery. They were honored by the native peoples, the first fish of the season celebrated and every fish thanked. No one could imagine then that they could ever become so few.

Pia lowered her head as tears of sadness, then frustration, then of rage swelled and broke over her. Her own salt mixed with the salt of the sand, her own water spilled to mix with the water of the River. The Salmon. How had her people come to be so out of touch as to perpetrate and allow such damage?

Now is the time to make it right.”

Pia’s head snapped up. She looked around for the source of the voice but knew she was alone. “You are one who can change the story,” the voice came again. Images of the Native peoples flashed again in her head – the campfires, the laughter, the storytelling. Fish drying on sticks or passed around on cedar planks. Savored. Cherished. The story of Salmon Boy told again and again so the children could learn of nature’s cycles and the right ways to hunt and to honor the creatures that gifted themselves for the People’s sustenance.

You live in Nekelew – place of the Salmon. You must honor us here. You must restore the balance. Tell your people. Do not let another year go by or we will all be gone. We want to flow again. We can even thrive again. But you must fulfill your mission.” The voice was thundering now like the River itself at full flood over the falls upstream. “It was for this that you were born. It was for this that you made your way to this place.”

“Who are you?” asked Pia.

I am River. Mountain. Sea. Marsh. Field. Salmon. I am Gaia.”

Pia was on her knees now, hands clasped at her heart. “I honor you. I serve you.”

I know that, Daughter. You dedicated yourself to me and serve me and your people well. I ask you now to dedicate yourself to the part of me that is this River and its people, the Salmon. Kelew. And this place of Salmon. Ne-kelew.”

“What is it that I am to do?”

Pia waited quietly for an answer to her query but the potent energy had left the tiny clearing. Tears ran down her face at the chance to have had even that much contact. Part of her was non-plussed at not having a specific assignment but she knew enough about voices and oracles to know that she had been blessed with more clarity than most. She had only to state her willingness. The rest would unfold.

Still kneeling, she dug in her pack for her Swiss Army knife – the athame, ceremonial dagger, of her Wiccan influence. She cut a tiny slit in her middle finger and as a drop of blood welled, touched it to the center of the spiral on the Shrine rock. “I honor this place, Ne-kelew. And I honor the Kelew itself and the River of its flow. I open myself to guidance as to what I am to do.”

“No wonder I have been at loose ends lately,” she thought as, protecting her cut finger, she gently and lovingly pushed the sand back to cover the shrine rock allowing for its discovery by those who were meant to find it.

When she crawled back out, she realized the sun had appeared while she was under the sheltering Sitka. She blinked at its brightness and peeled off her sweatshirt, gasping a little when she realized the connection of its Nekelew High School message – Arlo’s alma mater. Yet another sign. It was a thoughtful walk back across to the beach. Everything was sparkling now rather than the silvery grey of her earlier trek. Both states were beautiful, but her heart was lighter now and her step inspired rather than driven. The time was 1:11.

Pia Morning 1

Pia sat playing solitaire and feeling rather dull. Ace of Diamonds. Jack of Clubs. Why was it that she liked the clubs least of all? What did that say about her? Queen of Hearts. Now there was a sweet one. But where was the Jack of Hearts that needed to go on top? If it was buried she was done for.

As her fingers and mind played with the silly combinations and coped with the frustration of starting over and over, she was also idling like a car engine waiting at a train crossing for the arrival of someone – or something – so she could move on.

There were a lot of things she could be doing today. She could go over to the Zimmer’s and talk with them about beginning to connect into the hospice situation with their grandmother who had just been moved into their “granny flat.” They’d advertised recently for caregivers. She could write the article she’d promised Cali for the next issue of Squawk! She could at least decide the subject of the article. She could search out Raven in his studio garage at the bottom of the hill and have a talk about whether or not to do the retreat workshop coordinating business they’d been fantasizing setting into place….

King of Diamonds needs the Queen…. which is buried under the six of spades. Yes! There is the Seven of Spades free to give the six its spot…. If I can just find a place for the Three of Diamonds….

She’d told Charley and Ursula the other night that she was ready to search out the first speakers for the long dreamed of workshop series and ReTreat business. But she had not been speaking the whole truth. She knew how to make the initiatory calls. Among them all they had enough contacts to get a good line up for the first several at least. She knew how to do the PR and where to find a place and…. and…. She even knew the steps to take to launch the larger effort that they could pitch to potential funders as “economic development” and which she thought of as “local brewing.” But she hadn’t been able to get herself to make the calls. She wasn’t really sure she wanted to do it at all….

She could text Ursula right now and ask for a tarot reading. That might help her get over this hump or at least give a clue what the resistance was. She could climb the Mountain and see if some inspiration came to her on the hike…. “That’s a good idea,” she told herself heartily. “Maybe aerobic exercise will get me out of these doldrums.”

She’d been a busy girl most of her life – doing the good things that made it possible to have the good life and community she now enjoyed. This stalled feeling was a strange one for her who had always known the next steps. They had been so obvious. Pregnant and alone? Seek out a group of women to connect with for support. Want a home birth? Start a network to support the midwife she had just met. Have a child who needs friends? Round up the homebirth families for a preschool playgroup. Then a school. And who better than her to be the school secretary? It meant she was able to be near Arlo but not often in the classroom…. growing the crop of children that would carry out the next steps of the dream….

Her own Jack of Hearts did come along. Raven had swooped in with a passionate embrace of all that the community and its environs meant to her. He understood immediately the wider picture of what the bunch of them were up to. Plus he had been a perfect substitute father as Arlo entered his teen years and could benefit from the mentorship Raven offered. There had been some rough patches as the two guys learned to share her but the delicate balance of a triangle had been achieved with relative grace and Arlo had bloomed into a beautiful man.

She’d left the school office to Cindy a few years ago, wanting to try out her wings in some new endeavors. Raven’s success as a “trash” artist, combined with odd jobs and teaching art at the community college had meant a little freedom for her from the press of wage earning. She – and then they – had always needed very little to live on. When it became obvious that the house she’d lived in for years would be sold when the elderly owners died, she and Raven had set about organizing the Housing Trust to create the cooperative neighborhood of their dreams. Elk Ridge achieved, she had a little income as coordinator of the development and now as nominal manager. But…. she was restless again.

A cup of coffee would perk her up and give her the energy to do whatever it was she decided on for this day at least. She could even walk down to the restaurant and have a latte if she wanted. Not even a skinny soy one. The possibility of that treat gave her comfort and allowed her to muddle a bit more.

She kept getting the feeling that she shouldn’t be doing admin stuff any more. She envied Ursula for having created a nice new niche that seemed to involve less organizational shit. Plus Charley had the Cedar ReSource Project going and had some income. She and Raven didn’t need much but she ought to be contributing her share….

Could the astrology thing be formalized a little more and become a money source? She didn’t know enough to get professional on that score…. She couldn’t even figure out what was going on astrologically with her own self right now and couldn’t afford the training she would need to do it right. In fact, she generally wasn’t inclined to get more training in anything specific. “Making it up” as she went along had always been her modus more than going to school.

It bothered her that she and Raven had publically insinuated that they were actually going to do the ReTreat business (or whatever it was going to be called). Would it be a terrible copping out to just not do it? She didn’t like to be seen as flaking out on something she “signed up” for. Of course, who, but herself, was making her do it? “Surely you have enough of a track record of accomplishing what you’ve set out to do,” she chided herself. “Nobody will think lesser of you. They’ll be disappointed. This is something we’ve all visualized. Is it up to you to make it happen?” She didn’t think Raven would care. He was counting on her to do the organizational part of it anyway. Maybe there was someone else they could help get going on it….

What if this was like her aborted vision quest back when Arlo and crew were doing them as part of finishing high school. Someone had to model coming down before the end. It had gotten cold and rainy. Late March was a dumb ass time for a solo in the woods with only a tarp for protection. Nevertheless, it had been hard for her to sensibly give up and walk down off the Mountain without even a single night alone….

Round and round her thoughts went. Maybe she should climb the Mountain – visit the Shrine – see if there was any guidance to be had up there.

But as she was putting on her faded purple sweatshirt (Nekelew High Class of 2000) and scarlet tennies, another thought occurred to her. It had been a long time since she’d been to the River. If she went through the State Park she could walk around where the River neared the ocean and visit the Bay Shrine. The mate to the one on the Mountain. With this thought a heron flew over heading towards the estuary. Long legs sticking out, it gave a single throaty honk of greeting which seemed to confirm the notion that her watery side needed addressing rather than the earth and fire of the mountain. Checking her watch, she grinned to see 11:11. It was always a good sign when the numbers were the same or lined up in a sequence, but all ones was an especially significant omen.