A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality

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Zumba Dharma

11330015_10152922117146616_507874434507975438_nThere’s a new Zumba instructor on Thursdays and I’ve been noticing a pattern of arriving late to her class. She has brought new music, different choreography, and a whole new culture, including new folks I’ve never seen at the community center before.

As I sneaked into her first class of the new year this week, there were already 35 women grinding their hips to the beat and I had to find a spot away from my usual place near the door.

On the other side of the room I suddenly became aware of a new perspective. Beginner’s mind kicked-in and I could see my own resistance to this new situation. I decided to look at my own fear in that moment with a new-found curiosity. I found myself asking, “What would Kimo do?”

Kimo is the instructor I see the other five days of the week. She is a gifted teacher and choreographer: joyful, funny, real, demanding in a good way, and so good at dancing. Always able to go with the flow, I have seem her tie her shoes in the middle of a number without missing the beat; deftly step around a puddle from a leaky roof; overcome technology glitches with the stereo system, speakers, iPod, and microphone. She even taught in bare feet one day when, for the only time in her long career, she forgot her workout shoes. The show must go on and Kimo does, day-in, day-out with grace, humor and aplomb. (There are links at the bottom of the page to view Kimo’s dance artistry.)

But my favorite thing about Kimo is her way of “telling it like it is” in charmingly Japanese-accented English. I find myself using Kimo’s wisdom, not only to get me through the challenge of Zumba, but the challenges of being a human being.

Here’s a little of Kimo’s dharma applied to Zumba and life in general:

Show up and do your best

This is my first chance to focus on the positive. I’m in the room and that’s half the battle. It is far better than procrastinating, sitting at my desk wasting time,  or worse, not going and then complaining that I don’t like the new teacher. I owe it to myself to acknowledge the fact that I am here and to do the best I can.

Look at the instructor’s reflection in the mirror

Rather than being pulled off by those around me (distraction) or watching the instructor’s feet (tunnel-vision), if I concentrate on the teacher in the mirror, I see the whole picture. Everything I experience is a reflection of my mind. Watching Kimo or Kristine in the mirror, I can much better understand my own movement. This is instantly relaxing and centering, even though I must keep reminding myself to do it. Seeing the instructor smiling, I realize that I have the karma to experience such a beautiful sight, such grace, power and coordination. I smile back at the reflection.

Keep marching when you don’t know the steps

It’s not about being perfect, but moving to the music. The more I march in place, the easier it is to find my rhythm and step in time with the others. Again, a wave of relaxation comes over me as I stop trying to do anything other than feel the music and keep marching. Soon I am effortlessly catching onto the complex choreography and laughing to myself with every “misstep.” How often in life do we psyche ourselves out when, if we just keep going, our problems will naturally work themselves out?

“I have faith in your booty!”

Kimo actually said this one day and instantly had everyone laughing. She encourages us to play, have fun, laugh and not take ourselves so seriously, and yes, shake our booties! Having faith in my booty means to stay grounded in knowing that I don’t have to be perfect, but just move and allow my body to lead the way. A baby doesn’t worry how she looks during those wobbly first steps. She just wants to get from point A to point B. And for those of us who think it is silly to shake our booties in middle age and beyond, Kimo puts us in our place. As long as we are able, we should shake it, and have fun doing it!

Don’t forget to check yourself.

If you want to really learn the dance, watch yourself in the mirror to check if your moves match the choreography. Once you can do it while looking in the mirror, you will develop the muscle memory that allows you to dance rapturously oblivious to outside cues, just feeling the music and letting your body lead the way. Similarly, we can’t expect to learn how to live a virtuous and happy life unless we observe our own thinking and conduct, looking at ourselves first when there is a problem. Self-reflection and self-correction help us to develop the habits that produce a meaningful and happy life.

Keep coming back!

The last and most important of Kimo’s instructions: “Keep coming back!”  No repeat, no result. Progress, not perfection. There are many ways to say it, but the bottom line is that unless we do a little every moment, every hour, every day, week in, week out, we can’t get to the bigger goals. So just remember not to bully the small efforts you make every day. Congratulate yourself often for showing up, again and again. Your attitude will improve and you will develop a strong and positive new habit where there was once complaining and procrastination.

After reminding myself to act like a brand-new beginner and to heed Kimo’s masterful words, I know that I will now look forward to classes once again. I have broken through my negative attitude about the new Zumba instructor and I look forward to this coming Thursday – a new day, a new dance and a new dharma.

Kimo’s Facebook Page

Kimo’s Choreo YouTube Channel

Kimo’s Zumba Website






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What’s Death Got to Do with Love?

DSC00094What’s death got to do with love? Everything.

Before you accuse me of being morbid, stop and think about the symbolism here: we’ve just ended one year and jump-started a new one. This bardo between one year and another is the perfect time to contemplate which endings will spring forth with new life.

In contemplating my own year, with its various endings, I can’t help but think how they pale in comparison to those of my sister, who lost her only son last February. Despite her enormous grief, she says in one of her last Facebook posts of 2014:

“Goodbye 2014. It’s been the hardest year of my life but I’m still happy! I have so much to be thankful for this year and that’s what is most important! I have some amazing friends and family that I love with all my heart and can honestly say that without them I would have not survived! I’m learning new things and learning how to create a different way to live in a life that is different but great also! Happy new year to all and I love everyone that is part of my world!!!!”

Wise words from a woman who has learned firsthand that death is part of love.

Not every death is so literal. In Chapter Five of the classic volume about the deep feminine, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes:

“A part of every woman and every man resists knowing that in all love relationships Death must have her share. We pretend we can love without our illusions about love dying, pretend we can go on without our superficial expectations dying, pretend we can progress and that our favorite flushes and rushes will never die. But in love, psychically, everything becomes picked apart, everything. The ego does not want it to be so. Yet it is how it is meant to be, and the person of a deep and wildish nature is undeniably drawn to the task.”

The best film I’ve seen on this subject matter is Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” released in 1961.  My husband and I watched the film for the first time a few nights ago and Pinkola Estés might have been summarizing the plot in the paragraph above. I was stunned by the similarities in theme. Breathless is as fresh and alive as the day it was released. I prefer the French title, “A Bout de Souffle,” which literally means “the end of breath.” The black and white movie explores the themes of letting go of our illusions of love and romance and does it in alternating thrilling, poignant and funny moments.

It doesn’t take much deep thinking to see that our culture has an unnatural insistence on permanence. Whether we are fixated on maintaining unwrinkled faces and tight buns well beyond middle age or we have an unrealistic expectation that the Dow will rise indefinitely, these will never be the natural state of affairs.

In all things, even in love, impermanence rules. Knowing this is the key to being present, again and again, to our lives and to our relationships.

What are you willing to let die so that love may flourish?


Guest Post:Feminism, the feminine, the artist and the mystic

The following post is by painter Kerrie Wrye, my guest for Networked Blogs’ September Blog Swap. Please check out her gorgeous site, Timeless Rhythms.

Painting by Kerrie B. Wrye

Kerrie B. Wrye, Study after T.H. Benton, Prismacolor, 21"x13.5

Quite soon after becoming acquainted with each other, online and having been paired through the blog swap project, Carrie Ure and I decided to write about feminism, the feminine, the artist and the mystic!

In arriving at the moment to swap blogs, I am still trying to comprehend the pairing of two women who were briefly strangers prior to this event, and yet who have quickly discovered how close we are to one another geographically, culturally and personally–a pairing made, amazingly by another woman whose life is half-way across the globe in Pakistan. On top of which, Sarah Rahman opted out by default, when there were not enough writing partners to match everyone together for this worldwide, social experiment known as blog swapping!

On my part, having struggled for a week past the deadline to post my writing swap, resignation after obligations have left me physically exhausted, has given way to approaching this project from the personal voice. Right now, life feels very vulnerable as I transition from what was to what is becoming. I feel all that I can legitimately offer is the habit of following the intuitive within; it is one of my greatest assets as well as greatest disadvantages.

Carrie Ure is a writer and single mother, seeking work while living in Portland, OR_ just north of where I live, as artist, dancer com yogini and single-mother, looking for work out in this recession-locked world! One of our first contacts seemed to light instantly on the common connection to Séraphine de Senlis. Six years earlier in my undergrad research, I had discovered that Séraphine was a French woman artist, described briefly and only as a “nameless foundling.” Not much other information of note was available on her life or work as an artist to include any depth about her in my paper, just six years ago! That Carrie had seen a film about Séraphine de Senlis this summer was surprising to discover!

During my academic studies, I found individual sanctuary in the Womens Studies Program, as it was here I began developing the research on French Women Artists that would become the focus for my Liberal Studies degree. Indeed, I credit the current director of the program as being a champion for my research, one who supportively recognized me as a scholar and consequently became the reason I graduated. Since its inception at a university in Texas, the pedagogical development of Womens Studies has advanced steadily to be found in many college curriculum offerings throughout North America. Simultaneously during this era, I have needed to live out a lot of life free form, developing my own sense of self through the healing expression of art.

Along this path, I have invested many years, in traditional talk therapy or Cognizant Psychology, which for me also required an intuitive balance of yoga, in order for the nature of highly charged emotional-psychological work to simultaneously make sense in my physical frame. The years of my early youth growing up in France, were ones of profound somatic connection that have also guided development in this defining lifelong intuitive intelligence.

For twenty-one years, I was mother to one precocious child living as we did in relative social isolation, so I could manage the largeness of this personal work for which my entire life prior to that time had been intuitively heading. One after another childhood realizations that ranged from varying needs for freedom of expression, to flat out independence, marked a significant developmental period in chaos that I now realize much, much later after all is said-and-done, how much my intuition has effectively, intelligently, creatively guided my abilities to navigate out of the web of impact, from mental illness in a parent, still in denial.

For many of these adult years, I have readily defined developing intimate spirituality in the creative context of the sacred feminine. Recently, upon the approach of my fiftieth and after having read the book some years before, At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst, by Carol Lee Flinders, I created my first, Return to Community Ritual, in the description and guidance of yes, the seminal work: Emotional Genius, by Karla McLaren (who is now in rebuke of this major intuitive emotional manifesto, as an academic sociologist)!

In the years of post-graduate meetings with a feminist mentor, I often heard the term “mystic artist” pointed in my direction. My own under-developed academic research, a reflection of full-time, single parenthood, etc., was privately lauded as, “illustrating how women who happen to be artists also struggle as women to find our own voice and survive the chaos of producing work that is not valued and who are in need of environments where what we do is valued, exchanging mutual feedback in possibility-centered ways, to successfully move women’s voices forward!”

In the timing of returning to the academic setting to earn my degree, in my Womens Studies advisors, as well as in my post-graduation female mentors, I have criticized the male-tradition, competitiveness surrounding my female predecessors’ career success and in the ways this ethos has dominated the lack of informational access for women throughout all parts of the larger society. We have all gone wanting for an accessible lexicon to become better educated to all of the good information locked up in the academic study of women’s lives, abilities, and accomplishments. Not to be discounted, there have many battles my predecessors have indeed fought firsthand to break down this but one, bastion of historical male dominance. Like-wise after graduation, I did not find the feminist networks I logically expected would exist in the marketplace for job search, in politics for productive acceptance, and in the world of money for a new female patronage. As a consequence, my life has endured many years of needless yet very basic post-graduation struggle.

Right now, I feel as though the Doonesbury cartoon of a few years back, best articulates the lack of voice in a new feminism; a new generation of women coming of age particularly now, in the broad and long-range impact of this recession, as well as the “Yes! We Can!” social and political recovery from the Reagan-Bush era of full-scale reactionism, materialism and bold greed. A new language unique to the next wave of feminists is forming, and I expect it to be more inclusive. The issues they will confront are on a different scale dealing with global warming, sustainable food production and religious, spiritual and political acceptance, to name a few. I did however, graduate recognizing that I can continue as a creatively intelligent ally to the next generation! Most recently, in making acquaintance with a feminine-mystic writer, has given me a gift of inner renewal than I have not felt connected to in many years! I am inspired to have discovered such an ally so close by! Thank-you Séraphine de Senlis and thank-you, Sarah Rahman!