"It's not a spectator sport!"

My first experience with the Dances of Universal Peace was at a Rumi Poetry reading at the University of Montana. This was an event put on by Star and the Bitterroot crew. They brought Colman Barks (number one supreme Rumi poetry editor) to Missoula. I had never heard of Rumi or the Dances of Universal Peace before this, but the Rumi poem in an advertisement caught my eye. It was pure music. One glimpse and I knew it was from someone who shared the same spiritual journey as I. This was from a person who had fallen through the "dark night of the soul" out the other side. I was intrigued. I ordered a book of Rumi poetry and signed up for the event.

Before this my life was graced by years of meditation and study directly from the book of nature in Idaho's wilderness area. My wilderness studies prepared me for my later life as a sannyasin where I learned vipassna meditation, and these things prepared me for meeting the dances. I was ready on that day.
The poetry reading was accompanied by violin music, drumming and interpretive dancing. And then the audience was called to dance. We all got up, held hands and were taught to sing, "La illaha el allah hu." There is nothing but oneness. The circle started moving together and I found myself transformed. What had been a group of people sitting and being read to, suddenly was a single organism of living poetry.

I knew immediately that I had found my medium. That night the Kalama rang beautifully through my head in a sweet chorus, a loop of oneness that sang through the night in my dreams. It wasn't long before I had found the Missoula and Hamilton dance circles and signed up for leadership training.

Thanks to the beginning of the Oneness Project (before we even had a name) there were many dances in Montana and Idaho. I became a regular at Lava and got to Wilderness Dance Camp by volunteering to be the registrar. I met Hidiyat Inayat Khan who affirmed that my previous life fit in beautifully with the Sufis, and he initiated me into the esoteric school with my sannyas name.

Dancing melted my soul and healed my heart. It brought music back into my life. I started playing my flute and guitar again, and got myself a hand drum. I found it easier to touch people, and to look others honestly in the eyes. I went from having a small family of friends to a giant one.

But there were also problems. My life before the dances had been one of radical transformation. I had moved into the wilderness to find a new way of being human. Instinctively I knew that I had to first disconnect my mind from the trainings of our civilization before finding a new way to live. Then my spiritual teacher (Osho Rajneesh) showed me that the only rebellion I really needed was rebellion from myself. I thought that that was what all spiritual seekers were about.

The further I got into the dance community, the more I realized that I seemed to be on a different track from other dance leaders. I started feeling out-of-place. To me, the dances are the perfect tool for creating a radical change in human perspective that will break us from past conditionings and make us real and authentic to the bone. The culture I met in the dances seemed to be about feeling good and selecting traditional ideas that don't offer a deep challenge to the seeker. The concept of "being on a spiritual path" is somewhat nebulous. It can mean anything.

I find myself at odds. I feel like a person from a different culture trying to mix in a society with rules of behavior that go against all my training. In my world truth is a higher quality than hurt feelings (and they are not mutually exclusive!) Hurt feelings are almost always a mistaken perception, so why should they have any weight? It takes courage to be true; it takes nothing to have a hurt feeling. When I encounter a hurt feeling that is based on truth, then it is often a vehicle towards positive change. So who cares if it hurts? And how can I understand others, anyway, if I don't hurt? In my world, a pretense of happiness or inner peace is worse than meaningless. I'm interested in real, lasting peace, or nothing at all. The key is to always know what is going on inside. I guess this is radical.

Can I fit in with these perspectives? Can I work effectively? I like to challenge the status quo, stretch the envelope and now I feel how exclusive the dances can be. I don't necessarily believe that love is the cure to all problems, yet I'm expected to believe it. I don't believe in reincarnation, chakras or meditating for personal power in any way. I don't see that a technique called "non-violence" will actually create peace. It agitates me quite strongly when it is used on me! That's not peace! Yet I still want to pray.

So, this is my experience with the dances. It is an open door, but where does it really lead? I find myself again at a crossroads.

Recent political events give me a challenge to work actively on community prayer that doesn't create division. Can we pray together in a way that does not create an "us" which then automatically identifies a "them." (ie: we are the ones who truly believe in peace, their belief in peace is faulty because �)

Can we pray without any belief system at all, just pure prayer? Are the dances up to the challenge? Am I? I have found that this simple experience of holding hands in a circle and singing prayers can bring one to joy. It can also be used as a tool to sell the latest belief system. Is prayer naturally a divisive act because we will only pray with those who match up to our beliefs and ideals, or can it bring different people together? Is it about proving we are right, or transforming into something new?

In these days of holy wars it seems important not to be too holy. I am now full of questions about what we are really doing. Do others want to ask these questions? Are they the right questions? Who knows . . . it remains to be seen.