Our personal growth can be capricious, transformative moments that blindside us, consciousness leaps shrouded in mystique. We land in expanded zones with a thunk, not sure how we arrived, just gratefully amazed. I’ve been calling this the mystery and it has held my fascination this past year. This is one fertile state and the words I just wrote— capricious and blindside and mystique—I’m challenging them. What is mystery exactly? And can we practice in a way that fosters it’s metamorphosing potential?
Historical credit shout out to Andrea Juhan who ingeniously adapted Gestalt empty chair technique to serve conscious dance, naming it open floor. Andrea facilitated a single dancer’s process while others in attendance watched. Observers chose one of two places to sit in the room, freely moving back and forth between them. There was a section for neutral witnessing. And there was a separate area for being in your head with your own process. I benefited from many hours with Andrea and found all three places in the room incredibly rich. Some of my deepest learning was triggered in what came to be known as the judgment box.
Fast forward many years with another shout out to all who wrote to me about your jackals…we are in good company. Last Wednesday night Juliette used a loose variation of open floor as follow up to the jackal class. It was awesome to be a student and work in an embodied way with judgment and clear witnessing and whatever was happening that wasn’t that. I felt the three available spaces in the room and the more I danced, the more I felt in choice, and the more I exercised that choice, the more I began to shift. A more explicit definition of mystery continues to emerge. What is it really? How do we reliably generate it? And when we are in it, will awareness break its spell or can it be harnessed?
Our minds are so powerful; we will always spend time in our heads. We review the past, worry the future, judge, compare, analyze, let our inner critic to take stage, obsessively loop about this that or the other. Totally normal. Whether we meditate via dance, on a yoga mat or sitting on a cushion it always comes back to this: recognize that the head thing is happening. That’s all. Then bring attention into body in some way: breath, body parts, sensation. The support of a teacher here is such a relief, gifting me with something body/breath to focus upon. Reminding me to step down from thinking.
Back and forth we go. Head body head body. On the dance floor this week I physically moved to the west side of the space when I popped into thinking. Frequently. And then enjoyed the central room when I returned to the body in some way. I have my favorites. If I tether myself into this—and some days that’s a big IF—the mystery invariably opens. But what does that mean? And what precisely opens? And is this universal to us all? And what else is there that I have no words for?
This is a mid-term report of an investigation in progress. So far I’ve experienced four distinct mystery states. The tricky part is that tracking these states, noticing I’m in one, signals the end of three out of the four states. I welcome your experience of this shamanic place we land that is somehow beyond the bounds of head and body but not separate from them. These are the four states I’ve been able to track and name:
- Revelation: First up is one that may not belong in this roll call; it has such a clear mental component. But revelation is a mental arising not included in the predictable inventory described a couple paragraphs back. It comes to pass when I’m in a deeply embodied state and seemingly out of nowhere, new insight arises or an intuitive hit comes in loud and clear. Capturing it takes me out of the mystery state, but clearly the mystery delivered it.
- Clear witness: My attention is inward, eyes are soft and lack focus. Then there is this turnover moment when I look up: the space, the music, the other people are sparkling clear. Concurrently in my breath/body AND with eyes and heart open, nothing is arising mentally. It can go on a long time. It is the only one of the four I can be aware of without breaking its spell. It is the state I aspire to when teaching.
- Pure emotion: I’m finding ease with sustained attention to body/breath, when a tidal wave of emotion floods over me. It is organically story-less. It is invariably one of my BIG THREE: overwhelming compassion (especially as I clear witness around the room) or a deep unfathomable well of sadness or breath-taking elevating bliss-joy. I relish it even as it passes into the ethers.
- Trance: There is so little I can say to describe this state. I just disappear into the dance, go into a dream journey outside of the norms of time and space. It can be brief but I have experienced very lengthy stretches. The moment I know it has happened it is over.
So back to those questions. These four states of being give a bit more clarity to the question of “what is it?” I know there is more. When we are in the mystery, awareness of being in it will sometimes break its spell. And, yes, I believe that sustained and committed meditation practice in various forms will reliably generate it. Persistency with body mind body mind body mind does deliver.
I have done some deep healing in these past months. I have just moved through the final chapter of active treatment. Each of those four distinct mystery states at different times have been intrinsic to this healing. Deep respect for the western medicine that focuses treatment on all that we can see, all that is proven, all that is physical. So grateful I can complement this emphasis by reliably fostering mystery in my life…and ours.