Image: Dancing Buddha print by Vivienne Eastwood
A weekly message from teachers Sarah Dōjin Emerson and Charlie Korin Pokorny in support of the 2022 Fall Practice Period.
Right! There’s serious work to be done: let’s play.
Dear Ango sangha,
How have the past few days been? How is your practice of joy going?
We want to recognize, not only is this a tender time in the Sangha, but for many people the holiday season is a mixed bag. There are so many messages about joy and gratefulness and merriment…while for many people the holiday season amplifies loss, increases anxiety, and can generate despair, even while the world is all glitter and shopping and apparent holiday cheer. So it may feel like engaging a joy practice right now is yet another thing that brings mixed feelings. We want to offer the image of untethering joy from conditions, and really engaging it as something subtle and readily available, not something that could be compared, bought or sold. Practicing cultivating joy in this way takes effort. This is partly why we wanted to spend weeks building up to it- through embodied attunement, through breath, through rest, through ritual and ceremony, through our senses, through not-hurrying…see if it’s possible to approach it through the lens of all you’ve been cultivating and exploring over the fall Ango.
For those in the U.S., we want to include acknowledging that dominant collective culture turns this week toward the immense complexity of the tradition of Thanksgiving. However you do or do not celebrate this holiday, may practice support you to be with whatever the holiday evokes: maybe a season of gratitude, maybe an anticipated coming together of family…but also maybe something you have not historically celebrated/ not your cultural tradition; maybe a time of anxiety and pain around family, around food, around history; maybe a time of deep reflection on the myth and social conditioning that attempts to erase attempted genocide of indigenous people and centers colonial domination; and much more. May the Dharma support us being spacious enough to hold the complexity to honor every part, and to lift up parts that have not been so seen or acknowledged or allowed in the past.
We are going to recommend dance as a practice this week, and wanted to share this teaching with you that we received for some context. Our family’s dance Kumu in California, Vao Paleti or Aunty Vao, shared with us that in Pacific Islander dance, every time our foot touches the ground or floor, we are connecting with ancestors and honoring them. Since learning this, all dance has opened for us as more of a ceremony- connecting us to our lineages, to our ancestors, to earth. This teaching can change our relationship to Kinhin/ walking meditation, and to walking or standing in general- feeling every step we take as meaningful, connected, and honoring. It feels resonant with Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings around how “Peace is every step.”
The monks at Ancestral Heart shared that, in the days after hearing about Kosen having cancer, they were invited by Watershed to a bonfire and dancing. The image was so moving- everyone carrying care and worry, and also coming together around a fire, and moving with joy.
So it’s in these teachings, and in this spirit, we are offering the practice this week of dancing.
– Dance for 5 minutes a day: we are hoping everyone will try this one on in a way that works for you. Maybe it just means listening to music you like and bobbing your head. But maybe it also means turning it up loud and moving until you’re sweaty and falling over…or maybe something in between. If you notice annoyance, cynicism, irritation, self-consciousness arising with reading this, honor that…and maybe try it for a couple minutes anyway. It can be supportive to dance alone, so it’s not about being seen or being social- just about having a vital human body and allowing joy in movement. And it can be supportive to dance with others, sharing the joy.
– Play: if you see the chance this week- do something playful you maybe haven’t done since you were a kid, or maybe ever. Jump on a swing for a minute; go down a slide; put on some roller skates, or ice skates; jump up/ down some stairs, roll down a hill or maybe just roll around on the floor? This is by no means an exhaustive list! Find something that works for you, for your body, that feels maybe a little silly, and try it on…just once, as an experiment.
– Care for yourself with tenderness: make it a koan for this week- how do I care for this moment? Include yourself in the inquiry and see what arrives to be done/ or not to do.
With gratitude and complexity abounding,
Sarah & Charlie