You can enjoy this post either in written form, or if you prefer, you can hear me read it to you in this video.
For years I’ve been searching for a spiritual community that speaks to my soul. At times it’s felt like wondering around the desert in search of an oasis, running towards mirages only to discover there was nothing there to nourish me. I’ve gone to Buddhist temple, Self-Realization Fellowship, Al-Anon, Agape Center, and an Episcopalian Church. All of these places of prayer/worship/meditation had something to offer, but not what I wanted on a deep soul level. I was ready to give up.
Until an email arrived in my inbox, announcing that Dance Church was opening its doors once again for in person ecstatic dance. I knew immediately that this is where I needed to be, and, I was right. What I experienced at that studio is exactly how I want to feel when in reverence to the divine. Soul pumping movement, intuitive flow, chanting, meditation, and best of all, connection with others. I cried, twice, with joy, gratitude, and utter relief.
Let me back up a bit and share how I got here.
I grew up going to Catholic church every Sunday. When I was a little girl, I didn’t love church, but I loved the ritual of it. Every Sunday we would eat a delicious breakfast, then head off to church as a family. There was something comforting about that.
In middle school, I loved going to church. Not because I was suddenly a devoted Catholic, but because so many of my friends went to the same church. Living just outside of Cairo, Egypt, our small Catholic church was one of our expat sanctuaries, and I loved my friends there. It was a community that felt nourishing to me, because I felt like I belonged. There were people there that were happy to see me.
In eigth grade, I did my confirmation, which is a big deal moment in the Catholic journey. I was excited for it, and during the mass when I was being confirmed, I wanted to feel moved by Spirit. I wanted to feel something. It didn’t happen for me. I didn’t feel much of anything other than a completion of a step.
In high school, I left Catholicism.
The most significant representatives of the Catholic faith in my life veered very far off that path. They were not living, in any way, according to the principals that they and the church preached. My teenage self could not reconcile this duality, and church lost its meaning for me. It was no longer a place of family, community, and comfort. In my view, it was a place of hypocrisy and alienation. I stopped going.
A few years later, in University, I went to my first yoga class. It was at a community center in Toronto. From the very first moment I lay on my back, pulled my knees over to one side in a twist, something opened up in me that was beyond just release of low back tension. I felt awakened and inspired, in some new and different way. I didn’t really know what it was, but I knew I liked it and needed it in my life.
It still took several years, and significant life change, before I fully committed to practicing yoga on a consistent basis. I was living in Los Angeles, unhappily married, wanting a good workout and…something more. I found it at Center for Yoga on Larchmont Boulevard.
Center for Yoga became my refuge, inspired me to take my first yoga teacher training, and saw me through my divorce. It paved the way for a career change, as a yoga teacher and Thai massage therapist. For a long time, my yoga practice was my connection to Spirit.
Then, I wanted more. I wanted to go deeper into meditation, deeper into my understanding of our innate connection to each other, and to source energy. Of course, I could practice and study on my own, and I did. But I really wanted to be in community. In my experience, community is what adds flavor and aliveness to spiritual practice.
Many spiritual communities added to my learning. I went deeper into my meditation practice attending Sunday service at a Buddhist temple in LA, then at a 10-day silent meditation at a temple in Thailand. I dipped my toe into the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda through the Self-Realization Fellowship, but those services never really lit me up. Even Al-Anon was a spiritual refuge for some time, helping me to understand the nature of dysfunction and healthy emotional boundaries.
All of this represented learning and growth. Yet none of it felt like LIFE FORCE ENERGY. Where was that feeling of joy, bliss, enlightenment?
I finally put the puzzle pieces together on the dance floor at an outdoor bar in Trinidad, a couple weeks ago.
When I hear music that moves me, I move. I cannot help it. And dancing feels so good. Dancing surrounded by others who are also swept up in the energy of the music feels even better.
On that dance floor in Trinidad, I realized, this is the feeling I’ve been chasing all along. It’s been accessible to me all this time, and I don’t need to be within the walls of a temple to feel it. For me, I feel most connected to Spirit, Life Force, God, my own Soul, when swept up in the joy of free form movement!
Several times in LA I had the pleasure of attending ecstatic dance events led by Shiva Rea, where everyone in the room is moving with reckless abandon, and you end the evening pouring with sweat, feeling thoroughly blissed out, soul cleansed, and deeply connected to everyone in the room with whom you had the pleasure of communing.
The love of dance is not new to me, but acknowledging its deeper meaning and purpose in my life is. Joy. Bliss. Connection.
A couple weeks after returning from my trip to Trinidad, I found myself Sunday morning, not in a temple or church, but at JaiStar yoga studio in Lake Worth, Florida, flowing, jumping, and grooving to deep soulful beats with fellow ecstatic dancers. Our session ended laid out on the floor in meditation, graced by the sounds of crystal singing bowls and the voices of our teachers. Before leaving class, we all introduced ourselves to each other and shared the joy of what we just experienced. It was everything.
I share all this with you mostly because I’m thrilled and I like sharing my joy. And also, in case it helps you see, that spiritual community can look like many things, as long as it fills you up in a way that speaks to your heart and helps you feel connected to the world around you.