New Zealand / Australia Diary
Sunday 22 April 2012

Annie's house

Sunday morning brought an unexpected respite from my (relatively) busy schedule. Annie was hosting Quaker Meeting in her house and had invited me to come along, so we left through the garden side door, walked around the house to the 'front' door, and entered what was now the Quaker Meeting House. This curious little ritual provided a useful transitional process, moving from the 'mundane' & ordinary day-to-day space into the somehow sanctified place of Worship despite the fact that they were, in a purely physical sense, one and the same. An interesting metaphor for life in general? Maybe.

I'm a very intermittent Quaker and if pressed I'd probably describe myself as someone who follows a similar path without quite falling into the same faith. However I do get a lot from attending Meeting and when I find myself in a new place I'll often seek out the local Quaker group and come along when I can. Here at the Hunter Valley group I sat down, took off my glasses, closed my eyes and began to focus on my breathing, my usual technique for calming my active mind.

Whether you call it Worship, meditation or whatever I find the process of 'emptying' my mind and just observing what comes along into it to be both refreshing and inspiring. As someone with very analytical thought processes it's a constant challenge to just passively accept what comes into my head without 'grabbing on to it' and trying to determine what it means or where it might have originated. In fact it feels like a great achievement if I can't remember what I was thinking at the end of a session (unless I'm gently chided for snoring afterwards). The idea that the 'me' I identify with is just a smaller aspect of something greater seems obviously self-evident when I think about it but there's something about the deeper & more primal experience of letting go and feeling it that makes it more real & personal. How you choose to label this 'greater self' seems to be of great importance to some people but it seems to me that it must be 'bigger' than we can contain in our minds and any attempt to define it are doomed to failure. But let's not go down that path for now.

The Meeting entrance

I find that I get a similar experience when dancing, when my active mind is occupied with the steps & movements and the rest of me can surrender into the dance and be carried along by it. It's not just a chance to enjoy some personal bliss (although that can be nice), when I feel that inner openness it can also bring awareness of what the group needs, inspiration for what to dance next, some deeper understanding of myself or of the particular dance I'm doing, or something that seems totally unrelated but is in some strange way relevant. As if I'm connecting with something that has a wider perspective than my own, limited viewpoint. Or something like that.

The ironic thing is that (for me at least) to reach this point of divine inspiration it's necessary to do as much preparation & planning as my 'ordinary' mind can manage. One does not test the Gods! And so for the afternoon's workshop I went back & forth through my dance repertoire on the iPod making lists of possible dances divided up into fast & slow, complex & simple, and so on and so on. Eventually I had shortlist of about four times the number of danes than could actually be done in the time, enough to narrow down the options but still give me freedom to tailor the workshop to the group's reactions as we went along.

It was a smaller group than on Saturday with a couple of newcomers so I decided to teach a completely new set of dances. My meticulous planning was immediately thrown off kilter when one of the participants requested a dance that I'd not even considered for the day but my Higher Self (see above) rose to the challenge and found a place for it to slot in seamlessly.

From my perspective the workshop flowed better than the day before's and although I gave the dancers 'something to get their teeth into' (rather than something easy & superficial) we really got into the dances and reached points of synchrony and harmony. The feedback was very positive and I found myself looking forward to coming back again and continuing my connection with Australian dancers, hopefully without another ten year gap!

After the workshop Annie & I went out for a drive but the heavy cloud overhead robbed us of a sunset or lingering twilight, so we retreated back home for another takeaway carry (this time a Thai one) and an early night. My stay in Newcastle had been sadly brief but it was time to pack up and prepare for the journey to Tasmania tomorrow.

Teaching at Newcastle

Dancing at Newcastle

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