My weekend of Dances of Universal Peace (with embroidery as an added ingredient!)

Birmingham Mike Hadden 091107

Last weekend, there were two good one-day Dances of Universal Peace events on, both within driving distance of where we live. As we couldn’t choose between them, we decided to go to both!

The first one was at the Friends Meeting House in Hall Green, Birmingham. This one happens monthly, and we manage to go most months. The building is lovely – Victorian, I think, and cosy with a quiet feel to it. The day is led by Mike Hadden and his wife, Suzanne, who have their own website with information about the Dances and dates of upcoming events.

Friends Meeting House Hall Green
The Friends Meeting House, Hall Green, Birmingham

We danced from 10.30 till 4pm, with a break for lunch (brought by the participants). Several of the dances were new to me – a couple, in particular, were really lovely. One, called ‘Namaste’, had the lines ‘I honour the place in you where the entire Universe dwells. I honour the place in me where the entire Universe dwells’. It was a very slow, meditative dance, done in pairs. The other dance I don’t know the name of, but the words were something like ‘There is a secret One inside us, All the stars and all the galaxies, Run through Her hands like beads’. It’s based on part of a poem by Tagore, I think. Anyway, it was great, too.

Sheffield Yoga Centre Gulzar 091108
The altar table at Sheffield

On Sunday, we went to the Sheffield Yoga Centre, and had another great day of Dances led by Christina Lausevic (her Sufi name is Gulzar). She plays guitar to accompany the dances she leads, and my husband, Chris,  plays drum for some of the dances, too (when he’s not dancing, that is). Gulzar adds other practices to her Dance Days, so we also did some drumming, and walking meditations.

A beautiful Indian embroidered panel, over the doorway to the room where we danced
A beautiful Indian embroidered panel, over the doorway to the room where we danced

As I’m always on the lookout for embroidery, it didn’t take me long to spot this gorgeous Indian wallhanging, as it was strung across the doorway into the room where we danced.

Sheffield door embroidery detail
A detailed view of the wallhanging

It was lovely – lots of tiny shisha mirrors had been embroidered on it, and, although it was a bit worn in places (it’s obviously quite old), it was a very carefully made piece. I just love the colours!

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What is the well-dressed Sufi wearing at Dance Camp?

People doing Dances of Universal Peace in the Big Top at a Dance Camp
People doing Dances of Universal Peace in the Big Top at a Dance Camp

In August of this year, I went to Dance Camp for the first time, in Dorset. It was quite an experience! 300 or so people camping in a field, cooking in groups of around 20 around open fires, and doing Dances of Universal Peace in ‘Big Top’ tents for several hours every day. Other things to do included yoga, harmony singing, drumming, meditation…

It was all good stuff, even when it was raining sideways!

One of the things I realised, once I got there, was that I’d brought totally the wrong kind of clothing. OK, I had the waterproof coat, plastic overtrousers, thermal socks, and so on (after all, this is ENGLAND in the summer 🙂  ), but one thing I didn’t have was ‘suitable’ wellies. I had remembered to bring my boring old navy blue gardening wellies (‘just in case’, ha ha) – and I ended up wearing them for most of the week – even INSIDE the tent, sometimes (I kid you not). However, I noticed that many of the other women were wearing the lovely, brightly coloured wellies that are available now, to go with their bright and jazzy clothes. That made my boring old blue ones seem even more…well, boring.

So, when I got home, I searched online for something more interesting to wear, ready for next time. Now, the problem I have is that, for an adult, I’ve got tiny feet. I take size 2 (33.5 in Continental sizing; size 4 in US sizing). That’s SMALL. So small, in fact, that it’s become such a problem to get shoes to fit me that a few years ago my husband started his own business, importing specially made shoes in small sizes, to try to cater to this market, and stop me moaning at the same time! (It worked – I’ve  got several dozen pairs of lovely Italian shoes, now. And I don’t moan. Much.)

So, to buy wellies in small sizes is not easy. My husband has no supplier to try. No online (or offline, for that matter) shoe shop sells adult wellies in a small size – there’s just not enough of a market. Still, I thought, if it’s jazzy patterned wellies that I want, children’s ones will do fine. They’ll be a bit short in the leg, but that’s OK. I started looking by doing a Google image search, and couldn’t believe my luck.

The Sufi emblem - the 'Heart with wings'
The Sufi emblem – the ‘Heart with wings’

Now, for people who don’t know, the Sufi ’emblem’ is a heart with wings, and many people who do Dances of Universal Peace, such as me, are following the Sufi spiritual path. So, when I came across these Western Chief cowgirl wellies, I was really pleased! They might not have been designed specifically with Sufis in mind, but the logo on these definitely looks like the Sufi one to me!

Western Chief cowgirl wellies, with what looks like the Sufi emblem, to me!
Western Chief cowgirl wellies, with what looks like the Sufi emblem, to me!

Can’t wait for next year’s Dance Camp now, so that I can show them off 🙂

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I’ve just got back from a spiritually uplifting weekend course on ‘The Hidden Gospel’, with Neil Douglas-Klotz

The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the spiritual message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz
The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the spiritual message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz

I have just got back from a great weekend course, at the Othona community near Burton Bradstock in Dorset. It was led by the Aramaic Biblical scholar and Sufi Neil Douglas-Klotz – see his website www.abwoon.com for info on his books, CD’s and other stuff.

The course was based around themes from his book ‘The Hidden Gospel’, and looked at how the Bible’s meaning in English can be ‘unpacked’ in different ways from the usual ones, if you go back to the original Aramaic language (the language that Jesus spoke), and translate this very fluid, multi-levelled language straight into English, rather than the way it has been in the past – via Greek, Latin and German, into English. It was so interesting to hear about well-known but ‘limited’ English phrases taken from the Bible, such as the line from the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. This would be better explained as ‘Do not let us enter a state of forgetfulness of the Sacred in our lives, and keep us from unripeness.’ (NB There is no word in Aramaic for ‘evil’, by the way.)

As well as the teachings, we did some body prayers, and Dances of Universal Peace, based on the words of Jesus, which were wonderfully uplifting, as the Dances always are for me.

Othona, with views of the sea in the distance
Othona, with views of the sea in the distance

The people we met (my husband and I, that is) on this course were lovely – very interesting people. Othona itself is a gem – a peaceful place to stay for a few days, a short walk from the beach, with comfortable sitting rooms and bedrooms, and great home-cooked food. Does this sound like an advert for it? You bet! Check out the Othona website  for more information about the courses they run all year round, on subjects as diverse as birdwatching, the enneagram, and ‘mind/body/spirit detox’.

The dining room at Othona
The dining room at Othona

About a year ago, I wrote a book review of ‘The Hidden Gospel’ for a magazine, so I’ve copied it here to give a flavour of this wonderful book.

Book review of ‘The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the spiritual message of the Aramaic Jesus’, by Neil Douglas-Klotz
Published by Quest Books, 1999.  Paperback £11.99.  ISBN: 0 8356 0795 Z

I have had this book on my ‘Amazon Wish List’ for over two years, but only got around to buying a copy a few weeks ago – now I wish I’d bought it earlier, as it’s a life-changing read.

Neil Douglas-Klotz has a very readable style, and manages to make what could be a dry subject become something not only interesting, but relevant. He is a practising Sufi, and has lectured and written books on the theme of the basic unifying principles of the Abrahamic faiths for the past twenty years.

His rationale for studying Jesus’ words in the Aramaic language is that this is the language that would have been spoken in Palestine at the time, and that those words have power of their own (both in the original language, and in translation). Aramaic translations emphasise the spirituality of Jesus’ teachings (NDK has little interest in doctrinal issues). This is where the idea of the ‘hidden gospel’ of the title comes from – listening to words from the Bible in this format is like finding a ‘new’ gospel, because the ideas seem so refreshingly different when presented in this way.

This book takes ten main themes, and arranges them into ‘Key Insights’, which are then illustrated with phrases that Jesus is quoted as saying in the Bible. As NDK works straight from the Peshitta (the Aramaic version of the Bible, as used by Christians from the area around Syria), his direct translations are more accurate than the more familiar translations that have come down to us through the ‘traditional’ route in the West – that is, Greek to Latin to German to English. This is the reason why his translations offer so much more – they are able to highlight the many shades of meaning that have been lost over the years through either mistranslation or deliberate alteration. He is a poet and musician, so his translations are beautifully expressed and very meaningful.

For me, this book has cleared up many a ‘meaningless’ phrase from the Bible. I suspect many people have struggled to find meaning in the Bible, due to poor/misleading translations. This book can help to explain those phrases in new, poetic ways. For instance, the passage from John 3:16, in the KJV, says

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

NDK explains that in Aramaic, ‘begotten’ can also mean single, solitary or united in all aspects of being. ‘Believe’ can mean a sense of confidence or trust. ‘Perish’ can mean decay, fade away or lose. So, another way of expressing the passage could be:

“For Unity so loved Diversity,
all the worlds of form,
that it brought you a child of Unity,
fulfilled in all aspects of self,
so that whoever would have
the same confidence in their own fulfilment,
like the earth underneath supporting all,
would not fade with their form,
but continue, from world to world,
with and in the ever-living Life.”

At the end of each section, he offers a meditation or a body prayer (nineteen altogether), so that the reader can incorporate the deeper meanings into their daily life. He puts great emphasis on the breath – most meditations start with calming the mind and focussing attention on the breath, then an Aramaic word or phrase is either spoken or ‘breathed’, or sometimes intoned on one note, or sung. Then there is an idea to contemplate for a few minutes, such as the idea that all our breaths link us together all over the world as part of Sacred Unity.

As well as this book, there is an accompanying CD/digital download, available from www.soundstrue.com  for around 20 US dollars. This audio version is great too, because it is not just a spoken version of the text from the book. It lasts three hours, and has NDK explaining the key insights, sometimes with examples that are different from the book. The best part, though, is that the CD contains many chants and body prayers. These make for compulsive listening.

For those who may be coming from a liberal Christian standpoint, I feel that the ideas contained in this book will not come as such a surprise as they might to ‘mainstream’ Christians. Liberal Christians may be more likely to be open to considering ‘new’ ways of relating to the figure of Jesus and his teachings, and to welcome this different approach. If you are at all interested in meditation and contemplative prayer from a progressive Christian standpoint, you will find this book and CD great additions to your collection.

What are ‘Dances of Universal Peace’?

people doing a Dance of Universal PeaceI have been going to Dances of Universal Peace since April 2009. Before that, I had heard of the phrase, but knew nothing more about the Dances as a spiritual practice. As I’m going to be writing about the Dances a lot on here, I suppose it’d be a good idea to explain a bit about what they are.

Simply put, they are easy, fun, spiritual and joyful circle dances using sacred phrases from around the world. The Dances of Universal Peace are essentially a form of celebration and meditation in sound and movement. There is an old saying that goes: “If you can walk you can dance; if you can talk you can sing”.

In Dances of Universal Peace, the participants stand in a circle. The dances are simple to learn, and the movements, words and melodies are always taught before each dance, as if everyone is learning it for the first time – making it easy for beginners to join in without feeling that they are at a disadvantage in the group.

The phrases sung are all based on the various sacred traditions of the world – such as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and so on. The meaning and pronunciation of the phrase is explained each time, along with the relevance of the movements. It isn’t necessary to come with a partner to do Dances of Universal Peace – many of the dances are just done with everyone standing in a circle and making the same movements at the same time. Other dances, however, require people to be in pairs, so during one dance day it is quite usual for one person to get the chance to be ‘paired up’ with several different people for different dances. The dances often work in such a way that people ‘progress’ from one partner to another during a dance, so you’d expect to eventually dance with just about everyone in the room! It’s a great way to make friends.

It’s also a very safe atmosphere, as the emotional/spiritual side of the dances encourages the letting down of barriers in a way that enhances a closeness between the dancers which doesn’t often happen in other social situations. You may start the dance day not knowing anyone at all in the room, but by the end of the day, feel completely comfortable with all of them. It’s a joyous way to spend some time with other people, and the feeling lasts long after the dancing ends.

Even if you feel you cannot dance or sing, it doesn’t matter – everyone is encouraged to just have a go, and after a while you’ll feel completely at ease. With these dances, there is no ‘audience’ – everyone in the room is there to participate in the dancing, not to watch it, so it is easy to become engrossed in what you are doing, and how it may appear to others becomes irrelevant. Although the dancing can be a deeply emotional experience, it’s OK to dance in the wrong direction to everyone else every now and then! No-one is going to tell you off.

The dance leader directs the Dances of Universal Peace by standing in the centre of the circle of dancers, explaining the movements, phrases and melodies, and leading everyone through a practice first. Accompaniment (just the dance leader, or along with other musicians) may be on guitar, drum, violin – or sometimes with no accompaniment at all. However, the music is always ‘live’, not recorded. When the dance starts, the leader calls out any necessary changes, such as ‘just the women’, or ‘to the right’, or ‘change partners’. Each dance lasts perhaps five or ten minutes, with the dance leader building up the tempo whilst everyone dances it in rhythm, as one community. At the end of each dance, the dancers stand for a few moments in silence, eyes closed, experiencing the feelings that have been created. The leader then ‘seals the dance’ by saying a sacred phrase relevant to the tradition for that particular dance – for instance, if the dance had been a Christian-inspired one, then a suitable closing word would ‘Amen’. The dancers repeat this, and then a new dance is introduced.

Some other points to note are:

If, at any time, a dancer needs to take a break and sit out for a dance, that’s fine.

If the dance session is a full day, then a shared meal half way through is an important part of the day, so enough time is given to it so that it is not rushed. The meals are vegetarian, and often consist of items brought by the participants, as this helps the atmosphere of sharing and support.

Some dance leaders incorporate various other spiritual practices into the day, such as guided meditations. Each dance leader has their own ‘style’, to some extent.

At the end of the dance day, it is usual for the participants to give each other a hug of thanks, although if this is emotionally uncomfortable for a dancer, it’s OK to give the hugging a miss and simply say ‘thank you’ instead!

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Some of the sacred phrases used in the Dances of Universal Peace

The following list gives an idea of the some of the sacred phrases that the Dances of Universal Peace are based on. This brief list is copied, with thanks, from the Sacred Arts Camp website, which is well worth a look. www.sacredartscamp.org

“While translations of the phrases are given below, many sacred phrases are capable of different meanings and different levels of meaning; and ultimately the meaning for each of us is how they resonate in our own being and what feelings and sensations arise. Really feel the sound in the body. Stay in the heart rather than the head.”

Bismillah Er Rahman Er Rahim (Arabic, Islam) – We begin in the name of Allah who is mercy and compassion. Or, we begin by means of the Entire Unfolding Cosmos from whose womb is born the Sun and Moon of Love.

La illaha el Allah Hu, or La illaha il Allah Hu (Arabic, Islam) – There is no reality except the Oneness. Remembrance of the One Being.

Shem’a Israel Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai Echad (Hebrew, Jewish) Hear O Israel the Lord our God is one Lord.

Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison (Greek, Christian) – Lord send mercy, Christ send mercy.

Abwoon d’Bwashmaya (Aramaic, Christian) – First line of the Lord’s Prayer. O Thou the Breathing Life of All, Creator of the Shimmering Sound that touches us.

Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram (Sanskrit, Hindu) – O God who is both truth and power, personal and impersonal, victory to thee, victory to thee. Also a call to victory for the spiritual self.

Kwan Zeon Bosai (Korean, Buddhist) – Kwan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion – She who hears the sounds of the world and accords them mercy. Bosai is Bodhisattva.

Om Mani Peme Hung (Tibetan, Buddhist) – Hail to the jewel in the lotus. This mantra embodies the compassion and blessings of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. 

Neil Douglas-Klotz
Neil Douglas-Klotz

The following quote, by Aramaic scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz, a Sufi teacher, author and creator of over 60 of the Dances, sums it up:

“The Dances of Universal Peace change lives. And the world changes life by life. All over the earth people long for an actual experience of reverence for the earth and life in all its forms. The Dances show how. “
 
See Neil’s website www.abwoon.com for information about the Aramaic Jesus work that he has pioneered.