In Rhythm


"That was your best class!" exclaimed a friend who, for several years, had attended what someone called, “Al’s Aerobics classes, where no prisoners are taken." (back in the early 90’s)  

 Her assessment startled me a little, for, after all, I hadn’t wowed the crowd that day with some spectacular new dance pattern, or anything like that. It was rather the same old stuff - the same dance patterns that I'd done a thousand times before in Aerobics studios all over Calgary. Nothing new, just simple moves orchestrated with great intensity.

 But I knew what she meant. I felt the magic my friend had observed. The class indeed had gone remarkably well. How to account for it?

 I think what impressed her was the sense of rhythm that was felt and experienced. I recall feeling somehow carried that day - like some kind of grace had taken hold, as, when in high school, there were exceptional basketball games when I felt I could not miss - when I was in the flow, as we used to say. 

 The master key that creates rhythm, is, I think, when the dancer or basketball player, or for that matter, the teacher or artist, is, in a certain sense, no longer there - in the sense that he's no longer there as a hooting, hollering ego-maniac, but as a performer in whom something has given way or died - call it ego or self consciousness - that, as it expires, allows for the emergence of a rhythm creating energy.

 Otherwise, appearing obsessed, rather than centered, there is no captivating rhythm - only a sense of things as out of whack - of things colliding, collapsing, until finally landing with a thud.  

 Which means therefore that for rhythm to emerge in the dance class, (or anywhere,) the ego has to be sublimated. 

 The ego sufficiently harnessed, the dancer is then no longer trying to please or impress. No ego is on display. There is no self-conscious posturing. No self-attention maneuvering.

 Instead, a humble dancer leads the way, moving with awareness, ascending gradually into her own rhythmic center. Then, because of that, voila - magic! 

 When, in other words, the instructor is aligned with, and in accord with her own rhythmic hub, she then becomes so full and free that, she doesn’t even care to make a difference - to cause a sensation, or to create a stir.  

 Thus the magic of that particular Aerobics class, the sense of rhythm attained, was related to my success, at least for a little while, of not being there.

 But, there is a paradox here, for by not being there, I was actually more there, than I had ever been. 

 My sense is that I was able to be something of a rhythm creating presence  because of something that had happened earlier that day. I had resigned from World Health and Fitness! Somehow, the resignation had set me free.

 And so it was that, by being on my way out, I had become more radically in. My imminent absence enabled a greater presence. (The more absent, the more present.) 

 Thus on that final day, I wasn’t dancing fast and hard to get approval or recognition. I wasn’t, for example, striving for a pay increase, or concerned to secure more classes. I was just dancing.

 As my friend noticed, I was in rhythm and the effect was electric. (I would like to have more days like that.)

 I recall freely giving my all to the dance that day - resigned and fully immersed in the moment. So fully involved. So completely absorbed. But not out to impress or to dominate. I danced because I loved to dance.  

 And still do, though twenty years later, I’m not quite so bouncy. 

 Again, the master key for the creation of rhythm, is to get lost, to get out of the way, to get out of the picture. Not posing or strutting one's stuff. 

 And then, no longer there, there is movement without any goal or purpose. There's no stress about trying to accomplish anything. There is a sense rather of effortless effort.

 This is true, says Raimon Panikkar, about the form of Indian dance in south India, called the dance of bharatanatyam.

 The key factor, "above all," says Panikkar, is that the dancer "must be alone," or rather must be “all one.”  To be “all one” is to be unified, not inwardly divided.

 The dancer who engages in bharatanatyam performs alone and yet it becomes clear to the audience that she’s actually dancing with an invisible other. This is her god, Krishna. 

 So she’s alone, but not. By giving herself to the dance as a participant in the rhythm of Being, she creates a sense of union with the Divine in those who watch her.

 In fact, the measure of how well she dances is the degree to which the dancing is felt to be a revelation or manifestation of the Divine. At the dancer's best, she is an epiphany of the Divine.

 Otherwise, something is amiss. Something’s not right. Something is disrupting the possibility of rhythm.

 As Raimon Panikkar illustrates concerning the temple of Chidambaram in southern India. It is said that Shiva, through the form of Nataraja, performs there, the cosmic, universal, dance. 

 A legend recalls, however, the day when the Goddess Kali went to dance with Siva, but became conscious while dancing that "certain movements of her legs were not pleasing to her as a woman.” 

 That is, Kali became self conscious, worrying about her appearance. This broke the rhythm and killed the dance. Kali was then quickly ushered to the door and told not to come back.

 The emphasis here is that the attainment of rhythm is dependent upon the ability to transcend self consciousness so that the dance can be a "pure expressionan immaculate revelation.

 In like manner, explains Panikkar, "A monk, when truly absorbed in meditation, does not know he is praying." He’s in a state of prayer, rather than praying. 

 In a state of prayer, there is no self consciousness. Ego has dropped off.

 Being thus absorbed, one enters a state of pure rhythm, which teacher, Jac O’Keefe calls "a direct experience arising from your innate nature."  

 Now, to be in a state of rhythm, is to be fully present and undistracted.

 Which is to be, as Panikkar states in his masterpiece, The Rhythm of Being,  “not haunted by the past or worried about the future.”

 In such a state, you have forgiven everyone who has ever hurt you and forgiven yourself as well, for what you have done, and left undone.

  In such a state, you are no longer burdened by remorse or resentments.

   In such a state, you are enabled to “dance the dance of life with a light heart and unencumbered steps. (Panikkar, The Rhythm of Being, p. 38)

    In such a state, body, mind and spirit are in harmony.

      In such a state, I am listening to my body, listening to my mind and listening to the Spirit.

 All three of these dimensions need to be heard for there to be the fullest possible experience of the rhythm of Being.

 Sometimes it may be the case that the body gets a lop-sided, disproportionate attention. I used to wonder about, for example, the hulk wannabes at the gym, pumping iron while listening to heavy metal music. I wondered if any of these gorillas ever put anywhere near as much effort and energy into educating their minds and nurturing their souls.

 Perhaps later in the day these bulls studied Shakespeare and sat for meditation. If so, my hat’s off to them. 

 The problem I’m emphasizing here is when one dimension, in this case, the physical one, gets more attention than the others. 

 A fully rhythmic existence is only possible when all three dimensions are brought into accord with each other.

 Or, there could possibly be, secondly, a disproportionate attention upon the mind.

 Panikkar writes about the modernist euphoria over rationalism, which he is careful to distinguish from reason. 

 There are ways of using (abusing) our minds, he says, that "cause the atrophy of our third eye - the eye of faith."

 He’s suggesting that the mind will find its fullest expression by relaxing into a deeper intelligence than itself. 

 This is defined by Krishnamurti as a level of intelligence that is not satisfied "with explanations, or with conclusions.” 

 It’s a level of intelligence that is always in a state of inquiry - "watching, learning, and studying.” 

  An intelligence that listens completely. An intelligence that arises because your mind has become your "heart, your nerves and ears.

   The truly intelligent person is, according to Krishnamurti, someone who listens with his "whole attention.”  To be merely clever is a serious deficiency from this perspective.

 Thus there is something more than writing heady doctoral dissertions that only your mother will care to purchase, kept on a bookshelf somewhere, likely never to be read by her or anyone. 

 Then, thirdly, there can be a disproportionate attention given to Spirit by entering into what Panikkar calls "a mere unconscious ecstasy,” a state sometimes referred to by people like my dear wife, as all heavenly minded and no earthly good.

 No. Here, too, the focus on Spirit must be brought into harmony with body and mind in order for the possibility of the experience of rhythmic wholeness.

 It is when these three dimensions cohere, that rhythm results. Then we’re dancing. Then we’re free.

 Lord knows, the world needs more people who become aligned in this way.


Shanti, Jac O'Keeffe





 Heart Sutra, Jac O'Keefe