Julie Elliot – What makes dancing a spiritual practice and not just exercise?

Today I’m reflecting on the ways I experienced embodied prayer at the 3 residences of the Pacific Jubilee SoulGuiding program.  Each morning, we gathered in silence to wake-up with qigong, dancing the 5 rhythms (from Gabriel Roth’s work) and bibliodrama.  After breakfast, we continued to wake-up with singing and Gurdjieff movements.   How does moving our bodies connect us more deeply with ourselves, each other and the Holy One?  I’d like to share a painting next.  This is from a series I did in 2009, long before I knew anything about embodied prayer.  

Paintings 2009 008

To strive, to seek, to find   by Julie Elliot       Oil on panel       7 in x 5 in

I’m interpreting my painting in a new way now.  What I learned and experienced in Pacific Jubilee is quite obvious but important.  I live in a body.  I connect with the Divine in a particular way through my body; a way that isn’t accessible with my mind.  Also, there are things I cannot know except through the intelligence of my body or “moving centre”.  Next, I share an excerpt from Lois Huey-Heck’s book Going Beyond Words – Ten Practices for Spiritual Unfolding.  Lois is one of the program leadership team for Pacific Jubilee and she’s a remarkable teacher, writer, artist and inspiration for anyone who’s blessed to know her.

At our first session, my then-new spiritual director Carol asked about my spiritual practice.  I told her that my very best time for practice is early morning – before my monkey mind gets too revved up.  My favourite practice, I told her, is embodied prayer.  Embodied prayer can be mindful gestures, yoga, qigong, dance, or complex sacred movements.  When my prayers are expressed in and through my body I am more fully in the present moment, less distracted, and more whole.  Carol asked why the movement is so important to me.  I explained that I pray and meditate better when I remember that I live in a body, and when all of me is awake and present.
Carol persisted, “What makes the dancing a spiritual practice and not just exercise?”
Such a good question!
        “It’s the quality of presence,” I answered.  “It’s about my intention to be present to the moment itself, to my own body and the experience, and thereby to be as fully present to the Beloved as possible … I choose to breathe and centre and come back to the here and now.  It’s a practice in and of itself, and I watch my attention (as best I can) not only in focused times of spiritual practice but also during spiritual accompaniment, soulfriending, and “casual” conversation, and while working, leading a group, painting, writing, driving …”

I live in my body.  I am present.  Now is the time.  Here is the place.  This is the work of the Pacific Jubilee Program.