Alia Thabit Traditional and Avant-Garde Belly Dance

Review of Dunya’s Summer Movement Monastery

Coming at the end of a difficult year, the Summer Movement Monastery, shone like a precious jewel in my mind’s eye. It was my last chance at release and renewal. After the previous SMM, I hadn’t wanted to yell at anyone for a good month–this year I hoped for more.

Summer Movement Monastery (SMM) happens at Ravenrock.

That’s Dunya’s retreat on top a mesa in New Mexico. It’s nearest town in Las Vegas (not the one in Nevada). The air is dry. It rains for a while almost every day, often spectacular thunderstorms. But then the sun comes out again. It’s 7,000 feet up, wide open, flat, turfed with scrub and cactus punctuated by clumps of piñon pine and cedar.

There are sometimes bears on the mesa (we’ve never seen one), and rattlesnakes (seen several, though not this year). The steep road is a series of impossible switchbacks, some of them on bare rock. The earth is red clay, which turns to sucking mud after a rainstorm. Most cell phones work, somewhat, somewhere. There is no electricity, though there is a solar charger. There is a privy in a tent. We sleep in tents. There is cold running water, by virtue of hand cranked pumps, cached from the many rainstorms.

None of this matters.

The view off the rim matters.

The bones of the earth, jutting up from the red clay. The stillness. The light. The brilliant lichen clothing ancient stones. After dinner, we often gather on the porch and relax, laugh, watch the sunset, the stars. The stars at night are brilliant. It is always chilly after dark. At breakfast, which is silent, the sun warms us. Each day is a gift.

Arriving this year felt sweet, so sweet. The land is gracious, spacious, soothing, welcoming. I felt more grounded at once. Stepping into the studio–a red corrugated metal barn on the outside, a warm, secure space on the inside–felt like coming home.

Practice matters.

Every day, two sessions, several hours long. But they fly. I am a clock watcher. Not at SMM. It is always over sooner than I think. There are so many things. Following, Slow Movement, breath practices, chanting, various layers of attention to various body parts. Always marvelous music. Always the others, the group, engaged, present, peers. People who embrace this practice tend to be easygoing, smart, and fun. It’s a pleasure.

Dunya matters.

I’ve written about her before. You know the 90 Days is based upon her work. The work stands on its own, but Dunya’s decades of experience and deep understanding permeate everything here. It is her eye that chose this location, her power that invests it. When we did a modest fast, she knew simply by looking at our eyes if we should go another day or step out of it. She knows what she’s doing. It’s impressive, over and over again, to see her do it. She’s fresh from helping both parents move on from this earth, double hip replacements. This is a big deal, this SMM. She brought her A-game, speaking each morning with hair-raising clarity.

Her first commandment for the retreat was rest.

She read us this quote from the poet David Whyte that encapsulated our mission:

To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals.

To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets and shift the goal not to an inner static bulls eye, an imagined state of perfect stillness, but to an inner state of natural exchange.

The template of natural exchange is the breath, the autonomic giving and receiving which is the basis and the measure of life itself. … When we give and take in this easy foundational way we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested.

To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given. —David Whyte

For the first week I thought no thoughts and did as little as possible. We all have tasks to do each day, kitchen, privy, or space cleaning. We rotate through these details, a day or a few days on each. I did my tasks, ate simple food, practiced with the group for five hours each day, and took walks on the land. The rest of the time, I lay in a sun-dappled hammock amidst buzzing hummingbirds and read a marvelous 600+ page historical novel (Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen). It was exactly what I needed.

By the second week, I began to feel human again.

Like a normal person, with ideas, who could be silly, in a good mood. My body felt more cooperative. Though the weather was cold, rainy sometimes, my tent was dry, and the sun was out most of the time. The peace I feel in this place is unmatched in any other. Just sitting and staring off into the valleys, watching the colors shift, the far-off thunderstorms, seeing the sun play across the mesa feels profoundly worth while.

The work itself is deceptively challenging, but rewarding. Opening oneself to one’s inner workings is a messy business. It can engender tension and heaviness–contraction. This is mitigated by the quiet and grandeur of the land. Having a safe space to encounter difficulty helps bridge the process. Some days I felt withdrawn, even cranky. Others I felt happy and human. But the whole period is a process of becoming whole, of uncovering one’s true self.

Key concepts this year: Rest, Relaxation, Receiving, Reciprocity.

More about these in another newsletter.

I can’t remember how many SMMs I have attended. At least six. I keep coming back because there is nothing like it. Because I love how I feel, especially afterwards, so much more able to greet my life. So much more able to live in the moment. I always look better when I come home, and the benefits last a long time. I love the people, and I love the place. I’ll be there again this year. I hope you will check it out. Info is here: http://www.dancemeditation.org/movement-monastery/

Love,

Alia

PS If you’d like to sample something smaller, here’s Dunya’s events calendar: http://www.dancemeditation.org/events/

 

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