The third incarnation of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche died in a car crash in 1992. He was only 38. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak, during his lifetime. This was in the 70s. Rinpoche was a vigorous, warm speaker, young but clear and precise. During the question time after the lecture, someone asked him to talk about the difference between Hope and Prayer.
His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Third, Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge (Click here for some of his teaching).
Prayer, he said, is strong, filled with intention and energy.
Hope, however, is a weak passive thing. There is no action in hope—it is a wish without substance. But Prayer—prayer gets things done.
Rinpoche did not mean personal goods or recognition. He meant to benefit all sentient beings.
This is the only thing I remember from that lecture so long ago. It drove home to me the power of intention, of directed energy. I am not particularly religious, but prayer, to me, has great power. I do associate it with protective entities, in that I visualize their intercession and assistance as part of the package.
For example, when my kids were out late and I worried about them, imagining all sorts of terrible things, I chose instead to put out protective energy, to envision them safe and sound, in the embrace of protectors, in a glow of love. It gives me a sense of purpose, of action. Any time I find myself worrying about someone, or something, I do this.
I view this dance practice much like prayer.
Not in a religious way, but as filled with intention and energy. It gets things done. Not physical things like a million dollars or a nice big house (nam myoho renge kyo, anyone?). More like things that are not things—healing, connection, and joy.
I have a mission.
Awaken people to their own beauty and power
Enable them to express their unique individuality through art
Bring honor and appreciation to belly dance
Enjoy a life of creativity, adventure, mystery, abundance, and ease
Cultivate a radiant oasis of warmth and delight
Everything I do has this intention. It’s not just for me, but it is partly for me, so that I can do the other things. A leader is not a boss. A boss tells people what to do. A leader goes first, so that others see what can be done. A leader gives permission through their own actions.
When my ex was going to Alcoholics Anonymous, I was struck by the way they counted days of sobriety. If you fell off the wagon, you started over. Back to Day 1. That seemed rather harsh to me, that ten years of sobriety was out the window after a single beer. It took a while, but I got it:
Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Not like it votes for Bernie Sanders, either. In this case, it means that even when one does not drink, the disease progresses. If you stop drinking for ten years and then start again, you’re as bad off as if you never stopped. And one beer increases the likelihood that next there will be two beers, and then… So they want people to stay sober, since backsliding can be disastrous.
Dance practice is different.
Habit does have a lot to do with it, and not practicing today may make us less likely to practice tomorrow, but it’s not a life or death thing. Still, folks manage to make it a chore, and to beat themselves up if they miss a day. Many of us are so hard on ourselves, we take any opportunity to tear ourselves down. This is not cool.
All of us are at a different stage in our development. We are in a progression of healing and becoming (unlike alcoholism’s decline) Part of health for us is the development of self-compassion, of self love. We’re not all ready to to do this every day. And that’s okay.
Part of our practice is the development of self-compassion.
This brings me to this book presentation I attended a while back.
I loved the author—tall, skinny, gray pony tail, plaid shirt and blue jeans. Diffident, sweet, and brilliant. The presentation was during my nap time, and I was falling asleep at the beginning, but once he got going, I snapped to attention and listened in awe. I’m glad I went with friends, as all of us were equally blown away.
It was a long talk, extremely well-designed and beautiful organized. Even though I took (terribly tilted) pictures of many of his slides, I can’t begin to recreate its complexity.
The book’s premise is that our sense of God stems from an “innate neonatal model” of—Mommy.
Yes, this is genetic. This is the God is Love side. Mommy is always there. She loves us. She protects us. If we call her, she is there for us. As God is believed to be. The devotion to Mommy (or whatever caregiver), is innate, so it doesn’t make a difference if we had neglectful or absent caregivers; we still have this yearning for Her unconditional love and acceptance.
The OTHER side of God, the punishing, judgmental side, is the Social manifestation of God. God in the image of man, demanding obedience, sacrifice, atonement, etc. This one is a social construct—it is learned. The Love side is innate—we are born with it. Nature (Love) vs “Nurture” (Social), so to speak.
I’m having a hard time writing about this because it is so huge.
Here’s a (badly tilted) slide that looks at the social vs neonatal faces of God
Please note that when I say religion or religious I do not mean Christianity, but religion/spirit in a general way. Spirituality is important to me (or whatever I can call it without pushing new Age buttons). And apparently to women in general. This is one of the puzzles of religion.
Worldwide, women are more religious than men.
Wathey suggests that if the true root of our spiritual longing (our wish for the Beloved, in Sufi terms), is a wish for Mother, that it may help explain women’s religious leanings. Women give birth, so they have innate protective impulses.
I do not suggest that women are innately better suited to clean a house, wear a dress, or bat their eyelashes. Gendered behavior is a social construct—something we learn (like the angry God of righteousness). Men and women both can be excellent (or terrible) caregivers. But in animals that care for their young, particularly those in which mothers feed their young from their own bodies, there is instinctive behavior that feeds, that protects, etc (or woe betide the babies). It complements the neonatal impulse towards the mother.
Gerda Lerner suggests that, in part, the rise in patriarchy came as folks figured out the babies didn’t just magically appear—that it takes two to tango, as it were. And then all that righteousness took center stage, and women were reduced to breeding, housekeeping, and childcare (don’t get me started on this…).
Anyway, here’s my point.
We’ve all internalized a lot of angry righteousness.
We apply it to ourselves indiscriminately. This is the tearing ourselves down for every perceived error. Yet Buddhists, who believe in reincarnation, say that we have all been each others’ mother or child in one life or another—that we must look at each person with the love that we have for our own mother.
My mother’s relationship with her mother was not so warm. She preferred to view each person as her own child (she liked us ; ). Another friend reimagined her entire childhood, giving herself loving parents who were there for her and cared for her. We Westerners, with our complex, difficult family relationships, may find these approaches helpful. But I’ll go a step further.
Last week we talked about feeling safe. What, I ask you, is the deepest root of feeling safe, if not the love of a parent? Even if we had sh*t parents, we still yearn for that love.
I suggest that we give ourselves that mother love.
That we give to ourselves the caring, love, and compassion for which our biology has prepared us. That we provide the loving protection, the comfort that we needed in the past and did not get. Our own mothers may have been wonderful—or not. That’s not the point. The point is that we have been encouraged by society to judge ourselves and find ourselves wanting—we can balance that with self-compassion and care.
How do we do that? Hold ourselves close and send ourselves love. Cuddle that difficult inner child. Tell her you love her. Remember when she didn’t get the love and protection she needed. Be there for her now. Just love her. Tell her you are there for her forever more. Mean it.
So that’s why I say props to you no matter what. Because you, me, all of us, as human beings, are worthy of love and care.
This weekend, April 27: Aisha Ali in Vermont!This is a RARE event! Asha Ali did field work back in the 1970s with the Ghawazee in Egypt and the Ouled Nail in Algeria (at great personal risk). She is an excellent teacher and the real deal. There are a few spots left–if you can make it, this is HIGHLY recommended:
Saturday, May 18th: Boston area folks–Soumaya MaRose’s 7th “Thé à l’Oriental” with Tamalyn Dallal and Amar Gamal Garcia, and features a traditional Moroccan Iftar fest. Soumaya is a brilliant Moroccan Oriental dancer, and she does things right. This is a do-not-miss if you are in the area.
Saturday-Sunday, June 8-9:Cassandra Shore in midcoast Maine. Cassandra is exceptional. I can only remember one time she was in New England–and that was decades ago. Do not miss! Hosted by Kay Hardy Campbell, so you know it will be good.
Sunday, July 14: I’ll be teaching improv and group composition in Northampton MA (and performing that night at Cairo Cab). Limited space!, Registration is now open.