March Madness - Ecstatic Dance at Spokane Yoga Shala - Saturday, March 21st
At least in the country where I live, March is perenially marked by Madness, the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, when 64 teams play consecutive rounds to determine a single champion. We are caught up and carried in the grip of this madness, and it is a real marker of our collective experience and culture. What an incredible dance the game of basketball is! Many of us are captivated by what we can receive, yet our participation is limited, and like with so many of our collective rituals, we participate passively, absorbing the physicality of the competition through our virtual medium of television. So, in my thoughts about what ecstatic dance is, what it means to me, I've been thinking about the relationship between ecstasy and madness, crazy wisdom, and inspiration.
At the same time, we mark in March the Spring Equinox, the earthly moment of equipoise. This is a moment of grace on the planet, a moment of balance between the face of the Sun and the face of the Earth, yielding equal lengths of night and day. We celebrate equilibrium, and the eternal return. In the Christian calendar, the equinox is marked by Lady Day, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Annunciation means the event of the angel Gabriel's visitation and announcement to Mary that she will bear the incarnation of Christ. In Wicca, the equinox is celebrated by Ostara, who is personified as the Goddess of the Dawn, and also marks the reunion of the Goddess and her lover-son, the Horned God. In the Medicine Wheel, the eastern direction reveals the Morning Star Lady, who heralds the sign of first light, the coming of the sun, beginnings, illumination, and clarity .
The word equanimity describes a peace of mind and abiding calmness that cannot be shaken. In my imagination, the Equinox represents the Earth and Sun in equanimity. Equanimity is one of the cardinal virtues, described as the state of living in complete harmony with our environment.
Then, there is madness. In Phaedrus, one of Plato's Dialogues, Socrates makes the distinction between two types of madness: mental illness, based upon a physical imbalance, and divine madness, or "theia mania," the enthusiastic state of "being-beside-oneself," which is a gift of the gods. Socrates describes four types of divine madness: the possession of prophecy (Delphi), the possession of trance (Dionysus), the possession of inspiration (poetry), and the possession of love (Aphrodite). In his proof of the divine origin of love, he develops a proof for the soul's immortality, discusses reincarnation, and the force and power of love. He speaks personally of his own daimon, or "divine something" that acts as a messenger of the divine, warning him when he is about to do wrong. Socrates says, "In reality, our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness, which indeed is a divine gift."
Ovid tells us that Dionysus, the god of ecstatic dance, traveled to the Mediterranean and the land of the Greeks, from India. In the East, the tradition of crazy wisdom runs deeply through Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Zen. The roots of divine madness are derived from shamanic experience, and the experiential understanding of the non-duality of existence. That experience is the bhakti way, the way of love, devotion, and surrender to the Divine. Ecstatic Dance is a form of bhakti yoga, a meditation on Lila, which can be translated as the playground of the gods.
The breath of the god, "inspiration," transforms us. Through the breath, the movement of our soul, we are the embodiment of the divine. The in-breath informs us of the possibility of union. When we dance, we can feel this possibility. It is a moment of equipoise. Ecstatic Dance, in its many forms, contains the practice of opening ourselves to the crazy wisdom of our bodies, so that we may experience the harmony of who we really are.