Two years ago I was the officiant at Thaemos and Jami’s beautiful autumn wedding, a role which I was honored to play. It was a gorgeous hot day and we made the magic happen. Lo and behold, they were hitched!
Last weekend I was given the most amazing thank you gift. I went with two dear friends (and met a third there) for weekend at Esalen Institute in Big Sur.
We participated in a 10-hour workshop led by Banafsheh Sayyad, MFA, LAc, a Persian sacred dance artist and transformational teacher, and Safron Rossi, PhD, who teaches mythology and depth psychology at Pacifica Institute and is curator of collections at Opus Archives. Safron recently edited a collection of Joseph Campbell’s writings and lectures on goddesses.
“Transformation of consciousness is a key to navigating the chaos of our world, both personally and collectively. Hidden in the wisdom of the great goddesses of world mythologies is the seed for this transformative potential. What does it feel like to embody mythic consciousness? Tap into the archetypal energy core of the great myths through dance and myth-telling, and experience the transformative power of the feminine. Women and men both need to cultivate an intimate relationship with the feminine divine, and dance is one of the most direct ways to experience her energy and embody her wisdom.
“Join Banafsheh, Safron and musician Tony Khalife in a weaving of mythic storytelling, images, reflective writing, Dance of Oneness®, and live music. Invoke, explore, and embody the goddesses Sophia from alchemical and mystical traditions of the East and Christianity, the Sumerian-Babylonian Inanna, and the Greek Aphrodite. Dance of Oneness®, the conscious movement practice and philosophy designed by Banafsheh, supports living your fullest potential through loving your body and your Self, and living as a Lover. Guided movement and dance technique serve to ignite your unique expression of dance. Open to everyone. The workshop includes ceremony and ecstatic dance celebration.”
Doesn’t that sound delicious? I can assure you, it absolutely was! We explored so many juicy questions in examining the myths and images of Inanna, Aphrodite, and Sophia. Diving into that goddess mythology and imagery again felt wonderful; it’s been quite a few years since that stuff was part of my daily life. It was like meeting an old friend again and getting the most comforting warm hug.
These are some of the ideas we explored: After hearing the myth of Inanna’s descent into the underword, we were asked: What are you willing to let die, to sacrifice, to make room to birth something new? What is trying to be renewed? What part of you yearns for rebirth, transformation, or transmutation? What needs to be born?
Innana’s descent brings to mind the shedding of layers or masks, the sacrifice of our identifying symbols, or even the sacrifice of self or self-concept. In the darkness lies an opportunity, a seed. It holds the possibility of the excavation of oneself. Janelle said “composting.” Let die to be reborn; within the dank earth the seed can germinate.
Banafsheh taught us the basics of Sufi sacred dancing. For something like 45 minutes we whiled like dervishes, spinning fast or slow, unwinding into a quiet, listening place. What goddess is whispering to you? When you dance what goddess is dancing in you?
I learned the Arabic word for womb is rahim. Banafsheh said it also means mercy and compassion. This was an important moment for me, it cracked my heart wide open. We played with our womb energy and moved it through our hearths and out in the world through our expressive dancing. My womb energy is my caretaking, interconnected, merciful, loving, compassionate source. It’s both suffering and birthing, of my self, of love, of child of light, of the world. I was inspired that maybe I could say rahim instead of amen.
We also covered Aphrodite, a goddess I have always been tuned to, and especially her connection with rapture, that force which longs to join, to unite, with the beloved. She is playful. Curious. Elemental, born out of conjoining of earth, sky, and ocean. Birthed in sea foam. Aphrodite is lusty, earthy, but also atmospheric, ethereal, light, airy, flighty. A dove is one of her symbols. She is luscious, unapologetically sensual. Yet even Aphrodite must be by herself a while, regularly, and renew her virginity, to go within and renew herself. Replenish. The goddess, the divine feminine, is a vessel of love, energy, rhythms, and compassion that is constantly pouring out into the world and welling up within us to be poured out again. We have to refill our personal vessels sometimes. Esalen is Jami’s place of replenishment, revirginificaton. Where is mine? I wonderd. How can I get there more?
We also touched a little on Sophia, the goddess of the world’s wisdom, God’s companion, adviser. She appears in Jewish, Persian, Gnostic tradition. She is the soul of the world. I would like to study Sophia more. We didn’t have enough time with her.
During the workshop we danced and danced. We met women from Iran, Indonesia, Wales (via Fiji), and many parts of the US. We co-created a transformative space, where we were safe, able to move and express ourselves, able to weep or vocalize or whatever. The environment was made magical by Tony’s music. All the dancing was to live music. Such a gift he has, weaving story and voice, drums, guitar, and other instruments I didn’t know the names of. He was delightful too.
So will our delightful leaders and a group of participants who were inspiring and courageous, we made some serious magic by the sea. We women wove our dance together and the goddesses moved through us. And it was a rare and wonderful treat to see Jeena for a whole weekend!
I will refrain from waxing poetic about the baths. Suffice to say, rahim!
And then it was done. We felt full and tired, energized and awake. I think we each came away with a lot to think about. I felt more in touch with a part of me than I had for a long time. I have in the past been cautious about revealing my own spirituality here. But this is too important to be quiet about.
On the way home, we stopped to touch the ocean, bathed our eyes, lips, hearts, bellies in sea foam, and found red rose petals scattered on the sand, one for each of us. Thank you, Aphrodite.
My heart is full of gratitude. So to Jami, who made this happen. Thank you!
Here’s a flashback: On the way down to Esalen, we stopped at Point Lobos and did a teeny-tiny hike. It was so amazing to be back at the sea again. I’ve included shots here because it was so completely beautiful.