When I was a girl, taking refuge meant going out to the woods and climbing in under the fallen cedar tree. It was huge and full and difficult to crawl into. I had to maneuver just the right way to enter under the dome of needles. From within the branches I could peer out, feel safe in the knowledge that I could not be seen.
To some degree, working alone in the studio has been like that too for a long time. Whether dancing or drawing or constructing an environment, I could crawl deep into myself - alone in a space just for me - and see the world through whatever I'm creating. The studio, like that woodland hide-out, becomes a sanctuary. I ask my students to enter it with a kind of reverence too. Dance and art as a religion.
Lately the question of where I take refuge and what I consider religious has been present in a new way. Recent personal upheaval created a great opportunity for seeing what I tend to rely on, as opposed to what is actually reliable. Is being invisible a reliable way to be in the world? Can I rely on people to pay attention to me, literally depend on that attention as my vocation demands? What do I care about deeply enough to do it every day, even when I don't want to? At times I feel trapped between public and private, secret and exhibited. The idea of being invisible was a such a pivotal part of finding safety when I was younger. How did I of all people end up being a performer? And I'm also taking jukai vows next week. So there's that. Actually taking refuge and vowing to live the precepts. In front of people.
All the definitions of refuge I've read have in common a sense of safety and protection. But that really isn't how I feel in the studio these days or in the Three Treasures. What I'm beginning to feel is that there is nothing to be protected from. In finding a home in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha I feel extended rather than sheltered, contained, protected. The line between Me and Everything Else is constantly being eroded; no cedar branches or studio door to hide behind. And sometimes that really sucks.
It is so much easier to stay in bed in the early morning and not practice. So convenient to grab a cigarette to placate my discomforts instead of digging my heels in and just feeling what I feel. The paradox here is that even when it feels awful, extending myself in my practice and in my dancing feels more truly secure than hiding in solitude. True safety, a refuge, doesn't have to feel comfortable. That's what I'm learning.
So, with homage to the era of the hollow cedar and Men Without Hats, here's what I am calling the Safety Dance: practicing discomfort with less fear, truly taking refuge in that which we value the most, dancing deeply inside until we have danced ourselves to our outer limits.