Many years ago, I learned from Stephen Gilligan, an Ericksonian hypnotherapist, that our bodies must have trance (i.e. altered state) experiences, and that if we do not get that trance in healthy ways such as through meditation, singing, guided imagery, gardening, drawing, etc, we will create it through unhealthy behaviors such as obsessive thinking, compulsions, and addictions.
In an altered state experience, our minds become significantly slower than in our normal state and we are much more in the moment. As humans, our most powerful insights usually occur, not when we are thinking about them, but when our minds are silent. Creativity is the same in that art, inventions, and scientific inspirations so often emerge during times of stillness.
I will share two experiences where new forms of self-expression were birthed in this way for me.
Devotees at Amma’s (Mata Amritanandamayi) ashram started making Amma dolls in 1993. In 1994, I began to help by sewing doll clothes. In January of 1998, I learned that a German woman had created the first tiny Amma doll. I was asked to start crafting these as well
I loved making the dolls, and worked on them during any spare time I had once I returned to Seattle. In 1999, the thought of creating a tiny Kali doll popped into my head. I could “see” what it would look like and how to do it. I made one and took it to show Amma when I went to India that fall. She loved it, so I started sewing tiny Kali dolls as well. Then in 2000, I made my first tiny Krishna. Later that year, I added tiny Devi, Shiva and Hanuman dolls to the collection and still later came Ganesh. Almost all of those ideas “came” to me when I was sewing the dolls, times when my mind was reasonably still.
In 2006 or so, I saw a group of children from Miracle Temple Church of God in Christ perform sign language to a beautiful Gospel song called “I Need You to Survive” by Hezekiah Walker. (The video below contains both the song and the lyrics.)
During my high school years, I had been part of a rhythmic choir. Rhythmic choirs, at least at that time, perform their dances in a very slow, rhythmical way. I loved being part of that choir and had yearned to do something similar in my adult life.
Ever since I had seen the children do the sign language performance, I had wanted to put a together a group to perform a rhythmic choir style dance at one of Amma’s retreats. I wanted the dance to also include sign language. (Before I go on, I should mention that I am NOT a dancer!)
I postponed my dream for the first two years because I was the coordinator for Amma’s Pacific Northwest tour and there was no way I could add coordinating a dance to my responsibilities. In 2010, I was determined to do it. I easily found three people to help with the sign language, the dance choreography and in forming a singing team. Soon thereafter, however, all three let me know that they had changed their minds.
I went to Amma’s India ashram in August of 2010, determined to start doing spiritual practices such as meditation. I’ve always known it was important for me to do those practices, but I have been very resistant and filled my life with service work instead. That year at the ashram, I decided to make a cheeky deal with Spirit. I said, “If you want me to go to archana (morning prayers consisting, in part, of chanting the Lalita Sahasranama, 1000 characteristics of the Divine Mother) at 4:50 a.m.every morning then what I want is 1) for you to wake me up every day, 2) for you to keep me from nodding off during the archana, and 3) to prove to me it is worth my while to do that form of spiritual practice.”
Interestingly enough, I woke up in time to go to archana every day and I never started nodding off during it. Even more surprisingly, during the first and second mornings I went, almost all of the choreography for the dance came into my mind. That certainly got my attention! I could no longer deny that it was very worthwhile for me to go to the morning prayers.
Throughout the rest of my visit, mostly during the archana, refinements for the dance entered my mind unbidden. It also occurred to me during those times, that the sign language for the song was probably on the internet (and it was) and that we didn’t need singers because Hezekiah Walker’s version was awesome and couldn’t be matched. We would just sing along with him.
I practiced the dance in my room for the remainder of the time I was in India. One day, I noticed that I was really taking in the song’s messages, i.e. I was much more aware of my thoughts, feelings, actions and attitudes towards others.
When I returned to Seattle, I found that my friend who knew sign language was more than willing to work on the dance with me since the sign language material I had found on the internet was so helpful…. and the person who knew dance choreography was eager to help me refine the dance.
Next, I asked people in Amma’s groups throughout the Northwest to participate. Before long more than 60 people had joined the project! I traveled to Bellingham,WA, Eugene, OR and Vancouver and Victoria BC to teach the dance. Those from Tacoma, Olympia and Bellevue, WA came to Seattle to practice. Once they had learned the dance, the groups continued to practice in their home towns.
One person wrote me:
I can’t tell you how amazing this experience is for me! That beautiful song is going on non-stop inside of me, even while I sleep, and it is such a comfort. I find myself visualizing the moves several times a day – so beautiful! I’ve been feeling kind of “lost in the desert” lately, and this has made me feel so much closer to Amma.
In May of 2011, we sang, signed and danced for Amma and the other retreat attendees. I believe it was a very powerful experience for everyone regardless of whether they were part of the dance or simply watched. As I danced, I saw tears streaming down people’s faces as they sat mesmerized.
To me this project was such an incredible example of what can happen when the mind is silent. In this case, the morning prayers took me into an altered state of consciousness, and my mind silenced enough for Spirit to come in and make this magic possible for all of us.
Below are pictures and a 20 second clip from the performance. Enjoy!