Last Saturday night, I went with my friend Christine to a dance event that another friend had recommended to me. I knew about ten people there, but I was mostly surrounded by people I didn’t know – three or four hundred of them. Many of the women seemed attractive and many of the guys seemed interesting also, but I soon realized that I am spoiled by the dance parties that I more usually go to, with their values of “intentionality”, “community”, “spirituality”, and “ceremony”. As this party, smiling and saying “hi” and asking people about themselves didn’t seem to open much up. Perhaps part of it was that many of them were probably ten or fifteen years younger than me, but it had me realize something about openness and heart that I take for granted in the dance events that I usually go to.
Before the party, I had had a great dinner conversation with Christine, and was enjoying the pleasant effects of caffeine and alcohol. I was in an up mood, and my mind was flowing along like a bubbling brook, relatively smoothly. As I said, I didn’t feel at home with the party people, but I did have fun chatting, dancing, and joking around with Christine and the rest of the people I knew at the party. I danced a little to some unremarkable DJ music, and made a mask in the huge, impressive crafts area that the party creators had set up (featuring pre-made paper mache masks, paints, glitter, glue, feathers, beads, pom-poms, etc).
By two am, however, I was sober and caffeine-crashed, and my feet and body hurt, and I had not seen Christine (who drove us there) in two unpleasant full-venue searches. I was ready to go home, and was getting more and more cranky, collapsing-inwardly, and colicky about still being there. I started having negative feelings towards the cold people around me for not loving me, the people who created the event for being un-heart-felt, Christine and all of my friends at the party for being unlocatable. I was feeling a full brace of my mind’s habitual and deeply-grooved ways of closing and resenting, dating from being about five.
I examined my options. I didn’t want to walk twenty blocks and leave Christine there without checking in with her, so just up and leaving was not a good idea. So, I decided the best option was to get on the dance floor. At first, my feet hurt, my muscles felt heavy, I felt self-conscious, old, and unfashionable, and wanted to be elsewhere. And then I thought of my recent spiritual practice of intentionally generating gratitude. I realized what a blessing it is to be have hours free to be able to wander around the city, spending money on crepes and wine and a dance party, to hang out with beautiful people, dance, and come to a party that people worked to set up for me. It may be a life many people on the planet would die for. And I also realized that I had just been listening to an audio tape about how an assessment of “tiredness” is always a choice, not to mention “bad”, and realized that I didn’t have to have the grumpy experience my habitual karma was laying out for me.
So, as I semi-danced, I started to work with a mantra/affirmation practice. I started mentally repeating the mantra “May all beings be happy, who am I?, may all beings be happy, who am I?, may all beings be happy, who am I?”. Over and over, I subvocalized those two phrases. And I have found that mantras work best when anchored with something physical, like the breath, so, with ten-foot tall speaker stacks all around me, I chose to intend to rest my awareness on feeling the bass (drum kick and bassline) in my abdomen.
Over and over, my mind wandered. I found that I got caught on my usual concerns about my life (money, career/purpose, dating), on reaching out to energetically engage with many females I found attractive around me, on having opinions about the party and the music, and on thoughts about tiredness, what time it was, and how mr uch I had to do the next day. I kept bringing my attention back to my mantras and my bass-awareness. My attention kept wandering, and I would feel constriction and suffering, and I kept bringing it back to my practice, “May all beings be happy, who am I?” being grounded in feeling the bass in my abdomen, and I felt release and flow.
Then the DJ changed, and starting playing a startlingly pleasant set of dance music. With the “May all beings be happy” part of the mantra, I emanated well-being and expansion out of my heart. I felt billowing waves of warmth and energy emanate off of me, out to the people dancing around me, out to everyone I knew at the party, out to everyone in the venue, out to everyone in the city, out to every being on the planet. I noticed my heart get stuck and want to close as I concentrated on emanating out to some of the people dancing around me, for example an attractive woman who didn’t look at me, and especially the dodgy-looking guy she didn’t seem to know well but was dancing with anyway. “It’s not right, it’s not fair”, I thought. My heart also got blocked thinking about my ex out there in the city somewhere, and also a few times blocked wishing happiness for myself. But, with a full heart racing, I dissolved into and through those blocks and other ones, and I wished happiness to all people and all beings, the girl, the dodgy guy, my recent ex, everyone. My shirt and face were soaked with sweat, my heart felt full and interconnected, and I felt radiant energy shooting up my spine and out of all of my pores. Over and over – “May all beings be happy”.
With the “Who am I?” part of the mantra, I dissolved whatever felt solid in me. I noticed all the definitions of self that my mind kept coming up with – some of them superior to the people around me, some inferior to the people around me, many neither. As my defining mind did its thing, I felt the heaviness tired constrainedness of those definitions – “I’m this kind of person, and that fact means that”. As they came up and I got caught by them, I kept asking “Who am I?” – i.e, “who is the I that believes this?”, “is this definition of self who *I* am?”. As I mantra-ed, I felt less like a thirty-five-year old white smart guy with earrings and a blue shirt on, and more like energy energy energy always dynamic energy, beyond and through all words and definitions, an action of the whole energy everywhere and yet also a contained and very specific manifestation of the whole moving within the space of one human. Over and over – “Who am I?”.
With all that flowing energy, the bass-abdomen-awareness brought a grounded feeling of the big planet under me, which brought a feeling of wicked funkiness and savage activated animalness. The more I felt the music in my gut, the more my feet and legs moved on their own in raw dance patterns that were funkier than I normally know how to do. I had the thought that the massive musical vibrations in the air around me were dancing themselves through me.
During that time, with each little energetic engagement that I felt with the intense people around me, I noticed that I wasn’t reaching out in want and desire or pull back in fear. I looked at people and/or they looked at me, and I felt them and/or they felt me, and I had a relatively complete experience that was exactly what it was for as long as it was, no more and no less. The wild-eyed shirtless dude running around the dance floor, the hippie chick with the beautiful halo of dreads and flowers in her own world – I felt peaceful with everyone. I didn’t want approval, connection, a fun conversation, or anything more than what was happening, and I felt free of any fear of attack or rejection or anything that would have me pull back either. There was just peace in motion in a big open space.
I was in a realm of timelessness, it was just right now, right now, another right now. The trance was deep, my dancing was animal and energetic, one hour flowed into the next without any break. Finally the DJ played one of my favorite dance songs, and I felt an incredibly euphoric deep billowing bliss.
Twenty minutes later, I started again getting really physically tired and collapsey, and being really ready to go. I didn’t try spiritual practice with it that time. As I ambled about, looking for Christine again, I was pleased to bump into my housemate and her best friend, who it turns out had been there the whole time. Christine soon materialized, all beaming from having had a breakthrough multi-hour human connection with someone from her workplace, something she said was “big” for her. I felt happy to see her, and glad that she had had a breakthrough. After I semi-fell asleep on a bench, we made our way up the steps and out the front door. As we drove away, the barest first rays of the morning sun poked up over the Eastern horizon.
In alternative communities in the Bay Area, I have for years heard talk of “spiritual experiences on the dance floor”. I generally have felt that the meditation hall, yoga studio, therapist’s office, or personal growth course room are places of religious practice, where you do the soul work of splitting yourself open, and that the dance floor is a place to be slack, let go, and have fun. Also, I usually try to stay away from a model of “meditation” or “spirituality” that are about intense, fantastic, mind-blowing experiences – I hold spirituality as more about daily life, daily practice, and years of commitment. But – all that said – looks like I had a spiritual experience on the dance floor last weekend. I am glad that I did, and have enjoyed writing about it. Thanks for reading about my experience.