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Planetary Dance – Three Visions

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Anna Halprin and I have worked together off and on since 1969. I came to her then fresh from the experience of helping organize large public demonstrations as part of the movement for peace and justice that flourished in the 1960s. I sought to learn the craft of dance for the benefits it gave me in my personal life and also so that I could apply it to the creation of more powerful and inspiring political actions. I offered her the opportunity to discuss the philosophy of her work, to collaborate in using her craft in the service of social transformation, and to engage in a meditation practice she found useful.

I did meditation sittings with Anna for many years. Typically, they took place at one of Anna’s favorite locations on the shoulder of Mt.Tamalpais, directly under the peak. In the sittings, we closed our eyes, paid attention to our whole bodies, and shifted into trance, waiting for the visions to come. What came were not visualizations. We did not will what we saw. Rather, they were more like waking dreams in which we saw events taking place with our inner vision and heard with our inner hearing.  It was our practice that, as the visions came, Anna told me what she saw and, shortly after, I wrote down what she told me.

Three visions stand out as being significant in providing inspiration and guidance in the evolution of the Planetary Dance.  Anna received the first vision during the time when she was leading the Search for Living Myths and Rituals workshop before the creation of In and On the Mountain. The second vision came just prior to making the decision to undertake Circle the Earth. The third vision happened shortly before the initiation of the Planetary Dance.

First Vision

We sat down, closed our eyes, relaxed, and Anna saw herself walking up a mountain along a steep path. She walked alone. When she got some distance up out of the trees, she encountered a fiercely hostile force in the form of a wind that pushed her off of the path and rolled her down a ravine. At the bottom of the ravine, she got up and tried to climb back to the path, but a strange, invisible but palpable force prevented her. She fell back and rolled down into the ravine again and again.

Finally, Anna decided to walk down the ravine. She saw herself walk through a landscape of startling beauty. Eventually she came to a great opening in the side of the mountain. She entered and walked down a long tunnel to what had to be the heart of the mountain. There she found many people dancing around a fire. The people welcomed her and she joined the dance.

As she danced the simple measured step, she found that she could see and feel a powerful presence emerging from the fire, shimmering, filling the cave. The presence became more and more powerful.

Then she knew that the time had come and she led the dancers out of the cave back to the path. Together they followed the path up through the trees, around the mountain, up to the place where she had fallen before. They came upon the angry wind that had pushed her down, but now, enveloped by the presence from the heart of the mountain, she led the people through. The wind had no more power over her.

They reached the summit of the mountain, amidst the great rocks, looking out over a vast and beautiful countryside, out to the ocean. They danced there, at the summit, the dance from the heart of the mountain, and the powerful presence from the heart of the mountain strengthened and spread out across the land.

Second Vision

When we closed our eyes, Anna saw a plain extending off to a great distance in every direction. In the distance she made out some sort of huge being walking toward her vantage point. When this great person-like creature arrived in front of her, it began a slow, stately dance.

Suddenly, another being appeared in the distance and approached. When the two creatures met, they grasped each other and began an almost cumbersome dance in a circle. They grasped each other and, surprisingly, the first creature began slowly, slowly to topple over. It finally crashed to the ground and broke apart into many, many individual-sized people.

As the second creature watched with approval, the people gathered and found a pole where the first creature had been. They picked up the pole and began a procession across the plain to a mountain in the distance. As they walked, the pole transformed into garbage – old parts of cars, trash, newspapers, pieces of lumber, broken pistols and rifles, scraps of clothing, partially eaten food.

As the group progressed, these parts and pieces fell off to either side of their path, leaving a trail that dissolved into the plain after they passed. Eventually, the people reached the mountain and climbed up to the peak. By then the pole and all of the trash were gone.

As the people danced, a pure, intensely powerful, brilliant silver light streamed out from the summit and flowed out and down all sides of the mountain, out over the land. At that same moment, where our bodies were sitting on the shoulder of the mountain, the extremely peaceful warm calm of the day was replaced by an actual, strong cool breeze that blew down off of Mt. Tamalpais and rustled the leaves of the trees all around us.

Third Vision

We closed our eyes, centered ourselves, and listened to the whistling wind blowing down the side of Mt. Tamalpais. We sat and waited. Finally, Anna said that she had heard a voice with her inner hearing saying, “Dance is the breath of life made visible.”

Anna became the rocks, the grasses, the trees, the winds, the birds and the air they rode. She became the mountain and, as the mountain, she saw the ocean rising, cresting, blowing in to her, crashing over her peak, waters flowing back, coming in again, wave after wave – the mountain and the sea at one in the great dance of the millennia. She felt wholly washed clean, purified, emptied, made ready for that which was to come.

Finally the waters calmed, and from their depths came a great whale, swimming up to touch against the land. There were people now on the mountain, and they greeted the whale, messenger of the deep places. The whale came close, and people crossed over onto the whale’s back, and Anna crossed over onto the whale’s back.

The people on the waters, riding the whale, sang in deep, peaceful union with the people on the mountain. The mountain and the waters and the land and the sky and the trees and the birds and the deer and the snakes and the fishes and the bushes and the little insects and the great animals all knew their places and rested easy, at peace, as one life, alive, clean, healthy, and well.

People carried the fire from the heart of the mountain to the beach, and the fire blazed up on the beach. Anna and the other people on the whale swam to many places while the people on the beach kept the fire burning. If Anna and the whale went too far, the fire would begin to die down and the whale would swim back. If Anna stayed too long at the beach, the fire would begin to leap up with too intensely dangerous a flame and the whale would swim away to another place.

At last the whale returned to the mountain and Anna knew that it was time to step off of the whale, back onto the mountain. She found herself at the peak in her vision and knew a peace and gratitude not realized before, but soon also she knew that she must leave.

Down she walked, wishing her good-byes and gratefulness to all she met. At the base of the mountain she found bits of the world she had left – the cars and noise and trash and danger. She entered this world without regret, for she knew in a way as never before that she would always be able to reach within herself to find that mountain and walk its summit and taste again that peace. 

Planetary Dance – A Philosophy