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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Dance

Moving to the Rhythms of Your True Self

by Oriah Mountain Dreamer


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The Dance

Moving to the Rhythms of Your True Self

by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Review posted November 26, 2012.
HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. 184 pages.

This book is definitely on the New Agey side, but it does offer some wisdom and inspiration. I like thinking of life as a Dance, and that's the image used throughout the book.

I think I'll simply give you some examples of quotations from the book that touched me. If these sound uplifting to you, you'll find more encouragement where these came from.

First, here's a quotation that's also on the cover:

The question is not why are we so infrequently the people we really want to be. The question is why do we so infrequently want to be the people we really are.

Some other quotations from different parts of the book:

Finding and voicing our soul's longing is not enough. Our ability to live in a way that is consistent with our longing -- our ability to dance -- is dependent upon what we believe we must do. If our intention is to change who we essentially are, we will fail. If our intention is to become who we essentially are, we cannot help but live true to the deepest longings of our soul.

Despite the fact that endless trying isn't working, it's what I know. It's hard to believe that I can be enough as I am. I want to be more -- more compassionate, more present, more conscious and aware, more loved and loving, more intimate with myself and the world. I want to know how to be different -- better -- than I am. Even though I have failed to consistently live my deepest desires and am exhausted by the endless effort to become who I think I will have to be to live these desires, I resist letting go of the trying. I trust my ability to work hard. I have no experience with or faith in my ability to simply be.

As compassionate beings, we have the ability to hold all aspects of ourselves and the world in our hearts, including those aspects that are annoying, dangerous, malicious, and just downright unlikable. But we have to be willing to do the work of finding out how to do this, honestly observing our own internal and external actions and reactions and learning from each instance how to expand our ability to live the compassion we are.

Think of all the places where you separate yourself from others, distinguishing between "us" and "them." The minute we do this we are building our sense of self, not on what we truly are, but on trying to feel better than others because we fear we are not enough. I watch myself do this all the time. And if I watch with honesty and compassion, I find a way to make being right an unnecessary prerequisite for being happy.

Lately, when I do my daily practice I find myself praying to live gracefully. I have a very particular feeling in my body when I remember or imagine a graceful day. It is a day without rush, a day where I am not suffering over things not being any differenct than they are, a day when I take a breath and accept those things I cannot change, like long lineups in the bank or traffic jams or the weather. It's a day when I rest easy in a mysterious knowing that there is enough -- enough time and money and energy and heart in the world and in my life, a day when I know that I am enough. It is a day when I am simply present with myself and all that is around me. It is a day of being truly happy, of feeling graceful -- comfortable in my own skin and life. . . .

To dance, to move gracefully, to receive the grace-filled moments everyday, we have to know that we are worthy not because of our hard work or our suffering or our eagerness to be other than we are; we are worthy by our very nature -- the same nature that creates and sustains all that is. When we know this we are able to answer the question "Are you willing to be happy?" with a quiet but confident, "Yes."

A life where there is love is often messy. Life without love is neater, but neatness is really preferable only in bathrooms and written reports. Dancing alone is often easier and certainly less complicated than dancing with someone else, but there is nothing quite so satisfying as creating even one moment of real beauty moving gracefully with another. Perhaps to find this beauty more often, these moments of moving in exquisite alignment with each other and with the music that guides us, we need to let go of our ideas of what the dance should look like and let the messiness of love guide us.

It is life that teaches us about our incredible capacity to be compassionate, to be with what is, to love ourselves and each other and the world. And for most of us, most of the time it does not happen in the grand causes and revolutionary changes. It happens in the small things, in our human struggles in relationship. As we learn to trust our essentially compassionate nature and our capacity to love, we do not have to guard against this love; we know we can keep the boundaries that help us live side by side, and we know that we truly never stop loving, however silently, those we once loved out loud. And we are renewed by the wonder of how love carries us beyond where we thought we could go.

Sometimes I think there are only two instructions we need to follow to develop and deepen our spiritual life: slow down and let go.

Letting go necessitates being with the fear that comes when we become aware that all that we love in the world -- our very life itself -- is impermanent. It can bring tremendous relief and rest to let go where we are trying to hold on, trying to keep the same those things which by their very nature are constantly changing. This does not mean loving life and the world any less fiercely. Loving well and living fully are not the same as holding on.

And finally:

You cannot speed up your efforts to create a life that is slower paced any more than you can successfully fight for peace.

With a book like this, much depends on if you read it when you most need it. Reading it didn't rock my world, but it did warmly bless my life.