How I Learned to Whirl
Whirling came to me in a slow, beautiful way over many years. When I first discovered whirling, it was very mystical to me. I was attracted to the beautiful skirts, hats, and peaceful faces of the whirlers I'd observed at my local meditation center.
I would watch them, fascinated, and eventually, I tried to whirl. When I discovered whirling, I was very young, and at the time, there were no formal teachers I knew of, so I learned through experience. I also had five unexpected teachers along the way.
Whirling Teacher #1: The Stranger
My first teacher was an elderly man who had watched me repeatedly spin and fall in my attempts to whirl. He approached and said, "Whirling is not about spinning fast, falling, spinning fast, falling — it's about being very slow and steady and seeing how your body will transform into stillness. While on the outside, the whirling happens, on the inside, you are so still."
He was the first to point out if I didn't align to the stillness inside of myself, I would not be able to whirl. Until then, I didn't know about the meditation aspect of whirling. He suggested I read Osho and the Sufi mystic Rumi to learn about whirling. I don't know his name and never saw him again after that, but I think of him as my first teacher.
Whirling Teacher #2: A Skirt and Music
Later, at that same meditation center (where I was still spinning and falling), I had made friends with the musicians, one of whom passed me a whirling skirt and a CD of his music. These felt like treasures.
I put the music on in my little room at home and started to whirl. Because the skirt was so heavy, it grounded me. The music carried me, and I was able to whirl without falling. It was the first time I realized that having tools like this helped support my practice.
This experience taught me the fundamentals of my whirling practice. I learned that one doesn't need to be in meditation to start whirling; instead, when done correctly, the whirling practice brings us into meditation.
I credit the gifts of my first skirt and the music as being early teachers.
Whirling Teacher #3: Moonlight Dance
I was a dive instructor in my younger years, so I always worked in beautiful places. One night by the light of a full moon, I was whirling in an open space in the Laccadive Islands of southern India. Without a soul around, I was bent over backward, my head back and staring up at the moon in solitude.
The moon became my fulcrum and a point of stillness. It was then that I realized we can whirl in any posture. This night was a really beautiful experience where I was expanded and yet also grounded under the moon's light. That night, the stars and the moon were my teachers.
Whirling Teacher #4: The Sky in Our Hearts
Over the years, I have practiced many sacred dances. One, in particular, was an ancient sacred dance for centering, originating from esoteric Sufi temples and brought into the world by Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff.
The dance has precise, linear, choreographed movements — it is very difficult but beautiful work that allows a practitioner to focus on the two currents of energy that move through our bodies. One is linear energy, which comes through the spine. The other is horizontal energy, which moves through our hearts and into our hands.
Once, when I was practicing this whirling, I felt the two currents of energy — my hand was outstretched, and I could feel the energy in my spine rising. The point where these two currents of energy meet, the heart center, is a fulcrum of stillness.
Feeling this stillness was a profound experience. It felt like a gateway had opened, and it was so vast and expansive. I felt like the sky came inside of me. It was so vast inside me that I got charged up.
After that, I kept giggling all night with joyous abandon and could not sleep. The heart center and the sky were my teachers.
Whirling Teacher #5: Wise Words
Shortly after this night, while working as a dive instructor, I read a poem by Rumi, who wrote: "You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop." Here I was, literally living in the sea; this poem resonated with me.
The entire ocean coming to meet me was exactly like the sky coming into my heart. That is how I experienced that poem. The words were truly profound.
Kabir also speaks to the beauty inside of all beings. In one poem, he writes:
Do not go to the garden of flowers!
O friend! go not there;
In your body is the garden of flowers.
Take your seat on the thousand petals of the lotus, and there gaze on the Infinite Beauty.
With this poem, Kabir tells us that we never need to go anywhere.
Everything that we want to experience in limitless enlightenment is here, in our bodies, as our garden of flowers. We may see all the beauty that blossoms inside our hearts when we turn in.
When I turn inward, I feel bubbles of energy just filling up, and it feels like a beautiful garden of flowers. I listen to this poem every time I have a performance — it reminds me to see the beauty within. Poems of Rumi and Kabir have been my teachers and have helped me understand why whirling is so profound.
As my practice continues, I have learned that anything can be a teacher when we tune in to our hearts. That is the focus of a whirling meditation practice, and that is a good meditation for life — create stillness, go inward, be present.
A skirt, a sky, and a poem have all been my true teachers. Who will be yours?
Learn about how whirling may benefit your mind and body through this course, Whirling: A Centering Practice for Heart-Body Connection, with sacred dance teacher Zia Nath.
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