Many years ago, I attended an all-night circle with a dozen women who were friends of my heart. They were and are my chosen sisters. We stayed up through the dark sitting Zen-like and sharing poetry. The format was designed to get us out of our rational, linear left-brain and to tap into our intuitive right-brain. The rule to help us through the night was that we could only use song. There was no speaking, only singing.
There were snippets of poems printed out on little sheets of paper. These were stanzas taken from a selection of poems that we would synchronistically pick out of a basket when it came our turn to lead the song. Here are some examples:
Death is a favor to us,
But our minds have lost their balance.
The miraculous existence and impermanence of
Always makes the illumined ones
Laugh and sing.
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
In flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
And no space: everything is close to my face,
And everything close to my face is stone.
I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief—
So this massive darkness makes me small,
You be master: make yourself fierce, break in:
Then your transforming will happen to me,
And my great grief cry will happen to you.
Beyond all ideas of right doing and wrong doing
There is a field..
I’ll meet you there.
The darkness of night lends power to the fierce beat of a central single drum and the singer holds a rattle that is passed hand-to-hand as each poem is expressed in a personal song. The effect is as if the singer is sitting on a shore facing the water, the circle of hearts sings back to her like gentle surf breaking on a beach echoing her song.
All night each poem invokes a message from the inner depths. Each song is a personally delivered communiqué from the soul and the echoing voices imprint it on the heart.
Slowly, as dawn approaches, the veil of this altered state sweetly departs with a loving kiss. Someone brings in an extravagantly luscious bowl of fruit and yogurt and, like a child first waking up from sleep, we slide into our “regular” voices feeling uncommonly open and vulnerable to the pleasure of being alive, in this body, at this time.
Soon we are laughing in the face of our mortality. Through the night the illusion of our separateness has dissolved and we have been transported into the enormity of our interconnection to the infinite wisdom and creative force of the universe. We know our bodies truly to be wavelets and our souls never truly apart from the ocean of God.
Someone asks, “What do you wear to the Bardo Ball?” She is referring to what Buddhism describes as the stage following the death of the body.
My late and dearest sister of my heart, Sedonia replies, “It’s a come as you are party.” Belly-shaking laughter breaks out because we all understand that our Bardo Ball clothing will be adorned with all our habits, all our fears, our regrets, our joys, and our love when we leave this body behind.
I’m reminded of an e.e. cummings poem (excerpt):
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes.
-Justine Willis Toms