I Dance the Death of My Father
Last Wednesday afternoon, my father died.
A few hours later, I was in the Kalk Bay Community Hall, surrounded by loved ones who had come to welcome me back after 3 1/2 months of international teaching, and to dance with me again. This dance I call BlissDance. It is a free movement space that I use to take people deeper into embodied awareness – of intimacy, of edges, of the veils and boundaries that keep us separate, and of what lies beyond. It is a dancing community of loving awareness.
We sat down in the circle. I welcomed everyone and shared with them that my father had just died. A hushed silence fell in the room. How exquisitely beautiful, this shared humanity, this knowing that death cuts through everything, and brings us right into each other’s skins and hearts.
The theme for my night’s class was Falling into Grace. Chosen for me for the night, by Existence herself – this turned out to also be the theme of the sermon at my father’s funeral. And I got to dance, while holding the space for this collective awakening dance. I found myself instantly drawn into a huge expression of energy – intense, black and fiery, magnificently destructive and passionate. Dancing with my father into the Bardo’s – the in-between realms before the soul reaches the state of oneness, a layered place that can feel very confusing for the soul, the place where demons arise and seem to be real.
But my father and I were dancing through. I was feeling his immense passion passing through me, the largesse of his being, the fiery expression of his his spirit. My father was a fearless warrior for justice and equality. He quested relentlessly for beauty, and the expression of beauty in all realms. He was no small spirit. My father was not afraid of demons. He understood that they were fabrications of the mind, and loved exploring the realm of the occult with his vast intellect. And so we danced fearlessly into and through the place of the demons, embracing the passion, dropping the fear, ruthlessly cutting away what is no longer real.
My father was a boy who had lost both his parents when he was six years old. He felt intensely, and struggled to communicate this to people around him, and so growing up with him felt at times like being in the middle of an unpredictable emotional storm. My mother is a woman of great wisdom and perspective, and somehow managed to maintain a gracefulness that still awes me today. And it was Marietjie, his last wife, and the angel who made him smile, even when his consciousness was fading – it was Marietjie who finally raised this child and brought peace to his soul. I feel so much for her, the woman who held this man, in her own words, like a mother who carries the child for nine months. And just as he was ready to be born, he was taken away, to be born into the mystery.
My father believed until his death that his daughter hasdnever had an angry moment in her life. I find this so beautiful, as his impact on my life has been the centre of all my emotional processing – years of venting rage and helplessness, desperate romance (yes, my father was the first man in my life, and the first love of my childhood self). I am infinitely grateful to my father for having provoked these emotions in me – unknowingly, he called me out into great emotional clarity and power, and fearlessness. I never felt the need to get angry AT him, because I knew he was the messenger only, the finger pointing at the moon. And it was for me to do the inner work.
And so here we are, my father and I, dancing the demons, the phoenix jumping in the fire and through, the lover whose passion knows no bounds. And he is in me, he is me. No more separation. It is complete. This love, this gratitude, this acceptance, knows no bounds.
And through the great challenge that my father has brought me, I am no longer afraid to keep my heart open as immense feelings pass through – grief, sadness, joy, gratitude – like massive winds that leave no time for distinction or narrative. I surrender into the winds, and feel my heart being blown wide open.
Later on in the dance, the heavens open up into the light. I open my arms to surrender to the love I feel for my father, to honor him, and to direct him to the realm of the angels. And yes, he is ready. The room lights up. My father has no resistance to the intensity of light and love, and he expands into this limitlessness beauty.
In our final circle I play the mantra “Gate Gate Para Gate Para Sam Gate Bodhi Svaha” (referring to the state where we have gone, gone beyond). A piercing joy fills my being. The tears don’t fall out – they shower over everyone, like a fountain that pushes up with force. The dancers surround me, touch my heart, cry their own tears – how beautifully this opening to pure feeling can evoke that in others – and enfold me with their bodies, like a cocoon.
Always, when my father wrote me, he ended letters with the phrase “Jou papie” (which sounds like “your father” but means “your cocoon”). And so, my father, my first cocoon, you have passed away. Today, I felt the weight of your body in my hands as we carried your coffin to the grave. Today, I threw gravel on your grave. I saw how your body returned to earth, dust to dust.
And today I held a white dove in my hand, released it into the sky, together with the doves held by each close family member. I felt with ecstasy how the doves took flight, coming together in a joyful dance of the sky – the sky dance of the white doves. And I felt my spirit being set free, free into that which is beyond, beyond form, and yet so magnificently expressed in form. This butterfly now takes wings. She surrenders to existence as such.
My father’s death, and my experience of it, mirrors for me so beautifully some of the main tasks that I feel we are facing at this potent moment in history. My father was a feminist, and he died at the time when I see the end of patriarchy very close, giving its last resisting convulsions. The release of the old patterns requires us to do the work of clearing what no longer serves in our ancestral lineage, and to honor and embrace what does. Also, it is time to face the love we have for our parents, and to feel it without any withholding, with totality. Whatever we are feeling about our parents is just a masking of our deepest feeling: Passionate, unbounded love. There is such support for us to do this work at the moment.
When my father spoke of death, he always said that he wanted us to celebrate his passing with a feast. Just before his death, my father prepared such a feast for those who were close to him – his own Babette’s Feast. And in honor or his death, this past Saturday, I danced for him again, witnessed by friends. I danced on Celine Dion’s song “Because you loved me” – the song I danced for him when he turned sixty (six years ago). By the end of the dance, my body collapsed with overflow of energy, and I called, loudly: “My father! I love you! I want to devour you!” First man of my life, you have left. And perhaps in some way you were my communion bread, as I step into this surrender to Existence. As I step into the arms of the Beloved, the new possibility that awaits me of how we can be with each other, man and woman beloved and lover, becoming one.