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Cultivating Joy through Dance


Towards the end of last year, I was asked to speak during a webinar about Ancient Wisdom, Ritual and Embodiment, convened by the International Association of Creative Arts and Somatic Education (IACASE). The speakers were remarkable, spanning all but one continent, yet speaking with a shared voice about the importance of respecting ancient wisdom traditions and utilizing a Conscious Creative Arts Education and Therapies Approach to support us through this time of turmoil and needed change.

In a vision quest for a more sustainable, healthier relationship with our planet, with each other and ourselves, we are reminded of the wisdom, rituals and embodied practices of ancient cultures.

One participant asked if we can benefit from traditions other than those we are born into, and my brief talk spoke directly to that question. Many readers may already know that, although I am English, I was born in Sri Lanka, then completed my schooling in the UK, before moving to Africa for my working life, in both Botswana and South Africa. It often feels like my feet are grounded in the Eastern wisdom traditions; my head in the West, through my formal education, but my heart found its calling in Southern Africa. This is where I have learnt so much about the importance of community and relationships, and shifted my inner questions from, “What do I know?” to “How can I live well, alongside others?”

The other night I watched a film called Down to Earth, about wisdom keepers the world over, and the next morning I listened to the dialogue between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Greta Thunberg. To recreate a life-sustaining world, the information we need is available; it now feels imperative that we tap back into the global wisdom traditions (indigenous knowledge systems) in order to understand our interdependence and the intimate connections that exist between us and the earth.

Ancient Wisdom Traditions

I was recently told by a traditional healer how wisdom is carried by different continents: the East holds the healing arts, the West has developed science and materialism, Africa teaches about spirit and South America understands our connection with the earth, Pachamama. For the webinar, I was asked to speak about the intersection between East, West and Africa.

My focus was specifically to discuss practices from the Buddhist teachings that have informed my own research, and their correlation with other traditions. The first 10-day Buddhist retreat I ever attended offered teachings and practices to cultivate the Four Immeasurables; desirable human virtues that are recognized in many wisdom traditions and religions globally. Pre-dating Buddhism, they were called the Four Brahmaviharas; the sublime states that allowed one to live with Brahma. In the Taiwanese Tzu Chi tradition, they are called the Four Infinite Minds. But what are they, and how can we cultivate them?

The Four Immeasurables begin with the quality of equanimity (balance and open-heartedness). This gives us the ability to open to everything, whether it is joy or sorrow. The second immeasurable is loving kindness where we wish for the health and happiness of others. The third is compassion; the sense that when we see another suffering, we are moved to engage and help. The fourth is empathetic or appreciative joy, which is the ability to celebrate and rejoice in the success of others.

The Four Immeasurables

Each immeasurable has a far enemy and we have witnessed these in the world’s political leadership. The enemy of equanimity becomes prejudice and discrimination, leaving many communities suffering from anxiety, particularly during the pandemic. In terms of loving kindness, the far enemies are hatred, anger and contempt, and these are the messages that we see polarising communities through social media. The far enemy of compassion is cruelty, while empathetic joy is subverted by envy and jealousy, and a wish to bring others down, instead of lift them up.