Friday, November 16, 2012

Degrees of connectivity


I like the way that life generates unexpected connections. I had never knowingly heard of Rene Daumel until I read Ravi Ravindra's book recently on his relationship with Jeanne de Salzmann where he refers to Daumal's unfinished novel, 'Mount Analogue'. Intrigued I read this beautiful, quirky parable of spiritual ascent and wanted to know more about its author. I purchased Kathleen Ferrick Rosenblatt's 'Rene Daumal: The Life and Work of a Mystic Guide' (which I am reading now) and discovered that one of his jobs was to act as a secretary to Uday Shankar, one of India's leading proponents of both traditional and contemporary dance in the twentieth century, and the much elder brother of the 'more famous' Ravi (whose 'Symphony' I am listening to presently as I drive to and fro).

On Shankar's return to India (from the West), he settled in Almora and established a training centre and became the teacher of Ann Wetherall, when she was alive my closest friend and deepest colleague, who was one of his rare Western students for two years before jaundice brought a premature end to her vocation as a dancer.

On of my most magical moments was listening in to a conversation that Ann was having with Shankar's prospective biographer, an American academic, Joan Erdman. It was late afternoon and we were having tea when the conversation started and it was night by the time it was complete.

It was remarkable listening to Ann talk of that time when she was most deeply happy, engaged in a life and practice that she loved. I recall her saying that Shankar taught them first and foremost to be creative through aligning body, mind and soul and that as well as working from the inside out - thought - intention - action - they worked from the outside in - posture - clarity - thought. I was reminded of this when Daumal describes how as a young boy he quelled his existential fear on discovering death by relaxing his body beginning with his stomach and watching it alter his patterning of emotion and thought. Many of Shankar's students became important to the development of dance in India but others pursued other pathways including one, I recall, who became a notable theoretical physicist.

It is no surprise perhaps that it was Ann who introduced me to Gurdjieff (or that he was of particular interest to people versed in theatre or dance as they understood, as did he, the intelligence of the body and how it can be harnessed to liberate the mind). It was Gurdjieff who gave Daumal a framing and a practice that organised finally his intense metaphysical searching and experimentation (including with drugs).

These are usually described as degrees of separation but, in fact, this feels deeply like a degree of connection - Ann - Shankar - Daumal - Gurdjieff - linked through time and in a common search.

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