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The Rhythmic Cadence of Life

Isadora Duncan in New York during her visits to America in 1915-18.

In this MythBlast, I want to contrast the words of the dancer Isadora Duncan (as quoted by Joseph Campbell in The Ecstasy of Being) with my own thoughts on rhythm.

Rhythm in art and in the art of life is essential. Rhythm imprints its patterns into our body, mind, and very souls. This incorporation builds strength and resilience in ways that our everyday cortex awareness is never able to fully grasp. And if it does detect these imprinted patterns, it rarely appreciates them. Rather, our left brain’s general default tendency is to judge, compare, and doubt their worth.

When I was fifteen years old and I realized that there was no teacher in the world who could give me any help in my desire to be a dancer, because at that time the only school that existed was the ballet, I turned, as I had noticed all other artists except dancers do, to the study of nature. [109]

On all levels, long and protracted arrhythmic conditions are life-destructive. Rhythm, in all its various manifestations, is one of the most healing forces on the planet. It’s why when we’re anxious, we’ll also often feel “off beat.” And almost everything that we say out of our mouths will come out at the inappropriate time, even if what we’re saying is valid. Put simply, we are “out of sync” with ourselves and our surroundings. So being in rhythm—in body, mind, and soul—conduces an alignment both within ourselves and our wider world. We feel centered and settled, at home in ourselves and in the world.

Woman is not a thing apart and separate from all other life, organic and inorganic. She is but a link in a chain, and her movement must be one with the great movement which runs through the universe; and therefore the fountain-head for the art of the dance will be the study of the movements of Nature. (109)

And when we center ourselves in nature’s rhythms, we’re afforded some immunity from the incessant, unsolicited noise and friction that presses upon us from the outside world. To be centered in these rhythms provides us with the space to rest more comfortably in our own true nature, without the threat of violation, and we can enjoy the bliss of our own harmonics. 

When we’re aware of the rhythms of the universe, we may also recognize that even awareness itself is a lemniscate of unbroken exchanges between our interior rhythms, and those of our outer lives, which contain invariable encounters and duties. We also better sense how life calls forth different experiences at different times. For example, certain flowers in a garden will bloom first, or the fruits of one tree will ripen before the fruits of another, and so we too will also meet people who are naturally late—or early—bloomers. We ought not to hurry beyond our natural pace, nor hurry the pace of the natural world, which has its own patterned rhythms. 

For the last four months, each day I have stood before this miracle of perfection (the Parthenon) wrought of human hands. I have seen around it sloping the Hills, in many forms, but in direct contrast to them the Parthenon, expressing their fundamental idea. Not in imitation of the outside forms of nature, but in understanding of nature’s great secret rules, rise the Doric columns. The first days as I stood there my body was as nothing and my soul was scattered; but gradually called by the great inner voice of the Temple, came back the parts of myself to worship it: first came my soul and looked upon the Doric columns, and then came my body and looked – but in both were silence and stillness, and I did not dare to move, for I realized that of all the movements my body had made none was worthy to be made before a Doric Temple. And as I stood thus I realized that I must find a dance whose effort was to be worthy of this Temple—or never dance again. Neither Satyr nor Nymph had entered here, neither Shadows nor Bacchantes. All that I had danced was forbidden in this Temple—neither love nor hate nor fear, nor joy nor sorrow—only a rhythmic cadence, those Doric columns—only in perfect harmony this glorious Temple, calm through all the ages. (110)

There’s an encapsulation of the natural world within us, or as the ancient alchemists would put it, the elements of nature—earth, fire, water, air, ether—are naturally embedded within the fibers of our being. We can trust the rhythms of life with certainty, for we are the very rhythms of life. A microsystem of the rhythmic macro field. 

However, we usually only arrive at a state of soul equilibrium through a disharmonious passage... by the way of first living with all the struggles and lessons, which arise through discord. In this, we’re in a constant movement between balance and imbalance, relative composure and relative dissonance, and always within the alternating states of the psyche. We can only arrive at a comparatively unified level of consciousness through the ceaseless rhythm of integration and disintegration. When we can recognize this, it’s far easier to ride the patterns with insight and artistry and embrace their pulsating beauty. And then, through the employment of rhythm as an art, we’re invited to dance with both the visible, tangible world and the invisible, ethereal realms in an invocation.

For many days no movement came to me. And then one day came the thought: These columns which seem so straight and still are not really straight, each one is curving gently from the base to the height, each one is in flowing movement, never resting, and the movement of each is in harmony with the others. And as I thought this my arms rose slowly toward the Temple and I leaned forward – and then I knew I had found my dance, and it was a Prayer. [111]



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