June 10, 2008

See-Through You: A Book Review of Dunya Dianne McPherson's Skin of Glass

Unlike the lyrics to the Blondie song "Heart of Glass," which speak to fragility and betrayal, to have a skin of glass is to be transparent to oneself. In her new book, Dunya Dianne McPherson lets us see her, and see through her, as well...literally to the bone.

Skin of Glass: Finding Spirit in the Flesh
, is a literary spiritual memoir by my once and future dance teacher. (She's coming to Santa Cruz in October!) I attended Dunya's Dancemeditation classes in New York for years, initially dragged there by a friend who insisted I didn't have be a good dancer or physically coordinated in order to do this spiritual/somatic practice: a combination of bellydance, Sufi work, and fluid yoga. (In doing so, I discovered that I was a pretty good dancer, and not as clumsy as I thought.)

Dunya was a "bunhead" kid (as we New Yorkers called the young chignon and leotard-sporting girls scarfing ice cream outside the Joffrey ballet school each summer) whose passion for classical dance took her from Wood's Hole to Juilliard. In the early 1980s, severe injuries ended her performance career while it opened her to a new way of experiencing dance as embodied prayer. She went through the usual stuff of spiritual biography—big experiences, parental disapproval, disillusionment with the teacher—until the path and practice became uniquely her own.

What distinguishes this spiritual autobiography from others is the emphasis on the body. It is after all through the body that we come to spiritual maturity. Dunya's memoir is a remembrance not simply of events, but of the evolution of bone, skin, sinew, muscle, organs, blood, sweat, lymph, and hormones along with the soul. The language is poetic and erotic, whether Dunya is describing a transcendent act of lovemaking or the inward journey sparked by an awareness of skeletal structure.

The reason this book is special to me goes beyond Dunya's exquisitely written story and seeps into my own. My discovery of Byron Katie's inquiry collided with my Dancemeditation practice; each enhanced the other. As fluid movement had its way with my body, I was no longer the limited, egoic story; I noticed that as soon as I attached to a thought that interrupted the flow, I would take a tumble. When I was connected with my essence, unselfconscious and unafraid, the dance danced itself. Who would I be without my story? A woman dancing beautifully for herself, even while performing for others.

Dunya and I approached the path to self-realization from different sides; she was a dancer who met spirit through dance, I was a seeker who met dance through spirit. Through our respective practices, we touch what cannot be grasped by the thinking mind...and we meet in the middle, where there is no distinction, where all is transparent, where we see and are seen.

"Inside any deep asking is the answering." —Rumi

Skin of Glass: Finding Spirit in the Flesh

by Dunya Dianne McPherson
216 pages
New York: Dancemeditation Books, 2008

©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

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