“There has never been a time when you and I have not existed. Nor will there ever be a time when we will cease to be. Therefore, play the role you are meant to, right now.” ~ Bhagavad-Gita
This reminds me of a story I heard from Kevin Locke, a Lakota Hoop dancer, at the National Storytelling Festival about ten years ago. It has stayed with me all this time as much for its central message as for his mastery in conveying it.
He performed for an hour, playing his flute, telling stories, and demonstrating some basic dance patterns. His account of learning the Hoop dance frequently visits to remind me of this truth: I am here to do my part. Here is the story, with some details and names from his website; much of it is from memory:
The Hoop dance, a tradition among the Plains Indians, is a celebration of the annual rebirth of nature that occurs every springtime. The spiritual significance of the dance begins with the hoops themselves; these are made of either wood or reed and total twenty-eight in number, each one of them representing a day in the lunar cycle.
One after another, images of renewed creation appear as flowers, butterflies, stars, the moon and sun and eagle circles, calling forth the love, courage and intelligence of our hearts. The hoops represent unity, while the four colors of the hoops (black, red, yellow and white) represent the four directions, seasons, winds, and the four human races. The Hoop dance shows that everything is interconnected.
I learned the hoop dance, which had nearly died out, from Arlo Good Bear, a Mandan Hidatsa Indian from North Dakota. We were performing in New York City, rooming together, and he said, “I’m going to teach you the hoop dance. I’m going to give you four lessons. I will give you one lesson now and the rest later. I’ll do my part and then you have to do your part. I’ll show you the dance and then you go out and show it to other people. It will take you far.”
That day, he got out his hoops and made some designs and the whole thing took about fifteen minutes. The next day, we both left New York and went back to our lives.
A few days later, Arlo’s mom called and said he had died in an accident. Stunned, I went to his funeral, mourning the loss of my friend and of his mentorship. After returning home, I had a series of vivid dreams. I saw Arlo dancing with the hoops in a very beautiful, very powerful dance, making all of these designs, so fluid and spontaneous.
I recalled Arlo saying, “I’ll do my part and then you have to do your part,” and I realized these dreams were the continuation of the Hoop dance lessons. The dream dances were not mechanical lessons. It was a message that you can connect the past with the present, the present with the future, and the spiritual world with the material world. I continued learning and practicing the ancient dance forms and symbols, the footwork and movements of the hoops. Arlo was doing his part, through the dream world, and it was up to me to do my part.
That message — I’ll do my part and you do your part — was the key to a jail cell of ambition, doubt and striving. It’s now a frequent companion. Though I usually think of it as an agreement I have with the muse, with divine source, it also applies in relationships. And it works both ways. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk she enacts a funny, earthy way in which she talks back to the muse. (At about 14 minutes in. For the Tom Waits moment that leads up to it, go to 11:55. But, really, if you’re one of the twelve people on the planet who haven’t watched the whole thing, do! It’s a treat.)
I love the simplicity of this: it’s all I can do and all I need to do, both. By doing my part, I know I am living a promise to know my heart, show up, do the work and share my gifts. It’s tempting to add here the phrase, “to live a life of meaning,” so I’ll turn to Joseph Campbell for perspective:
“We aren’t seeking a meaning to life. We are seeking an experience of being alive.” ~ Joseph Campbell
It’s no random coincidence that this came to me via a story, one that I experienced once, ten years ago. It danced its way in, speaking to a deep part of me and embedding into my soul like a talisman, a magic reminder of the wholeness of all, and of my own life’s fit into the great wheel of Life. I am complete and partial, both.
Storytelling has many dimensions, and its gifts vary. Telling stories around a fire on an autumn night is a very different experience than watching a master storyteller as part of an audience. Kevin Locke’s story doesn’t give me specifics, but it shows me in the elegant, open way only a story can that my heart will know when I am doing my part or when I am not participating fully.
The memory of this story is a friend to me, gently reminding, never chiding or scolding or shaming. “I’ve done my part. Now you do your part.” I was impressed by his friend Arlo’s dedication, his persistence, showing up even in Kevin’s dreams to finish his work. May my soul have that kind of dedication and may my ego get out of the way to let me do my part.