“Follow the mystic’s path of emptying yourself, losing your identity, letting go of possessions, embracing the sacredness of ‘nothing’” – A conversation with Sacred Danseuse Zia Nath
Zia Nath will be presenting Crescendos of Rumi & Shiva at India’s one and only ‘soul’ festival, the Global Festival of Spiritual Sciences, at Pyramid Valley, Bengaluru from 29th September – 2nd October, 2018.
Here’s an email conversation we had with Zia Nath in which she talks about her life purpose and her journey as a sacred danseuse.
THRIIVE: When and how did you know for sure what your life purpose is?
ZIA NATH: Over the years, my spiritual explorations with many different disciplines (Sufism, Buddhism, Zen, Tao, Osho, Gurdjieff Sacred Dances, Indian Temple Dances, etc) has contributed to dropping this sense of ‘life purpose’. My spiritual pratice supports devotion, surrender, letting go, acceptance, trust.
Aligning to life’s forces around me, through me, there is a realization that the “I” is not there. It melts away into the expansive so easily. I learn from nature. A tree has a blueprint design to grow in a specific way. And it’s so beautiful to watch how life supports it and shapes it. A river has a design to flow, and it flows, not knowing where its destination is and what it will become. Life shapes us in whatever realm we are. And to experience this is very humbling.
My study and practice of Sacred dances of Indian and Sufi traditions has also contributed to the melting of the ego (it’s a process and still ongoing). Only when the dancer surrenders, can the dance happen. Of course, the dancer needs to be dedicated to her practcie and the discipline required in the body – but that is form, the outer shape, a preparation for the sacred experience that will fill up the emptiness and spaciousness within.
THRIIVE: How has this transformed you?
ZIA NATH: Ambition has transformed to devotion and dedication. Trust and acceptance is a deeper, more realistic experience now. “Here is an intention…. now lets see what happens…!” is normally how I approach things, be it work, passion or personal relationships.
I’m more sincere, total. This guides me to stay on the path which often takes detours. But rarely do I fall out of it, as over the years, I’ve learnt resiliency, flexibility and joy that comes from within rather than from a condition that is required outside.
So I feel content.
Sometimes I feel intensely tested…. And that’s tough. Then with some patient breathing and silence, I remind myself of some beautiful zen koans, ancient sutras, sufi poetry – one of them always helps me to re-align and then I’m back into the flow of things, drifting easily, till another storm or breach presents itself.
ZIA NATH: If life had not interrupted my naïve desire and myopic vision, I would have been a ball room dancer. But that was not meant to be. Instead, life offered me a platter of storms and chaos. So, I adapted. After a break, I found myself in the practice of ancient Indian temple dances. And that journey has been so beautiful, grounding, spiritual. I’m grateful for those timely interruptions.
ZIA NATH: I align to the essence of ordinariness. Zen Buddhism encourages a seeker to live an ordinary life outside, and an extra-ordinary life inside. That’s why the famous Zen quote: “Before enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood, carrying water.” I find this practice very empowering.
Practicing ‘presence of being’ (as Gurdjieff called it), is another powerful practice for me. So much extra-ordinariness is held in this very ordinary practice. Zarathustra said that “the body is the outer side of the being and the being is the inner side of the body. So begin with the body.” And to begin with the body, some ordinary things are very effective. Like sitting still, breathing, watching your breath, following its path into the body and out. Or dance movements, exercise, yoga, activities that involve the body. When we engage with the body with conscious awareness then the body becomes a bridge to our ‘being’. And the ‘being’ is the bridge to the celebrated Zen experience “Ah! This” or simply put – beingness.
This practice of being present with the body brings patience, spaciousness, temperance. It resources us from inside, it also allows us to wait, watch, and be a part of life as it unfolds. In reality we are not doing things. For brief moments in our life we can imagine we are doing things and controlling events around us. But we are part of a much bigger story and we are all playing our part (or being played), sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background, sometimes absent, sometimes present. Life ripples through the undulations of its own varied expressions.
One of my favourite quotes from Shamz of Tabriz shows us our place in this world:
“Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to look at the end of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be short-sighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.”
THRIIVE: What message would you like to give our readers?
ZIA NATH: On the worldly, material path, we live a life of filling up, acquiring, getting entitled, etc. The path of the mystic however is quite different. Here we get busy with emptying ourselves, losing our identity, letting go of possesions, embracing the sacredness of ‘nothing’, and resting. Resting creates space. This space is shoonya or emptiness.
Lao Tzu, ancient Taoist philospher, mystic, describes the usefulness and beauty of emptiness…
“Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the centre hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes that make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.”
And persian whirler, mystic, of the 13th c. Mevlana Rumi says:
“no more words.
In the name of this place we drink in with our breathing,
Stay quiet like a flower.
So the nightbirds will start singing.”
And from our present times, Franz Kafka says:
“You need not do anything.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, just wait.
You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary.
And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
THRIIVE: What can attendees look forward to in your Art & Soul session at GFSS 2018?
ZIA NATH: I will be presenting my dance show ‘Crescendos of Rumi & Shiva’. This solo performance of one hour duration is a reflection of our ethnic and spiritual heritage – the Tantra Yoga Sutras of Shiva with mystical poetry of Mevlana Rumi. Inspired from ancient sculpted stories of the temples of Orissa and the wild abandon of spinning gypsies of Central Asia, these dances are tales of love suspended in the realms of spirituality and sensuality. Expressed as movement translations of ancient Tantra sutras from the Book of Secrets by Osho and passionate poetry of Rumi, laced with lyrical Persian and Indian music, the dances create a tapestry of mystique and magic.