Naropa Magazine Spring 2014
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Barbara Dilley
Photos: Rachel Homer. Group photo: Cast for The Dancing Room, Academy Chapel, Boulder, CO, August 1975. Standing L–R: Catherine Sharkey, Zhenya Gallon, Marcia Vaughn, Lanny Harrison, Paul Langland, Cynthia Hedstrom, Steve Clorfeine, Anne Hammel. Kneeling: Nancy Minchenberg. Sitting L–R: Douglas Dunn, Terry O'Reilly, Barbara Dilley.

Continuous Present

An Excerpt: Summer of 1975

by Barbara Dilley

Continuous Present braids together classroom practices with memoirs about dancing and teaching and thinking.

Barbara Dilley 1975 photo by Rachel HomerBarbara Dilley, 1975.

FIRST SUMMER SESSION During the first session the new solo, Dancing Songs, is performed at the Armory on University Ave. I read from the same Agnes Martin's lecture.

Naropa's faculty designs a year round catalogue for January 1976. I'm thinking about dancing and teaching. What do I know? What is important for young dancers to know? How do I adapt from my journey? Thinking about dancing and teaching I open up to influences from the dharma. Sometimes the mingling feels right then I don't know what I'm doing. I drop all references to meditation. Then I hear Rinpoche teach and find the connections again. I pick up images of mindfulness and awareness and weave them into the classroom practices.

Bringing the New York experimental dancing and placing it side by side with meditation is a kind of parallel play almost like Parallel Corridors, a Map of Space we use in the classroom. In Corridors we play side by side and pick up and put down gestures from each other. We open to influence and we imitate and make variations.

Memory: I have an interview with Trungpa Rinpoche about curriculum for the new programs. Toward the end I ask why all my energy evaporates after teaching a class. He suggests this is a type of arrogance; too much effort spent holding up what I am teaching. This drains all the energy. He suggests that I find ways for students to put energy into the process. The way he says this shows a path though the image of myself as arrogant. This instruction penetrates and rolls around in my thoughts for years. How to find collaboration with students in the classroom?

Barbara Dilley 1975 photo by Rachel HomerRehearsal of The Dancing Room. Left to Right: Zenya Gallon, Anne Hammel, Paul Langland, Steve Clorfeine, Nancy Minchenberg, and I'm wearing the sky blue t-shirt I wore when I met Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche the previous summer.

SECOND SUMMER SESSION In the second session I create a large group piece, The Dancing Room. Friends from New York arrive and join summer students. There is a Red Square on the floor.

BUDDHIST RETREAT In August I attend an ITS (intensive training session) at the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center near Red Feather Lakes about two hours north of Boulder. Trungpa Rinpoche is teaching. I pitch a green tent under a large pine tree by the creek.

LEARNING TO MEDITATE The instructions for meditation are simple-to-say but hard-to-do. Her fierce dancing mind body is reduced to this posture on a cushion.

Just sit. Just stay.

Then there is her breath moving in and out and then there are her thoughts, dense and speeding along. She obsessively observes 'my body, my body' while practicing meditation; bones aligned under gravity, breath loosening her jaw. This provides some relief from hours of boredom.

She practices sitting and walking meditation for hours and days. Her bewilderment grows. She hears about mingling her self-consciousness with space. She wonders where that gap is at the end of the out-breath. Is that it? She can't breathe. Once and a while, before the flock of thoughts is back like birds to a tree, just for a split second, something emerges. The metaphors of mind training seem ready-made for her neurosis. She thought she was the only one who was crazy in this way.

Trungpa Rinpoche's red trailer at RMDCMemory: During this weeklong meditation program. I sign up for an interview with Rinpoche. I walk up a dirt road to a small red and white trailer below a grove of trees. This is where Rinpoche stays. Just beyond the front door is a cluster of rocks and behind them a campfire. All his meals are cooked here.

There is a folding metal chair beside the door. I sit and wait. When I'm invited in, I sit on a meditation cushion in front of Rinpoche. I tell him I'm thinking about doing the 'dathun,' a monthlong meditation program, in the fall. What does he think of this? He says it sounds good. It would help to remove the 'two veils.' I don't know what this means.

Later I ask someone about the 'veils.' They hand me 'The Jewel Ornament of Liberation' by Gampopa, Tibetan meditation master. I find the section about the 'veil.' One is 'conflicting emotions' and the other is 'primitive beliefs about reality.' Both obscure awakened mind which is always already here. This metaphor, these two veils, haunt my meditation practice to this day.

THE LONG WAY AROUND Returning to New York City she packs everything into a large old-fashioned steamer trunk, five cardboard boxes, and an orange backpack. She returns to Colorado, and attends the monthlong Buddhist dathun, lead by Alice and Richard Hasprey. They study the Twelve Nidanas in the Wheel of Life. She sees a picture of an Arrow in the Eye, this moment of desire which gives birth to everything.

She meets Brent Bondurant, a sheepherder from Wyoming. She is a dancer from New York and they stay in a cabin called Chime. There is a loft bed. In the 'post meditation hall' there is a wood stove where they warm their hands before entering the shrine room for 7 am morning practice.

After dathun, she travels to Japan and performs with the Grand Union ensemble in a theater at the top of a department store. Then she flies to Mexico and celebrates Christmas with her parents. Was Benjy there? She can't remember.

At the end of December she returns to Boulder and rents an apartment at the Wagon Wheel Motel up Canyon Road. Similar to railroad flats on the Lower East Side of New York, each room leads into the next. In the mornings she drives down the canyon, climbs up the back stairs to the ballroom, now dance studio, on the third floor of the Wedding Cake House on Mapleton Avenue and begins teaching.