The Dances of Universal Peace and Walking Concentrations emerged late in the life of Murshid Samuel L. Lewis. Sufis have known music and dance as spiritual practice for hundreds of years, yet it was Murshid SAM’s vision of dancing to the mantras, sacred texts, and poetry of the all world’s spiritual traditions that originated a truly new and universal spiritual practice. The Dances and Walks perfectly captured Murshid's vision of “Peace through the Arts,” creating experiences of embodied spirituality, rhythm, and heart awareness in his students.
The Dances of Universal Peace are a participatory group spiritual practice facilitated by a Dance Leader. The Leader teaches the group the sacred phrase, music, and movements, and after a short practice, participants enter the Dance with live music and/or singing accompaniment. This “spiritual practice in motion” brings participants directly in contact with the depth of the sacred phrase, encouraging a direct encounter with the truth of it through music and evocative movement. The Dances affirm Life and Truth with body, heart, and soul, opening participants to nonverbal experiences of unity and ecstasy. This taste of our true nature—Universal Peace—opens us to the possibility of a deep spiritual transformation.
Murshid SAM began receiving the Dances and Walks in vision and teaching them to a small circle of devoted students in his San Francisco garage in the late 1960’s. Murshid would say "All right, everyone up! Form a circle!" "We begin in Mercy and Compassion." "Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah." And as the circle began to move, "Right foot, left foot…Er Rahman, Er Rahim." The simple repetitive sound, coupled with simple body movement, awakened a sense of compassion and heart connection to the present moment for the Dancers. Singing “Om Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram” or “Resurrexit Christe” or “Shema Yisreal” or “Namo Amida Butsu”, invoking different names for God and Divine Realization, Dancers recognized that the call is to the One Reality which cannot be contained by name or form. Hearts can resonate with All That Is, connecting in Unity and shared humanity.
From modest beginnings the Dances have spread worldwide as a grassroots movement. They remain a central practice of the Sufi Ruhaniat International and are taught today worldwide in the context of spiritual awakening and transmission of the Sufi message. The Dances are transmitted by teacher to student in an "oral" tradition in order to convey effectively the depth of the sacred phrase, mysticism, and the fullness of each Dance in all its many dimensions.
In 1988, the Ruhaniat created a guild of Dance Mentors to further the training and certification of Leaders of the Dances and Walks. Training in Dance Leadership is open to all, including those who have not taken Sufi initiation. Dance Leaders stay in a working relationship with a Dance Mentor and maintain an active spiritual practice. A Guidance Council of Senior Dance Mentors coordinates and guides this work.
All over the world, people yearning for Unity have found in the Dances of Universal Peace a renewing and inspiring heart-practice, based in religious truth and embodied spirituality. The Dances open us to remembrance of the natural human state—unguarded, authentic, and free. They continue to be, as Murshid SAM envisioned, a way to make liberating life-energy and “the peace that passes understanding” a reality for all.
For more about the Dances of Universal Peace visit www.dancesofuniversalpeace.org
Photo Credits: 1) Dancing w/Murshid Samuel Lewis, unknown photographer; 2) In New York, by Elizabeth Morledge-Sayre; 3) In Arkansas, w/Pir Shabda Kahn, by Shining Heart; 4) In Jordan, courtesy of Tansen O'Donohoe; 5) In the United Kingdom, unknown photographer; 6) In Latvia, by Vitalija Hayat; 7) In Greece, courtesy of Tansen O'Donohoe; 8) In Utah, by Bob Spencer