With Our Tears, Let Compassion Flow: Remembering the Armenian Genocide by Laura Shannon

Today, April 24, is the worldwide day of remembrance for the Armenian genocide of 1915. On this day three years ago, marking the centenary of the genocide, I wrote about dance as an expression of solidarity with the Armenians people, and with all victims of genocide throughout history and throughout the world. You can find that piece here.
Now as then, I am encouraging my students to dance Armenian dances with their groups this week, or even simply to light a candle, listen to Armenian music (some recommendations are listed at the end of this post), with an open heart. How better to heal the wounds of history than with such tiny and intimate acts of compassion?
The root of the word ‘compassion’ essentially means ‘to suffer with’, and I think that one of the gifts of our own suffering might be that we can begin to have sympathy for those who have suffered like us.
Through compassion, our own heartbreak helps our hearts to be broken open. Although suffering can cause us to feel terribly isolated and utterly alone, at the same time, our pain opens our hearts in sympathy for the pain that others feel. To paraphrase Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa, this enables us to ‘reach out to help others… to discover a greater universe and a fuller and fuller broken heart. This is not something to feel bad about; it is a cause for rejoicing.’

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Opening Our Hearts Through Armenian Dance by Laura Shannon

The candle represents the light of love, compassion and connection kindled in our hearts as we dance.
In these challenging times, one of the hardest things to do is to keep our hearts open. Grief and despair tend to shut them down. And even among close friends, colleagues, family members, and people with whom we share worship, when we clash over differing political opinions, trust can swiftly erode. These kinds of losses and sorrows can make us just want to close the doors to our hearts.
Yet hardened hearts and minds are not going to help us overcome conflicts and affirm connections. Only if we can open our hearts to one another, holding the fullness of our (and others’) feelings in a compassionate way, can we weather the storms which threaten to divide us further. And only if we are united can we find our way together through those storms.
One of the best ways I know to connect with others and to open my heart is through the joyful experience of traditional circle dance, particularly Armenian dances. I have written previously on this blog (The Dance of MemoryThe Wishing Tree) about Armenian dances and their ancient roots, their links to the pre-Christian Goddess, and how they affirm survival throughout the traumas of history. I have also written about my friend and colleague Shakeh Major Tchilingirian and her inspiring Circle of Life project, which brings Armenians, Turks, Kurds, Assyrians, and other survivors of atrocities and genocide to dance together for reconciliation.

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