Speaker: Chelan Harkin

Let Us Dance: Inspired Poetry and Ecstatic Expression

At the age of 21, on a pilgrimage to Israel, Chelan (Shuh-LANNE) Harkin found herself sitting alone in the same cell that some 140 years earlier had confined Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i faith. The quietude of the barred room was suddenly broken by a voice she took to be the Persian prophet's spirit saying, "Let us dance." This unexpected invitation cracked her heart wide open and next thing she remembers was her own voice filling the resonant chamber with joyful song.

A decade later, those three words Harkin heard in that Israeli citadel, would serve as the title of her second collection of mystical poetry, marking just the latest in an on-going series of events which have confirmed for her a playful benevolence at the heart of the universe.

Your smarts, your talents, your good looks –
take off these impediments
and let us dance!

Born and raised in scenic Hood River, Oregon, Harkin's experiments with poetry began early in life. Prior to learning how to write, she would periodically commission her mother to commit her mystical musings to paper. Throughout Harkin's adolescence, a connection with life's big questions, and the crafting of poetry around them, were to come in and out of focus.

Then, an introduction to free verse in high school, and – during a therapy session – her first exposure to the work of the 14th-century Sufi poet Hafez fueled her interest in the power of poetry to transform and alchemize old painful conditioning into beautiful medicine.

Let your words reek of sweat and light
and carry hints
of the toil and deep breath
of your ancestors
and the notes of any song
they stored away to pass down to you.
A poem is where the flint of soul
strikes the stone of trauma
and makes a spark.
The world needs your voice.
Un-sheath your knowing.
You have permission
to say anything.

Harkin's subsequent pursuit of a degree in consciousness studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, was interrupted by the surprise discovery of a brain aneurysm requiring immediate surgery. Rather than shrink from the jarring diagnosis, she welcomed it as a means to accelerate her own encounter with past trauma.

Some weeks after successful surgery, with a shaved head starting to sprout hair again, Harkin committed to writing and sharing a poem every day for a month – regardless of quality. On just the second day, an entire poem came pouring through her without effort or in need of editing. Thereafter, all of her poems have been co-created with an unseen and sometimes overly-prodigious muse.

...each morning before we wrestle the world
and our hearts into the shape of our brains,
look around and say, ''Wow!''
Feed yourself fire.
Scoop up the day entire
like a planet-sized bouquet of marvel
sent by the Universe directly into your arms
and say ''Wow!''...

Thereafter, Harkin continued for a number of years to post poems to Facebook, where most of them collected a handful of shares and a few dozen likes. But one morning she woke up to discover "The Worst Thing We Ever Did" had gone viral and been shared 30,000 times.

Encouraged by the poem's reception, Harkin directly appealed to Hafez and his friends to help guide her in the publishing and promotion of her first book. Thus petitioned, this "dead poets society" readily obliged by connecting her (in the most playful of ways) with popular Hafez interpreter Daniel Ladinsky, and award-winning writer Mary Reed.

...The worst thing we ever did
was take the dance and the song
out of prayer
made it sit up straight
and cross its legs
removed it of rejoicing
wiped clean its hip sway,
its questions,
its ecstatic yowl,
its tears...

Often compared to Rumi's poetry, Harkin's offerings invite readers to embrace the fullness of their being, by "inviting the fumbling, suffering parts of our nature and our divinity to meet for tea in the heart, to have a great laugh, and share a big hug." She is a tireless cheerleader for everyone she encounters to pursue their heart's passion unreservedly and allow the resulting delight to bless others on the path.

Join Mark Peters and Pavi Mehta in conversation with this modern-day mystic and poet, and let us dance!

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