Moving Meditations: Dances Of Universal Peace
The Benefits Of Dancing

Michael Sheehan
Michael Sheehan

Producing Peace In Portland

by Michael Sheehan

Everyone gathered, holding hands in a circle. In two minutes the leader had taught us to sing a sacred phrase from one of the world’s wisdom traditions, and some gentle movements to do together in the circle as we sang. The simple walking steps were easy for me and nobody cared whether I had a great voice.

Live music and friendly people are what first attracted me to a form of meditative movement called the Dances Of Universal Peace, but it’s how I felt at the end of the evening that kept me coming back. I felt happier, healthier, clearer, more relaxed, more centered, more connected and more present.

I didn’t know then that singing and dancing are two of the three activities most likely to prolong your life (according to a recent Scandinavian study).[1] I didn’t know that the bilateral dance movements produce natural healing and stress reduction,[2] or that singing in community reduces the level of stress hormones and increases immune function.[3] I just knew I felt like I’d just done something important for myself.

As it turns out, I’d also done something important for the world. Studies show that a community’s crime rate goes down when enough people in an area are meditating,[4] achieving and holding a state of inner peace. In other words, we are all connected on some deep level, and our willingness to practice peace once a week produces a calming effect on the disturbed people in our surrounding community. By practicing peace, we can produce more peace in Portland.

Through music, movement, and the use of words and phrases that have been held sacred since ancient times, we hope to temporarily turn our attention away from everyday concerns; to give ourselves a break from tension and stress. Like a thirsty wanderer stopping for water, we hope to open and attune ourselves to the source of universal peace, love, healing and wisdom.

Giving ourselves these few hours of self-care strengthens and renews our spirits, brings us back to our own center and helps us to live more effectively in the everyday world.

I’d much rather be for something than against something else. I’d rather be pro-peace than anti-war. The Dances Of Universal Peace have given me a way of actively demonstrating peace, actually producing a bit  more peace, and sending it out to the world.

I admire people who can sit still for an hour and a half and do nothing, but a more active, moving meditation, like the Dances Of Universal Peace, is more my style. While engaging mind, heart and body, the simple mantric phrases and repeated group movements become automatic and somehow free the spirit to just be. At the same time, the focus on spiritual qualities attunes us to the Divine.

Because the dances are multi-cultural, they also encourage peace by actively honoring diversity. In the course of one evening, we may experience a Jewish dance, a Christian dance, Native American, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim dances. Studies show that singing another culture’s songs reduces ethnic tensions among schoolchildren.[5] This increased tolerance of, and respect for, other cultures is part of what Brian Eno calls the “civilizational benefits” of singing in a group – the immersion of self into community that nurtures peace, connection and empathy.[6]

The purpose of the Dances Of Universal Peace is to provide a social context where none are excluded, all can participate, and each has the possibility of having their own direct experience of the divine, without divisive doctrines and dogma. Opportunities abound for people to meet and mingle with members of their own church, but where else can you participate in a healthy, spiritually-oriented activity with people of different faiths?

Murshid Samuel Lewis, the founder of these dances, looked for what all faiths have in common, not what divides them. He taught that there is only one reality, and that all religions are approaching this one reality in their own way. It is more important and more helpful to acknowledge that our neighbors are sincerely seeking goodness than it is to criticize their manner of seeking.

You don’t have to be a good singer or dancer to enjoy, and benefit from, the Dances Of Universal Peace. All skill levels are welcome. Like a yoga class, where everyone from the beginner to the advanced does the best they can to hold a posture, everyone who tries gets a benefit from showing up and participating.

When I first started singing, I was afraid of what others might think of my voice. I also feared that my dancing would look foolish. I’m thankful now that my fear didn’t hold me back. Robert Fulghum says that rather than fearing we may look foolish, we should fear the shrinking of life that comes with not learning new things and not taking chances. His goal now is “to dance all the dances as long as I can, and then sit down contented.”[7]

These are some of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy and whole-heartedly recommend the Dances Of Universal Peace: they’re fun, active, social, spiritual, healing, community-building, soul-nurturing, life-prolonging, peace-producing and very affordable. All Dances Of Universal Peace held by Moving Meditations operate on a donation basis, and no one is turned away for lack of funds. Typical donations range from $10 – 20.

By the way, the third activity reported to prolong life in that Scandinavian study is camping. I go to as many dance camps as I can each year in order to enjoy all three.

[1] “Freestyling” Brian Eno, Resurgence, July/August 2008, No. 249

[2] Thom Hartmann, Walking Your Blues Away: How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being (Rochester, Vermont: Park Street Press, 2006)

[3] Kreutz, Gunter; Bongard, Stephan; Rohrmann, Sonja; Hodapp, Volker; Grebe, Dorothee (December 2004). "Effects of choir singing or listening on secretory immunoglobulin A, cortisol, and emotional state". Journal of Behavioral Medicine 27 (6): 623–635

[4] Hagelin, J.S., Rainforth, M.V., Orme-Johnson, D.W., Cavanaugh, K. L., Alexander, C.N., Shatkin, S.F., Davies, J.L, Hughes, A.O, and Ross, E. 1999. Effects of group practice of the Transcendental Meditation program on preventing violent crime in Washington D.C.: Results of the National Demonstration Project, June-July, 1993. Social Indicators Research, 47(2): 153-201

[5] Sousa, Neto & Mullet (2005) "Can music change ethnic attitudes among children?", in Psychology of Music, pp 304-315

[6] Weekend Edition Sunday by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick. To view and hear the entire article please go to

[7] Weekend Edition Sunday by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick. To view and hear the entire article please go to: