Greetings! I would like to welcome everyone to the Art of Ninzuwu blog page. If this is your first time visiting our site, please feel free to use this opportunity to review some of our previous articles and discussions. We wish you all the best in your spiritual endeavors and we express our deepest gratitude for taking an interest in Ninzuwu Culture. Stay blessed!
It is an honor and privilege to hear from our following guest. Her wisdom has become a source of inspiration for hundreds of people living in the world today. Meeting Jennifer Edwards marked a turning point in my life. I doubt if I would be where I am today if it weren’t for her advice. Fortunately, we captured this experience in a skit that is posted at the end of this interview.
While Jennifer Edwards, also known as JenEd, is often sought after for her spiritual insights and experience, she is also an accomplished artist. JenEd’s life is an open book and today we get a glimpse of its contents. Enjoy!
Warlock Asylum: I am so happy that we’ve finally got the opportunity to sit down and chat after all these years. Well, we are still young, so let me use the term months. Laughs. You’ve really help me get to a better place in life and I am sure that other people have benefited from your wisdom. However, for our readers who are not familiar with your persona, how would you describe yourself?
Jennifer Edwards: I always find this question to be the hardest to answer, so thanks for diving right to the core Messiah’el. I dread this question because I do many things and most people like things and people who are easy to understand and fit into neat boxes and categories. I’ve never been easily boxed-in. I like that fact, but it makes it more difficult to share what I ‘do’ (or who I am) in a concise way. The closest I’ve come is this: I am a storyteller and choreographer. I choreograph in multiple media, movement, words, ideas, conversations, and group dynamics. I use the titles choreographer, facilitator, and writer because they generally fit the types of work I do. I facilitate thinking groups, trainings, and organizational development processes. I write poems, essays, stories, reports, and articles. I choreograph dances, direct plays. I also choreograph and design group processes for employees of organizations, so they can problem-solve and communicate better while working toward a specific goal.
On a personal note, I’ll share this; I took one of those Buzzfeed quizzes titled, “what famous painting are you.” It told me that I am Claude Monet’s ‘Sunrise’ and reflected this: “You are a contemplative person who thinks about the world and your place in it. You are also an idealist, and can get swept up in ideas and dreams. You make sure to spend much of your time in solitude: that is how you recharge your battery. You also love to engage in deep conversations with others, conversing on the meaning of life and asking life’s big questions. There is a spiritual side to you that others may not know about, and you connect most with that higher source when in nature…” Strangely, this is spot-on. I guess self-reflection comes through many different delivery systems.
Warlock Asylum: You are a woman of many talents with a lot of creative energy. Many people admire some of the amazing things that you have developed as a choreographer and dancer. What inspired you to pursue the art of dance?
Jennifer Edwards: Well, there is the family story that goes something like, I was born. I started to crawl, then walk, and then dance. When I was three years old, my great-aunt gave my mom the money to enroll me in ballet class and the rest is herstory (or, rather my story). Honestly, I never chose dance. It chose me! At this point in life, dance is simply my native language. Even when I’m not actively practicing it, I can go into a studio with dancers and create a piece or work on a play as a movement director. It’s natural, like riding a bike for most people. I never learned how to ride a bike, at least not with confidence. However, making dances is like that for me. It’s something I know how to do well.
Warlock Asylum: Although I am limited to the two-step when it comes to dance, I have great admiration for the craft. Just from my observation, dance seems to be a spiritual practice. What is your understanding of this? Do you find any spiritual value in dance?
Jennifer Edwards: Historically speaking, dance has long been noted as being part of spiritual practice. Even ballet was developed and used to elevate the dancer. It was used by the French King Louis XIV in his court. Louis XIV called himself the sun god and played this part in a ballet made for him wherein he played the leading role, of course. In the time of Louis the XIV dance was used to transcend the human form. It was thought that one could become closer to god, or more god-like, through executing dance steps perfectly.
In other traditions, dance is used to connect to one’s ancestors, or spirit guides. In many African cultures, aboriginal societies, Native American cultures, dance is used to speak, walk with, and appease their higher guides and gods.
I’ve had many different experiences with dance. Sometimes dancing is like any other job. I learn my role and execute it to the best of my ability. Other times, dance is like meditation, where I feel deeply connected to everything and everyone around me. I have used dance to unearth hidden parts of myself, to connect with my higher self and spirit. I’ve used it to disappear into a world of my own creation. Again, I come back to dance it’s kind of like riding a bike. For some, riding a bike is a grounded, even a spiritual experience. For others, it gets them to and from work. And for still others, it serves multiple purposes, some mundane and some transcendent.
Warlock Asylum: Every once in a while we meet a person gifted in some specialized field of study, but you have so many gifts, acting, an award-winning poet, and writer. What is your source of inspiration? Is there any particular art form that you enjoy more than the others?
Jennifer Edwards: Well, the bottom line of what energizes me in everything I do is creativity, communication, and story-telling. In many ways, the medium means less than the message. What I mean is that I often get an idea and then decide whether I should tell the story using dance, poetry, or a short story. Very often, I am offered an opportunity to take part in an existing work, perhaps a play. When the medium has already been chosen I have to decide whether the story being told is one that I relate to and want to be a part of.
I feel myself most when I’m writing, but I wouldn’t say that’s because I enjoy it more. There is more time and space for me right now when I write. Dance and theater rely on renting space, hiring people, and everything is budgeted, including time. When I write, I just need a desk, my computer, or paper and pens. I can write all day and all night if I want. It’s just more free and freeing.
I am motivated and inspired by emotional resonance. When some person, event, or injustice strikes me and sticks, like I can’t shake it, like it tells me that it needs to be excavated, put front and center, and shed light on. I feel compelled to explore it in a public way.
Warlock Asylum: Based on some of my own personal experiences in Eastern mysticism and shamanism, being highly talented is regarded as a gift from the divine world, a mark of true initiation even in Ninzuwu culture. Where do you get the energy to keep going? What’s your source of inspiration? Is art an aspect of your spiritual path?
Jennifer Edwards: I don’t know that I view these things as different. I don’t know that I have a spiritual practice that is separate or different from my creative practice. I do know that making art happens in the flow, as does communion with my higher self. I often set out to make something, get lost, and at some point, look up, and it’s done. Kind of like when I sit with a mantra or an intention and when I stand up again, I have clarity or resolution.
Warlock Asylum: I remember meeting you for the first time. I could feel your aura a block away from where you actually stood. Many people who know you personally admire your depth of spiritual knowledge and energy. How did your spiritual quest, in lack of a better term, begin?
Jennifer Edwards: For me it’s always been a quest of remembering. As a young child, I found every opportunity to lie in the middle of a field behind my house, or in the woods beyond the field. These spaces were where I felt loved, connected. I grew up with an evangelist Christian mother and atheist father. My home life was intense. I learned to fear nearly everything from my mother and question everything from my father. I am a skeptic. So, I try to, at least metaphorically, lie in fields as much as possible. I try to remember what I was born knowing.
Warlock Asylum: What challenges did you have to face to be the person you are spiritually?
Jennifer Edwards: The hardest things for me to negotiate are romantic relationships. This is where I lose my connection to myself. I’m working on it.
Warlock Asylum: Yoga has become very popular form of exercise today. I know that you have experience in Tantric Yoga and have pursued the deeper knowledge of this path. How has yoga affected your life?
Jennifer Edwards: I was initially drawn to yoga because of the physical practice (the asana practice). I had no idea that there are seven other tenants of a yoga practice when I began the study of this philosophy. The eight tenants, called limbs, of an Ashtanga yoga practice (the word Ashtanga refers to this eight-limbed system) basically offer frameworks and practices for how to treat and honor others, yourself and the divine through your daily actions and intentions.
I was initially drawn to yoga because, as a dancer, as someone who experienced ‘god’ or ‘love’ on a cellular level, through my whole being, I needed a spiritual practice that valued the physical body. The Christian traditions that I was exposed to shunned the body and so those philosophies never resonated with me. Now, thank goodness, I question everything, because the deeper I dove into yoga, the more I learned that many of the physical yogic practices were meant to ‘cleans’ the body and transcend the physical and that didn’t sit right with me either.
I was lucky to find a teacher, Kirin Mishra, who possesses a lineage that includes both Vedic and Tantric practice. She was able to define and combine these two different approaches to yogic practice. Tantra refers to the cosmic web, the belief that everything is connected and interrelated. It is a more inclusive and feminine practice. It saddens me that in the US we conflate Tantra with some very obscure Tantric sexual practices. I know very little about this part of Tantra, which I understand is basically the equivalent of the pinky-fingernail of the whole body of Tantric philosophy. It is also symbolic of what the West has done with yoga practice, sensationalized it, sexualized it, and marginalized it to the very lucrative potency of an OM bumper sticker.
Warlock Asylum: Being that you are an experienced practitioner of yoga and an initiate of its esoteric side, what is your opinion of today’s “yoga trend?”
Jennifer Edwards: I think it’s great that many people are finding a connection to themselves physically. I also see a lot of people getting injured in yoga classes taught by poorly trained teachers because they are attempting advanced poses without working up to them. I would rather see ballet hold the place that yoga currently holds in today’s exercise trend. Ballet is a more precise, structured practice and more appropriate for people who sit at computers all day. Restorative yoga is appropriate for everyone, but if you want to sweat in a class and you are new to embodied practice, Vinyasa, Power and most Hatha classes are not for you, in my opinion.
There are good, thoughtful systems of yoga. Iyengar, for example, has a great approach to teaching. Iyengar teachers are very careful with students’ bodies and health. Students move through levels, much like martial arts forms use the belt system.
Warlock Asylum: Another aspect of your work is teaching. According to your website you offer classes in “entrepreneurship (including marketing, brand development, writing and blogging), wellness (including stress management, self-care, and body-mind practice) and contact improvisation (for actors and dancers).” Can you explain a little bit more about the courses you offer and what can your clients expect to gain from this instruction?
Jennifer Edwards: I’m generally hired by universities and organizations, so I don’t have individual clients, per se. However, everything I teach is based on clear communication. I view entrepreneurship as a tool set that helps people to read their field within the context of the market place and then communicate their position clearly with an audience (or consumers). I view stress management as a tool set that helps people communicate clearly with themselves, their bodies, and see the various aspects of their lives as a continuum, placing each life event in context with their life-goals and core values. Contact improvisation workshops and classes are movement classes, wherein, people learn to trust each other and themselves through clear physical intention and body language.
Warlock Asylum: Often times, we hear of people who present themselves as being spiritually aware, but suffer in knowledge of business or just how to take care of themselves. It’s really good to see person as yourself, who offer instruction in both of these aspects of life. Do you think that the worlds of business and spirituality are really separate?
Jennifer Edwards: No, and I think that by separating them we find ourselves where we are, with fractured approaches to work, life, spirit, and health. I see so many beautiful, dedicated, spiritually-minded folks suffering from lack-mentality. They are going without because money is somehow bad or because they have internalized a story of needing to suffer for their art or their higher calling. They feel like they should be giving energy, but have trouble receiving energy in return. Money is energy in today’s economy. We often equate money with power and think power is a negative thing. Money and power can be put to use in bad ways or in positive ways. It’s really up to the user. Do you use your influence and resources in service of others or to keep others down? I feel that things will only change when conscious people start viewing money and power differently.
Warlock Asylum: Can you tell us a little bit about Edwards and Skybetter LLC? How did this company come about, its purpose and your role in it?
Jennifer Edwards: Edwards and Skybetter is a company focused on facilitation, strategy and change. We work with arts and culture organizations and institutions of higher education. I, along with my business partner Sydney Skybetter, created this company in 2011 and we’ve worked on projects ranging from developing a yearly symposium with the Jerome Robbins Foundation to guiding large institutions through major decision-making processes.
Warlock Asylum: What would you say is the biggest lesson that you have learned in life, considering all that you have accomplished thus far?
Jennifer Edwards: Everything is a transition. It’s cliché, but life is truly a journey, not a destination. You will never find the perfect balance, or find your bliss, or get ahead and stay in that strait. All of these things will happen, and then they won’t and then they will again. Life is not a balancing act. It is the daily practice of acts of balance.
Warlock Asylum: What are your thoughts on women and society? Do you think that women are finally getting the respect they deserve?
Jennifer Edwards: I think we have a very long way to go. Cat-calling happens every second, of every day. Rape happens multiple times an hour, everyday. Women are beaten every minute of everyday. Shaming, bullying, forced marriages, breast ironing, genital mutilation, trafficking, all these things happen to girls and women around the world and in this country everyday. I am thankful that I have the right to speak and to vote and to get an education and own property and create a business. Yes, those things signal progress. But until safety, authority over one’s own body and life-choices is unequivocally available to every woman, then NO, I don’t think women are getting what we deserve.
Warlock Asylum: What are some of the improvements that you would like to see in society in regards to the rights of women?
Jennifer Edwards: First, I don’t think it’s just women and I don’t think we can make it just about women. It’s the rights of every human and equity for all minority-voiced people: poor, female, trans, queer, people of color, and people of different abilities. We need equal treatment for every human, period.
Warlock Asylum: It’s really sad that everyday some form of abuse, if not fatality, against women occurs. What advice would you give to a woman who’s in an abusive situation and feels like she has nowhere to turn?
Jennifer Edwards: First, this is an impossible question and I don’t have a ‘good’ or ‘right’ answer. However, I do know that it is not the woman’s fault when she finds herself in an abusive situation. The shame, blame and embarrassment that many women feel that keep them from speaking out is part of the abuse that is being enacted. I would urge women to speak out! Tell the whole story to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, there is no escape on one’s own. Sometimes the abuser is so obsessed and sociopathic that alone you can not leave or run away. But if enough people know all the pieces of the puzzle of the abuse, there may be hope. And once you step away, you can never go back, find a shelter, find a ‘survivors’ group! Remember that ‘survivor’ is a label and that you have the power to define your own future. Remember that no one ‘deserves’ or ‘asks for’ physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. It is always the perpetrator’s fault and lack of human decency and self-control that leads to abuse. It is not your responsibility to change, help or forgive them. It is your responsibility to heal and grow yourself.
Warlock Asylum: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in finding themselves spiritually? Perhaps trying to find a specific path to follow?
Jennifer Edwards: In my experience, you need to find a path that feels right emotionally, spiritually, physically, and intellectually. Every path will challenge you, but the right path for you is something that blossoms from within. It isn’t something that you have to force or to try to ‘stick to.’ If you find yourself feeling defensive about your spiritual path in the company of others, it’s time to reevaluate. Ask yourself where the pressure is coming from. Generally, when a philosophy is a natural fit for you, even when other people judge you, you stay grounded because you are confident in your choice. But, if you’re questioning your own path, then don’t run from those questions, explore them. I believe that as long as a path is grounded in love, not domination, control, manipulation, but pure, unconditional love, you can’t go wrong. Any spiritual path that claims superiority over others or tries to convert people through fear is not based in love. Sit with love in your heart. Explore what love feels like. Be in love (not with another person, but just with love itself) and you will find the path that will connect you with your highest, truest self.
Warlock Asylum: I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to visit us, any final words of wisdom for practitioners of the Art of Ninzuwu and our readers?
Jennifer Edwards: Emotions are meant to be felt, not acted out upon others, not shut down or bottled up, but felt, shared, and experienced. Emotions are guides and pathways that lead us toward powerful truths. Emotions can be mercurial, so study them, and never think you have them figured out. They will surprise you. Your strength lies in your emotions. Don’t run from them. Sit with your emotions. They can be revelatory company.
*On behalf of the Art of Ninzuwu, I would like to personally thank, my dear friend, Jennifer Edwards, for taking the time to share her experiences, insights, and wisdom with us. We appreciate, not only your artistic contributions, but also what you have given to the community of humanity.