Crawling Home

What happens when an ancient need is met, especially one you didn’t know you had?

I opened to a rare chance to peek at the answer this weekend.  The premise was simple: a four day conscious dance workshop that explored the physical principles of vibrant and lasting relationship building.  I know I just lost some of you with a loudly blown raspberry and a scoff of, “Too weird!!”  But for those of you still here…

I never learned most of these things, and I imagine most of us would say the same.  By a certain age, usually five or six for friendships and early thirties for romantic partners, you are just supposed to know how to be together.  But we started with the building blocks; how do you stay with yourself and not get lost in partnership? And we ended today with the vital; how do you stay resilient during bumps in the road and even reframe how you interpret them?  It is poetry–metaphorical, intuitive, direct, and though my mind still reels, my body and heart recognized it, welcomed it more and more deeply with each unfolding layer.

Though I am taking away many tools and much sweet relief, one exercise in particular will stick with me.  Dance partners were to pick a spot on the floor and dub it “home.”  Then, after spending some time in dance together, one partner was supposed to leave and enjoy their dance elsewhere on the floor while the other “stayed home” and held knowledge of the connection they had shared thus far.  When they came back they could leave again, or the other partner could leave and search for their destiny.  We did this exercise twice.  My first partner and I enjoyed our dances, but there was no real revelation there.  Before we started with our new partners, the facilitator made it clear: “The only fixed rule here is that one partner must stay home.  Otherwise, use your creativity.”

I knew instantly what I wanted.  I saw my friend Claire, one of the teaching staff for the weekend, sitting up near the stage on the floor.  I wanted to go lay down and put my head in her lap.  “Okay?” was the noncommittal response of my logic.

As we started to dance, I realized how delicious my partner was.  He and I had such effortless connection, such gentle flow, that I did not actually want to leave.  He wasn’t leaving either.  I considered just staying there, squeezing all the goodness out of him while I “had” him, but then I realized that partnering pattern was familiar also.  So, I finally started to dance away.

“Maybe I’ll just go dance near Claire.”

“No, you know what you want to do.”

“But everyone else is moving, I can’t just kick back while there is work being done.”

“But that’s what we’re going to do.”

“But what if we’re disturbing her.  This is her work time, she’s probably supposed to be watching the floor.”

“Chelsea, I love you.  Will you trust me?  Will you be on my team for this one?”

I couldn’t fight with that, although my love of propriety was still protesting.  I went and laid down on the floor next to Claire, halfway across the room from my partner, and without a word, plopped my head in her lap.

Then the most amazing thing happened.  She started to stroke my hair, like my mother did when we were kids.  Now, let me make clear, although Claire is a deeply nurturing person, we’re not really ‘stroke the hair’ kind of friends.  We say fuck a lot, mean girl out when one of us is having a bad day, she brings me germ fighting supplies when I’m sick, and I tell her stories about funny or inspirational children I work with.  This was not our norm, there was no plan for this, but it was peace beyond what words can say.  I relaxed into this attention as easily as I had with my partner.

After a few moments, or maybe it was an eternity, I remembered my beautiful partner.  I wanted to go home.  I should stop here and say that again: I WANTED TO GO HOME.  I did not go out of habit or supposed to, but because I was genuinely curious about what could happen there.  This was different than how I usually approached partnerships, romantic or otherwise.  I then went to get up but realized that I did not want to walk back, twirl back, stomp back, or skip back.  I wanted to crawl.  Maybe without the peace of the lap, another departure from logic would not have been possible, but I understood the “correctness” of this desire in this moment.

I started to crawl.  My chest tightened with emotion, my body all of a sudden heavier, my breath caught in my throat.  It was as if a large gong had rung right by my ear and the lines of many different realities wobbled together in that moment as one.  I knew my mother, Debra, was with me–never able to rest and so never able to fully grasp her own incredible strength.  I crawled a little further.  I knew my grandmothers were with me–my maternal, Hermine, deprived of her own mother’s lap since she died in childbirth, my paternal, Maxine, hiding under the table from a drunk husband with a shotgun, protecting six boys, their shield.  I crawled a little further.  I even felt Verna, my paternal great grandmother, helping to raise her six grandkids while the men went off to war, later protecting a daughter who was in over her head.  I knew they needed me in that moment to accept a new collective direction, to untwirl the shame and the vigilance choking our DNA.  I knew, most of all, that I was with me, completely and at a cellular level, with no need to serve the designs of another.  I crawled further still.

I was gutted with the surprise of how long I had wanted to do this for–to crawl home, bloody, messy, inappropriate, lost–and be met and received, no questions asked.  I was heartbroken by how little I had done it in the past, even when there had been openings.  In fact, I wondered, had I ever done it without reservation or regard for outcome?  I am quite good at reining in the mess, even a big mess, at the slightest sign that someone is inconvenienced.  I felt the Earth under me, covered by our warm, wood planked dance floor.  I had been here before too.  Little visible emotion was needed as my inner worlds and my motherline collided.  I knew I was held.  I kept going.

At this point I realized my partner, still dancing, was watching me.  And I will love this relative stranger forever for this, but here are the things he did not do: 1) Come and get me.  He let me have my entire journey, and he let it be about me, not him.  2) Show any sign of distress–looking alarmed, asking if I was okay, abandoning his dance.  Though my journey was breaking my worlds open, he treated it as normal in the course of an evolving human life.  3) (Most importantly) When I finally reached him, he let me stay there on my knees for a few moments, only finally reaching down to help gather me up.  I was let in the door, seen, and partnered with the exquisite grace I had always truly longed for.

It was healing.

So, what do you do when an ancient need is met?  You write, dance, and love with all the honey heavy gratitude that swells in you.  You play in the space that is left behind, exploring its contents, its corners, its permission and brilliance and rewritten narratives in the eyes of another.  You let other, more known, needs be met in quick succession.  Things that hinged on this cornerstone don’t have to wait any longer.

They form the first bits of the building tumbling up from this new foundation.

 

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“Are you sure about that?”

I find it fascinating how little I know about myself.  Those who know me might be similarly bemused by this statement, knowing the reflective soul I am.  But I find myself wondering tonight if it’s the same for everyone.  After all, it only really occurred to me two or three years ago that I was not the other people around me, so maybe I am alone on this fascination island.  Or, is our larger cultural intolerance for mystery based on the fact that we’re all dumbfounded just keeping up with the changes of me, myself, and I?

I know many of my more enlightened friends would say there is no self, and while I increasingly see separateness for the fake-out that it is, I am not at that point yet.  I still believe in a separate self–currently manifesting physically as a Kleenex graveyard on my living room floor and highly pressurized right ear drum.  I am here–warts, wishes, and all.  And it is in these times of heightened joy or stress that I find myself tilting my head at the mirror and saying, “Huh?”

I, like many, am a big baby when sick.  Fortunately for me (insert sarcasm here), my switch from medium sized to little kids has put me in contact with a whole host of germs I have no immunity for yet–fucked up, steroid popping, rob-your-house-run-over-your-cat type germs.  And, not that I expect them to, but they have no hygiene knowledge yet (okay, I lied, I expect them to a little bit).  Last week, a fourteen month old sneezed in my eye after his not-even-guilty mother lured me over without mentioning his sickness, and then promptly snuck out the back door.  Now, I don’t know if you have ever had someone sneeze in your eye, to where you can actually feel the spittle land in your eyeball, but it really makes you question your life choices.  This ushered in my fourth cold in four months.

And I’m surprised, not by my whininess, but how inflexible and young so much of my thinking still is.  “I’m going to be sick forever!!!” I exclaimed to myself with true conviction at somewhere around 3am this morning, and even in my groggy state, I knew I meant it.  Something that had been happening for a little less than a week, was clearly going to happen FOREVER.  The darkness of my thoughts, relative to my actual condition, also catch me off guard–‘you are stupid to be sick again, you are failing at being an adult, people are tired of putting up with you.’  Again, not cancer, not loss of a limb, but all my shadows seem to have full reign during these last four colds.  Is the boundary between me and them really so thin?  They don’t feel this close in my non-couchbound life.

I’ve also been startled by my joys lately.  I set out to enjoy every day in March this year in order to make up for all those March’s as a teacher where I was stressed out and exhausted.  It’s been tantalizing and sweet so far, besides the whole getting sick part, but it occurs to me I don’t even know what brings me pleasure as well as I thought.  Walking home after a day full of delicious meandering last week, the thing that brought me the most pleasure was noticing a tree branch that was dripping water on a bone dry day.  It was literally oozing with the recent collection of rain.  I stood and took picture after picture of the water collecting and falling from the green branch tip.  I even managed to catch one drop in mid-air.  After sleeping in, making breakfast, catching good tunes on Pandora, a walk, a pastry and coffee, coloring, people watching, and park going–that branch topped all of them.  I can safely say it equaled my joy in the whole rest of the day.

And so maybe limited self-knowledge is necessary, both for continued knowledge and for yummy surprises.  It must definitely be a component of deeper compassion, both for myself and others.  If we knew how little we knew….I wonder what else would be possible?  As a three year old asked me recently when I said that we could grow the ingredients for stew, but not actually stew, in her mom’s garden: “Are you sure about that?”

Things Snakes Taught Me About Letting Go

I’ve been trying to write this post for three weeks.  I thought I was getting stuck with not knowing the objective of the writing, but it turns out I am just annoyed with the subject.  However, as I sat in the park tonight eating a sandwich, serenading everything as evening dawned, the trees told me that I should just get on with it already.  I’ve learned to stop fighting the trees.

The subject is leaving, letting go, or any other words you’d like to put to the experience, better or worse, of separating.  I’ve never been good with leaving, whether for my own health or that of another.  I know this is a struggle that many share, and since the last three years have been filled with almost constant opportunities for me to let go, there’s been a lot of struggle.  For all the awkward freedom and delicious uncertainty it keeps bringing, I am SUPER READY to be done with this topic.

Unfortunately, I’ve only swam to about the middle of Leaving Lake, and it is not quite done with me yet.

I felt moved to build this Winter’s altar around the subject.  It displays a weird and precious assortment of things I’ve recently let go, things I am in the process of letting go, and even things that are leaving me with very little conscious work.  It’s messy, it somehow doesn’t seem complete or logical, and yet I’m mesmerized by it.  Back in my Jesus days, there was a whole family of sermons around the story of Jesus telling disciples they had to “count the cost” of following him.  Years later, I find myself doing the same thing, but with me: studying what I’m giving up in order to really follow myself.  Some of the things bring me sadness to leave behind, and some of them I am beyond ready to do away with.

It occurred to me early into this altar building process that I spend way more attention on inhaling than exhaling.  Every time a mindfulness practitioner tries to get me to take a breath, my attention rarely follows the information offered by the exhale.  So, like any fixating nerd, I started to pay attention, and I mean REALLY pay attention.  Turns out, exhaling is fucking awesome!  It actually lasts for longer than the inhale if you count the cascade of untensing muscles that is still happening when the last breath leaves your lungs.  I could feel it go down the back of my neck vertebrae and out all of the roundy parts of me: knuckles, elbows, hips, knees, heels.  I could even feel the bottom of my rib cage on both sides.  If you’ve never registered awareness of your rib cage before, or lingered with the feeling of it, it is something I highly suggest.  I started to wonder why the word exhale itself had so many straight lined letters, there was suddenly not enough curviness, not enough oomph, to the physical appearance of the word.

I began sitting in front of this altar many nights, studying it while I paid attention to my exhales.  I rang my singing bowl.  And wonderfully, going back to my feeling of being annoyed by this topic, I didn’t think too much.

Some weeks later, I was sitting in a car trying to unspool the complexity of all this to a friend.  She looks at me after a typically verbose explanation and says, “So you’re shedding.”  Ding, ding, ding!  Yes, that.  And before you know it, I had moved on to reading and nerd fixating about shedding in various animals, but mostly snakes.  My brain felt beautifully blown up by the simplicity of all I found.  Maybe the reason some learning takes so long is because we are trying to reinvent the fucking wheel when the mirror of Creation is right in front of us.

Things Snakes Taught Me About Letting Go:

  • The shed skin can be up to twice the length of the actual snake because of how densely the skin cells are wrapped.  Oh.  Okay, so, it’s not just me that this is taking so long for?  It’s supposed to take this long.  Awesome, I’m right on time.
  • Lack of moisture can lead to incomplete shedding.  I hear a whole room of junior high kids laughing as I ask this next question, but here goes anyways: what makes you moist?  What hydrates my soul, your soul, the soul of our society if we still have one, in order that it can outgrow the things that hold it back?  Reading this simple snake fact brings me deep quiet.  Moving water has always enthralled me, pulled me back from the brink after too long days.  The reverence I felt at Niagara Falls this summer…my soul was doing what it needed to do without me having the exact playbook or why of it all.
  • Incomplete shedding around the eyes can lead to blindness if not corrected.  And as one website went on to say, in nature a blind snake is a dead snake.  Yes, I want to feel like I have shed old limitations, roles, habits, etc., but from blindness back to more integrated degrees of health, takes time.  A few years back I told a therapist, “I feel like I have ten years worth of ignored transitions to deal with.”  At a certain point we know the effect of incomplete shedding, and have to dive in and start to work where we can.  The websites all agreed that an owner might have to assist a snake with incomplete shedding by soaking it in a tub or misting it while it sheds.  And although I have not bought a spray bottle (yet?) to spray myself with, the visual amuses me.
  • Besides growth, shedding is necessary to help rid the snake of parasites that have clamped on to its skin.  Do I need to say more about this one?  Well I’m not going to–let the part of your brain where metaphor tromps around have a field day with this!
  • After shedding a snake often takes a big ol’ poop (note: no website actually used the phrase ‘big ol’ poop’ in a scientific fashion, but I find the word ‘defecate’ entirely too fancy for the act of pooping).  So after you let go, you let go again?  I’ll admit, this one has me stumped and intrigued.  It is definitely stuck in my brain in the last week that I’ve known it.

Getting back to my original worry, I don’t really know the purpose for writing this, or what it will shift in my/your daily practice of release.  At the very least, I can keep swimming with these lessons a few miles further thanks to these new goggles.