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.