“You guys are jerks.”
No, I wasn’t talking to a student, a rude customer in line, or even a squirrel though always kind of strike me as jerks. I was talking to the arches of my feet, standing in a Mason’s lodge, on a wooden floor, on a chilly Saturday. The class was entitled Endings, and to start we were supposed to be bringing awareness to the physical ends of us, our feet and the tops of our heads. My head was no problem, I could feel the balls and heels of each foot, but the arches? Nothing. I bent down to look at them, and I could feel it when I touched them, but when I stood again and brought my non-visual attention there, it was simply void.
“You guys are jerks. What am I supposed to do when even my physical supports cut out on me?”
“Ahhh, so clearly this is not about the arches.”
Lesson number one of the day: I have fear I won’t be held if I move.
I have always felt unsafe in life to greater or lesser degrees, which is why refusing to deal with transitions into and out of things made sense for so long. The problem is, as the wise ones already know, just because you won’t look at it doesn’t make it go away. So a class on endings was both perfect and terrifying for me. I spent all Friday night thinking of reasons not to go: a) PMS will make me overly emotional and I won’t be able to read things correctly b) it might start raining early and you will likely get in an accident c) it’s dark earlier now and you have terrible night vision d) I am sad about Paris e) my favorite shirt to dance in is currently a resident of laundry mountain.
Of course I forgot to mention the most important thing to myself that night–I was scared of what I might say that day. So I woke up all unhinged on Saturday, announced my impending leave of absence to FB to put some skin in the game, told myself to put my big girl panties on, and drove the 90 minutes, crying roughly 45 of them.
Needless to say I was a little verklempt by the time I got there for warm up. Two things kept me from bolting-the beauty of the opening song, and the words of our formidable, silver haired teacher for the day. As the song fell like old leaves from a tree she said, “If nothing else this morning, connect to the basic goodness of moving your body in dance.” I sensed her patience, like that of storms who gather out in the ocean, waiting for their time, being more about restoring than destroying order. I decided to do what I ask my students to do, trust. “Okay storm lady, I can move.” I started to warm up, I found part of my smile…and then fast forward an hour or so and here we are again at me cursing my feet.
Sigh. Run away and protect people from my hideously deformed arches or keep trusting?
Lesson number two of the day: endings require trust.
The tempo started to speed up, and although the music landed smack in the middle of my bloodstream, I did not want to move at the speed of everyone else. As I dropped into slowness, there came my whole smile, and the teacher all of a sudden said, “You can move with or against the tempo of the music.” I almost wanted to go pick her up by her tiny frame and hug swing her, but I refrained and kept moving. I have been thinking about my need for more slowness now for at least a year, but had never connected it to endings. But as people dervished around me and sparks flew with the speed, I continued to slow down and realized that to end something I will have to be willing to be by myself and in opposition to a crowd. However, far from being scary or isolating, it felt SO FUCKING good! I could see everything, feel all parts of me, and my overload retreated. This slow down happened multiple times during the day, and each time it was so yummy I wanted to name a national park after it. Towards the end of class, in the midst of one of these slow downs, a speedy mover came to me, and although we started dancing, neither of us varied our pace. We were just there, going fast and going slow together.
Lessons numer three and four of the day: endings, like anything else, are easier when you are yourself, and people don’t require as much costuming from us as we think (are you blown away by any of these yet, because every last one of them rocks my face off).
Heading into the meat of the day–who knows how much longer it was as time takes on the quality of a giant soap bubble during these classes–we got into groups of three for an exercise which I will capture poorly here at best. Whoever started had a few minutes, while never ceasing to move, to describe what they were currently ending to their two partners, with the partners just moving with you, holding space and listening. As I started to describe what it was like for this to be my last year at school, emotion choking every other word, the imperative to move made so much sense. Our silver storm had talked earlier about there being no such thing as complete or tidy endings and the tendency to concretize if we sit around and wait for it to be perfect before we go, but only as I moved and described the process of leaving did I really understand the need to not make one moment your home. And as I opened up my mouth and these words spilled out, thought about in passing, but not yet spoken aloud, I realized how much more was knitting together with this ending than I had even realized. “I finally gave myself permission to grow up, and so I don’t need them anymore. I can carry my own weight.” You can re-read that sentence again if you want, I have been since I spoke it yesterday afternoon. Strangely enough, I had even thought it the day before when a classic ‘mean girl’ of mine rolled her eyes at me, my top sin for those of you who know teacher me, and I just let it go. “I’m so not 13 anymore,” I said to myself and then wrote on a post it because I loved the thought so much. Later in our class the instructor asked us to bring into the room something non-tangible that was seeking an ending and my first thought was my stale narrative: ‘there’s not enough.’ Lack, as well as insecurity and a dozen other things, are all integral parts of my teenage self.
After speaking for a few minutes, you were to designate one partner your unknown future and the other the thing you were leaving. You then placed them on opposite sides of a tightrope, one of our central metaphors for the day, and yourself somewhere in between. I picked my partners without much thought, the lady seemed nice, so she could represent all the kids, men are generally scarier to me, so I made the male in our trio my unknown future. I wanted to be closer to my future than my past, but I finally had to be honest and came right up to my past and placed my forehead against hers. As the music started she put her arm around me and scratched my back. I’m not sure how long I stayed in that position, but I know that pulling my forehead away, that break in thoughts, in agreement, was the hardest of all moves. I started to dance the tightrope near my past, trying to describe in actions the love I wanted the kids to feel, but finally even that was too close. I made one large leap toward my unknown future. I wanted to see what its dance was like, but I couldn’t look directly at it. Finally it was too much and I turned back towards my past. The look on her face was so like the kids that I wanted to die. Only later did I realize that she used to be a teacher who had left teaching (nope, not making that up). I dropped to the floor to dance, pressing my forehead to her feet, she scratched my back again, I could come back if I wanted to. I stuck my hand out behind me, and sent a thought to my unknown future:
“Please come get me!”
I can’t describe to you that moment of reaching out. A gesture I made multiple times as the dance continued. I realized I had been inviting this ending before I even knew I was inviting this ending. I didn’t just find myself here, I have agency in this process (and for the record we’re on lesson 15 or 16 now but I’m no longer counting). I let my future bring me away and we danced an awkward, funny dance, and he didn’t turn me away for not being more formal or well planned. And oh! I had such a sense of relief at his meatiness, his solidity. I realized why I had actually picked him as the future. I had needed to feel my future with weight and dimension. But, I could still feel my past, I turned around and went back one last time, trying to show them that they didn’t actually need us as much as we needed them. The past looked at me dismayed and pulled on the hem of my shirt. I lost it. I curled up in a ball on the floor to deflect notice. The past started to pull on my pant leg and my future came for my outstretched hand.
My heart was broken. I was there to feel it break and tear like scar tissue on a badly healed wound.
What do you want Chelsea?
I pulled away from them both and flattened to the floor. I took one deep breath, full of the guts of the earth and the will to live in the radar, and leapt to my feet. I turned to my future and we started the goofiest, most high spirited dance. We danced for a while and then I invited the past to come dance with us. When she joined the circle, oh I laughed, I wish I could describe it well, like the laugh of someone trying orange juice in their Cherrios for the first time because they are out of milk. We danced like crazy Sufis, and then I suddenly felt done with her so I twirled her gently out of our circle as the future and I kept rumpusing. I heard her applauding right before the dance ended.
The rest of the afternoon is somewhat of a blur, but my last dance of the night was with one then three other beautiful women. Kathy asked us to take a partner and then dance the way we would if we knew this person’s life was ending. I saw my partner, dancing on the floor and thought, if I held her ending in my consciousness, I would meet her where she is at. So we frolicked on the floor with such sweetness. Then we were supposed to take our two to another two. This dance started energetic and then turned into a hug-huddle-sway. If you can love people you don’t know, just as much as yourself, that was what happened.
Lesson number ?? of the day (told you I wasn’t counting anymore): endings require support. Those can come from strangers, friends, family, paid professionals, or oddly, yourself.