The Still Point of the Turning World

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This week Wendy Roman, of Rhythmwood Dance Studio, asked her Facebook readers what the phrase “Effortless Effort” means to them through dance. Another reader and dancer, Laine Magidsohn, suggested it be called “Dynamic Ease.” I like both phrases. Both phrases speak of finding that balance between active participation and passive release.

I think ‘Effortless Effort’ and ‘Dynamic Ease’, are both phrases of just stepping aside for a moment to connect with life’s energy force. Letting it flow within, embodying it, giving it room to become one with me and then moving forward together. I don’t just step aside and let it take me over. We work together, side-by-side, internally as one. One body, one flow of energy.

When I was getting my MA in Dance at York University, my thesis centered on finding the relationship between creativity and spirituality. I held a day long workshop of movement and dance, journaling and oral sharing. Later in evaluations of the experience, two of the participants spoke of finding ‘stillness’ in the ‘movement’ while they danced. A paradox. After the event, one of the participants gave me a beautiful hand-made calligraphy copy of an excerpt of T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets – Burnt Norton.” For her, his poem spoke of finding “The Still Point of the Turning World” and acted as a metaphor for her experience.

From T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets – Burnt Norton”:

            “At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

            Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

            But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

            Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

            Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

            There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Finding that balance of stillness and movement is a form of active release. It means standing still for a moment, breathing, centering myself, becoming deeply aware of all that is around me so that I can connect with the movement of life and its energy and begin to move as one with it. It’s becoming as T. S. Eliot calls ‘The Still Point’ so that I become the axis around which my world turns. I am integral to its being. I support it, as I become the stillness from which the movement circulates. The world rotates around me, life happens, but I am always centered and strong, actively a part of it, and deeply aware of the bonded process. It’s finding “The Still Point of the Turning World” within myself.

Choose to Live

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At a recent writer’s retreat I attended, I was sharing my published books with another new writer friend. An author has to be able to say what his or her book is about in under 30 seconds, one or two sentences at the most. My keynote for my first book is “10 – A Story of Love, Life, and Loss, is an inspiring cancer story. It may uplift and encourage you to live your best life.” I often say “It’s an inspiring memoir/cancer journey/love story.”

Then, my friend asked me a simple question, one I had never been asked before so succinctly.

“So, how do you continue to live a quality life when you’ve been given a terminal diagnosis with no hope of a cure?”

Her succinct question demanded a succinct answer. She wanted to know in a few sentences how my husband and I did it.

I answered her this way, in list form: change your focus to ‘living’ rather than ‘dying,’ live in the moment, live with gratitude, and focus on your abilities, not your losses.

  1. Focus on ‘living’ every day, rather than ‘dying.’ You try to fill your day with as many life-fulfilling activities and people as you can, and you focus on those positive messages and feelings, rather than negative people, circumstances and thoughts.
  2. Live in the moment, with mindfulness, tapping into all your senses. Taste that juicy apple, smell that scented rose, look up at the sky and the clouds floating by, feel the softness of your child’s cheek, listen to the sounds of nature all around you. Often, the simplest things are the most meaningful.
  3. Live with gratitude. Say thank you. When you awake, be grateful for another day given, and when you go to sleep, say thank you for all you received.
  4. Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. In spite of impending losses, you still are capable of many things. Use your time to enjoy doing those things you can still do.

“10 – A Story of Love, Life, and Loss’ is a story of struggle, pain and loss, but at the heart of it, it is a story of love, hope, and strength. It is a story that may help others who have been given a life-debilitating diagnosis, as well as helping their caretakers and loved ones who journey with them.

My book can be purchased at The Bookshelf, Guelph; BookLore, Orangeville; Hannelore Headely Old & Fine Books, St. Catharines and Tamara’s Esthetics & Reflexology, Guelph. It can also be purchased directly from me by messaging me. Buy it online at amazon.ca.

 

Good Grief

Barb Heagy GGP Book Launch 003-001We had a very successful book launch. Thank you to all who came out. Here is my speech:

The first thing I want to say is how honoured I have been to be a part of this very special book, Good Grief People. I knew none of these authors, except for a slight acquaintance with Donna Mann, until we began working on the manuscript last year. Glynis M. Belec, Carolyn Wilker, Ruth Smith Meyer, Donna Mann, and Alan Anderson, I now count you as best friends, my BFF’s, and I admire and respect you all so much. My friends have taught me much about death, dying, and the grief process.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what ‘good grief’ is. And now that I see the book in its final form with all our stories and poems, I think I would have this to say about good grief.

Good grief is about bravery, sensitivity, acceptance, and a generous, fearless attitude to life.

Grief is much like falling in love – to do it well, we have to drop the barriers holding us back from fully stepping forward into it. Yes, it’s a powerful emotion, as powerful as love. But that’s what grief is – love. When we have loved deeply, we grieve deeply.

Good grief means facing the fear, the anger, and processing it in good faith. It’s about examining one’s life and finding new purpose and a new identity. It’s about a willingness to live and find a new you.

Like a woman in labour, who works with her body and mind to embrace the pain, to release it instead of fighting it and bottling it up, when I grieve well, I learn to ‘go with the flow’. These stories have taught me that I can birth myself into a new identity. It will be a world without you, a different world, but I will still be in it and will find my new life.

Grief is like a wounded athlete who learns to work through an injury, strengthening the other muscles and joints to heal an injury to regain our health and wholeness once again. Grief can be like an amputation, and when you think about it, losing someone dear to you is like losing a part of yourself. But even through that, we can learn to do things in a new way and go on.

Good grief is the fork in the road, and although we may hesitate, we choose to take it in good faith. It’s the willingness to continue the journey, a journey into the unknown.

Good grief is the willingness to accept the end of one story and move on to the next chapter or book. We all have our favourite books and stories that we just hate to see end. We stretch out the best parts, savour it, read it again slowly, or even stop reading because we can’t bear for it to be over. But it does come to an end. And then we move on to the next story, but not until we have placed that story in our ‘favourite books’ shelf for safe-keeping and re-reading. We know that we can return to it again and again, but we know too that it will never be the same as that first time experience.

I hope that our book, these stories, will help you find hope in the midst of despair, comfort from the pain, joy in the sadness, strength out of the weakness and acceptance in the midst of denial. They all sit on the same plate. We can learn to live with both.

Rain Makes Rainbows

I was thinking about my recent trip to Hawaii where I went to dance at a week- long event called One Dance Tribe. After spending almost a year co-authoring a book about grief, I was looking for some pure joy in my life. And I did find it.
The first day, the first dance session, I was invited to dance with a complete stranger, and as we circled, and swooped and jumped around each other, I found myself smiling and then laughing out loud. Pure play. I felt the freedom of a young barn-bound colt let out to romp in the grassy meadow on the first warm, sunny spring day.
I also experienced pain, my own as well as others. On the dance floor, we were invited to consider the pain in the world, our own as well as others, and express it in movement, gesture and dance. No words. I cried in the arms of a stranger, as tears spilled down my cheeks over the death of my brother-in-law, who I had just found out the night before, via text, that the cancer he had been fighting for years, won. I wasn’t going to be there for his funeral.
Several times, after dinner, or at a quiet moment, someone would approach me and sit across from me and slowly start telling me about their lives, often being moved to tears. I just listened. It was an international dance event and, early in the week-Barb Heagy Maui 092long event, most of these people were strangers to me. I felt honoured that they would share their lives so intimately with me.
Every day, it rained for some time, usually just a quick blast of warm drops and it was over. But the sun was always back. And with it, came some of the most beautiful, vividly-colored rainbows that I had ever seen. And there was usually more than one throughout the day. As one of the participants said, “Hawaii is a rainbow machine.”
So yes, I did find joy. But I also found pain. I found they exist on the same plate. It rained almost every day, and every day we had an abundance of rainbows. Rain and rainbows danced in the sky, side-by-side.

One Dance Tribe

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I am a dancer. There have been times in my life that it was my passion and it fed my spirit. Then I danced every day. I became a full-time elementary school teacher in my late 30’s. Shortly after I stopped dancing and left it behind.

But it wouldn’t leave me.

Throughout the years, I kept returning to my dance, finding new ways to check in with my body and spirit; a weekly stretch/strength/free dance class, NIA dance workshops and retreats, yoga, sacred circle dancing and even ballroom dancing.

Last year I saw online an ad for a dance event in Maui, Hawaii called One Dance Tribe. I was intrigued. For months, I waffled back and forth about going. I began the registration procedure four separate times, but it wasn’t until the fourth time, that I persevered and hit the final ‘send’ button. Now I was committed!

In January, 2017, I flew to Maui for the One Dance Tribe, an international dance event with 80 other like-minded souls from all over the world.

The camp, rustic and simple, sat on the clifftop of the beautiful Keanae Peninsula, overlooking the Pacific Ocean on all three sides. Home for me for the week was a small 4 X 4 tent set back among the towering trees of a tropical forest, where the constant sound of the ocean waves on the cliffs lulled me to sleep each night and gentle birdsong woke me just after sunrise each morning.

We danced from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Six different teachers presented their styles and approaches to conscious dance, sometimes working independently, sometimes together in one common spirit. Spiritual teachers and healers helped us to integrate our dancing experiences through massage, body healing techniques, voice exercises, chanting, music and ceremony.

At One Dance Tribe, I immersed myself in new – a new land, wild and beautiful and a new dance experience where I, once again, began to listen to my body and learn from its wisdom. I learned to be spontaneous, authentic, and trustful of the process. I became deeply aware of my chi body energy and flow. Joy, laughter and freedom naturally flowed as I allowed my instincts to respond to the music and the teacher’s promptings. I began to test my strengths and my limitations and became aware of knots of pain, both physical and emotional, learning to see and understand them with honesty and clarity. For me, the Feldenkrais healing sessions and various moving meditations aided me even further in this deep awareness.

I learned of the truth that is revealed through movement by observing others move. By watching others, with focus and intent, I ‘listened’ to their ‘movementspeak.’ As assuredly as if they had used spoken words, their movements told me their story. I danced for them, capturing their essence with a movement response. “This is what I hear you say” became “This is what I see you say.” We spoke in a new language, one without words, the language of the body with its energy and flow.

I learned to care for others, to relate to them through movement. Through dance, we shared our lives, experiences and energies in a spontaneous dialogue. We played and laughed together. We cried together and held each other up.

I learned I didn’t have to know all your story to help you embrace your path. All I had to do was be there for you; to listen, hold, and love you, so that you were not alone in your pain. I learned I didn’t have to give you my whole life. It was enough to be there for just the moment that we were placed together – to be authentic, supportive and sharing of THIS moment.

I learned to show up daily; to ‘be here now’ with others. My presence mattered and contributed to the group process.

I learned to persevere and push my physical, emotional, and spiritual levels, in spite of discomfort. As I moved inward, I tested and revealed my own inner energy and spirit. As I moved outward, I shared more of myself with others, as partners and as a group.

Through all these experiences, I felt and understood my place in a greater world as part of a kindred population of people. As an equal member of creation, I realized my connection to the vast, powerful energy of our natural world.
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On our last day, we sat with a partner and repeatedly asked each other a question.

“What does your heart know?”

My heart has deep gratitude for this unique experience where I retreated from my everyday world to this movement sanctuary. Here I was encouraged to be my true self. I have gratitude for the teachers and healers who offered their skills to teach me that body awareness and authenticity. I have loving gratitude for my body – its energy, its flow and its truth.

“What does your heart know?”

It knows a deeper awareness and understanding of the revealing power of movement. I learn about you and you learn about me by sharing our unspoken dialogue through movement and dance. The body doesn’t lie.

“What does your heart know?”

I know that I am part of a greater natural world. I am powerful, fierce, and flowing as the gifts of the ocean, the cliffs and towering vegetation. I learned to be at one with it, to yield to its power and beauty, rather than dominate and separate myself from it.

“What does your heart know?”

I can share your pain without it binding me up and swallowing me in over-empathy. I don’t need to know all the details. It is enough to just be there for you in your moment of need. I don’t have to solve it for you. All I have to do is be open, loving, and supportive, as you work through it. I don’t need to be afraid of your pain. I don’t need to eradicate your pain. It does not need to overwhelm me.

“What does your heart know?”

I am learning to ‘go with the flow’ – to not fight it. I became aware of the knots and blocks in my body and psyche that I am avoiding because they are too painful or too fearful.

“What does your heart know?”

I am learning to be ‘me’, not the ‘me’ that has been molded by a society of rules and expectations. I am learning to be authentic. I am learning how to love better, myself as well as others. I am better loving my natural world which I am a part of.

“What does your heart know?”

I am learning the power of the group, of community. When we all join together in a spirit of love, non-judgement, open acceptance and support, there is power in that.

We are One.
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Thank you to all who contributed to the One Dance Tribe event.

I thank you for the opportunity to retreat and learn. I was fed, housed, taught, and healed.

Thank you for the physical setting of the camp on Keanae Peninsula on the winding Hana Highway, a place of raw, wild, untamed beauty; a place where nature rules and man is a visitor. With honour, I danced the hula to the sun, moon, wind, clouds, rain, cliffs, ocean and shore. How magical was the appearance of a brilliant, glowing rainbow as it offered its gift to bless our dance to it.

Thank you for the blessing of the inner dance sanctuary which invited us in with its openness and beautiful flowing fabric, carpets, cushions, flowers and ferns. It was a space created with love and a sense of beauty and sanctity.

Thank you for the music, so carefully chosen to inspire, stimulate and feed our senses.

Thank you to each of the teachers for your individuality and uniqueness. As leaders, you gave us your best through sensitive offerings and guidance. Thank you for the union of your skills as teachers. We truly became One Dance Tribe with no competition, no judgement, a true union of a dancing people.

Thank you for all who made this event such a special and unique experience – the cooks, the cleaning staff, the grounds people, administrators, guests and volunteers. We fed and cared for each other, contributing bits of ourselves to a greater community.

Thank you. Grazie. Mahalo.

Christmases Past

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There are those who are facing difficult circumstances this holiday season. It’s not easy being surrounded by cheery music, glittering decorations, party-makers and celebration planners when you feel your world is falling apart. It all looks so joyful and we can’t help but feel isolated by the merriment that we’re not feeling ourselves. The whole world seems to be a part of some great coming event that we just don’t look forward to.

Six years ago today, just before Christmas, my husband Tom passed away and he was gone forever. That first Christmas I was numb. I hadn’t truly accepted the fact that Tom was no longer with me. I had bought gifts and stocking stuffers for him and he had bought gifts for others that were still arriving by parcel post and courier. I chose gifts for his family, wrapped them, and wrote personal notes on Tom’s behalf as if he had given them himself. The Christmas card I had bought for him said it all: “Life gives beautiful gifts. It gave me you. Merry Christmas (our last one).” In truth, the Christmas the year before had been our last one, but I wasn’t ready to accept that reality. Family helped me wade through the grief of that first Christmas with love and understanding as we celebrated together.

The next Christmas was actually harder to go through without him for he was no part of the preparations. For the first time since I had been with him, I wasn’t choosing a gift for him, I had no need to fill his stocking or buy a special Christmas card. Any gifts I bought for others were from me, not us. What I did do is light a memorial candle in his memory. It sat beside his framed photo on the mantel of the fireplace. With the help of family, I made it through that holiday season.

I continued to light a memorial candle each Christmas. He was still with us. Family celebrations continued to be a part of all my Christmases and stories and memories of Tom were always encouraged from family and friends. His memory lived on. Christmases got better.

This Christmas will be the seventh one without Tom as a living presence. But he continues to be with us in our hearts and minds. Special decorations, food, drink, so many things still bring back memories of our lives together. We still share the stories and our fond memories of him. For us, he lives on, just in a new way.

The black grief of that first Christmas is gone but I continue to feel melancholy at times. How could I not? We had a great love. I will always love him. But life moves forward. There have been weddings and new births and grandchildren growing. Reaching out to others has helped. I have cried with those who miss their loved ones as they pass on and I have laughed with delight holding a newborn baby in my arms. We share our lives; the joy, the grief, the celebrations and the losses. I continue to live in hope and faith for all that life offers me.

I made it through that dark valley. I wasn’t afraid to feel the shock and the grief. I accepted all the dark feelings and let them run their course as the tears flowed and turmoil reigned. I reached out to family and friends for support, encouragement and even distraction. They helped me laugh again. I stayed an active participant in life by continuing to work, joining clubs and making new friends. I am stronger for having gone through it all, and can now reach out to others to help them through their difficult times. Together we can make it.

Stay hopeful. Stay strong. Better times are ahead. Believe that Christmas will once again be joyful for you. I wish you a Merry Christmas. Even if it doesn’t feel like it. It will.

Treasure Your Memories

This day, as loved ones around me face loss and grief, I was reminded by Facebook Memories of a video I had posted three years ago, sent to me by my daughter Maegan. It’s about a 96-year old man named Fred Stobaugh, who had lost his wife after 75 years together.

Fred wrote the lyrics for a song about his beloved wife, Lorraine, and Green Shoe Studio helped him bring it to life. The song and video went viral as the world embraced Fred and his love story.

Now there are six videos on You Tube about Fred and his song “Oh Sweet Lorraine.” I am including the first video here. I had time to watch the other five videos and it is a beautiful story about love, and relationships, and the memories we cherish.

In the 4th video, a 7th grade student wrote in a letter to Fred about his song and his life with Lorraine and how it had impacted her. She wrote, “You should treasure what you have as long as you have it, and then treasure the memories you have of it.”

Some things in life we can’t change, we can only accept them, and accept them with deep gratitude and love. The simplest, most basic moments, shared with someone we love become the most valued as precious memories. As I felt with my Tom, it didn’t matter what we did, but that we did it together.

Choosing Beauty

In my present research and writing for a book I will be a part of dealing with grief, I have read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In it, he often quotes Nietzsche with “He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW” as he explains that it is not the circumstances of life that give us meaning and purpose, it is our attitude and choices we make that give us meaning and purpose. We cannot stop suffering in our lives, but we can choose not to suffer. We can choose to be responsible for our lives, even in taxing circumstances, and seek out the beauty, the small moments, the sensory gifts, that make the moment not only bearable, but even glorious.

Dr. B. J. Miller, in this Ted Talk video, speaks of dying and death. We can’t stop dying. But we can choose how we spend our last days. We can’t solve for death, but we can design towards it by making the life we have left more wonderful, rather than less horrible, He states, “You can always find a shock of beauty or meaning in what life you have left. If we love such moments ferociously, then maybe we can learn to live well, not in spite of death, but because of it.”

Frankl and Miller speak of the same things. Living and dying well is our responsibility. Rather than becoming a victim to our circumstances, we can direct the quality and beauty of our lives to the very end. Frankl quotes the Jewish scholar Hillel the Elder with:

“If I do not do it – who else will do it.  And if I do not do it now – then when?”

Tragedy and Martyrdom

At the recent wedding of my daughter and her new husband, the room seemed to be immersed in love and positive feelings. It was a room filled with large and close family groupings. One of the extended families consisted of 63 adults, another included five siblings and their parents and partners. All the guests seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely and there was a deep sense of community, family, and love among them. I knew that it was a room filled with people who had experienced pain and deep tragedy in their lives, but they didn’t come across as tragic figures or martyrs.

I watched with pleasure as six adult sisters dressed up in costumes and goofed around at the fun photo booth set up in a corner of the reception hall. I’m sure each one of them had experienced deep tragedy in their lives; they had lost their beloved mother in the past year, one of them I knew had lost a child at a young age, but there they were laughing, embracing and sharing the deep bond they obviously had for each other. At another table, a family member, who is dealing with cancer and is in active chemotherapy treatments, was there laughing uproariously with his large family as they shared stories and love. Most important of all, both families were having fun.

Life should be fun. When bad things happen or things make us unhappy, we can wrap ourselves up in it, cut the tragic figure, “Oh, woe is me!” Sometimes we can even take great pride in our tragedy: “Look at me. Look at how wonderfully I am handling my pain, my loss. Aren’t I wonderful?” We become the great martyr.

The sisters didn’t do that. The father, sick and weak with cancer, didn’t do that. We can’t stop the pain in our lives, but we don’t have to let it become our identity, the suffering martyr, the mourning tragic figure.

To live a life well-lived, let us remember that we are not grief itself. We experience grief. It is not my cancer. It is just the cancer. Don’t make pain your identity. Let it not define who you really are.