When we cut ourselves a scar forms as the skin regenerates itself. This new place is stronger than before. Life is often like that. We fall. We get bruised and we learn to watch our step. Sometimes we dream: wouldn’t it be nice to have everything be sweet and smooth as we walk down life’s path. I remember thinking when I married at 23, “Well I am adult now. My husband and I will sail smoothly through rest of our years.” I was rather naive. I knew nothing about adult growth and development. I had no idea about the impact that our children would have on my personal growth, on my relationship, as well as on the family. I had a lot of growing to do. Now I say, “I hope that I will keep learning until the day I die because otherwise I will become bored.”
Those lessons, which hopefully we can come to see as gifts, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes don’t they? After I finished college I went straight to New York City to dance and became involved in the avant-garde movement in the ’60s exploring new expressions of dance and music. It was a very creative time. Through the generosity of Judson Church in the Village, a large community of artists of all types came together. There were dancers, choreographers, musicians, playwrights, poets, and visual artists combining talents and opening up new avenues for artistic expression.
I was studying ballet with Russian ballerinas and Jimmy Waring and modern dance with Merce Cunninghan and other members of his company. What a joy! I worked just enough to pay for my dance classes, have a roof over my head and food on the table. There was a deep sense of community and collaboration. I was asked to join Jimmy’s company and eventually had a company of my own, New Roots in Music and Dance with my husband, Malcolm Goldstein. I thought that my career was really taking off.
And then one day in a class with Merce I injured myself. By chance a woman that I barely knew happened to be there that day. Elaine Summers told me, “I can help you. You are dancing with much too much tension in your body, but you will have to stop dancing and reteach your body how to move.” Oh my, couldn’t I just rest a short while and muscle my way through it? I took the time to think it over. I was in pain. I had pulled the muscles around my illiosacral joint on my right side and could hardly move as a result of it. I knew she was right so I stopped what I thought was great forward movement to lie down on the floor and slowly, very slowly move through the exercises that she taught me. She laughed at me, “You are the only one I know who has deflated one of the balls that we are working with by just lying on it.” I was rather tense!
These exercises took hours. Gradually I was able to slow down with the help of a lot of deep breathing. I taught myself to hum with the exhalation, which enabled me to feel into my body more and more deeply, relaxing bones and muscles. My body began to open up. In fact I remember being terrified that I would open up so much that I would splat out into the cosmos, molecules flying every where.
Slowly I was able to move again reacquainting myself with my body and learning to move from the inside out. In both modern and ballet techniques a lot of emphasis is placed on how your form looks from the outside. Dance studios are covered with mirrors so you can constantly observe your position and your movement into perfection. My orientation had completely shifted form the outside to the inside and with it my choreography.
I became interested in working with untrained people who loved to dance. I helped them discover their own authentic movement just as I was discovering mine. The impulse to move came from an internal impulse. While the dances I created had an overriding form, the movement was generated by each dancer as an improvisation based on his or her internal awareness.
One dance I created, Body Mass, was performed by myself and another dancer who was my height but much more angular in shape and movement. I became fascinated with how we moved when we were glued together as if there was only one center of gravity between us and how differently we moved when separated because of who we were each with our own authentic movement.
Other changes began to happen because of this shift. I began to study yoga. It became my introduction to meditation, spirituality and eventually psychology. In other words this injury, which was very hard to take at first, became an axial moment in my life bringing with it profound change that reshaped my life. What a gift!
If we look around we find many examples of how adversity, taken with a positive attitude can move us to new heights of awareness and being. There is someone I know who had a double mastectomy because of invasive estrogen seeking tumors in her breasts. She was a 36 double D and a little on the chunky side. Imagine the radical shift in body image when with reconstruction which was a 36C and thin. Her process was very intense made that way not only by her own surgeries but by the death of her parents and having to deal with their estate, by the caretaking of her disabled daughter and by the deep desire to divorce her husband who was also very ill. She had been working full time at a very stressful government job in Washington, D.C. as a type A perfectionist. There was just a little on her plate.
She was amazed at the help she receive from friends. When her parents’ house sold, they helped her move furniture and empty a house full of 50 years of living, when she was unable to lift more than 5 pounds. They drove her to and from doctors’ appointments that were often two hours away. Friends of her husband’s oversaw his health care needs. She was able to find a good reliable nanny to help her care for her daughter and just in the nick of time her disability came through so there was money to pay for it.
Work was equally accommodating. “Take your time to heal,” her bosses assured her. When she returned to work six months later they wanted to know what part of her work did she want to take. They even moved her to a new corner office with windows. When days were hard they encouraged her to go home and rest.
If she was going too fast her chest tightened excruciatingly. The message was clear over and over. “Go slow and be grateful. Pay attention from the inside out. Breathe.” She practiced tuning into her heart remembering all of the fabulous help she had received along the way and felt a deep sense of gratitude. Life was not simple, nor easy but her attitude became more and more positive. The more she tuned into the multitude of lessons she was learning on this journey the more grateful she became. Her eyes and heart became open to new ways of being that was a lot less about competition and perfection but more about friends, family, community, teamwork and the time it takes to smell the roses.
When my father died at age 96 he left among other things a house full of stuff. It seemed ironic that the man who was very good at commanding other people to get their stuff out of his house had done so little with his own. His home was his castle. I am the oldest of 5. We began to tackle the huge job of dispersing his things and prepare the house for the sale. We had been working together fairly well through those last months of caring for him but his death made it clear to me how fragile families can be during a time of intense loss. Each of us had different perceptions, opinions and skill sets. Each of us was a strong personality. It became clear that we wanted to continue our work together as a team but this was challenging. My youngest sister was the executor. In her mild manner she made it very clear that in regard particularly to financial matters she had the final say. She was very good at giving us honest information and asking us for feedback. “There are five of us so luckily there will never be a tie,” she would say.
One of my sisters did a yeoman’s job of cleaning out the beginning layers of what no one would want, like the food in the refrigerator and bags of old Halloween candy, etc., etc. She took his clothes to the Catholic ladies thrift shop and cleaned and cleaned the nooks and crannies that had long since been neglected. Two of my sisters devised a very clever plan for deciding who would get what. My sister, the photographer, numbered all of the items and took pictures of each. We all got copies along with a sheet with multiple choices for each item: “I really want it”, “not so much”, “if no one else wants it I’ll take it” and “not interested.” Bless her heart she went through and sorted the responses. Surprisingly enough it worked out fairly easily because when two did want the same item in the equal amount, we were able to work it out. The process was then passed on to the next generation.
We had lots of decisions to make along the way because we decided as a group that we wanted to fix up my father’s house with part of our inheritance to hopefully be able to sell it for more in the end. My brother who lives in a nearby town contributed a lot by overseeing the work when we had to hire outside help. He also helped to clean out the basement while my brother in law and my sister who design and build bathrooms and kitchens worked wonders. My sister’s ex-husband volunteered to do some of the painting and my brother’s ex-wife helped with the yard sale among other things. I came and went pitching in whenever and wherever I could as well as cheering us on through email and phone.
I am very proud of us. We came together beautifully as a team even when there were difficult decisions to be made. Each person had a voice in the decisions, popular or not. I believe that now that drawn together through adversity we have become closer than ever, honoring each other’s differences in perceptions, opinions and personalities.
HeartMath Institute (HMI) Research Director Dr. Rollin McCraty clearly states in his scientific monograph, Heart-Brain Neurodynamics: The Making of Emotions, that if we take the time to practice moving into coherent emotional states (gratitude, appreciation, joy, happiness, caring, etc.) we establish a familiar brain pattern that can be easily accessed when we are in more stressful or fearful places. This familiarity helps us reestablish much more quickly a sense of internal safety and stability.
“Ultimately, when we achieve stability through our efforts, the results are feelings of satisfaction and gratification. By contrast, when there is a failure to achieve stability or control, feelings such as anxiety, panic, annoyance, apprehension, hopelessness or depression result…. Where we focus our attention has a powerful effect on modulation inputs and thus on determining what gets processed at higher levels.” P. 98
There is no doubt that practicing ways of accessing coherent emotions on a regular basis have far ranging effects. See the blog post on “Creating a Sense of Internal Peace” for some strategies to practice.
We all have our stories those that turn out well in spite of the challenges and those that don’t. The key here is to practice ways to be in emotional coherence and to take the time to see the gifts that are being given. Sometime we can only see them in hindsight and sometimes we are able to understand with gratitude the unfolding of something new. Whichever way it comes for you if you can take the time to step back, release the “why me,” look for what you are gaining and be grateful for the experience that brings new insights and new gifts. As you center the experience in your heart you will be amazed at how much easier life will flow.