A Heartbreaking and Liberating Tale

Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.
I’m about to forgive you

for everything.

– Mary Oliver, from WHAT DO WE KNOW

I saw the new movie Leave No Trace this week and was deeply moved by the story. I left the theater with a heavy heart – acutely aware of the pain so many people carry around inside of themselves. And then I came across this Mary Oliver quote and thought about how hard it is to begin the journey deep inside to those dark places allowing the light to illuminate what’s hidden there. In my experience, this is the way the journey to forgiveness begins, whether it be of self or other. Sometimes forgiving oneself – for what we’ve done to our unique, precious beings – is harder than forgiving others.

There’s little back story in the movie, but there is one clue to Will’s (Ben Foster) pain – a newspaper article about a Marine suicide squad, of which we get a few-seconds glimpse as his young teenage daughter Caroline/Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) sneaks a look through papers he’s left in full view in a zip-lock bag on the couch of one of their ever changing residences in the deep woods of Forest Park, Oregon. And, there’s the never-answered question of what happened to Caroline’s mother. Although, there are many other questions that come up for me during the movie – for instance, how long had they been living in the woods? – the story is so compelling my questions don’t seem to matter. The present – what’s happening inside the father-daughter relationship as the drama of their return to the world of houses, furniture, and human interactions unfolds on the screen and inside my being – is what carries me.

One thing I do wonder about throughout the film is how each of them understands the circumstances of their capture. Along with that, I’m curious about how each of them comes to grips with his/her separateness from the other, when for so long it seems they may have lived as one being – together in everything, including their minds and hearts. The story never speaks to either question directly, but as the film unfolds we see in their faces and body-language, and hear in their words exchanged, something of the inner workings of Will and Caroline, as they understand more about themselves and each other.

The story is simultaneously a heartbreaking, and a deeply liberating tale of two people who deeply love and feel each other, and struggle, inside of that love, with their own pasts. Caroline has her unshared story about her mother, and the beautiful, yet isolated, life she shared with her father in the deep, accepting woods. Will, it seems, has a darker past, and certainly a longer one, which we never know much about but, which by the end of the movie, has me weeping for his pain, and for the depth of pain present in many configurations in our world today. A pain that I sense may be wedged deeply within the collective heart and soul of our world conscience.

Now I’m asking myself why I wrote this post. Maybe to remind myself how much I appreciate the opportunity to connect with the empathic, compassionate part of me that can, after many years of frozen feelings, finally feel deeply again. Through well-told stories, I have the chance to see and feel into the lives of others, to open my mind to other realities, and hopefully, soften my judgments. I’m offered a way to connect with my own dark past, and my personal and collective, on-going liberation and self-forgiveness. As my own journey of discovery into the dark places where I’ve held much of myself hostage for many years continues to unfold, I realize that the feeling of freedom – to love, to weep, to create, to relate, and simply to be without fear – deepens when I dive down and let the light in, no matter how grave my fear. In those times when fear pokes it’s head in to deter me, I remember how the universal good energy has had my back so many times before, and how, like I heard from a dream analyst many years ago, the universe (God, infinity, the cosmos, good juju) would never put a challenge before me that I could not handle. My biggest challenge to feeling free is most always my fear of change, of the unknown, and I know that by not allowing change, not stepping into the unknown, I continue to be a prisoner, hiding and running.

Maybe Will’s dark places, his demons, are just too overwhelming to even fathom. I cannot know another’s reality. Maybe that’s why I left the theater with such a deep grief. So, where is the liberation? Caroline comes to realize certain things as she and her father maneuver awkwardly outside of the woods. I wonder if the light inside her shone so brightly it was seen by the forest workers without her intending it. Her father had taught her so many things about survival – and my guess is her young self listened well, and learned things she and her father never realized were being taught. I imagine she will find her own sense of freedom, and continue to grow in her love for her father and her understanding of his pain.

I love movies!

 

 

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Dancing a Life

Becoming Who I Was is a 2017 documentary about a Buddhist boy in the highlands of northern India who discovers that he is the reincarnation of a centuries-old Tibetan monk. He and his godfather embark on a journey to discover his past. I saw the film this week, and the journey is truly a fantastic one. They travel on foot, with minimal supplies and no way to summon help, for more than two months, crossing the great mountains of India and Tibet. The scenery is awesome, and their relationship, already beautifully captured in the first part of the film, is the epitome of love and respect. I sat in the theater mesmerized, in love with the people and the place. Yet it was something more subtle, something I’m ever curious about, that struck me the most.

As I watched, I saw people who were dancing through everything in their lives. Their bodies were alive, in stillness and in movement, with the beautiful nuances the physical body expresses on it’s own, without intention, pre-conception, anticipation, or even awareness. We all move in our lives, frequently in ways that we’ve scripted for ourselves, ways that leave little room for the spirit to move us. And often we’re not even aware we’re moving, we don’t feel our bodies as they carry out the awesome tasks of daily living. We don’t acknowledge or find curious the way our fingers glide across the keyboard as we write, or the way our legs maneuver as we take each step. Many of us analyze our actions, and the shape and size of our bodies, yet fail to notice the grace and beauty in our unique contours and our unconscious gestures.

The dancing I witnessed in the film was a continual flow of individual bodies contacting other bodies, both physically and spatially, without body to body contact per se, but with powerful connections between bodies over the space that separated them. Bodies were alive and in communication – words and physical touching seemed secondary to the energetic and spirit connections. All of it seemed entirely spontaneous – there was no need for choreography – the bodies intrinsically knew how to dance their lives, solo and in relationship.

Celebrating the art, the beauty, and the profound wisdom of the body has been a growing passion of mine for many years. In my memoir, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance, I write about the beginnings of that passion. I came late to an awareness of my body as a vessel for knowledge, beauty and joy, having spent the first half of my life hating, berating and abusing my body in oh-so-many ways. Gradually, I’m finding a home in her, and as that comfort grows, I’m aware of what an incredible creation she is. She not only performs a myriad of tasks without any hint of conscious input from me (something I’ve been trying to change by paying more attention, and thanking her more for doing so much for me), but she is my connection to the incredible world of nature and beings of all sorts. I find when I bring my grateful awareness into the realm of my physical activities, my body is more animated and more open to the limitless universe of human experience.

In the film, I felt that grateful awareness of all manner of experience emanating from the bodies of the people. Their words were simple and brief. There were no monologues or even anything close. There weren’t even conversations as we know them. Their bodies, like open vessels comfortably infused with spirit, communicated as if they were one with the all-encompassing universe.

I’m still entranced by the feeling of the film. I hope I can keep it alive inside of me. After all, life IS a dance, and I want to be dancing with my whole self.

Massage Magic

I spent the morning at the keyboard wanting to write a post but coming up blank. No inspiration. I had only a few hours before a scheduled massage and the time tick-tocked away with nothing to show for it. I left the house asking the powers that be to send me something – some kernel of something that might jumpstart a post.

My masseuse is a friend and my yoga teacher. We always spend the first fifteen or so minutes catching up. Although I didn’t mention my wish for an inspiration to her, I hoped that what frequently happens – the experience of being showered with positive energy and the movement of healing hands over my body – would open the channels for something.

As she worked my muscles soft, I drifted to places mostly not remembered. Then, toward the end of the hour, I had an overwhelming sense of myself as “a being in a body” and sensed a connection to one of themes in my memoir, Joy Ride: My One-Legged Journey to Self-Acceptance. While still under the spell, I began to repeat the phrase “a being in a body” and add other phrases, like “two arms, two hands, ten fingers – last I looked.” All the while in the semi-trance state that frequently occurs when I succumb to the whole enchilada of a massage experience. I mused about how it might grow into a poem – maybe even story – and began to remember the various body-centered experiences I’ve had that slowly, over the course of a few decades, created the pathway that has allowed me to be “a being in a body.” Things like swimming, skiing, sailing, even painting, and fooling with clay – and most especially improvisational dancing, which I began in my forties. In my first few years exploring Authentic Movement, (a form of dance featuring eyes-closed movement that’s witnessed, then written about or expressed in some other artistic way, and finally shared verbally, in a specific structure, with the witness) I would sometimes just move into a physical shape and immediately begin sobbing. The outpouring would be a huge release, and a mix of pleasure and curiosity. I understood it to mean that some emotion was caught up in the cells of my body – maybe pushed way down by my inability or unwillingness to feel it. During the movement, my cells released whatever it was, and the space that had been clogged with it for who knows how long, was finally clear, and free to experience something else. I’ve been dancing in similar ways since – eyes open and closed, sometimes with choreography, though more often improvisational-ly inside various loose structures designed to provide a focus, while leaving the mover free to play around with whatever desire and curiosity arises.

This ties in to one of my most recent desires and fears. At the end of June, I’ll be a part of an event in Seattle produced by the North West Film Forum. Along with four fantastic, diverse dance films featuring creative, inspirational dancers, I’ll be reading from my book and moving solo, and with others, to my words as others read. I want to find my way to a place where improvisational dance performance excites me more than it scares me. In workshops and informal groups, I’m more than comfortable as “a being in a body” dancing itself silly and seriously, with all of it’s altered shape and quirkiness. Somehow within the workshop venue I feel I can hide – I’m not showing myself with an intention or specific purpose. But, dancing solo, to my words, in front of a group of people who have come to be entertained – YIKES! That feels scary – and I want to do it.

I told my masseuse pal about this before I left her place. One thing I said pops out as the truest in all of it. I want to feel this desire to move for others – whether to my words, or to some other inspiration, whether alone or with others – as coming from the heart and soul of the “being in this body.” The one it took so long to embrace. The one that shines when I allow it to, without censoring or restricting or judging. The “being in this body” who is connected to the universal body and all the other “beings in bodies” wherever they may be.

Here’s a link to the NWFF event in Seattle at the end of June. Take a look…

https://nwfilmforum.org/films/joy-ride-screened-alive-adventures-unavoidable-embodiment/

Yikes – I’m launching a book

Just three days until November 30, 2017, my official Book Launch Party. It’s been planned since October 30, the day the book became available on Amazon, and until today it seemed soooo far away. Not so now…

Thankfully, my inner worker-bees have been waking me up two or three times a week with all sorts of ideas about what I should say, what to read and how to “be me” at the event. It’s funny to think about having to plan how to be me – seems there’s very little else I can do. Still – a mind like mine likes to make sure all angles are examined before I forget every last one of those angles and enter into what is most always an improvisation in the moment as it happens.

That said – I’ve prepared an outline (which changes as the dreamscapes do each night) and I’ve chosen several passages to read. I’ve rehearsed in the mirror what I might say as I offer a toast. (For years I’ve indulged in talking out loud to my image in my bathroom mirror, or in the rearview mirror of the car, when I need to work out a problem or plan a strategy. It’s amazingly comforting, and although I rarely remember what I say, it seems to help me get my thoughts together. In addition…I enjoy making faces at myself!)

These impromptu mirror engagements have helped to get the wheels turning about exactly (although, I know there is no exactly since all things change as each nanosecond passes by) what my journey has been and continues to be about. For today, and I think this will still be what’s up on Thursday, I’m thinking to focus on how the journey over time, and the journey of writing and publishing the book, has been largely about re-membering my body and in so doing, embracing it’s amazing wisdom. It’s not that I forgot my body, because I was very much involved with the physical functioning aspects of my body from early on. The physical challenges of making my way on one leg were a source of fun, and a kind of creative outlet. I enjoyed finding ways to do things that would appear difficult or even impossible for someone missing a leg. And, although I tried hard to deny and dismiss my emotional body, I never was able to fully forget it. I just relegated it to a deep, dark place inside and decided, repeatedly, to ignore it. Thankfully, the powers that be – God, the universe, other co-pilots, like dogs or paint brushes – continually poked me along the way, reminding me that there was something I’d yet to consider in my quest for wholeness. The pokes came disguised as panic attacks, friendly advice, offers of adventures that bore unexpected insights, dreams and other things too numerous to mention and too compelling to ignore for long. They encouraged me to continue plodding, skipping or just walking until I discovered dancing – which is what I realized I was doing all along, just like we all are.

After all – life is a dance and that dance is the art, and the wisdom, and the message of each and every one of our bodies. To live is to dance! Ha – now isn’t that fun?