Return to paradise–or how dancing saved my life

Bird of Paradise Flower
Bird of Paradise Flower

It takes a long time to grow young–Pablo Picasso

This morning I danced to Paradise, while playing a Qoya video. In it, Rochelle Schieck (creator of Qoya) talks about paradise as the state we long for when we imagine life feeling really good. I spent an hour moving, dancing, finding the place where it felt so good and noticing where there was resistance or mind chatter distracting me from the sensation. Having access to that inner paradise, which to me is a feeling of freedom–well, it’s simple now and it was simple as a child and yet I’ve worked fucking hard to find it again. That degree of innocence and pure joy in making circles with my hips, or shaking my booty like a happy pup, it’s something I had to reclaim so that I could know it from the inside, not just intellectually.

I think much of our work as women now is about re-orienting toward what feels good, and that is a revolutionary act. 

To re-orient our compass toward what feels good means that we make it just as important to feel as good now, in the process of getting to our dreams, as we’re hoping we will feel when we get there.

Sounds easy enough. “Follow your bliss” and all that, but unless you’ve deliberately chosen a practice where there is an emphasis on pleasure and enjoyment–which isn’t most people out there, then this notion might feel pollyannaish or even infuriating! I mean, you have shit to do, bills to pay, and important things to attend to. And when someone comes along and says you ought to prioritize feeling good, maybe you think “who is this hippie anyway and what does she know about my life?” There’s a part of me that still, after years learning to trust the feeling of pleasure and aliveness as a sign that I’m on the right track, recoils and gets resentful at the idea that it’s really ok to, like, feel good. Usually, the bitchier I get the more I need a dose of feeling good.

As women, we’re raised to bond around our complaints. We’re kind of suspicious of people who feel “too good”. It pisses us off, which is a clue. And when we dare admit that we want it because we’re burnt out and hungry and dying on the inside, then we wonder how! How do you make the time? How do you decide that it is ok to put yourself first? It’s a huge question to which I offer a simple medicine. Move. And find a way to do it that feels good to you.

Here’s a little story about movement and dance and how it saved my life.

When I was thirteen and beginning my teenage obsession with NOT GETTING FAT! I used to do aerobics. There was this show called the 20-minute workout. It was super eighties–leotards with panty-hose and leg-warmers. Big hair. These chicks moved like smooth barbie automatons. They didn’t seem to sweat but they all had skinny, toned bodies like I dreamt of having. Ah, the irony, because I wasn’t even chubby. But that’s not the point, since in my mind anything less than idealized perfection meant I was a disgusting pig and who needed to work harder and strive to be better at denying myself. I was starting my training in numbing out hunger and pushing my body like a machine. I would hop on my bike after school and do endless loops of the neighborhood, or get on the stationary bike at home and pedal away. The thing was to clock miles and keep the ugly fat at bay. This was not about enjoyment!

But there was a time before all this self-flagellation. As a little girl, before the self-consciousness and worry about getting fat, I remember climbing trees and tumbling on the grass with my little brother. There were afternoons doing cartwheels with friends, and days at the beach splashing around and waiting for the next wave. Moments where the joy of pure play was simple and completely mine. My family lived in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The cliches about tropical places and paradise exist for a reason. So in my memories of playing on the beach where the world around me really did look like “paradise” are also where I experienced the inner freedom of being totally at ease in my body. But that didn’t last very long, just a few sweet years before puberty.

I’m not sure when exactly I discovered that I actually liked moving and that it felt good? There were the times in eighth grade after school, doing silly interpretive dances with my best friend in her living room. There were those times in college, dancing all night at the little club where I used to go with my friends, or going to shows in New Orleans and getting sweaty to down and dirty blues. Through all the years of body hatred, of obsessing over every calorie, of doing my best to eat the least possible amount, through all of that there was always something in me which remained intact–the part that loved moving! I’m not saying that I embraced pleasurable movement with open arms. I didn’t have such a concept. Back then I put in my time. I walked, ran, pumped iron. But the thread of pleasure through movement was never totally severed. And bit by bit I found my way back. There were those very first yoga classes where simply breathing and paying attention to breathing was a revelation. A return home. It’s not that I discovered that I liked moving but rather that I re-discovered it as I grew up.

So why do I say movement and dancing saved my life? It wasn’t one particular incident where I danced out of the way of a moving train or any such literal thing. But I cannot tell you here the countless times when I found my way home to my self and my own heart through dancing and movement. When my ex-hubby and I divorced, I found connection and passion and a healthy obsession through tango. I became a regular at Triangulo studio in New York City. When I lost a baby after a tough and complicated pregnancy, I found my strength again and let myself move through the grief dancing in the forest in Costa Rica with Parashakti and her Dance of Liberation. Those were some big transitions, but movement has also been there for me in quieter, slower ways, like learning how to do walking meditation or getting to a 5rhythms class and sweating my prayers. Whenever I feel “off” or when I feel great and want to celebrate, I move. No matter what else is going on, the body is home, and moving and dancing is a direct way to connect with self and soul.

Here’s the video, in case you feel like getting up and shakin’ it:

What’s your idea of paradise? Where does movement and dancing figure into it, if at all? I’d love to hear your comments. (Comment at the top of the page).

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/41510540@N03/5080052040″>Bird Of Paradise</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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Allow me to introduce myself!

Hello there, my name is Patricia Black and this is the very first post in my new blog, my baby–Food, Sex, and God.

I chose some biggies in terms of topics, I know! So much of what I’ve spent my life delving into connects to these big three, and they are inter-related. We all have hungers. We crave, we are moved by desire and we negotiate with our desire or run from it and sometimes even manage to forget about it to the point that we don’t even feel it. Me, hungry? No, I’m too busy running on this treadmill of work, success, whatever. But, at the end of the day we can’t really run from our obsessions. What if we were to actually dive in and trust our desire, trust that it will not lead us to chaos and destruction but to some truths with heart. Well, I know how scary that can be. And there’s no guarantee that there won’t be chaos. But this is life, it’s an amazing ride when you can open yourself up to all of it.

I could’ve thrown money in there too, but I’ll admit that I don’t have too much that’s useful to say on that topic. And I like threes.

But on Food, well, I have the qualifications of having had an eating disorder as a teenager and into my college days, and of continuing to struggle in my relationship with food for many years–just like most women in America. But that was the thing that led me to learn about nutrition and yoga and the whole world of holistic health. It opened me up to seeing myself and the world through new eyes. So, the suffering and the obsession were the seed that grew me. I worked as a holistic health coach and natural nutrition counselor for many years, helping women make peace with food and shift to friendlier relationships with their bodies. They often came because they wanted to lose weight, but there were always many other desires beneath that one.

Sex, where to begin? When I worked as a holistic coach I heard from so many women about the shame they felt around their bodies and the constant trying to control what and how they ate. And I started to see that there was a connection to how they felt as sexual beings. The body image stuff, the sense of self-worth being tied to feeling desirable, and again the question of hunger and desire and just how to “deal with” them. Being something of a personal development junkie, I managed to find a life coaching program centered around a practice called Orgasmic Meditation. The practice blew open the doors to exploring my sexuality and everything I knew about relationships. Thing is, I’m still shy about writing on this topic it but I guess it’s just like being in bed with a lover and feeling shy–the desire pulls you through. And I do have lots to share with you about my explorations, and insights, and my own on-going questions.

And lastly, God! Did I really decide I’d write about God right next to food and sex? Well, yes, if not next to these very earthly domains then where else? My relationship to God and even to the word “god” was for many years fraught with anger, confusion, resentment. You see, I’m what they call a PK, a preacher’s kid, and thus the complicated relationship. When I was much younger I thought I wanted no part of God, but that wasn’t true at all; I just didn’t want spirituality in the way that my father’s church and religion prescribed. And all that teenage angst and rebellion was wrapped up in how much I resented God for taking my dad away from me and from our family. But underneath all that there was so much yearning and so much love waiting to find a place to pour itself into.

And so, the common theme in all of these is desire. Yes, yearning, longing, hunger. And women have I complicated relationship to desire. I know I do. And I find it worth going deeper to discover what it’s all about because it does carry so much power, regardless of how we choose to relate to it.

Why am I doing this, anyway? Being this rather private introvert and choosing to write about these very personal topics. I write for myself because through writing I discover what I really feel and what I know. But I also write for others because I hope that in writing honestly and being willing to expose my metaphorical belly, that I will be permission for others as they grapple with their own questions and embark on their journeys. I hope this blog will be read by women who are tired of holding it all inside and holding it all together. Women who are tired of swinging between self-deprivation and mindlessly acting out. Maybe I’m writing for the addict in all of us. And for the recovering perfectionist too. I am one for sure. Oh, and if some men find their way here, I hope they will get a view into the inner lives of women and learn something about what makes us tick.

My hope is that this will be a place for connection and conversation. I welcome your comments and your musings on these topics.

As you can see, it’s a newbie blog. There’s a lot to do to make it more pretty and fancy, which is not really my skill set. But, I wanted to get started and to connect with some readers and begin the ride already!

Here is a quote from Mary Oliver. A short and sweet mission statement:

Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention

Be astonished

Tell about it.