Archive | February, 2015


19 Feb

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks. ― Samuel Johnson

Sometimes while looking at this period of my life, I realize how special and significant it truly is. Perhaps is it forming something of great value to me, and to others. I’m conscious enough to realize that this enormous amount of personal time has been given to me for a reason. And one day, I will see all the connections that have lead to whatever future is created. Before embarking on the 21 Days of Love I didn’t realize how many people really follow me, and try on my life for size in their imaginations. My intern at school revealed one teary morning how much she and her friends look up to me…that they want to be me. And in a mix of fear and compassion I told her two things: It scares me to be a walking example because I’m human. I make mistakes. Because I care…I want others to be their most genuine selves…not me. But then, I thought about my own view of this journey. As a witness, at times it isn’t from the end with all the abundance. First lesson in loving myself more. . . check.


Starting the love quest was easy. I had a list of activities and high hopes that each one might provide some insight on loving in a culture which seemingly only validates romantic love. Higher love, companionate love, self love or compassion seem to be considered second best in our society, what one is left to embrace when “real love” just doesn’t seem to work out. Embracing “Big Love” becomes a consolation prize which often evokes other’s empathy. This can be annoying to have to love them through. Seriously people, I’m not a nun just because most of my love at present is outside the eros box. So I set out to learn something, in spite of this prevailing assumption and to show others that an attitude of “making the best of the situation” shouldn’t be the spirit in which one should celebrate love at all. We need a bigger understanding in this culture. We need to be more open. We need more expansive hearts.

A social media post for each day of love was my primary focus and I decided early on to let whatever sign or activity which presented itself be the point of love for the day. That seemed to work well. But from there that’s when the plans slowly started to unravel and reform into some of the biggest lessons about love I’ve learned to date.

One of the first activities, attending the Latin Salsa Dance Party at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, was a repeat performance from two years ago. A fabulous Cuban band, Tiempo Libre, preceded it, and early in the evening I began to reflect. That event two years ago was the beginning of the adventure portion of this journey and essentially, my first “assignment” for this blog. Two years later, dancing up at the stage and then, with one of the lead singers shows just how far I’ve traveled. At the salsa party, I noticed others dancing together, not just couples. Women moving with other women, proud Latino men in a line posturing, moving in rhythm with each other and affirming each other’s prowess and skill. What a difference from two years before. I now notice the power of sexuality as a human thing, something which can be expressed outside the cultural norm of “relationship”. For though the music was spicy, sensually freeing and passionately rich, there was no barrier or judgment in moving with it whether in couple, in group or alone. Our culture as a whole needs more touching, more passion, more kissing. It seems we only feel able to be in our bodies with one another under specific moral and social conditions. And to me, this has lead most into sexual expectation at any physical contact. We need to lose that. Most don’t realize how much they actually need touch and expression of physical love every day until they lose their “partner”. How many dysfunctional relationships of all sorts could end if we knew that others were there to literally hold our hands, stroke our cheeks, and rub our shoulders beyond the constructs society defines.


But this event also re-framed the next week in a peculiar way. Within days everything unraveled. The wine and chocolate tasting I’d planned was cancelled and trying to create one for my friends didn’t work. Quickly then, I knew I shouldn’t rely on re-envisioning the traditional Valentine.

I’ve always wanted to indulge myself by having my hands and feet hennaed like an Indian bride. Images of Krishna and Radha within swirls of lotus flowers trailing my arms and feet seemed the perfect way to externally proclaim the love I have for my highest self. But plans with all three artists I contacted fell through, one after the next, the last calling to say no henna was to be found in Lynchburg anywhere. To order it, would place arrival after Valentine’s Day.  Expectations at every turn were being shown to the door.

While I did attend Sonnets and Chocolates, another repeat performance of two years ago, it was only due to the grace of Endstation’s director Geoff Kerschner, who I taught many years ago. The fundraiser sold out three hours before I purchased a ticket. However, he was able to find me one seat at a table with some folks from the arts community where I teach. Many of them I already knew from teaching their children. And to be sure there were some lovely romantic touches to the evening, like when I was finally able to have my favorite Shakespearean actor recite Sonnet 29 to me. Sure, I bought the chocolate and the sonnet as a donation, and I asked for him specifically  to deliver it. But looking into another human’s eyes while he beautifully recited such profound words was beyond self-love. Knowing that I had done this, he relayed how much he appreciated being part of the moment and gave me a heartfelt hug. How simple and how beautiful it is to be human to one another on a holiday honoring love, yet one which ironically excludes a lot of people.

I think that night, it really started to hit me. First, love does not go according to plan. It takes its own path, like a stream in spring, the thaw takes the path of most allowing and then it wears it’s way into the landscape of life. Little by little it makes its mark.  At every rock in the way of my plans, love took a turn to show me its versatility, its expansiveness, its connection to others in a million different ways rather than solely self-directed. Sure, we all need to love ourselves first, to let that be the beginning path where we let love flow. But then, to grow the stream, others must be there to create the infinite complexities with which we come into union.

During the last week before Valentine’s Day, I found a moving TED talk by Hannah Brencher, founder of The World Needs More Love Letters


In teaching Romeo and Juliet, I wanted my students to think about more than just heady romantic love and its possible tragic ends. Loving other people as she once was loved delivered her into her destiny and out of depression and isolation. When she spoke of her beginning love letters, I knew EXACTLY what she meant. “In the days when they were necessary. . .”, she said. I think back to two years ago, how absolutely necessary it was for me to travel somewhere experience it, take photos…write. And now what rich experiences I have, deep wisdom, and more connection which enables me to follow my purpose.

I’m not going to lie, the last week was hard. I almost gave up. For about two hours on the Thursday before Valentine’s Day from 4 to 6a.m. I lay in bed and stared at that empty space beside me…and it hurt. I missed someone . . .down into my bones. And I cried, a lot. But then, I went to work and allowed. My students had written love letters to strangers and one of my struggling writers brought in his late assignment. He had chosen to write to one of my mentors who had recently lost her husband in a sudden heart attack. His note moved me to tears.


And I realized that we all have our days needing extra love…some more than others. But that’s what we are here for…to do that. To be that extra love for each other outside of the love we hold for ourselves. And when we start working toward that type of conscious loving and genuineness, the more we grow the heart of the Universe.


5 Feb

Down the dim hallway toward the dance studio I trod, a chubby six year old in black leotard and tights. At the time, I had no consciousness of my body other than a vague unease. There were foods I wasn’t allowed to eat. There were clothes that didn’t fit. There were rules. My mother’s hovering and persistent directive, “Suck in your stomach”, taught me that something was not right about my body. Being “me” was not okay, in a body that was not right and which certainly didn’t belong to me but to her. At six years old, I understood these precepts intuitively, under the landscape of my growing mind. Over the years that followed to self-consciousness, rejection of the body as it was, through each stage, was the norm. My mother obviously despised her own physicality and attempting to control my body was a way to control and calm feelings about her own body- hatred.

But I was only six. I was just. . . . me.

Miss Mona’s School of Dance was a long respected dance establishment in Roanoke and every Thursday at 6 pm I’d put on my black leotard, black tights and those small leather slippers that weren’t the shoes I’d read about in the library book from school, the red ones with the laces and hard toes like small hard cups wrapped in satin. I would gaze at the portraits of the ballerinas in the plate glass window at Miss Mona’s, their long arms and long legs lifted in grace and arching white. Tiny pointed pink feet, ankles bound in ribbons, short flowing dresses or fluffy sparkling tutus. The curve of their thighs in arabesque were like the edges of a taught bow, their arms like giant wings trailing dark feathers of space like ravens against the deep summer sky. Ballerinas were “big girls”, 12 maybe 13. It seemed to me then that becoming a ballerina was what happened when one grew up and in some instinctive way I suppose it came to symbolize a right of passage. The becoming of a woman meant donning hard toed shoes and launching into open flight.

I can remember the piano at Miss Mona’s like a hundred hammers on bells, the clanging refrain as I walked across a smooth wooden dance floor toward a small group of girls. Lyrical line after line of “Meet Me in St Louis. . .Louis” was the only unifying cadence within the wild clackety clacks, squeals and laughter from the room hidden from view of the barre. Behind the blue accordion partition, staccato smacks peppered with laughter rolled over the quiet of the ballet room. That day I stood in barre class with other tinier girls, their leotards bunching at their little bums, tights folding in creases at their knees. So small their ballet clothes lay about them like skin on a baby elephant. But mine were tight…stretched, like a seal’s skin ready to burst.

I didn’t know. I was just. . . .me.

But Miss Mona, the ginger haired matriarch of the barre awakened me. She stood, leaning heavily on her cane as she eyed me from the sideline. “You are too big to be a ballerina. We need to talk about tap class for you.” Listening to the girls next door, the class I eventually attended rather than ballet, I can’t recall feeling anything. No sadness or disappointment. I accepted the judgment of adults as Truth. It just was.

Too big to be a ballerina.

Too big.

When Miss Mona died in 2006, my mother gave me her obituary from the newspaper and I carried it in my wallet for nearly three years for no other reason, but that I just couldn’t bring myself to remove it.

I loved her.
I hated her.
This woman who was the mistress of the barre, of sublime body perfection.

This woman who owned the secrets of flight.

They say the body has its own tale to tell. That memories begin to store in our very cells from before we are born. Muscle and cell memory, the body is a complex consciousness all its own. It operates beyond our control in tandem with the environment without much need for a pilot. And in over many years, I have worked to own this frame of mine, to claim it, to come to love it, to treat it with compassion. This journey in part has been about transforming the outer strength I built early on into inner strength of mind and spirit. And so it is no surprise to me that inner expression, which first began in the written voice of Beloved, moved into art and now finally into dance. As I look back, many times in which I connected to music, I danced into my higher self. No one dancing with me…. a joyful moving meditative prayer to the Universe.

During Lenten traveling this past spring, I stumbled upon a unique dance group in Charlottesville. The 5Rhythms method created by Gabrielle Roth offers expression and healing, spiritual enlightenment and oneness through free form dance. Conscious dancers move to patterns of music designed in “waves”, each one making a unique musical narrative arch. The invitation for the dancer is to move in the body’s unique voice to express the inner drama. It allows the body to tell its story and to be “seen” and from that revealing to be “heard”. But heard by the conscious self. The narrative is experienced as a separate voice. What story is my body telling, this alien thing my consciousness rides around in? That question has been pressing me. . .hard. In yoga class, every posture which opens the heart or my hips has been intensely uncomfortable in more ways than the physical. I’m very fit, but my flexibility has reached a limit. I rise daily feeling like a living rug burn. The muscles refuse to listen, so I decided I had to learn to hear them instead. I have to learn how to listen to my own body’s story. And it has volumes to tell.

A week ago, as a part of the 21 Days of Love, I attended my first conscious dance session. Feeling quite uneasy, I entered the Fry Spring Beach Club in Charlottesville and immediately tensed from the interior cold. The heat is low in preparation for ninety minutes of constant movement. Reluctantly, I peeled off layer upon layer, like the years that have passed since the days of Miss Mona’s studio. I felt shy, intensely awkward. . .for the first time in many years. However, stepping out into the low lights, I became quickly aware of the sacred safety of this environment. All come here to engage in healing or enlightenment. It isn’t a competition or a show. One can remain alone or engage with others; there is total freedom from judgment. The invitation is to connect to the rhythms of the musical wave, and let the body sing.


Standing, arms folded against the cold on the edge of the great ballroom floor, my first moves were spontaneous: the positions.

First …slide to second. Third, my favorite…and then a slide out to fourth.

Not brave enough for fifth yet and feeling pretentious, I began simple stretches and to slide a bit. But, a surprise ronde de jambe became the introduction to the next ninety minutes. One must be barefoot for grounding, and by the time I left the studio, I had danced blood blisters onto the bottoms of my toes. From the outside, an onlooker might think we had all taken mind altering drugs and were moving through whatever state of consciousness a psychotropic substance had awakened. (Basically, a bunch of “New Agey” white folk flailing about in semi rhythmic abandon.) But, my body voice is passionate and emotive, despite its intense fear of turning inward and completely letting go in front of absolute strangers. I found a bent bow within me that came absolutely and powerfully unstrung, so much so that I injured a leg muscle pretty severely. Balance, I learned has more than one meaning in this case. The musical pieces, which comprised the beginning of the first wave, elicited a wall of palpable energy from me. Brick on brick, a perimeter of stone was laid around my raw self and then at the wave’s height, behind it, I became bare to the core.

My unique personal narrative erupted into verse and refrain, singing as easy as breathing. My mind cannot structure it; I struggle now to find words to even describe. Sense memory returns to the ballet room, the movements somehow executed effortlessly in my current physical state. For now, I am tall and lean. . .strong. But the body also remembers other pages …

of curiosity…

of ambiguity…

of love…

of sex…

of joy…

of grief and loss

of the Infinite.

Dancing what I never knew existed within me, one song pushed forth scratching and clawing into the air in rhythmic anger like a tigress. Lost within another pulsing refrain my wrists twined, wrapped in memories of a lost love. A waltz took me into a ballroom many years ago where I learned to trust enough to let a beloved lead. At the denouement of another song, my shoulders reversed to cover my heart, chin brushing the bareness of my shoulders, as if I held myself in my own arms. At one point I was a tightrope walker, balancing the invisible wire of change. And I wanted to leap from it and soar. The desire for balance evaporated in the furnace of inner fire. . .only in movement could the enormity of my emotion be set free.

A story doesn’t makes it path known until the soles meet the smoothness of the floor, but then the frame bends and fluctuates like the pines in the winter wind. A whole memoir of the body is sorted into tales and in the telling, an awareness comes of being lit inward like a tiny candle. We live inside our rational consciousness for so long, seeing our bodies separate from our self concepts. The reflective surface of culture encourages us to tell ourselves a body “truth”, but the authentic story within is already there. And this body, which is tinier than our souls must be carried by it, so we must come to love it, this instrument of our earthly being.

This type of dancing reduces me to my most surrendered point…the point of birth…the point of fear ..the point of allowing…the point of joy…the oneness that is at heart of all. It is the fullest expression of intimacy with the higher self that I have found. I understand Rumi so much more now, his whirling and whirling into oneness of the Divine.

I left the session spent, an exorcism of the past danced out in a dimly lit ballroom in the dark cold of a winter January night. And next week I will return, to turn and turn again in the telling of a tale I have yet to hear, and from which  to hopefully gain more insight.

21 Days of Love

2 Feb

At the center of the Universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service. –Fred Rogers

Habits, they say, can be either established or broken in a mere 21 days. In the light of my last post, and in trying to ease back into post holiday “normality”, a thought arrived during the early morning removal of my Christmas decorations.

“Uh oh.. Valentine’s Day”.

But before I could even let the swell form a wave, I suddenly had an epiphany:

Why don’t I celebrate Love?

Each day in some way during the 21 days before Valentine ’s Day there has to be another way of seeing this, ways to show myself and others love in its many intricate facets. No need to dread it…more over…I need to go out and meet it head on. There is something there I need to learn, so I might as well dive in. Call it a “Love Pilgrimage” if you will, but I have discovered now that if I re-frame the prevailing culture or environment in which I live into a more positive experience, then I can become part of the narrative more easily. And I can give and receive more mindfully. Simply…I want to be happier in a culture that tells me I need to be miserable or cynical on certain holidays because of what “is” in my life.

So this year, I am celebrating Valentine’s Day by loving myself deeply and by exploring ways in which I can love others outside the cultural paradigm. Each day since January 26, I have been posting to social media a poem, quote, or song and pictures focusing around one facet of the enormous complexity of Love, this great emotion at the heart of the Universe. By engaging in activities which may connect me more to the power of my own heart, I hope to cultivate a daily habit of positive conscious loving in all its nuances and to carry that energy forward into 2015.

My students and I are inevitably reading Romeo and Juliet, Cold Mountain, and examining the cultural assumptions implicit in romantic love in literature. Pacing guides just so happened to have placed them now. And ideas for personal experiences came easily and are already underway, the stories I’ll share in the days ahead.

It isn’t all about candy and flowers …but it is all about the heart.

I started by putting back half of my Christmas decor…light is light. 🙂

%d bloggers like this: