After my ‘letting go’ ceremony on Baker Beach, joy and ease filled my life.
I sang along to music in the car. And in the kitchen while cooking and doing dishes. Delved back into stalled projects. Writing flowed. Even difficult tasks, often avoided, were accomplished without angst.
I enticed two more sirens to try sensual movement in the sand at sunset. Then attended freedom pole at Steel Heart Dance, straight from the beach. (Don’t worry—baby powder magically de-sanded my feet and I changed clothes to avoid tracking sand into the studio.)
Watching all the female bodies sigh into their curves fed my soul.
There’s that word again: Soul
I thought I’d been speaking metaphorically when I said, “I left a piece of my soul in the studio” and then described the pain in my core as a “black hole from a collapsed solar plexus.” Something extraordinary had happened on that beach.
When I read these words in Sacred Ceremony by Steven Farmer I knew it was real:
In shamanic cultures, it’s believed that when a person is wounded through a traumatic experience, it results in “soul loss,” where a piece of that person’s soul leaves his or her body. The symptoms of soul loss can closely resemble those of posttraumatic stress disorder, and even more specifically, dissociation. The shaman’s task is to send their soul, or consciousness, into non-ordinary reality, find the ailing person’s soul wherever it may be, and return it to the body. This is called “soul retrieval.”
My first exposure to this notion of soul loss and retrieval was during pre-trip research before visiting Bali a decade ago; at the time, I didn’t give it much thought. It wasn’t a concept my western, rational mind could grasp. It wasn’t something I expected to experience.
Years of receiving insights from body-and-heart-led dancing opened to me to these more ancient and intuitive approaches to healing.
What is the soul? Can it be wounded?
The entire experience reminded me of a conversation I’d had six months earlier with a woman I’d met at an expressive arts therapy workshop. She was considering writing her masters thesis on Soul Healing but was struggling because of some contradictory beliefs she held. She asked for my definition.
“My soul is my essence. My authentic self. The divine in me. My radiance. Pure energy,” I said.
“But if the soul is divine energy, a person’s essence, how can it be wounded? I’m not sure souls can be wounded.” she explained her dilemma.
Sharing my personal experience, I told her my soul had been deeply wounded when I experienced three miscarriages. I’d had a spiritual crisis. A rift with God. I’d lost trust in myself and my decision making.
I suggested she read (or reread) Woman Who Run With the Wolves; if I’d had my copy with me I would’ve read this part about soul loss aloud:
Classical Jungian psychology emphasizes that the loss of soul occurs particularly at midlife, somewhere at, or after age thirty-five. But for women in modern culture, soul loss is a danger every single day, whether you are eighteen or eighty, married or not, regardless of your bloodline, education, or economics. Many “educated” people smile indulgently when they heard that “primitive” people have endless lists of experiences and events they feel can steal their souls away from them—from sighting a bear at the wrong time of year to entering a house that has not yet been blessed after a death has occurred there.
Though much in modern culture is wondrous and life-giving, it also has more wrong-time bears and unblessed places of the dead in a square block than throughout a thousand square miles of outback. The central psychic fact remains that our connection to meaning, passion, soulfulness, and the deep nature is something we have to keep watch over. There are many things that try to force, sweep, seduce away those handmade shoes, seeming simple things like saying, “Later, I’ll do that dance, planting, hugging, finding, planning, learning, peace-making, cleansing…later.” Traps, all. – Clarissa Pinkola Estés, p 225
It had taken me years to heal from my miscarriages. Therapy and support groups had only made me feel worse.
The only things that helped were kayaking under the full moon, walks by the water, journaling, two books (out of many I read) and the passage of time.
Looking back, I wondered if I would’ve healed sooner if our culture had shamans. Or if I could’ve healed myself with experienced-based shamanic skills from dancing and writing about dancing had I discovered them earlier.
Shamanic societies believe that when we stop singing, stop dancing, are no longer enchanted by stories, or become uncomfortable with silence, we experience soul loss, which opens the door to discomfort and disease. – Steven Farmer, Sacred Ceremony
I spent much of my adult life studying public health and health care services. My interest has always been wellness, prevention and behavior change. While a professor at Cal State Hayward, I’d taught a seminar on Determinants of Health inspired by a favorite quote from graduate school:
The role of individual medical care in preventing sickness and premature death is secondary to that of other influences; yet society’s investment in health care is based on the premise that it is the major determinant. It is assumed that we are ill and made well, but it is nearer the truth to say that we are well and made ill. – Thomas McKeown, “Determinants of Health.” Human Nature, April 1978
In my class, we studied factors associated with significantly longer life and enhanced quality across cultures including income, socioeconomic status, social class, education personal behavior & lifestyle choices (e.g. plant-based eating, exercise, marriage) coping skills, and social support.
If I were to teach this course again I’d also include: Dance. Storytelling. Silence (Nature). Singing. That’s how convinced I am from my personal experience and that of friends of the effectiveness of these approaches.
Grief Overwhelmed Me
Ten days after my sacred ceremony on Baker Beach, grief overwhelmed me like a tsunami—triggered by a disappointing dance class that turned out not to be a good substitute for the one I’d lost. Writing about my experience for Wild Sister Magazine (full disclosure: affiliate link) was an important step in my healing process, cementing my belief in the power of storytelling.
Excerpt from March Laughter Issue: I know my power comes from joy, playfulness and laughter! The question was how to get them back and dispel the thick cloud of apathy oppressing me.
Through the process of telling our stories we gain insights and tap into intuition. I learned how to find my way back to laughter:
- What movies help me most (inspirational),
- How important it is to be with friends (we laugh 30x more often when with others)
- How critical immersing in nature is for me (why I need to relearn this lesson I’ll never understand).
Dancing, particularly in nature, and writing about my experiences are the most healing and life enhancing magic I’ve discovered.
If you dance and enjoy storytelling, please submit your inspiring, funny, poignant, haunting, riveting, surprising or thought provoking essay for potential inclusion in the Transformational Power of Dance Anthology.
Note for writers: This post was edited during my first time participation in #writeclub on twitter. It was trending last night while I was home writing instead of pole dancing (by choice). Follow @FriNightWrites I’ll be joining in again, even if after Friday Freedom Pole since it goes late, 8pm-2am EST. All the details here.
- How to increase Dance, Story, Nature & even Song in Your Life
- Dancing Out of Bed to The Zone by The Weeknd
- What’s in my Friday Beach & Pole Dance Bags (for March Pole Dance Blog Hop)