Music at Buckley Park, tourist-strolling through the farmer’s market for those life-changing carrots, brave bodies surfing the snowmelt at Santa Rita Park – clearly, the calendar has finally aligned our “summer” with our “summertime,” the annual high-country social experiment where expectations collide with reality.
This summertime, my reality includes contemplating a 20Moons dance show scheduled for the fall. Our overarching theme: “The Nature of Connection.” The very scope of the thing makes me want to rub my eyes out and go back to bed.
Connection? An illusive word that, muttered mentally like some best-forgotten song lyric, loses ... well, connection. Are we not always questing for “connection” – with ourselves, our communities, our earth, our freaking phones? But what does that actually feel like within our own bodies? And: Why is it that I often sense that I am “disconnected” and alone within all the merriment of festivals and big crowds? It’s like that Jordan Baker quote in “Gatsby” about large parties: “... they’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
That’s me: if I’m not dancing wildly at the Big Party-Show-Thingy, I’ll be off in a corner engaging with one or, at most, a few people. On a basic, primal level, connection has to do with safety and trust. Can I settle into this moment? Do my muscles relax around this person? That does not, as they say, scale.
In order to get to that connected point, it helps to remember that my body is a loyal pet – ever present and seeking balance with me. And when we experience traumatic situations, we store that trauma in our cells. Instead of processing this trauma, or even discomfort, a lot of times we defend – we disassociate. In general, I believe we risk becoming semi-frozen bodies, numbed to the roots by attacks, real and perceived. We do not have a mainstream method of dealing with individual and global trauma, unless you consider self-medication and early death coping mechanisms.
But there are other ways out, I believe. Our nervous systems may be burning like hot bacon grease on a cast iron skillet, but there are antidotes. We may be [effed], but we are resilient creatures. When I catch myself “disconnected” from my body or my world, I use a few techniques to help me crawl back in:
STOP, DROP, and ROLL: I learned this one from an intuitive psychic, Betsy Cohen (www.newyorkcitypsychic.com). It’s profoundly basic. Shock and anxiety causes the brain and body to speed up, which can trigger fight or flight responses. So, first, I stop what I’m doing. I slow down and take a breath.
Then, I drop: into the sensations in my body. I do a quick body scan. I notice the wet towel that I’ve been carrying around in my gut (your imaging process will obviously vary). I sit with the sensations of the emotions. The sad stone of grief gently dissolves like cubed bullion in broth. Finally, when I am more present, I am able to roll, or relax into the experience.
TONGLEN MEDITATION PRACTICE: Are you also allergic to spiritual practices that promote wholeness but are just excuses to perpetuate denial? Then welcome, friend. We can mine gold from grief and pain, but not if we skip over it by “practicing gratitude” or trying to “stay positive” until we are positive we’ll puke. Instead of trying to bypass our dilemmas, the Tonglen practice transforms them within the heart. First, you connect to a felt sense of darkness, an image or story or experience that is charged. Inhale breath: pull that darkness straight into your heart. Exhale breath: release compassion, understanding, or light. The more I practice, the more I touch what the Buddhists call our Joyful Hearts of Sorrow.
INTENTION: When I find myself self-isolating in a crowd of people, it helps to commit to a simple and clear intention. How do I want to show up in this moment? What is my purpose for being at this event? Walking home at dawn through the Upper East Side in NYC after a 24-hour LSD trip years ago, let’s say, this practice really hit home. Making it up Sixth Ave. safely required some straight talk from myself: Walk up the sidewalk to the end of the block. Pass the pitbull with a saggy face and heavy lower eyelids. He’s smiling at me. Talking to me. No. Keep walking. Pass the bodega, turn right. The more spun out I get, the simpler my intentions need to be.
Like this: just this morning I caught a glimpse of a great blue heron jumping off of a blackened juniper branch. I was either ahead of or behind the moment, so I didn’t notice her until she was in flight, wings wide, clipping into the new blue sky. She moved like a silk shadow. I paused, and felt a sensation similar to that of a little girl painting a sunbeam across a white wall inside my chest. A moment of connection: the relentless summer sun, my heart pulsing purple, a raging river with wide banks telling the day a big story.
Maybe big parties are just a bunch of little parties after all, and what makes them big is how they’re connected? It all just makes me want to dance.
Katie Clancy is the co-owner of Studio Soma, a therapeutic movement and bodywork sanctuary in Durango. She is also a freelance writer and dances with 20Moons Dance Theatre.