Folk Dancing Feeds my Soul

From an earlier post called “When did you stop dancing?”

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited or depressed, they would ask one of four questions:  When did you stop dancing?  When did you stop singing?  When did you stop being enchanted by stories?  When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”                  Gabrielle Roth

This idea shows up in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Dancing in the Streets, where she connects the rise of depression with the disappearance of community dance celebrations.

Yesterday I went to the first folk dance class taught here at Kendal.  I was surprised to find that instead of being tired afterward — I did feel a little out of breath at the end of the first dance — I was energized.  I was surprised because I have done other movement classes, in particular line dancing, which I like because it involves dancing to music.  But after a session of line dancing I often felt so tired I could barely get up the stairs.

What’s the difference between folk dancing and line dancing? Folk dancing feeds my soul. Part of it is the communal aspect, mostly we dance holding hands in a circle. I find holding hands to be so important that I don’t enjoy dancing on Zoom, or even in person where we socially distance and don’t hold hands. Thank goodness we are far enough out of the pandemic that we were able to hold hands yesterday. I even have more energy this morning, didn’t have to struggle to wake up.

When my friend Lynelle told me there was Sacred Circle Dancing on the green in Danville for fall equinox, I said “Sacred Circle Dancing, what’s that?” I got there, and they were doing dances I already knew around a centerpiece made of a candle and a bowl of water on a scarf. Something inside me said “I knew that.” When I still lived in Brunswick, I used to say that I went to Wednesday folk dance the way other people go to Church.  I didn’t have the language to say “feeds my soul.”

Other posts about circle dance:
Experiential Worship
My Indigenous Celtic Soul

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Letter to My Mother

This was written in writing group January 9. Another piece of unfinished business.

Dear Mom,

I’m writing to tell you I’m sorry I always acted so angrily when you were drunk.  I had no idea what you were up against.  Even now, I can only guess.  But I don’t think Granny was a very good mother and I have no idea what your childhood was like.  Aunt Carolyn coming along when you were two might have been difficult.  I had a friend who, when she had her second child, was careful to explain to the first child that they would not be replaced.  She told me just saying “I’m bringing home a new baby” would be like telling your husband you would be bringing home another husband.  So you may have been unhappy to have a younger sister.  I know you and Aunt Carolyn didn’t get along very well.

I wonder what it was like for you when Uncle Jesse died.  He was younger than you & Carolyn, and I remember you saying he was your little boy and you liked to dress and undress him. We live in a culture that doesn’t support grief, so you probably didn’t let yourself grieve after his death.  Not grieving can be one cause of depression.

When I finally got on anti-depressant medication that worked, Char, who was helping me, asked if you got nasty when you were drunk.  I said yes, and Char said “She’s medicating depression.”  Well, Mom, I lived with severe depression for years, and it’s pretty awful.  If alcohol had worked for me, I might have become an alcoholic.  I remember one week when I drank a six pack of beer several days in a row.  But instead of getting comfortably drunk, I would start feeling headachey and nauseous, and would have a king-size hangover in the morning.  So I didn’t have the right physiology to become an alcoholic.

After Daddy’s funeral, you got drunk and I was angry and nasty about it.  But the next night, for some reason, I was able to be kind.  The next morning, you were sober.  You said “I’ve made a decision.  I’m going to be OK.”  I asked “What decision?”  But you just said “That nasty person won’t be around any more.”  We went out to dinner with some friends and when they asked what you wanted to drink, you said “Water on the rocks.”  I was so proud of you.  I wish I had told you so.  In fact I didn’t realize that my being so kind to you that night might have helped you.  I didn’t see it until many years later.

I don’t think you would have been able to stay sober without some help, an AA meeting or a therapist, and you were highly unlikely to ask for help.  But I wish I had been able to go on being kind.

love, Jenny

For an earlier take on unfinished business with Mom.

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Self-Compassion

This is from my journal for November 27.  I just typed it up, and am finding it VERY helpful.

Dear Inner Teacher, I am having a very hard time.  Feeling miserable.  Please help me.

Dear Jenny, Remember that you are surrounded by spirits who love you.  You might try making a list of things you are grateful for.  Also think about more “failures” that were actually soul moves.  Something you forget is how much misery you have lived with due to early trauma and what was essentially emotional abuse from both parents.  Try taking a “big step back” and look at this Jenny who is feeling so miserable, whose father told her “you want to be miserable,” who has gone through a tremendous amount of pain in her life.  The fact that most of her pain has been invisible to most people around her does not make it less meaningful than obvious pain like poverty or jail or physical abuse.  Look at that Jenny with compassion.

Thank you.  Yes, I can see her with compassion.  And the demon of dull misery that dogs her steps, I can love him too.

It helped at the time, but it also helped a lot when I typed it up yesterday. I was able to find a lot of compassion for myself, and for my aging body. I was even able to treat Mocha kindly when she got me up at 2AM wanting to go out. Last time she did that, I was very angry at her.

I also wrote a list of things I’m grateful for.

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“This miserable wimp is herself my task”

From my journal for September 1994, about a session with my therapist Karen:

I wanted to focus on that feeling that it’s not OK to protect myself from the noise of the planes by wearing the walkman.  We explored all parts of it, the intolerable pain, the invalidation of myself for being so sensitive.  She said she also reacts badly to a particular machine sound: the two-cycle engine of a four-wheeler drives her nuts, so that was validating.  Then I said that I enjoyed having fantasies about renting or buying the land and shutting down the airport, but that I also felt guilty.  (And why should I feel guilty for stopping their “innocent fun”?  They feel no compunction about torturing me.)  Karen said we should look at that, why do I feel guilty?  I groped around for a little bit, and then said “They’re more important than I am” and burst into tears.  That resonated with the knowledge, touched long ago, that anything at all is more important than I am, certainly other people’s pleasure is more important than my sanity.  Karen hugged me and said I was precious to her.  She also spoke about the one who speaks the truth on stage in Journey, who has moved people through her writing and her art.  But, I said, I’m not in touch with that one at all, all that’s here is a miserable wimp, who “fusses about nothing” and can’t even keep her house clean.  Karen pointed out that those judgements are introjected voices, and I “know” that, but can’t get the distance needed to make it real.  Karen asked me to talk to “them” — the ones who think I’m not important, and I couldn’t fight back or argue at all, all I could do is agree with them.  And I realized that I was tired of trying to justify myself to them, tired of trying to prove that I deserved to live because I could sometimes write things that move people. 

And finally I came to see (again again) that this miserable wimp is herself my task, this person who is so sensitive and precariously balanced, who can’t even keep her house clean, she’s the one that I’m committed, that I commit myself, to protect and nurture.  Yes that’s the difference.  It’s when I stop resisting the unfairness of God/universe, to have stuck me with this wretched body and damaged psyche, and accept the task, actively commit myself to her welfare, that’s when something changes, and I feel strengthened, and supported by ground under my feet.  Riding in the car on the way home, I realized that the hated task that I must stick with is not forcing myself to “live with” the planes, but learning to “live with” my sensitivity, and that understanding also turns it around to something I can do.

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Seeing How Hard My Life has Been

From my journal for September 1994

O gosh, I feel so sad and bummed out.  I see lots of things I “should” do, organizing house type things, and I feel “what’s the use.”  The planes haven’t been too bad so far, perhaps they’re flying the more tolerable pattern.  And what will I do with my day?  Downstairs, finishing breakfast, I noted that deadness in my muscles that comes from tension and lack of movement.  It would be good if I could do some dancing today.  Put on Mouth Music and dance around watering the plants — at least I can do that behavior, even if “what’s the use” kills the enjoyment.

For trouble with planes see Plane Phobia.

I see by reading through the exercise on cherishing myself, and trying to do it, how very difficult that is for me, and I become aware of how numbed-out I am, how my artist’s life is strangled by invisible “not allowed”s, and stiffened by disuse, how the soil of my artist’s life is not deep and rich, friable and fertile like good garden soil.  Instead it’s hard, dry, almost stony, the sort of stuff that blows away in the wind.  The only way to nourish my vocation as an artist is to nourish the soil, to do the sort of things that Cameron lists under “cherishing.”

I’m working with Julia Cameron’s Book: The Artist’s Way

I’m having a really bad time with the planes.  I tried to listen, telling myself that it was my “enemy”, the one in me who hates me for being so sensitive and vulnerable, I tried to hear the unmet need behind that, but couldn’t get anywhere.  Finally, it began to feel like I was listening to a freaked-out baby screaming, and its mother screaming back, and I couldn’t stand it any more, so I put on the walkman, and I’ve been under the earphones ever since.  The planes don’t stop long enough for me to take them off and I’m too freaked out to tolerate even the lower level of noise.  There’s one out there snarling right now, I can hear it through the music on the earphones.  I think what I’ll do is leave early for Cathy’s party, not come back til dark, just drive around in the car if nothing else works.  I’ll take this journal in case.

O gosh, I feel so sick, so physically weak, so helplessly angry.  I’ve got to get away.

Reading through something like this I realize how far I have come, and how much I was up against.  Helps me find some compassion and some admiration for that odd struggling creative person.

Hating myself for my reaction to the planes. Mother told me over and over “Don’t be so sensitive,” so I thought it was a choice. That’s why I thought that protecting myself was somehow cheating. But I’m a highly sensitive person, and I do need to protect myself from the toxic environment of the industrial world.

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March 1976: The Journal is Center

First posted on July 2, 2012

from my journal, written in March 1976
Today I felt very depressed and sick.  The old fear came back, fear of the ringing phone, of the sun and wind outside.  I went looking for an escapist book, but could not find one.  So I decided to read my journal — have been toying with the idea of asking a friend to read it, but keep thinking it’s childish and valueless and stupid.  So I read the Mimi journal, Apollo’s book, everything typed up to the pages in Ondine.  It was staggering!  I have returned to the center of myself.  The insights in those pages!  The truths that I am now coming to believe completely that are expressed as intuitions even as far back as the Mimi diary.  The description of Don Quixote as the man trying to make the vision live in the world, and the recognition of MYSELF as the one I was talking about.
I used to find it discouraging that I had expressed things so long ago that I am still struggling to believe, to make real in the world.  Now I find it an incredible proof of my powerful intuition, which has always seen the cosmic truths, even when my intellectual and reasoning self couldn’t.  And a sudden strong sense of myself, not as a linear life in time, but as an expanding sphere, continually expanding on all fronts and continuously returning to center.  The journal is center, because it is the place where I come in touch with my “past” self, the effort of my life is not to write the journal but to learn how to read it.

I wanted to post this again because I have recently become aware of its truth.  “Not to write the journal but to learn how to read it.”  That’s pretty much what this project has become: I’m reading through my journal to find out who I am, and posting things I think are significant in this blog.  This time I saw more in this journal entry than I did when I posted it in 2012.

Erica periodically reminds me that I saw this work with my journal as the work I needed to be doing here at Kendal. This turned out to be especially true when it became apparent that I would no longer be able to teach Sacred Circle Dance at Neskaya.

By the way, my names for my journals, like “Ondine,” were in imitation of Anaïs Nin.  See Journal Background for more information.

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“Whatever you have done or not done, Welcome!”

This probably happened in 2011, but I didn’t write it down.  I wrote this description and posted it in August 2013:

I was feeling bad about myself and my life and that I hadn’t done anything worth while with it.  I thought “What will god think when I arrive with this pitiful harvest.”  I saw myself climbing up steps of cloud toward the pearly gates, with three stalks of wheat in my hands.  Suddenly a creature burst through the gates, looking more like Caspar the Ghost than anything else.  He, she, it or they were wearing a white robe flung over its head with eyeholes cut into it.  This being flew down to me, flung its arms around me and said “WELCOME!  Whatever you have done or not done, welcome!”   O my what a surprise!

Written in my journal on August 21, 2009

I’m feeling very sad this morning, and also that odd feeling of having no motivation.  I’m doing my best to just be with it.  It really helped yesterday when I imagined all the Jennys from the traumatized baby to the Shambhala warrior.  And I’m feeling better now.  That’s so amazing!  Yes, I welcome all the parts of me in, whatever you have done or not done, I love you all.

Finding that I had already said to myself “Welcome! Whatever you have done or not done” before God in a Sheet said it to me was quite astonishing.  I really didn’t know what to make of it.  Now I think of the Quaker concept of “that of God in us” and see that somehow, it was the same being that spoke to me in both events.

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Halleluia Chorus from Quinhagak, Alaska

One thing that’s fun about reading through my blog again is I find things that cheer me up.  I posted this in October 2012, and it just cheered me up again.

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Unfinished Business with my Ex-Husband

I didn’t write this in my writing group, I wrote it on February 9, 2022

Last night I was reading Composing a Life and she talked about how people could still maintain a relationship after divorce, and I thought about how hurt I was, and still am, at D’s complete rejection of me.  I wonder about writing a letter.  I don’t even have to send it.

The things you said that really hurt.  You aren’t fun to cook for any more.  I can’t live off my wife’s money.  I’m supposed to feel sorry for B because the man she loves is married to someone else.

I wasn’t fun to cook for because I had to eat a very restricted diet due to systemic yeast. He started working on making concertinas because he “didn’t want to live off my wife’s money,” but he’d been living off mine for 18 years.  He actually bought some very expensive things and justified it because I wasn’t able to be sexual with him. Or with anybody, due to PTSD, my default to activation is freeze. But we didn’t know that then.

You may have forgotten that, because I wanted you to be happy, I encouraged you to go see B, I never tried to stop the divorce, I gave you a very generous settlement.  I was not hurt by the divorce, but I was very hurt by the way you cut off all friendship with me.  I remember coming back to the house to get some of my things from the hut, and you came out as though to stop me with the coldest look on your face, like I was an enemy.  That hurt far more than the divorce.

In fact his coldness wrecked all my feelings about having had a good relationship with him. There were times when I thought he was wise and helpful, I even thought he loved me, and maybe he did at first. But it must have ended a long time ago. I think maybe I never knew who he was.

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Unfinished Business with Mom

I’ve been getting a lot of messages about dealing with your unfinished business, especially from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

In writing group for Monday, November 21

In my journal for 1986 I wrote about being home after my father died and his funeral.  Mother was drunk that night, and I was very angry with her.  She said something like “I want comfort and I ain’t gettin’ it.”  I didn’t even try to reply.  But the next night, for some reason, I treated her very kindly, like I would treat someone that I loved who was senile.  The next morning I came down and found a sober Mom.  “I’ve made a decision.  I’m going to be all right.”  I said “O good, Mom.  What did you decide?”  I was hoping to hear her explicitly say she was going to stop drinking.  But she didn’t.  She just said something like “I didn’t think it was worth going on, but now I’m going to be OK.”  I said “good for you.”  What I didn’t see until much much later, was that her willingness to stop drinking might have been connected to my kindness the night before.  Maybe because my other efforts had never made any difference?  I remember thinking that without some structure and support, like AA provides, she probably wouldn’t be able to stay sober.  But looking back, I wish I had decided to be kinder.  I remember we went to dinner with some of her friends and when they asked what she wanted to drink she said “Water on the rocks.”  I wanted to cheer, but of course didn’t.  But I might have told her afterward that I was proud of her.

Years later she had a stroke.  I went to visit her and there was a speech therapist trying to help her speak again.  She would say a sentence like “I went to the grocery store and bought —”  and asked Mom to fill in the blank.  Poor Mom seemed to think there was a right answer, didn’t understand that she could just say anything at all.  She also was very reluctant to try walking.  I was disgusted with her unwillingness to make any effort.  Now that I’m older myself I have more understanding and compassion for not being able to find the energy to make the effort.

The last time I saw her she was in a nursing home.  I was in Cincinnati for several days and went by in the morning on my way to the airport.  But she wouldn’t wake up to say goodbye to me.  I’m thinking “this could be the last time she’ll ever see me, and she won’t wake up.”  Then the nurse came in, and Mother woke up for the nurse.  I decided that if she couldn’t be bothered to wake up for me, I wouldn’t make the effort to see her again.  And I didn’t.  The next time I went to Cincinnati was for her funeral.

But now I wonder if it would have been a good thing if I had gone home without expectation and just sat with her.

What I actually wrote in my journal was:

I did much better with her this evening.  I realize that last night I was really angry and disappointed that she was drunk and I got very cold and abrupt and fast and efficient.  No wonder she was so nasty and complained of not getting any comfort.  So tonight I just jollied her along like a problem child.  [Actually I felt like someone with a parent they had loved, but who was being destroyed by senility.]

July 29    Tuesday morning: Sober Mom
[I went down to breakfast and was greeted by:]
A normal person:  I’ve made a few decisions.  I’m going to be all right. For a little while it didn’t seem to matter but now I’m going to be OK.
I said  O good ma   (teary)
What decisions did you make?  [I wanted to hear her say explicitly that she was going to stop drinking.]
Mom:  I don’t know, I just woke up in the middle of the night and decided it was worthwhile.
That horrible person won’t be around any more
Me:  that makes me very happy.

[I didn’t write again for a whole month.]

I read this to my therapist, and told her that I had recognized that I actually hated Mom. She said that was a result of unexpressed hurt and grief. She gave me some suggestions for writing what I would say to Mom about being hurt, what Mom would say to me. She also said that the younger me wouldn’t have been able to go back again without expectation. She was absolutely right. I couldn’t possibly have gone home with no expectation.

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