Poetry of the Body

Underneath, I question;
Temper the mind so that the
body does not shake.

Resplendent, he would say
if he owned such a
vocabulary.
I read it in his hands instead.

I can’t understand
why he feels what he feels
with the palms of his hands
against my skin,

but I am raw with
the hunger to go
along for the ride.

The journey my body takes
when reveled in by another is,
in a word,
fickle.

I feel the feather duster tickle
when he wants to tease, and the
hard press of his desirous fingertips
while exploring the point where my breath
catches.

Inside, a firestorm of inquiry begins
and I start to wonder
how a body so staid
and a mind so mutable
find the ability to survive together.

Words of accusation rip
through the fabric of my rapture
and the facade begins to tumble.

I want to hold on as long as I can,
because I know,
eventually,
it all will end.

Gorgeous,
he would say
in his own
vocabulary.

I have to agree.

Light in the Dark

My body lay perfectly still in savasana (also known as corpse pose). Like a comforting afghan, the weight shrouded my body completely, from my core outwards to my extremities. I could sense pressure even at the tips of my fingers, but my breath was comfortable, balanced. I wasn’t afraid, yet from the start of our first pose my curiosity had been ignited, so I still held the slightest tension in my chest and an odd awareness that I wasn’t used to having during this part of my yoga practice.

This was exactly what was meant to happen, though I wasn’t yet aware of it. I was diving into the curious through the stillness, and I welcomed the wonder it stirred within my questioning soul.

Full Moon Solstice 2018 | photo credit Becky Swank

Beginning

It was the longest night of 2018—Winter Solstice—and adjacent to a full moon, which, according to our guides for the night, was particularly auspicious. The room was warm, both in temperature and adornment. Autumn colors of fiery orange, burnt ochre, buttery yellow, and regal purple embellished the walls and windows; twinkling lights framed the doorway. Fifteen men and women began settling down onto yoga mats alongside blankets and water bottles as the two guides introduced themselves.

The first, Karen, described what we would be doing during her session: entering the stillness. Together we would be exploring the shadows—the other side of light, the inside out—in order to reveal what the dark had to offer and to prepare our personal welcomes for the returning light.

She led us to stand, form a ring of clasped hands, and close our eyes. Strong and fluid, a song slid into my ears like tiny ripples. It flowed in and out of the spaces between us, encircling our hearts and lifting our spirits as we followed the lead and joined in as a whole. The lyrics conveyed healing and unity, and I felt myself slipping into a calmer state, warmly thinking of the people in the room, though most of them were strangers to me.

As it ended, a reflective silence spread palpably over all of us. Karen waited until the fidgeting subsided and we were comfortable on our mats once more. Then, she led us in a guided meditation that filled my body with peace and gratitude.

Katrina’s session was a more physical representation of meditation and was a powerful reminder that breath is so much more than inhale-exhale-repeat. Breathing is full of dynamic energy, she explained, a vigorous reminder that we are alive.

Katrina is an incredible yoga teacher who specializes in pranic breathing and other energy flow techniques. I was a little foggy-headed from the stillness of Karen’s session, but soon, the guided energetic breathing brought me back into focus and into an intriguing and hypnotic headspace.

Initially, we breathed deeply in patterns, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our space together. Then we were standing up and “holding” energy between our open palms, moving it around our bodies and filling the room. At first I was simply enjoying the movement, taking note of how my body felt with each bend and sway. Then something interesting happened. The trance-like state took over completely, and with each movement, I began to feel an increasingly voracious desire to interact with this energy. I could feel it now, seeing striations in a shape taking form. I had never experienced anything like this before, though I have most certainly felt the rejuvenating power of chi and pranic breathing.

When savasana started, I had that covetous itch that always begs for the perfect last pose. I get that tickle of fear that says, Don’t get too comfy on this mat, little girl. Before you know it, the lights will turn on and you will lose all of this and be back in the real world.

But that didn’t happen. It was the longest, most fulfilling savasana of my life. I was able to fully surrender, and that’s when I felt the weight begin to stretch over me, when my breathing had slowed and was calm; when I released all expectation.

End

Later that evening, I asked Katrina about the physical sensation I had felt during savasana. She looked at me, surprised, and asked me to explain further. I described it and said that it was different from my past experiences, such as crying or having rushes of emotion during corpse pose. In fact, I’ve experienced this many times and have felt it cathartic and comforting (after I researched it and found that I was not a complete weirdo for having these outbursts…in fact it is quite common after a powerful yoga class). But this was new. Katrina then told me that this was a phenomenon that sometimes happened to those who are truly able to drop into their yoga. It is the “weight” of the session waiting to be fully absorbed; it’s the ultimate act of conscious surrender; is it true yoga nidra:

“In yoga nidra, the first experience to be awakened is the feeling of heaviness. Physical heaviness is a whole body sensation which accompanies deep musculo-skeletal relaxation. For deep seated tensions and contractions within the network of postural muscles, the instructions “your body feels so heavy that it is sinking into the floor” acts as a command from the brain, encouraging them to ‘let go’ and release their residual burden. Only then is the total weight of the body surrendered completely into the earth, producing the distinct experience that the body is actually merging with the surface on which it is lying.” –Yoga Magazine

And so I found myself having the most transformative night of yoga in my life under a full moon on the darkest day following a few dark months (Being laid off, having both parents in the hospital, experiencing the growing pains of several relationships, etc.). I took the deepest of breaths in and exhaled my immense gratitude for this night.



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Crow Medicine

In my personal Numerology, the number of the day is seven. Seven is the number that is all about meditation and self-reflection. In the resource that I use, the missive reads:

Look Within

Be alone, at least for part of the day. Be still. Read. Think. Listen to your inner soul. Drop the business world. If you pursue money today, it will run from you. If you keep still and wait, things will come to you. Study something spiritual or scientific. If you read the scriptures, choose Matthew 6 on this day. Work with your plants. Take a long walk or a drive in the country. The number 7 always reveals something. Meditate. Be open. – Louise Hay: Colors & Numbers

I certainly needed that message today. I have been in a funk this week and am having some trouble getting out of it. I won’t go into the details here; it’s not necessary. When I feel like this and decide to do something uplifting instead of huff and pout my way through the day, one thing always happens: the world drops some knowledge on me, loud and clear.

Crow Medicine

Crow Medicine

Since it was nice and sunny outside after work, I decided to sit and write on my porch, a setting I enjoy but do not make time for very often. I pulled my camp chair out of storage, grabbed a notepad, and filled a giant goblet with cold water, sitting it beside me on the cement. I had been listening to a song on the radio on my way home earlier, and it came into my mind as I stared at the blank page. Then, I started to write. The words came easier than I expected, but there are always natural pauses in my work. I fidget, or look up when someone walks by. I get hypnotized by the honeybee pollinating my poppies. I imagine something crawling on my toes and feel the need to whip them up in the air and shake them around a little…you know, just in case.

I was two stanzas into my song/poem when I saw some large shadows moving across the ground in front of me. I looked up and saw two crows. They spoke to me. I didn’t know what they were saying, but I knew I had to put pen to paper and somehow get it out of them. Here’s what I wrote:

Now, stop.
Look at yourself,
really take a look, and breathe.
It’s too much to ask that
you believe in yourself?
I just want to know you’re staring back
into the glass and seeing what’s there—
love, loyalty, wisdom, and truth.
Wake up and hear your crow-cry!
Don’t fill your head with toxic waste.
Go instead into your beautiful mind,
and see love infinitely, authentically,
at last.
Why do you forget this gift,
roll over and part ways
with the one who loves you best?
I just want to know you’re filled with hope.
Know the world is here to help.

I got curious. I have these Native American animal medicine cards, and I thought, if Crow is giving me such a strong message, I owe it to myself to get that book out and reread what crow medicine is all about. Instead of copying and pasting the entire page (however, please click the link to experience it in its entirety), I will attempt to paraphrase.

The Crow sees that all worlds are an illusion, and that there is something much greater the laws of humanity. When we think of the Crow, we tend to think of death. This is just one of the infinite worlds. Because Crow is a shape-shifter (some see this as the metamorphosis between the living world and the dark unknown of death), it is illustrating that change is always imminent. Nothing is what it seems, but the Crow is the one who is able to peer through the clouds to ascertain what is truly important. Those who feel a connection with the Crow should use this knowledge as their guide.

The last paragraph is beautiful and eloquent, and I would not be able to do it justice, so I will end with this quote:

As you learn to allow your personal integrity to be your guide, your sense of feeling alone will vanish. Your personal will can then emerge so that you will stand in your truth. The prime path of true Crow people says to be mindful of your opinions and actions. Be willing to walk your talk, speak your truth, know your life’s mission, and
balance past, present, and future in the now. Shape shift that old reality and become your future self. Allow the bending of physical laws to aid in creating the shape shifted world of peace.

Boom. That spoke to me, big time. All the bad feelings I’ve been having this week were shattered by that paragraph. I felt refreshed and different when I read it. I love that words—and words alone—can do that for me. They bring up something inside that just needs the tiniest bit of prodding to come out.

Have you read, heard, or watched something that made you feel this way? If you want to, borrow Crow today and see what it brings out in you.

The Ridiculousless of Reality

By now I assume you’ve heard about the escaped exotic animals in Zanesville, OH…Yep, that’s my hometown. And the animal preserve they escaped from is about five miles from my mom’s house. Now, I know it’s irrational to be truly worried about my mother’s safety, but she’s getting older, slower, and could be an easy target. I say this mostly in jest, but it’s one of those stories that will be incredibly sad when we get over laughing about the ridiculous nature of it—after all, most of the animals were killed (not tranquillized) for fear of interaction with humans.
But until then, we have humor. Following is the text message exchange between my sister and me this morning (spelling errors and all):
Becky: I know it’s probably dumb to worry but have you called mom to make sure she wasn’t eaten by a lion? I just have a vision of her asking it in for tea and then it eats her…
Sarah: Oh Jesus! That is too funny!
…U have outgoing calls on ur phone now right? LOL
B: What do you mean, outgoing calls? Is this part of the animal rampage?
S: Yes becky. It means, have you called mom?
B: Well yeah but I got the answering machine so I got worried!
S: She’s working you nitwit!
I don’t actually think your a nitwit but osn’t that a great word??
B: All the schools are closed you NITWIT!! because the animals are loose! Don’t you watch the news!
S: I heard about it. Didn’t know the schools were closed!!! Wow. That is serious. Now I need to look into it more.
B: How do I know more about this than you?
S: I heard a lil on the radio, but didn’t get to listen for long. Only in car on way to park and ride.
B: Well it’s all over Facebook and Twitter so I am totally connected. I am going to try her again.
She is probably at Zola’s making bear traps
S: OMG that is hilarious!!
B: What is Zola’s last name? Oh by the way the animal preserve is on 40 right near westside market. So, you know, pretty close to her. There are lots of juicy deer near moms house so if they are close to her I pray they eat the deer and not mom.
S: Lets hope so. Mom is getting boney anyway so she prob wouldn’t taste great. But she’s slow-moving so an easy target. I saw u & Kyle talking about it on FB.
B: Yeah old people are gamey.
S: Exactly, the animals will prob stop by Terry’s Tavern for wings or something.
B: If they get drunk enough they will tranquillize themselves! Easy cleanup.
S: You are a fool today! Lol
B: What can I say? When I am stressed I am a comedian!

The Art of the Dance

To dance is to be out of yourself.  Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.  ~Agnes De Mille
Since 2003, bellydance has been a household word for me. If you had asked me prior to then if bellydance would ever be a part of my life, I would have laughed in your face. Now I call myself a bellydancer without turning bright red or giggling when I say it.
You want the story? Sure you do; it’s a good one. When I moved to Portland, OR eight years ago, I knew only one person. I soon found out that I had some cousins in the area. I had never met them before, but that didn’t stop me from calling them up and telling them there was “a new kin in town.” (har har) We met up the first time at a street fair in the NE quadrant. There was a guy and a girl in their thirties, and a little baby named Kaileah. Josh was a larger-than-life charismatic man who immediately whipped me into a hug, and that was that. I was officially part of the family. Yemaya was a beautiful and exotic-looking woman whose warmth I immediately felt. We walked around the street fair, chatted, ate, and talked about how exactly we were related. (Were we third cousins once removed? Second cousins twice removed?) Soon I was being invited for dinners and movie nights at their home in Vancouver, WA. I got to play with baby Kaileah and got to know the family better. After a short time, Yemaya told me that she was a professional bellydancer. I had no idea that bellydancing existed in this era, nor in this country. I had never seen bellydancing before, and my knowledge of it was scarce. I believed her, though, because she seemed very graceful and was always prancing around the living room to music I didn’t recognize.
She took me downstairs one night and revealed her in-home studio to me. Mirrors covered one wall, and beautiful scarves and art covered the rest. There was incense burning, and candles were everywhere. It was magical. It was a haven of feminine mystique and beauty all in one. Yemaya looked at me, and with complete seriousness, said, “You’re going to be a bellydancer.” I don’t recall exactly what my reaction was, but I’m pretty sure I guffawed, scoffed, and/or fell on the floor laughing. I was still nearing the 200 lb. mark at the time, and had never done any structured dancing. I was not a prime candidate for a bellydancer. At least that’s what I thought.
Over the next few months I learned the basics of bellydance. Yemaya was strict on teaching theory first and style later. She implemented a full warm up and toning exercises before I was allowed to shimmy or shake anything. I followed her movements persistently, at first uncertain whether or not my body would ever move the way hers did. Eventually my dance started to resemble the gorgeous fluidity of Yemaya’s. About six months in, she moved me to her group classes. I loved it; I got to meet other dancers of all different levels, and made some lasting friendships that I cherish to this day. I felt a kinship with Yemaya that I have not often felt. Bellydance was like our club, and not everyone knew the secret handshake. It made me feel extremely powerful in my core, and gave me a femininity that I had never had. During this time, through bellydance and eating right, I lost almost 60 pounds, and gained a lot of confidence.
In 2007 I made a decision to start performing. It was a formidable undertaking. My goal was to dance at the Oregon Country Fair (OCF). Yemaya had gotten me a tiny spot, really just a blip in the bigger picture, but it was more than enough for me. The Gypsy Stage at the Oregon Country Fair is a place that is coveted by bellydancers far and wide. It has been a staple of the OCF for over 20 years. I was blessed to be dancing to be on it. Also, my uncle was taking a road trip from Alabama, and was going to come to see me dance…and there would be a dozen or more professional dancers witnessing my debut. No pressure!
There are not enough words to accurately describe the Oregon Country Fair, but if I had to name a few, they would be:  breathtaking, creative, smelly, artistic, riotous yet peaceful, musical, curious, astounding, and explosive. It is a place where you can get both a hemp milkshake and good old fashioned nachos; a venue where you can see fine art and body painting in the same space. OCF has its own theology. They want to be an incubator for creativity and community. They have done a wonderful job of doing just that. No matter what you are there for—to perform, to watch, or just to Be—you will take home an unforgettable experience.
I knew I was in for a big adventure. My costume came together perfectly, thanks to Yemaya and an amazing seamstress/designer named Kim Sakkara. My moves were like butter and beyond that there wasn’t much I could do for the stage fright except confront it when I was actually on stage. If there was ever a time that I would feel self conscious about my body, this was it. But when I got on that stage, I was scared for all of five seconds. After that, I transformed into the ultimate dancing queen! Performing in front of a group of people who are all there for the same reason—to appreciate an ancient and wondrous art—is completely exhilarating. The tornado of love that whirled around me from the audience and my fellow bellydancers is something I will always have with me. I was immersed in the dance over the next few days, and soon realized I didn’t want to ever shake my obsession of everything bellydance.
After my first performance I wanted more! I danced at several more venues, including restaurants and festivals. Bellydance was (and still is) a large part of my being, though I am not performing on a stage as much as I used to. There is nothing like the rush of feminine power I feel when I move to the ancient Middle Eastern music that vibrates in my soul. Dance is something that is very personal, but can bond an ocean of people. I am so thankful for my cousin Yemaya for bringing it into my life, and thankful that I have met some truly amazing people throughout this journey.
Next weekend is the 2011 Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, Oregon. I urge you to go if you never have. I won’t be performing this year, but I will be on that stage in spirit.

My debut dance!


Here are some links of people I referenced in this post. Go explore!
www.yemayabellydance.com
www.sakkaraclothing.com
www.oregoncountryfair.org