Never did sit down and write last week…not a moment to spare. The magnitude and intensity of a workshop like Hardcore Vulnerability requires production skill I’ve been honing for a decade. This pinnacle event delivered a significant chunk of healthcare, now rippling out on multiple levels in many communities. In a possibly futile attempt to help you sense that rippling, I offer a rendering of the personal territory traversed. Just multiply this story by 90 participants, including dancers from Canada, Mexico and Japan, to imagine the extent and profound value of revelatory reverberation.
As a prelude, let’s backup to a turning point moment in 2003. I’d been dancing the rhythms a year or two, total virgin to the workshop experience. Boldly (foolishly?), I signed up for Living in the Mirror: sixteen (yes, 16!) dancing days with Gabrielle in Marin. Things have changed since then (putting it mildly) and now you need many prerequisites beneath your dancing feet before taking Mirrors. Nevertheless it was an astounding life-changing experience. It was also my introduction to repetition practice, a spoken theater technique where two people repeat phrases with each other, often group witnessed. Mundane stuff like “you have a pink shirt. I have a pink shirt. You have a pink shirt.” On and on until one initiating soul shifts and ventures “you’re backing away from me” or “you don’t like pink” or “you’re so very kind”. It can be revealing, intense and invariably opens new insight about how you show up out in the world.
So there I am, so incredibly novice, deer-in-the-headlights, out of my league, 25 people and Gabrielle witnessing my total inability to utter even one cogent phrase. Mercifully my time is up. I turn to the shamama, she looks me directly in the eye and says “you are defensive.” It was a painful year of humility as that sank in, even though immediately, on every level, I knew it to be true. It had just never been named. And as the years went by and I danced weekly and moved through one workshop after the next, the root of this defensiveness became utterly clear. How else does one survive a raging-father childhood? Coping strategies get established at such a tender age. Without well-developed fortification I would never have made it through. I have written more than once, and actually quite recently, about the ongoing healing of this relationship with my papa.
Fast forward to the present. There was pre-workshop homework to complete and the juicy writing prompts dropped the field deep before we even arrived. Maybe you’re intrigued, want to take a bit on. Just get out a piece of paper and list some things that repeatedly make you feel vulnerable and then take a stab at the history behind these stories and what exactly happens when you are triggered and what, pray tell, are the gifts these tender spots deliver? And finally, create something artistic expressing some aspect of your unique vulnerability. From this exploration, my poem about vulnerability emerged before the workshop even began and continued to be refined all the way through. It’s the kind of poem that will never be done.
As fate would have it, that deer-in-the-headlights repetition exercise was part of Hardcore Vulnerability, too. And through the revealing power of many partner repeating experiences, intimate group sharing and endless powerful dancing (including an encounter with a bear), I arrived at a place of understanding. My cross to bear, this burden of a lifetime, this defensive way of being in the world has been slowly and steadily evaporating since that Gabrielle repetition moment in 2003. Life force sucking strategies lose their power when they are exposed and named, when we are willing to stand naked. It just doesn’t feel entirely true anymore. Debby Defensive is still available, a steady ally who rises up need be. There’s just not much need be anymore and so she is kinda semi-retired.
This soulful recognition dumped me deep in vulnerability. If I’m not defensive, if I do not have to deflect and shield and be hyper-vigilant…well, who am I? The stunning force of revelation doesn’t translate so well on the written page. But this is precisely the way the ripple happens out there…one person at a time embodying fundamental authentic revelation.
On the last day, in the last hour, in the last repetition, my partner and I went back and forth twenty prescribed times: “you are defensive…I am defensive…you are defensive….I am defensive”. I tried it on every which way and could never find a 100% ring-true fit for this axiom I’ve been dissecting fifteen years. Just a niggling shadow, scattered remnants, an ally in the wings, a fading starlet. And when it came time to repeat what was true, I knew the essential antidote: “you are free…I am free…you are free…I am free.” Twenty times. Every which way. And on several of those repeats it landed solid, clear, real. I felt it. I knew possibility, a fledgling to nourish held under my wing, tender potential, a soft and clear way to be in the world. Free.
Do I feel 100% free in this very moment? No. But I don’t feel 100% defensive either and I can often spot Debbie from a mile away and gently remind her of her retirement status. And insistently cropping from beneath these rusty crumbling shackles is a burgeoning sense of freedom swelling steady, soft and clear. It is a revelation.