**The following is an account of a transformative experience I had while at the New Year’s Eve Contact Improvisation Jam at Earthdance retreat center in Plainfield, MA. I was there from December 27-Jan 1, 2012/13. Visit www.earthdance.net to read more about this extraordinary place.**
All day my shoulders had been hurting. Not in the place I usually get my knots—under the left scapula—but a bit higher, more towards the spine. Anne worked on them, Elizabeth worked on them. Nothing budged.
At the New Year’s Eve festival, the square barn had been transformed into a beautiful meditation space. Each of the four corners had become an “altar” of sorts, representing and honoring each of the four natural elements, Earth, Air, Fire, Water. There were pillows on the floor for meditating, candles lit, fabric draped, and small trinkets and objects around representing the elements (pine cones and small branches for Earth, feathers and dream catchers for Air, candles and orange metallic fabric for Fire, and water, floating flowers, and a fountain for Water. It was extraordinary. Dimly lit, serene, contemplative. But all the while, my shoulders and back hurting in that same, foreign spot.
I am an Aries, a Fire sign. In so many ways I am a very typical Aries—opinionated, enthusiastic, a leader, assertive, a child at heart. Naturally, I started my meditation at the Fire corner. It was comfortable, familiar. I moved to the Air corner, then Water, then Earth. But I kept being called to the Air altar. It was strange to me, feeling truly beckoned by the Air corner, as I don’t think of myself as having the typical characteristics of the Air signs. But I listened to whatever it was, this force that was reaching for me, and spent a great deal of time at the Air altar. With my shoulders and back still aching.
There were also two places set aside where you could write Statements of “Truth” that were going to be burned in the bonfire later that night. The airquotes around “Truth” were because the idea was to write down the negative things we say and hear about ourselves, to recognize the things we tend to believe as truth when, in fact, they are the lies we are told, the ones we tell ourselves, that eat away at us and decay us from the inside out. I found great solace in writing down all those lies (probably used more than my fair share of paper…), knowing that they would blacken, crinkle, and disappear in the bonfire, in good company with the other lies. The rest of the New Year’s Eve celebration continued in a glorious, festive extravaganza. Late into the night, we danced and sang, partied and connected. These people I had only known for a handful of days were now kindred spirits, bound to me by the magic of what Earthdance provides.
The next day was my day of traveling home. Hilary led a Contemplative Dance (also known as Authentic Movement) session at 8 am, so there was only a small group of us (others were still sleeping off the night’s festivities). Contemplative dance is sort of a combination of meditation and improvised movement. From contemplativedance.org, “It feels centering like meditation; intimate like prayer; meaningful and transformative like ritual. It heals the “split” between mind and body, spirit and matter. It brings insight into some of life’s core issues, and provides an opportunity to express and celebrate them.” Hilary led us through a dance meditation and I had what I can only describe as…a vision. An experience.
The thing that first struck me was color. Normally when I close my eyes in a brightly lit room (as the umbrella barn was that morning), there is a warm, orange-red color on the backs of my eyelids. But this particular morning, all I could see were shades of purple and green swirling. It was so different that it was almost alarming. But I stuck with it.
Hilary continued to lead us through the contemplative meditation, focusing on going back into the “real” world after being in the blissful utopia of Earthdance for 5 days. She was leading us through questions like, “How can we hang on to this feeling? How can we take this feeling into our everyday world?”
As I rolled, writhed, spun on the floor, the hot spots on my back that had been hurting felt like they were burning. For some reason I was able to discern that I was in no physical danger, that it had something to do with the movement experience. My arms were wrapped around my torso, slapping, clawing, tearing at my back. I just knew that I needed to free…something. I flipped, somersaulted, rolled…no relief.
And then it hit.
I literally had a VISION. As clear as can be. I had a vision that the pain in my back, the pain that had been plaguing me for two solid days, was because…
There were wings under my skin that were trying to get out. There were WINGS trying to get out.
I was unaware of when exactly I started weeping, but I just allowed myself to swim in the experience. I tried to figure out how to free the wings, how to get them to the surface so they could expand. And they finally did—unfurling in magnificent splendor, brightly colored like the cover of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Perestroika. And as soon as they were fully extended, I burst into an explosion of fire.
The Air sign becoming the Fire sign.
The pain, the burning, the now-undeniable understanding that I needed to free something that had been trapped, had been turned into a blazing fire that engulfed the negativity, the negative self-talk that was decades in the making, the aspects of myself that had been denied and buried for so long.
And as the mythology, the legend goes, I felt…reborn. I felt renewed, relieved, restored. Able to go back to my family as a better wife, a better mother, a better friend and colleague and sister and daughter…a better ME. A phoenix.