Dancing with Darkness

May 05 2013 by Allison English

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Dancing with Darkness

For quite some time I’ve had a shell of a blog written in my queue about tragedy, heartbreak and loss. There has been much of late to break our cumulative human hearts: war, natural disasters, school shootings, and most recently the terror attack in Boston during the marathon. Each time something tragic happens, I’ve wanted to write about it – to offer up something to help the process of dealing and healing going on around me. And each time, I’ve felt like maybe I didn’t have any right to speak to these events, or maybe I couldn’t contribute in any productive way to the healing that needs to happen after these events. Then I was reminded of something my teacher, Ana Forrest, said to me many years ago, “Allison, you have to go into your dark corners and get to know them. You have to dance with what you find in the darkest spaces inside you.” I’ve been dancing with my own darkness ever since – and in moments of deep loss it’s a principle and practice that has brought me tremendous insight, calm, and peace.

When something happens to those we care about, or to humanity on a greater scale, or even to our own private self that triggers a sense of loss, our heart feels it deeply – breaking down, in or open. Consider how you felt when the news broke of the marathon terror attack. Or the last time you lost a loved one. Or when a friend or colleague suddenly stopped talking to you completely. There is a void of darkness that arises when we lose anything. The dark void feels bigger when the loss we feel is bigger.

If we ignore this void, it covers everything in our life with its darkness – like a black fog shifting into the pattern of our life, obscuring what we see around us. I reference the “fogginess” my students reported the week after the Boston bombing. The fog of what they were experiencing literally and physically sucked them in, and made everything else around them: poses, conversations, and words – very unclear and stumbly.

If we dwell in the void of loss, thinking about it constantly or analyzing it, it draws us inside like a vortex – putting our minds in a constant tailspin. We replay each thought, wondering if things could have been different. We reside either in the “what if” of the past or the “what will” of the future. Either way, dwelling in the void took us out of the present and out of the clarity of mind that comes from feeling.

Come back to dancing. If we dance with the darkness of the void of loss, we make it a partner, we bring its facets into the present, we stumble with it, we listen for the rhythm inside the void that is the language of our loss made real. In short, we learn again how to feel within the void created by loss, we cuddle up with our own reaction to loss – leaning our head on its shoulder.

When the bombs went off in Boston, I had friends running, colleagues watching, and students living nearby. My first thoughts were of their safety and then of the safety of those around them. Then my heart went out to those who were obviously not safe, but right in harms way. In the aftermath, there was fear, confusion, terror and seeking that ensued. I myself felt dark, confused, helpless, and above all heartbroken for those who were injured and killed. I wrote on my Facebook feed that day about how at a loss I felt – how hard it was to teach my classes, but how driven I was to teach anyways. In the end, the deep loss I felt reminded me that my connection to feeling is a light within the void of loss. I recalled that I also, as a teacher, help others to stay in feeling so that their own light, their own illuminating nature, burns brighter. I’ve spent the better part of the past few weeks dancing with the waves of emotion tied to this event and many others of loss that have affected me and those around me. It’s been profound in helping me refine for myself the ways I deal with loss and heartbreak – big and small. It’s helped me put on some new dancing shoes.

In a workshop a while back, Ana Forrest told all of us a brief story about her experience participating in a Native American Sun Dance. She described the putting before this ceremony a deep prayer for someone or something, and then dancing to the rhythm of drums and Spirit to provide energy to the prayer so that is could become manifest. The continuous and long physical movements of the dance provide the energy and impetus for the prayer to become real. In the process of this physical dancing, she went through tremendous mental, emotional and spiritual dancing through her own voids to create the reality of what she prayed for with the community of dancers around her and the greater tribe beyond. It is with my dancing with my feelings that I put out a prayer, supported by a community of practitioners – my tribe – that our feelings of loss, fear, betrayal and heartbreak knit us closer together, rather than driving us apart, and help us to reveal our brightness more regularly with one another.

It is by feeling, praying, being present and continuing to move that we not only dance with our heartbreak, loss and fear, but that we learn how to create something out of it. In the words of fellow yoga teacher, Boston native, and writer Rebecca Pacheco of Omgal.com, “Know that solutions and revolutions of good and healing often start inside the very same hearts that are broken open.” So the next time loss rings at your door, let your heart be broken open, stay in feeling, and dance with the very full void of stuff that comes up and out of your loss. I’ll be there dancing with you.