September is here and my Radical Sabbatical is officially over. In the past few weeks, I’ve put together a routine that tells the story of my experience – and the human experience — of stepping away from what was, being in the unknown or liminal time, and coming through the other side — often back home where we started but different, changed in some way.
We’ve all gone through this at one time or another: the separation, the wandering in the unknown, and the reemergence. It can happen when we change jobs, when relationships end, when someone close to us dies, when we have a serious illness, when we move to a new city or start school (again). Maybe you are in the midst of one of these times right now.
During my sabbatical, I imagined myself a piece of origami, folded perhaps as a bird or a butterfly. During the time in between (the liminal time), I unfold myself, maybe crumple myself up or smooth myself out to undo the creases of the previous shape. Then I refold myself in a new shape – a flower or an animal this time. The paper, the essence of me, is the same. It is just the shape that is new. It feels good to try on some new folds that perhaps reveal some patterns in the paper that were hidden before.
So come with me for a walk through the new routine called Radical Sabbatical. I offer some information about the music and why I’ve included it in this story. Whenever possible, I’ve linked to youtube videos so you can listen to the songs. I’m also a sucker for lyrics and finding meaning in music so if you’re interested, you can find a complete list of all the lyrics in the Helpful Info menu on the right.
If you’ve had a Dark Night yourself, you may recognize some of the views along the way. If you’re in the midst of one now, you may be reassured that you are not alone in this often uncomfortable and awkward process. Not to worry, that’s where the juice is.
Radical Sabbatical – The Routine
Coming Back To Life by Pink Floyd
Last spring a Nia teacher posted this song (darn and blast, but I don’t remember who – was it you, Jill?) and I loved it. I loved the guitar work – it is Pink Floyd after all. I loved the shift in tone from mournful to hopeful, from pitiful to strong. On the surface, this is a song is about a break-up. The line “where were you?” could have an edge to it, like, “where were you when I needed you?” That’s not how I thought about it. As I stepped away from teaching, I also stepped away from my connection with my students and other Nia teachers. As I danced to this song alone in my sunroom, I genuinely wondered: Where are you guys? What are you doing? Are you going through anything like this? I also had the feeling that even though I didn’t know what was happening or how it was going to turn out, that the process of stepping away from my practice was a step toward coming back to life.
Living In The Moment by Jason Mraz
I love this bouncy, cheerful, whistling song. I love the line “easy and breezy” in the chorus. (It sounds a lot like one of my favorite things to say in class: “easy peasy double cheesy.”) Light as it sounds, the song offers serious wisdom: to stay in the present, to “let go of thoughts that do not make me strong,” and to help each other with reminders to be here now. On May 1, the first day of my sabbatical, I had a scary moment. I pulled up my online calendar and – gasp! – it was completely open. Blank. Nothing scheduled. Nothing. It became a practice to really listen to what I needed and wanted to do rather than to be driven by habit or obligation. It was a strange sensation to have a plan and then realize it wasn’t really what I wanted to do and then – gasp again! – change the plan! Amazing.
Never Know by Jack Johnson
I spent a good month of my sabbatical answering just about every question with, “I don’t know.” I didn’t know what was happening, what I needed, what I wanted or what I was going to do when the four months was over. This song is an anthem to my May. It has the lazy, relaxed feel for which Jack Johnson is famous, but when he comes around to the chorus, it flies up like a ball tossed in the air. Whoa. The line, “we’re clever but we’re clueless / we’re just human” makes me laugh and shake my head. More than one person reminded me during the sabbatical that I was human to be going through this process. I appreciate this song for its reminders: it is an illusion to think we know what will happen in life and that we are just clever, clueless and human. “Where is this all leading? Never know.”
Drifting Away (Paradiso Mix) by Faithless
One of the primary intentions I set for my sabbatical was to find a teacher or mentor. One of the first that happened across my path was Jamie Catto, the creator of the 1 Giant Leap CDs and member of the band, Faithless. In May, I listened to a lot of Faithless and every time this song came up on my iPod, I felt the mix of mobility and strength, melody and rhythm. Even if I was on a Stairmaster, or driving in my car, I wanted to dance. As I played with the choreography for this song, the balance of flow and power was there, to be sure, and also the memory of moments of clarity and insight, followed immediately by confusion. “Yes! That’s what I want to do! I understand now!” shadowed quickly by “That’s so not it. What am I thinking? I don’t know what is going on.” I love all the elements contained in this song: a generous mentor, a flowing melody, a pounding beat, astute understandings and exasperated muddles.
Drive By by Train
My sister, Elizabeth, turned me onto this poppy, playful song on a road trip to our cousin’s wedding on Long Island in mid-May. The upbeat energy and all-out chorus were made for loud singing and car dancing. The song is a reminder to me to play and have fun – even if I don’t know what the heck is going on or what will happen. The truth is, I rarely know what is going on and I for sure don’t know what will happen so why not laugh and sing and dance and go to weddings?
Drop by Cornelius
This is a song that a long-time student gave to me three years ago on an eclectic mix she put together. There were many unusual songs on that mix, and something made me keep coming back to this one. Dripping water sounds blend with flowing expansive vocals that make me want to shake my fins, dive, swim and blow bubbles. There’s even a little cough in the middle that reminds me to breathe in the midst of excitement and anxiety and uncertainty.
Breathe (Extreme Mix) by Soulfood
No video to be found — you can find the song on the IMAX Extreme soundtrack
There were definitely times of struggle in the past four months. I wrestled relentlessly with my own mind, in particular my negative thoughts, criticisms and judgments. I rolled around with difficult emotions of sadness, anger, fear, disillusionment – even betrayal. Something about the power and emotion of this song captures some of those feelings of frustration and struggle — and determination. When I dance it, I want to make big belly sounds – so get ready to make noise on this one!
Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin
I think Stairway is one of the greatest rock songs ever written. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. (At the dances at camp, though, we always struggled with whether it was a slow dance or fast.) Lots of Nia teachers use the song and I’ve always enjoyed it when I’ve done it in classes. But I’ve never taught it. The song felt intimidating with all its history and all the fractions in the bars and that bumpy place in the middle where the beat is slightly askew. Truly excellent Nia teachers have taught it with skill and it felt too much to make my own attempt at it. In late May, I was sitting at a stoplight and was hit by a wave of sadness. I started to cry and realized that I really, really missed teaching Nia. When I went to Blue Belt in early June, I wanted to redefine my relationship with Nia and find a way to bring back my passion and energy. And I had no idea at all about how to do that. In the middle of the training, Helen Terry, had us dancing the choreography of I Love Baby Cheesy from Global Unity and in the middle of the song, she switched the music to Stairway. Oh my word, you guys! Riding the familiar music with the familiar choreography was one of the most fun, exhilarating Nia experiences I’ve had. Dancing this song was the moment that my joy and my Joy came back.
Proud by Heather Small
In addition to Jamie Catto and Helen Terry who were both helpful, kind, and generous teachers, I was blessed to have many people supporting me and guiding me during my sabbatical. I have (as Laurence Fishburn’s character says in Akeelah and the Bee) 10,000 teachers. They are all around me. I just have to pay attention to what they have to offer. I heard this song for the first time in July at the home of one of those 10,000 teachers. She and I had fallen out of touch in the past couple of years, but she emailed me out of the blue to say that she had a song that she wanted to share with the idea of using it in Nia. Sitting with her as it played, tears came to my eyes (I am such a sucker for inspiring lyrics and a gospel choir), especially at the line “realize that to question is how we grow.” This song opened up my narrow perspective and invited me to take a wider vision. This song is about my service. It is about offering what I can, making a positive contribution, leaving a wake of love behind me. What have you done today to make you feel proud?
Everloving by Moby
During my sabbatical, I have begun to understand about the power of love. Not the conditional, imitation love that most of us have experienced, but unconditional love. Real love. Much of my life I have been tied up in anger and emptiness with the sincere belief that if the people around me would do what I want, then I would be happy. I am learning, slowly, that this is an illusion. I am learning, slowly, about how to be more loved and loving, and it is making all the difference. This song feels like an expression of the freedom, compassion and happiness that comes with a practice of real love. In the routine, this is a freedance and when I do it, I soar.
Father I Know (Mix 1) by Jamie Catto
This song is from an as-yet unreleased CD, so no video is available
I mentioned that Jamie Catto generously offered me his mentorship at the beginning of my sabbatical. His insightfulness and wisdom were indispensable in those early days. One day, he emailed me and said simply “Here’s a song for you.” As soon as I heard it, I felt as if it was speaking directly to me. Every word is powerful and it reminds me that we all go through Dark Nights and we all need support and encouragement. The whole song is beautiful and the words of the chorus touch my heart:
Sister I see
Bring me down slow
Comfort I need
‘Cause I been pushing so hard
For the mountain is stone
Think I’ll go alone
How long is this road?
How long is this road?
I have such tenderness for anyone who is in the midst of one of these transitional, liminal times. Please, if that’s where you are, reach out for help, comfort and (real) love. You need it and deserve it.
Balance by Bob Holroyd
Bob Holroyd is a fantastic artist whose music is used often in Nia (TranceVision and AO, anyone?). There are all kinds of things going on in this piece musically. It speaks to the balance and polarity that feeds me. In my life and practice, I want power and grace, masculine and feminine, science and poetry, intellect and intuition, sound and silence, form and freedom, tight and loose, understanding and unknowing, connection and solitude. That’s the reality I want to live in.
Peace by George Winston
One of my 10,000 teachers is a young woman who has been taking classes with me since she was a tween. This summer, she gave me the gift of her teaching including a practice called “palming” which uses warm hands and breath to relax and heal. So far, as I’ve been teaching this routine, I’ve shared this palming practice during this song. It seems to work beautifully with George Winston’s delicate music. Warm hands, full breath and gentle music feel deeply needed and often forgone. Ultimately, though, I offer this song (and all the songs, actually) for you to be where you are, and to take what you need.
In the end, my sabbatical was about listening to myself – body, mind, emotions and spirit. My sabbatical was about caring for myself enough to respond to what I heard and (re)discover what makes me come alive. My sabbatical was about me offering my service through my practice and my life and about me receiving the gifts and teaching from others. Radical.
By reading this blog, you are part of the balance of give and receive that enriches my life and practice. For that I am grateful. I hope we connect either on the dance floor or in the ether or somewhere in between.