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Breathe. Dance. Remember Freedom.

There is much talk of freedom this week. That delights me because if my work in this world is in service of any one thing, it’s F R E E D O M. Freedom from the false things that hold us back, cause us pain, prevent us from loving ourselves and one another.

As my friend and teacher Jody reminded me this morning, “we can stand for freedom, and still feel wildly unfree.” One year ago, I was neck-deep in that experience. With a post-surgery knee and an oft-broken heart and a life that was messy and chaotic and uncertain, I felt… stuck. Trapped, even. Like my circumstances had me in a choke hold, even as I wriggled for freedom with all of my might.

Now I know: my soul was showing me my shadow. In higher definition than I’d ever seen them before, all of those places I was certainly NOT free were front and center. It’s because I was ready to look. (This is the good news about any breakdown; it shows up because you’ve got what it takes to break through.) And after some initial resistance — because there is ALWAYS resistance to growth — I turned towards all of it. I embraced the soupy in-between. I started willingly wading through the muck.

And once you’ve seen your own muck and allowed yourself to really be with your pain, the next logical question is: how do I get myself free of these things? 

I could feel so much had shifted within me; I knew I was understanding myself in a new way. But, if I’m going to stick with my butterfly analogy here, it was as if I had dissolved, rearranged, grown a new set of wings… and was trying to emerge from a very stubborn chrysalis. All those old patterns I now understood with my mind — and felt V E R Y ready to be free of — were still hanging around the edges, sticky and clingy, withholding me from flight.

How do I get myself free of these things?

The answer came at me over and over again, from all directions and via many different voices:

YOU FEEL THEM. ALL THE WAY.

As another of my brilliant teachers Erin says, “you can only do so much healing with your mind.” Because here’s the thing — the mind got you into this mess. It’s the mind’s analysis of past experiences that has you creating thoughts that make you feel unsafe in this moment, even if you are entirely safe. Understanding intellectually that there is trauma in your past does not create the seismic shift necessary to really release the pain.

You did not THINK your way into a fear of abandonment, or a deep sense of unworthiness, or a constant perception of scarcity. Those things get created in intensely emotional moments and then your mind gets to work trying to keep you “safe” from ever feeling them again. But the truth is: we can feel hard things. You felt your way in, and you can feel your way out.

If we are willing to surrender and feel our feelings, we can actually shift them. They are bottled up in there because they were too much to bear when it was happening the first time around. By feeling them as the adult, well-resourced versions of ourselves we are now, we can squeeze out that latent pain.

But we resist feeling our feelings because, well, it hurts. I’m no different. Just like you, I’ve got layers of protection in place to keep me from revisiting the deepest wounded places. “I know I’ve got more stuff in here,” I said out loud to the mysterious place I go for answers. “How do I get past my mind and really FEEL them?”

The answer was so clear. “Dance and breathe. Dance and breathe. DANCE. And breeeeeeeathe.”

I reconnected to movement and began dancing everyday, whether alone or with others. Kitchen dancing, ecstatic dancing, festival dancing, hip hop class dancing, alone-in-the-woods dancing.

And I began breathing. Like, REALLY breathing. Exploring my relationship with my breath, trying on different forms of meditative breathwork, eventually landing on one method that cleared my system more potently than anything in recent memory, learning to guide others in that same breathing technique, holding breathwork healing sessions for friends and loved ones and eventually clients.

I danced, and I remembered that our bodies hold so much information and creative power.

I breathed, and I was astounded by the healing capacity of this simple tool connected to the very essence of our life force.

And oh boy, did I do some serious feeling. I left so many tears (and just as many whoops and hollers) on the dance floor. Breathing would often morph into deep sobs (or cackling laughter), from somewhere I didn’t even know existed.  And I felt myself get lighter and lighter. Not because I was avoiding my *stuff*, but because I was working with it in a new, embodied way.

As I have gotten lighter, so has my life. My work has become more clear and more prolific. Creativity is flowing. A new love has blossomed. A move to California is on the horizon. The willingness to be more boundaried and self-loving and self-responsible comes with greater ease. In short, I’m getting out of my own way. For real.

And so from my journey to yours: your expanded freedom is waiting for you, just on the other side of those dark and twisty feelings. They are heavy and they are dense and they are in there, taking up space. Find a way — any healthy, real, true way– to safely and authentically feel them. It takes courage, yes. You won’t want to do it. (Some days, me neither.) AND: it is so very worth it.

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