Shake the Chains
Yesterday I went to a West African dance class. It was holy-moly-fantastic. I’m not a dancer, by any stretch of the word. But I figure, if you try, then you’re on the right track. So I tried.
The type of dancing we learned (it had a certain name, I feel awful for forgetting it) is supposed to be a manifestation of African people breaking the enslaving bonds of colonialism across the African continent. The movements, the rhythm, the gyrations, all have a violently emotional spirit. That is actually how I would describe African dance. with that one word.
Some of the women in this class danced with such spirit, were infused with so much emotion and expression in every throw of the arm stomp of the foot. When the instructor explained the dance, she emphasized that this was really a chance for us to break our own bonds, to physically and spiritually separate ourselves from those burdens weighing on our hearts, holding us back. She spoke of the incredible freedom one could feel following a “breakthrough,” and though it may take more than one class, it was indeed possible. All this talk of bonds and slavery, and it made me think
Am I bonded? What enslaves me? Can I break
I can’t compare my hardships with those of colonial slaves in Africa. Nor can I expect that my burdens carry even a recognizable portion of the weight others have carried throughout their lives. I had dinner tonight with a group of older women, mostly divorced, who related to each other their horrible tales of marital destruction and abuse. Some of these women had felt so much pain and endured so much shit (sorry, there is no other way to say that…it is just shitty), it made my heart want to explode. (**Literally this was a scene from Wisteria Lane.) As I sit here warm and safe from the thunder and lightning outside my window, I have to really question the bonds I need to break and any freedom that I might be lacking.
But here’s what I think:
1) Thinking about the burdens often leads to self pity, at least in my own experience. Therefore, I would rather not.
2) It is difficult for me to identify issues/experiences/relationships in my life that are holding me back.
I feel so lucky at this moment. Lucky to be dry from the rain. Lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who love and support me and accept me for who I am. Lucky to have hope and love and idealism in my heart rather than hate and sadness and fear. Lucky to be educated and empowered to make my own intelligent decisions. Lucky to be listened to. Lucky to have dreams and aspirations. Lucky to have a job that enables and inspires me. Lucky to have others to pull me out of a dark place. Lucky to have an able body and mind. Lucky a millllllllllion other things.
Sure, I could probably go on and on about things that make me unhappy, sour relationships, complaints, failures, disappointments. But why would I?
The joys and gifts of life are the things that break any bonds, unconsciously so. All those things I am lucky for push me forward, give me the courage and strength to be bigger and better and happier.
So when my instructor asked me to think about the chains that inhibit my life and that I wanted to break, I silently thought of the opposite. Whether I broke any bonds or not that class, I don’t really know. What I do know is that I was able to be wild and free because of all the things I love about my life, not the other way around.
So my challenge to you is a “Mom-tells-you-to-write-all-the-things-you-are-grateful-for-on-Thanksgiving” Challenge. Man, I hated doing that as a kid. But do it anyway. Make a list of all the things that you are grateful for, all the joys and wonders that enable you, that get you through the day. Even if you’re pissed at husband.boss.wife.brother.sister.friend.homelessman.policeman.roommate.whothehellcares. Just write the list. Keep in a place where you can see it every day, even if you don’t read it every day. Let’s try the fridge.
I think this is how we shake our chains. Not by coming to terms with the things we dislike about life. But by embracing and leveraging the things we love with all our hearts.