Photo: CC Ericd, thanks man.
Bodies and Voices
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CARYN MIRRIAM-GOLDBERG
Every month or two, I return to them: a group of people, mostly women, living with serious illness so that we can sit around three tables pushed together and write. I bring poems as prompts, little exercises, sometimes small art projects to help unveil our words. I also bring trays of carrots and hummus, fresh fruit and ginger snaps. Lenora brings M & M’s, especially ones in off-beat colors. Sometimes Daisy makes flourless chocolate tortes.
Mixing the bitter with the sweet and impossible with possible, everyone brings what they’re living with – cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, brain injuries and how to pronounce diseases that have turned their lives upside down.
I’ve been facilitating these workshops for the last eight years at Turning Point: A Center for Hope and Healing, a model of what kinds of organizations we can create and support to address life when mortality comes home to roost.
When there’s no cure – patience, courage, tenderness
Turning Point offers people of all ages classes and programs, from a toddler playroom to workshops for adults on yoga, Tai Chi, knitting, cultivating resiliency and nutrition (among much more). What this organization shows us is how the arts and healing arts can be tools for finding our own wells of courage, tenderness, patience, and even and especially when there is no cure, healing.
In the writing workshops, we co-create a space of safety where people can write about whatever calls from their lives, and what most people want and need to write about has everything to do with what it means to live in a body that’s under the gun one way or another.
What is it like to be a body infused with chemo and facing the rest of life trying out one chemo regime after another until there’s nothing left to try? What is it to wake with a trembling right hand and collapsing left foot one day, blurry vision the next, no way to predict what will happen next? What does it mean to be someone’s 24/7 caregiver, alternating between wanting to shower the injured or ailing beloved with sweetness one hour and then run as far as possible the next hour?
How does someone who was told, “You have less than two months to live,” cope with having survived long past that time after she had her bags packed and ready to go?
In other words, what does it mean to be human?
We all will lose our bodies, slowly or suddenly
Whatever the specifics of any one of the workshop participants writes about this question, the essential core that shines through all our writing together is how much this matters: the simple act of making something, speaking our truths, and having others witness what we have to say to ourselves and community.
Whether you, dear reader, are living with serious or chronic illness as a patient or caregiver, or whether at this moment, life as a body is smooth sailing, the truth that comes through the workshops holds.
We all will lose our bodies, slowly or suddenly, too early or after a rich, well-lived life.
People we love will get diagnoses that bring us to our knees. Our knees, by the way, as well as our other joints will lose some or all of their range of motion over time no matter how healthily we eat and how often we practice yoga.
Along the way, we will also face turning points when it’s no longer possible to do something we do with ease today.
The hairpin turns of mortality
What I continually learn in these workshops is how we can bring presence to the hairpin turns of mortality, and cultivate greater sweetness for the life we have, however it comes or does come at this moment.
Watching Dean wheel up to the table, dip some hummus on a cracker, and write a beautiful haiku about how much he loves his wife, or listening to Gertrude read about shopping for prom dresses with her teenage daughter who needs to find a style that will hide the portable chemo unit she has to wear in a fanny pack sky-writes giant messages across the sky of my life: PAY ATTENTION. ENJOY THE MOMENT. LOVE.
Sometime else shines for me through these workshops: whatever we go through, whatever we suffer or lose, we will still be ourselves, just more so.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.