by Theo Wildcroft
“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world…” Mary Oliver
The making of a life consists of being broken open, of being stretched beyond your capacities again, and again, and again. Every time you stretch a muscle, you are tearing the muscle filaments apart. We break, and breathe, and adapt and heal. My students and clients come to me saying that there’s something wrong, because they have lower back pain that won’t be soothed, or they can’t go a week without their nervous system experiencing a panic attack, or just that they can’t put their socks on as easily as they used to.
They connect with me one on one in dedicated therapy sessions, or snatched conversations after class. They’re often confused about what they’ve done ‘wrong’ to their body sometimes they’re angry or ashamed at being ‘broken’. Especially when what’s broken can’t be fixed by a pill or a treatment or an operation. I had a client once tell me: “You know, it’s just I wake up every morning and say – ‘I’ve still got Parkinson’s then.’”
My students know that I can’t fix them and I don’t pretend that I can. I just help them manage their human condition, and reassure them that they’re not alone. This is my service, my druidry if I can call it that. Their bodies are communicating, and I do what I can to find a space, physical and psychological, in which these unheard fragments of the body, heart and mind can start to hear each other again – in which they can start to feel whole, and strong and rested.
But the pain of the process isn’t wrong, it’s inevitable. Only by choosing to deal with it can suffering can be negotiated with. It takes a lot of courage to face that and not to run from the world. And yet human beings are quietly doing the same all around you.
I know their journey because I’m only two steps ahead of them. Two decades ago now, I decided that I would live, rather than just survive until a better option came along. It seemed to me a hypocrisy to profess a reverence for nature whilst rejecting my own. In each day since, I have found a new way to break the shell of my thinking, feeling self open to the world. Every day I have to make that choice again;
every day a different ‘yes’ to life, to nature and to my body.
It’s not for everyone. Every so often I get a friend or relation asking me for a quick fix. They want me to give them something simple and easy to repair back pain resulting from 15 years or more of misaligned shoulders and atrophied hip flexors. I’ve learnt to read the signs as their eyes glaze over. And whilst I’m trying to explain the evolutionary fallout from walking on two legs they’re wondering if the consultant they’ve just seen has a new, clever operation in mind.
They just know that 30 minutes of practice a day whilst really listening to their body isn’t going to make as much difference as a scalpel. In a way they’re right – I can’t and won’t compete on those terms. But they can’t understand why I won’t just give them a few quick poses to do for a couple of weeks whilst they watch the TV at the same time. They don’t want all the yoga stuff. They just want to get fixed. That’s their choice too.
But there are always surprises. Last year at the Rainbow Futures Druid Camp, where I have led morning yoga sessions for the past 7 summers, after a few years of mutual teasing, and against all his better judgements I’m sure, an old friend came to a yoga session with me, and then another, and then another. I managed not to break him too badly, which was encouraging to us both. He’s a trustee for the Druid Network, and so when he asked for submissions for a talk at their conference, I chose to return that courage, that small act of faith.
“Here are my hands
that are also my heart, my mind,
my life -
all that remains…” Thich Nhat Hanh
For some of you, I know I have been preaching to the converted. For others, I come to a confession: my aim is to seduce you: back into your bodies, and back into the natural world we all hope to honour as pagans. I do so with words and pictures and video links, over this narrow bandwidth that is our online world, but I’m appealing not just to your reading mind but to your whole being. What I really want is for you to feel, not understand.
To reach you I spent hours and days in typing, editing and refining. Knowing that what I really want with you is time, and practice and a wide open sky. With each word written I became more and more aware of the sunlight or rain on the windows the ache in my right shoulder and the twitch in my calves to put the laptop down and go for a run instead. I did it once, for the conference talk, and again, for these blog posts.
But I was told that to teach you must go to where the student is at. Then, if they take one step towards you you take another two towards them. So here I am, if you can imagine me, in heart, hands and voice – one physical being to another, to call you home. As they say – come on in the water’s lovely.
I hope your shoes are still off because right now I want you to feel both the earth moving beneath you and the movement of your own body against it, in a way that recognises that simple, sacred connection, not just from the skin out, but all the way through.
I want you to take this step every day if you can. I want you to do it in a thousand different ways: stretching and holding and balancing and twisting and folding and opening. I don’t care if you call it yoga or Stav or Five Rhythms or just a really long walk.
So I’m not going to ask you to stand again, but I am going to invite you to root your feet as well as you are able to upon the earth here today. Consider your hands, and remember the intimate connection that they have to your heart, to your ancestry and your history. Take a few moments to do this, if you would. Close your eyes, or just turn your gaze inwards for a few seconds.
And as soon as it’s next possible, I invite you to gently reach out and find another hand to connect with. If you’re feeling a little shy and reserved, just do this once. If you’re feeling more expansive, feel free to hold hands with as many people as you can today.
At the heart of so many of our rituals, is this simple act. We stand together, heart to heart and hand to hand. It’s so simple, so powerful. And if you can really feel it, from the skin in as well as the skin out, it can be enough for us to begin to heal that connection between our soul and the soul of the world.
For me, the body, our bodies, are sacred. Faith, community, druidry, and life itself is about relationship and experience. We are at our most sacred where our edges meet the world, and all the human and other than human people in it. We are in the end, what we are able and willing to experience. So I thank you for your willingness to reach out and touch this experience with me.
FInd out more about Theo and her work here: http://www.wildyoga.co.uk