have been very quiet of late. My father passed away in April after
some months in hospital, and aside from one video post, I have not
wanted to be visible. After all, it is hard to talk of joy, freedom
and flow through the power of dance, when my body has been a
turbulent ocean of grief and sadness, and I have had to honour my
truth. Aside from an expressive spontaneous dance at the recent Mind
Body Spirit Show in London, and a dance in the woods which I will
post on Instagram, my dances of grief have been for me.
very poignant happened on the night I learnt of my father’s death.
I sent him Reiki, and as I sent the distant healing symbol up to the
sky, I felt a distinct energetic pull from my palms. One young man
who I met recently had lost two of his friends. He described how he
now felt their presence all around him in a way that he did not
before, in effect feeling closer to them. This is probably little
solace if you have lost your nearest and dearest, but the dichotomy
of the sense of loss yet feeling a closeness and presence, is
something I am still attuning my body to.
My father’s service was small and perfectly formed. A traditional non-secular gathering in a chapel, with a Buddhist blessing rather than the Lord’s Prayer read by myself, the only ‘unorthodox’ part of the ceremony. What really struck me was the depth of communication between all the people who attended. They were all there because they wanted to be, rather than out of obligation, and the wake was relaxed and jovial with real heartfelt warmth and love for my father.
particularly touched me because we were all being authentically
ourselves, whether English, immigrant Chinese or British born
Chinese; there was no division or false niceties. I have always felt
torn between two cultures, and rather conscious of not ticking
‘traditional’ boxes especially on my Chinese side, but times and
attitudes have changed since I was growing up.
some countries, death and grief are very visible and great ritual is
created around it. I will never forget my first trip to Varanasi in
India and the burning Ghats (steps leading to the river). After
meandering through some cavernous cobbled streets of the old town, I
suddenly stumbled into the entrance of the river Ganges, and was
confronted by the very raw and visceral experience of seeing a body
burning on a funeral pyre below..
and mesmerising at the same time, I couldn’t help but stare, (no
doubt like every other first time tourist, though ‘luckily’ in
this case, staring is quite acceptable in Asia, being a tourist is
often an object of local curiosity..), whilst also noticing the thick
smells of death and decay wafting up to my nostrils. The grief of the
surrounding family was palpably calm.
India it is a privilege to able to be cremated in Varanasi and have
your ashes released into the sacred Ganges, to be relieved of the
cycle of death and rebirth and to enter Nirvana. And it is not a
cheap ceremony either, inaccessible to many.
In Tibet one way of death ceremony is the sacred Tibetan Sky Burial, another raw and explicit way of disposing of the body, in our sanitised western eyes. Here the body is taken to a mountain top to be cut into pieces by a burial master, before being eaten by vultures. There seem to be some different philoshophies around this practice, but certainly it is an ecological way to dispose of the body, given the belief that the body is just a vessel to house the soul, which has now departed. It is an offering back to the earth, and the soul can go directly to heaven from this open and higher place.
trauma can mean that we are in constant stress, with
longterm PTSD. . long
term effects of chronic stress are reversible.
Dr. Lisa Shulman, Director of the University of Maryland Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center and author of “Before and After Loss: A Neurologist’s Perspective on Loss, Grief and Our Brain” has indicated how practices involving mindfulness and relaxation such as journaling, counselling and creative pursuits are opportunities for post-traumatic growth.
These activities can allow us to explore our feelings, in a way that invites in safety and security and enable calmness to return.
we don’t work through the traumatic experiences that we have, they
will continue to be an obstacle in our lives,” says Dr. Shulman.
depression, a stage of grief, can often be immobilising, with its
very heavy feeling of stuckness and lethargy, grief itself can have
different stages with waves of emotion that consume and rack our
this is when the Expressive Arts really do come into their own. Some
of the most incredibly deep and beautiful poetry, music and
performances have been birthed from deep grief and periods of
sadness. In these art forms we can give full rein to our feelings and
emotions without having to personally own them, or fear somehow
named and shamed by society at large. They
are an outlet that is held by the process and activity, a container
if you like for whatever needs to emerge.
I love about dance and movement, where
we can fully express our inner most stories without
process is our art, and there are
no rules around how it should look or be.
Nothing can diminish the pain and intensity of the gamut of emotions that can arise from grief; the disbelief, the anger, the despair, the pain and isolation, If we are feeling stuck or frozen, by moving our bodies we can slowly allow our bodies to thaw. And in doing so, as we start to move our bodies we can allow our emotions to take a shape and form. When we dance, our brain waves drop from busy beta state to a slower alpha state, which allows in creativity. These brain waves are also when we can start to daydream, or consciously practice mindfulness or meditation.
In some cultures such as in many African, Native American, Balinese or Mexican societies there are extended mourning periods that can also be expressed through music and dance, the celebration of life. Last autumn I attended the most beautiful ‘untraditional’ ceremony for a friend who has sadly passed away. It was held in a very big yurt in a gorgeous spot by the river, with music and celebration, and not a speck of black was worn by attendees. This celebration of a person’s life, and of life itself is such a heart warming validation on these occasions.
we start to
shape and form, and our
and through our
grief we can emerge into a different place,
be a powerful catalyst to assist in this
we go deep into our own dance, the
beauty of it is that we are intrinsically a part of this creation.
Our bodily selves are fully immersed to become and create this art.
And when we improvise or move spontaneously, new stories and
emotions, that were hidden or kept under wraps can also reveal
time (and it can be in a relatively small amount
of time, in
comparison to talk therapies),
begin to shift and transform. For
example research at Harvard University has shown that in just two
minutes of intentional body posture, our body chemistry and feelings
can be affected. We
can drop everything to
another way of being, another dimension, we
can allow our spirit and life force to emerge, dropping the dense
energy of our thoughts.
all experience grief in some way in our lives, and it can
be a full bodied
emotion, which is why it lends itself to the expressive arts and
dance so well.
despair of the lack of funding for drama and dance in the education
system. Have you noticed that these are coincidentally,
or not, ‘embodied’
practices, as opposed to the traditional and very cerebral 3 ‘R’s
of reading, writing and ‘rithmtic.…?
is the place of
dance and drama in
school curriculum planning? Oh the irony of how we rush to buy
before they sell out for popular shows and entertainment, for our
leisure time activities.
about a Creativity room in the workplace, where you can enter and
engage in some expressive arts of your choosing, perhaps with
headphones so that you can escape the stresses in your normal day.
And even better a private soundproof room where you can enter to
release or vent your feelings, fears, frustration, in fact why not
install a punchbag with boxing gloves in their too?
my own grief, my dance has not always been big and explosive. At
times it has been very small and contained. In
this time my body has been
my listener, my companion and
change my mood, my emotion and feelings in the space of an hour or
course there will be more to excavate, more layers of grief still to
reveal themselves, as I have spoken to and realised how many of us
lose a parent, often at a young age.
new phase is emerging, where
I am ready to be visible again. I know that I
have a purpose
to give service
on this earth,
and to be one of the bridges between east and west, the ancient and
the modern, the science and the sacred, and to honour the courage of
my father when he took the plunge to come to England from Hong Kong
on a long boat journey in his 20’s to seek a better life.
I can help you think, feel and live more deeply,
I am on the right path. Just as every life and good story has a
beginning, middle and ending, so my father has transitioned with
ending his story on the earthly plane, but in doing is
to more brand-new
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I finish this piece, I leave you with these questions….
this article trigger anything for you?
are your feelings and experiences of grief?
have you dealt with those experiences
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments...
1. Traumatic stress: effects on the brain
J. Douglas Bremner, MD*
3. ‘ I love me’, Dr David R Hamilton, Hay House 2015.