Walking with Grief

Avo Maria

Last week my grandma, Avó Maria, passed away. She was just shy of her 96th birthday. The gift of Alzheimer’s is also wrapped up in the challenge of it. On the one hand, seeing someone you love lose their mind can be heart wrenching and distressing. I had to come to grips with the fact that Avó might not recognize me or be able to engage in a conversation with me at any given time when I visited her. I was angry at her for choosing this way to fade out of life at the spirit level. I had to face a lot of my issues around Death and my control issues with Life. I put those in capital letters because I know that Death is a part of Life and both are great teachers for those willing to learn from them and grow while they are here on the Earth. I know I sometimes turn away from them out of fear but I also know the importance of facing them. Grief gives that opportunity and I took it. The gift of Alzheimer’s is that it gave me time to let go in stages and grieve fully before my grandma’s death. I got the chance to really look at my attitudes around death, dying, and life to come to terms with them. But I also got a chance to say goodbye to someone I love with all my heart. I got a chance to say the things I had to say. I consciously valued the last opportunities to touch her, massage her skin, and love her up while I could still be with her in the flesh.

I wrote this back in April 2014 on my blog (jenniferengracio.wordpress.com):

I went to visit my grandma the other day at her care home. She is turning 96 this year and has pretty advanced Alzheimer’s. Although she is not able to carry on a conversation that makes sense (to me), she looked into my eyes and recognition came over her. She knew my spirit and I could feel the delight rising in her. I spent an hour massaging her arms, legs and hands while she relaxed and looked out the window at the trees and the spring sunshine. At one point, she gave me a leg that I’d already massaged and said, “Faz. Faz.” which in Portuguese means “Do it. Do it.” I laughed and gave her what she wanted. I barely said a word to her the whole hour I was there. We did this somatic and spirit dance that was intimate and loving; we said more in that hour of not speaking than in one hour of talking. And I thought, “What a gift to just be able to BE together.” It was a relief to not feel like I had to chatter away. All of my earthly titles, degrees and achievements didn’t matter one iota. All that mattered was two humans connecting. Sometimes when I struggle with the predominant worldview we live in of achievements and titles, I think about what will matter to me when I am readying to die and reflecting back on my life. I doubt my university degree will be on my mind.

Although it seemed cruel to me at the beginning, I now see the wisdom that came out of walking alongside my grandma on her Alzheimer’s journey. Since my grandma’s passing, I’ve been reflecting on how long almost a century is in human years but how it is really such a short time in the large scheme of things. We really only have a blink of an eye’s worth of time in each lifetime to make positive impact. How many of us hold back what we want to say to friends, loved ones, and the world? Or then how many of us hold back our dreams? How many of us are living to please others? How many of us are so wrapped up in the lives of others that we forget that our job is to immerse ourselves in our own lives and healing?

Avó’s death was a reminder of how precious Life is. And it also drove home the fact that our bodies are of the Earth- that there is a sacred connection with this planet that we were birthed from that can only be honoured while we are in human form. I’ve felt tremendous surges of gratitude for being able to taste a peach, make love, walk barefoot on the grass, and feel the wind on my skin or the warmth of the sun on my body. I can’t experience those wonderful things in spirit form. I’ve made a renewed commitment to really living my life fully with aliveness. I thank my Avó for helping me to remember the preciousness of Life and for all the blessings she brought into my life’s journey while we were here together. May you cross speedily into the light from which you came. I look forward to continuing my relationship with you as an ancestor in the Spirit world!

Dance as Catharsis

Gabrielle Roth, the developer of the 5Rhythms practice, says this about dance as spiritual practice in her book “Sweat Your Prayers”:

“In the beginning, we all danced. Our religious roots go back at least 75, 000 years to shamanic traditions grounded in the rhythms of nature: the marvel of night turning into day, the awesome power of thunder and lightning, the wonder of birth and death. These movements have been our teachers and our source of inspiration, reflecting back to us the nature of who we are. Science may have explanations, religion might have dogmas, but the truth is we still don’t know how or why the universe began to dance. Our ancestors danced until they disappeared in the dance, til they felt the full force of spirit unleashing their souls. This was their religion and it was ecstatic and personal and tribal and it moved through time like a snake…Trance is a tricky place, a place not many understand. It’s a mindful state that only happens when you get out of your way and fall into your true self so deeply that something inside clicks and you are simultaneously being and witnessing yourself. It’s a myth that trance is a spell that somebody else puts you under…Nobody can put you in a trance but God…In trance, we move into the bigger picture. And from this vantage point we can see into the dark of our own hearts and let go of all the things that haunt us, relinquish them, turn them over to the Great Spirit.”

I was fortunate to grow up in a culture and family that valued dance. Every weekend, the whole extended family would get together at a relative’s house, eat together, socialize, and dance. After everyone had had time to chat and digest their food, we’d all pitch in to help move the furniture to the outskirts of the room, thereby creating a dance floor. The record player belted out top 40 hits, world music, dance music, and all sorts of other eclectic beats and sounds; we’d easily go from Michael Jackson to Julio Iglesias in an evening! Although I confess, I was never much of a Julio fan, the adults in the group certainly loved him. And that leads me to the other brilliant thing about these evenings: they were multi-generational. The kids danced with the adults, teens, and elders. Everyone was included.

This went on until I was about 12 years old. I knew that something was wrong in my extended family when people stopped gathering as often. But I knew that something deep was at work when my family stopped dancing altogether. Internal family conflicts divided people and they simply did not know how to utilize the dance for anything other than celebration and personal expression. They didn’t know that dance was therapy and that they could dance through anything and come out the other side of it more balanced than before. I often wonder what might have been different and if communication would have improved if they had had this knowledge at the time.

It took me about 16 years to recover my love of dance after that. I found myself attracted to non-choreographed dance modalities such as belly dance, rave, and trance dance. I’ve been dancing 5Rhythms (www.5rhythms.com) for nearly a decade now and it is a practice that has supported and moved me through some serious transitions in my life. I’ve danced through tremendous grief, exhaustion, fear, sadness, joy, rocky love relationships, moving away from my family, and healing an addiction. I dance because my body doesn’t lie to me like my mind does. It is utterly honest. When I come to dance an issue in my life, my body tells me exactly what is going on as I move the way it wants me to. My body tells the story of what is out of balance and gives me clues for what I need to do to regain my center. It does not use words so I’ve learned to understand the somatic language of feeling throughout years of practice to uncover its messages.

Going to class isn’t a “So You Think You Can Dance” sort of atmosphere. It is the polar opposite of competition, showing off my steps, or learning rigid dance moves. It is a spiritual experience where my body literally moves and heals me. All I have to do is follow my feet and my instincts. Often, I can feel burdens lifting off my shoulders and emotions leaving the hidden caves they’ve been trapped in- sometimes for years. I never know what is going to happen and that unpredictability is a part of the attraction for me. The unknown is where we heal, learn, and grow. They body knows how to move us in that direction if we surrender to its non-linear intelligence.

To listen to the “Going Shamanic” show on the topic, go to:

http://tobtr.com/s/6820855

 

 

Medicine Songs

“Going Shamanic” explores how to integrate shamanism into everyday life. Instead of relegating the spiritual aspect of ourselves to Sundays at church or weekend workshops, this show will support listeners in weaving ritual, prayer, magic, alignment with the Spiritworld and the Earth into their lives to enrich their experience of living.

Your host, Jennifer Engracio, is interviewed by guest host, Intuitive Soul Coach and founder of PAGE Radio, Marielle Smith. Jennifer catches songs from Spirit and she leads songs along with drumming. We find out more about what all this means and hear the songs. They explore the differences and intentions of songs that have medicine or a healing purpose.

To listen, click on the link:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pagemediaproject/2014/07/29/going-shamanic-medicine-songs

The Power of Non-Judgement

More learning on the bus….
Last night, I was on a crowded bus  when a schizophrenic man got on. He was pretty volatile and shouting out profanity. I thought for sure this was going to escalate because I could feel some of the folks around him getting ready to fight. I checked inside and decided to use one of my shamanic tools to see if I could shift the energy. I kept him in my line of sight and without looking directly at him, started sending aloha to him. I acknowledged his essence in my mind and after he settled down, I started sending aloha to the other peoples’ essences on the bus. After about 5 minutes, he stopped pacing and came and sat down right across from me. He was silent for the rest of the trip. It was such a great lesson on how non-judgement and compassion can really shift a situation that could turn nasty. He was being belligerent, but it was obvious that he had a mental illness. Compassion goes a LONG way. And I didn’t have to say a word or intercede physically.  Another great experiment and lesson!

Sometimes Parenting Requires Ruthlessness

I just watched a young dad fiercely defend his 10 year old autistic son on the bus a foot away from me. Wow. His love for his son brought some tears to my eyes. The boy was in the seats reserved for elders- doing no harm looking out the window happily- when an older man walked on and started yelling at him to get off the seat and didn’t he know who those were for. The thing was, there were free seats all over that section and it was like he was just angry and picked the nearest kid to take out his frustrations on. The dad stood in front of his son and yelled at the man in full voice: “Do not talk to my son that way.” He was almost growling and I thought for sure it was going to go to fistacuffs. He matched that older man’s energy until he backed down and went to find another seat. The bus was silent. When the man and his son got off the bus, his gentleness with his son, who was non-verbal, was palpable as he softly redirected his son when he was going the wrong direction: “This way, babe.” It saddens me that adults feel they have a right to speak to children in this manner when most would not dream of approaching another adult in this way. I’ve seen many parents back down, apologize for their children, or then yell at their children in response to such bullying from other adults. It was so refreshing to see a parent take a stand for their child without apology. I was so honoured to be present to witness this act of being ruthless in the light on behalf of another human being who could not stand for himself. So thank you to that man and his lovely son. What a powerful lesson today.

Plant Medicine: Radio Show

Last month on Going Shamanic, we spoke with Janis Silver Owl on the topic of Exploring Plant Medicine.

Check out this great show with insights on how you can work with plants to guide you on your life’s journey:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pagemediaproject/2014/03/25/going-shamanic-exploring-plant-medicine

Invitingly,

Jen

On Being Alive

Life sometimes demands:

Furious flying,

Rapturous play,

Creative unfolding,

Calm waters,

Moving among chaos,

Singing full voice,

Trance dancing,

Emotional flow,

Endless grace,

Mountain climbing,

Careful descents,

Free falling,

Sacred irreverence,

Conscious building,

Focused destruction,

Collaborative energy,

Fierce solitude,

Courageous action,

Unwavering intent,

And an adaptive stance- all within the same moment.

A paradox and possibility at the same time.

The challenge and thrill of being alive in a human body.

Are you up for it?

 

-Jen Engracio

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