Magdalena Bak-Maier, PhD – Self-love: Healing the Heart with Dance

Your eyes stare into mine, yet I feel the door to your soul shut.

Your body is cuddled next to mine, wrapped in a blanket. You’re hugging me the way you hug vivid dreams or nightmares that plague your sleep.

My hands want to reach for you. They crave to touch you.

To connect with that love that I want to find in your eyes, yet all I feel is a chasm.

I mourn the love we lost like some may mourn a dead child.

I kiss you goodnight on your forehead, turn off the light, and turn over to hide the tears rolling down onto the pillow.

You touch my face knowing I’m crying as if to confirm your suspicion, yet you say nothing, do nothing.

You are still a good lover and we seem to exist as friends but the love I once felt with you seems not to exist in either of these concepts.

I know you feel the ghost of the love we once had haunting you.

Perhaps it’s only fair.

Your closed heart can’t possibly feel the pain I endure with you.

As I drive the commuter train back to town and contemplate our respective days ahead, our lives seem like parallel trains on separate tracks.

I wonder for a moment, are we the trains or are we passengers discovering we are traveling in opposite directions? Constantly away from each other pretending it isn’t so.

I turn over to hold you close and in the embrace I feel our hearts awakening momentarily only to feel each resistant to embrace the other.

Your eyes betray no hint to an entrance to your heart or give a clue whether you’re home.

I can sense you watching me from inside, aware I’m on the doorstep.

I go to sleep with profound clarity.

Today was the last time I looked into these eyes.

Tomorrow I will board a train.

I won’t be returning for this to repeat.

Love is a dance.  

February is a month of love. It’s a marvelous idea to remind us in today’s busy world that connection to others, as well as a true connection with ourselves, is and always will be fundamental to how we learn about, come to understand, and even define we who we are. We are always in a relationship: the relationship we have with ourselves. Do we love ourselves? Find ourselves lovable or worthy of love?

Joe Davidson, "Drained Arrangements"
Joe Davidson, “Drained Arrangements”

We also have relationships with other people. Our worlds are filled with them like ants, from family and friends, to those we live next to or work with, to people we meet randomly through chance events; we connect with everyone around us. All we have to do is look past ourselves to notice that we are each journeying through life. In these journeys, we have opportunities to connect our minds with others’ to solve problems, create ideas, and collaborate— and we can connect by sharing what excites or moves us, what troubles us, and the sorrows we experience and well as the joys. Life is a celebration and a dance; notice that it is beautiful in and of itself. Notice it each day when you’re out and about. Breathe it in, immerse yourself in it and even lose yourself for a bit— discover that everything outside of you is a buzzing, exciting, thrilling world of hearts and minds each dancing with life in its own way.

I’m a firm believer that hearts and minds heal themselves in relationships, whether the work goes into the relationship we have with ourselves or with another person. It doesn’t matter where one starts, so start where there’s more energy and trust. In the end, the healing will be complete both outwards and within. But love starts with yourself.

Dancing is a great way to get in touch with yourself. I’ve always loved dancing. When I connect with a piece of music, I’m aware of a process that takes place. First my mind assesses it, interprets it as if the brain center wants to know how to direct my body to move and then my heart fills with different feelings. I am aware that my mind and heart each connect to the music in their own way and have a conversation with one another. If they agree, I end up having a great time. When there’s discourse and alignment fails, I either tire or drop out. Certain music can bypass this process and touch my heart, bringing with it specific emotions and feelings be it joy, peace, stillness, calmness or energy. Sometimes my mind rests on the sidelines or is busy doing something else.

I recently experienced 5Rhythm dancing, a movement meditation practice that originated in the 1970s. The idea behind it is that all energy moves in waves and rhythms. Gabrielle Roth, who is credited with devising this practice, said that by moving the body, releasing the heart and freeing the mind, one connects with one’s soul.

The practice draws on Gestalt and transpersonal psychology, inviting free expression to different rhythms. 5Rhythms practice is a call to pause the mind and invite the body to speak through motion to five rhythms: flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness.  When danced in a sequence also known as a ‘wave’, the body gets to connect with and express its own energy, potential, and any stuckness within.

When I first danced 5Rhythms, my mind tried to listen to the music and my heart was silent. And then, at some point, the mind suspended and the body and heart began to talk directly to each other. It was a gradual process; self-editing and thoughts about the music ceased within an hour. There was a point when the simple expression of what was inside of me and what I was creating in the moment, came together. My initial small movements, stuck in a small space of a massive floor at first, began to grow and I traveled across the entire space in patterns that were not prescribed but simply felt. I moved through distinct phases of stuckness, uncertainty, freedom, creativity, sadness, happiness and joy, and eventually immense tiredness. After the three hours of dancing, I was exhausted and the feeling of sadness stayed with me as my mind registered its presence within the wave that it was, in all truth, not expecting to find.

I had been dealing with much heartbreak and pain for some time. Until then, I never experienced disappointment and grief from losing the person I loved more than myself at times, yet it was the very root of the problem— in loving them I forgot to equally love myself. It was a lesson I had to learn and I am thankful that life gave me the opportunity to learn that healthy relationships are based on mutual respect and love towards the self and the other that works very much like a dance. In dancing 5Rhythms I relived the loss, grief, stuckness, uncertainty and the joy of freedom to create what I wanted from a self-loving place.

This sort of integration is vital in my practice. When we leave elements of ourselves behind, we lose essential bits of ourselves and can only limp forward until we reclaim the missing bits. In her book, The Map, Colette Baron-Reid calls those missing pieces “bones.” She speaks about the ‘Bone Collector’ who I see as a part of our consciousness; it stores the experience of what was lost and holds onto it until we do the work to reclaim and integrate it back into ourselves in order to be whole.

I aim for wholeness in my practice and in my own life: an alignment of the body, mind and heart so that energy flows well and the person can be at their best.  This manifests itself with a relatively healthy psychology on the inside as much as on the outside. The relationship we have with ourselves is fundamental to the quality of relationships we are capable of creating with others. Hence, self-love, self-care and self-respect help to ensure that in interactions with others, we can attend to their needs and honor our own at the same time. This creates balance and harmony that provides fertile ground for play, experimentation and improvisation allowing each person to grow and develop as individuals, as much as it helps to ensure that the relationship remains a live, ever changing dance.

In therapy, counseling and coaching practitioners are always in a dance with their clients. Earlier this year I attended a workshop with John Leary-Joyce in which John invited us to experience Tango as a metaphor for coaching and leadership. After my 5Rhythm experience, dancing the Tango was equally illuminating.

In tango the leader creates a space that the follower wants to step into and the quality and degree of flow the pair achieves depends very much on the connection the two people make with one another. I can’t help but see great parallels between the pair dancing found in Tango (our relationships with others) and 5Rhythms dancing (done individually) and the way it can help illuminate the relationship we have with ourselves. Both forms of dancing provide scope for much improvisation, learning, and adjusting.

You look at me and your eyes remind me of my old flame. You have a pretty face and I’m not moved inside. I’m actually hardly even curious. I can sense openness inside me to the idea of engaging you in conversation and finding out what you’re about. I’m worried that you may turn out to be another pretty face and I’ve had that. It proved to be disappointing and such attractiveness doesn’t last anyways. I walk away thinking next time I see someone like you, or indeed you in this place or another, I’ll return the looks you cast in my direction with a big smile. I’ll ask you for your name and what brings you here. And then I will know the sound of your voice, your smile and your name. I may even know whether you’re available and up for further conversation. I will dance with you and see whether we can Tango.

For the month of February–whether you’re single or coupled– I invite you, dear reader, to enter a practice of making the world around you your soul mate. Allow the world around you to open your heart and infuse you with joy. Let it rest your mind and tap into your inner potential for the best expression of your spirit. If you reflect it back into the world around you, you too, will be dancing. And what’s life really if it is not a dance?

Magdalena Bak-Maier, PhD | Get Productive!

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