Artist: Laura Veirs
Track: Make Something Good
I spend a lot of time listening to other people’s stories and holding space for what they have buried deep in their hearts. I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for this work because it has given my life purpose and meaning beyond what I could have imagined only years ago. However, I’m beginning to see with increasing clarity that if I am to do this work effectively for many years to come — behind and beyond prison walls — I need to start holding that same space for what’s going on inside my heart. If I’m not grounded in my own story and aware of what imprisons me, then who am I to help others “seek the depth of things,” as the poet Rilke once wrote?
I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I started feeling disconnected from my story. I stopped doing the work alongside the women in the prison and shifted into a leadership role, focusing entirely on the quality of their experiences in the classroom. I think that’s where the breakdown started. I can be full of empathy when I’m listening to others, but I struggle when it’s my turn to talk about my life. The things I write about and share in class feel flat, unexamined, like old script versus truth. Of course, it’s not always this way, but it happens more often than I want it to.
I have all the compassion, all the faith, all the patience, all the encouragement for the women who show up, semester after semester, at the prison. But I don’t offer those things to myself. Or, more truthfully, I do, but they are parceled out in limited quantity and run out quickly when I feel threatened or stressed. My internal critic is quick to point out where I fall short or am sure to fail. She resists stillness, silence and solitude; there’s no time for that. She speaks from a place of fear and scarcity. To my credit, I don’t let her drive my life. I push through the fear, for the most part. But I spend a lot of time listening to her, and I’m feeling really tired.
When I began this experiment in authentic movement, I did it on the premise that I needed to “get out of my head and into my body” to process a milestone year in my life. I’m now realizing that my instinct to shift to a more grounded place to deal with a tough reality has set me up perfectly for a lesson I’ve been needing to learn in general. This year-long experiment in authentic movement has turned into a practice of silencing that internal critic and listening more to my intuition. What do I feel inside? What wants to move? And I give myself permission to do so, because it’s what I need to take care of me.
It is helping me connect to a deeper sense of self, and it feels like I’m holding space for my own heart when I do this. I am worth all the compassion, all the faith, all the patience, all the encouragement. I will figure it out one chord, one note, one beat at a time. And next thing you know, I will be dancing.