When I was 14 years old, my stepfather's skin was turning orange. His body was shrinking and shriveling while a tumor was growing, expanding. He had cancer. He would not get better. Death was near. Uncomfortably near.
Beyond my family, nobody knew. I didn't tell my friends or my teachers at school. I understood instinctually that there are very few people who can remain easy and calm in the presence of another person's grief. So I kept quiet.
To cope, I danced. I went into my bedroom, closed the door, turned on music ~ loud, loud music ~ and moved my body, not in skillful or rhythmic ways, but in big, thrashing, wild ways. I danced and my heart pounded. I danced and dripped with sweat.
I did this for two hours at a time, sometimes three.
Then I fell to the floor. I lied with my limbs spread wide, my body shaped like a star.
I felt my heart.
Its beat was robust at first. Powerful. Commanding. Certain. As I slowly surrendered myself to gravity, it softened. Eventually everything was silent and still except for the rise and fall of my breath and the easy pulse of my heart.
And I was OK. I felt my resilience. My physical body proved it could go and go and go and I intuited that, by extension, my spirit could too. Despite feeling desperately alone for most of my days, in these moments I felt deeply, unbreakably connected. Underneath my uncertainty and incomprehensible pain, there was a steady rhythm, a rightness to it all.
Anybody who has ever relieved stress or gained insight after an exercise session knows: Movement can be medicine. There is healing power in getting the heart pumping, delivering fresh blood to every cell and removing what is stagnant and stale.
There is also great power in observing the heart at its resting state, gently surrendering to its innate knowing.
Movement and rest. Contraction and release. Stress and ease. Grief and delight. Boredom and awe. These are life's poles; we eternally pulse between them.
February is the month of the heart and I encourage you to do two things:
1) Every day for the remainder of the month, move your body in a way that gets your heart beating faster and stronger. Pay attention to the beat of your heart. Notice. Feel. Do this for 10 minutes or 2 hours, whatever works for you.
2) Every day for the remainder of the month, spend 5 minutes quietly observing your heart at its resting state. If you would like inspiration on how to do this, I have posted a simple mediation below.
February is also the month of my stepfather's birth. He would have been 84 on the 14th. I miss him so much. It's true, you know, we never get enough of the ones we love.