Grief & Freedom…hum, they don’t seem to go together at first glance do they? Freedom is such a lovely concept and feeling. It is something we generally agree upon as a good thing. The dance and art engages freedom on many levels – freedom of thought, freedom from patterns that limit us, freedom of emotional expression, freedom in the body’s range of motion and expression…and so much more.
So how does grief fit in? I will get us there…
For freedom to flourish we also need structure. The structure of things like: the body, the trajectory of the musical journey, safe trustworthy facilitation, the group ground rules and expectations for safety. Structure in support of freedom…this is the ideal, or ‘right’ relationship.
As we danced we were faced with undercurrent emotions in this life dance with structure and freedom…anger, resentment, fear and ultimately grief. Grief was with us. The grief of things we can’t control, the grief of losses we weren’t ready to face, the grief of being too ridged or controlling with our own heart-full self.
Grief showed up in some potent and very real ways…the unexpected death of a co-workers child, the death of a dancers father, the news of needing a hip replacement – all within the past couple of weeks. Participants danced, cried, laughed, played, supported each other, and learned through felt experience. Dancers grew tired and began to lean into an awareness of space in grief…felt in the body and thoughts.
We began putting a new narrative together: it revealed itself naturally… as women shared their weariness, their tears, their giggles and their ‘against the rules’ behavior, we seemed to grow our capacity or tolerance for the range of what was alive in the room. Building our embodied capacity to be with ALL OF IT…to be with what was arising in our body, our emotions, our thoughts and our life.
When we really pay attention and BE WITH JUST WHAT IS…we find space, freedom. Instead of wishing for something different, beating ourself up, or bracing against what is coming…the practice of being with what is, being present and accounted for rather than checked out, numbed out or spaced out. No matter how difficult or hard the experience is, when we practice being in awareness, embodied and keep moving, we are able to find the breathing room, the ebb and flow, the freedom in the moment.
Why bother? You might ask? Why not just set the hard stuff aside and keep going as usual? Great question. The answer that arose through the day is this: life is hard…heart breaking and exhausting sometimes, and…life can shift on a dime, what you have always done doesn’t work or feel right anymore. When you practice being present with what is…someone can pass you with a loving smile and what used to be a calcified, indifferent heart unexpectedly cracks opens and feels love, even in the pain. You grow. You deepen. You find the resting place in the eye of the storm and know you will find your way. With this, the collateral damage from the hard times is not so extreme.

How to practice:
When the feeling of grief arises place your hand on your heart and say to yourself
1. “I am grieving”
2. “It is courageous to grieve with awareness”
3. “I am making my way through this”
Letting yourself be with what is, is courageous. Notice how it is moving through your body, emotions and thoughts. Express your awareness in what ever way you are pulled to. Then notice…hunt for the space and be with this. Becoming a devoted student of the ebb and flow of your own rhythms. They do not stay static, you will not be consumed by your heartbreak. You will be growing your capacity to be with life, death, and rebirth…over and over we go, traveling this terrain of being awake, embodied humans. Growing our ease and fluidness with the unexpected that life will inevitably throw at us and finding the spacious giggle when we least expect it.

About Shannon Simonelli Ph.D., ATR

Dr. Shannon Simonelli is the co-founder of the NeuroImaginal Institute and the founder and master guide of her signature system The Treasure Map To Your Luminous Life. Learn to navigate five landscapes and live more fulfilled, connected and fully alive. Dance, movement, art making, ritual, journey work, group process, myth/stories, and the rhythms of nature are our tools. 3-month groups, quarterly events and sample offerings are available for your support and pleasure. Come join the journey. You might even decide to become a certified guide! You can learn more about upcoming events at

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