The Ecstatic Dance That Is Retirement
Shamans, look a.k.a. medicine men, hospital approach healing very differently than doctors do in western cultures; where the modus operandi seems to be dispensing a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals to treat any and all ailments. Anthropologist, stomach Dr. Angela Arrien, tells the story of how the Shaman treat members of their tribes who complain of feeling depressed or dispirited by asking four questions:
1. When did you stop dancing?
2. When did you stop singing?
3. When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
4. When did you stop finding comfort in silence?
Those four questions are probably as revealing and accurate as any medical diagnostic tools in western style medicine. They speak to the root of the soul’s ailment, often a pre-cursor to physical ailment. Perhaps, it’s no accident that ecstatic dance is becoming main stream in western cultures. With rates of depression estimated to run as high as 20-40% in seniors; it’s time to realize the approaches we are using may not be working for the dispirited.
The transitioning to retirement alone is enough to challenge the most resilient of individuals. So many parts of the psyche are tested during this transition. Today’s retirees have, by and large, been career builders with smaller families. They have been more nomadic in nature and less connected to their communities. Retirement will test the very core of their identity and self-worth, especially as they move away from worthy careers. Retirement demands a series of complex decisions. It’s not surprising, then, that the whole exercise becomes an ecstatic and frenetic dance of movement from:
• Purpose to questioning
• Holding on to letting go
• Learning to wisdom
• Unlimited time to a sense of immediacy
• Group oriented activities to solitary pursuits
These are only a few of the significant transitions we experience as we navigate the murky waters of retirement. The transition requires space for heartfelt reflection that is necessary to let go of old fears and beliefs that no longer serve a useful purpose; to let go of judgements that hold us back from connecting to our innermost selves; to grow and awaken a new spirit of freedom. One way to ride this emotional roller coaster is to experience an ecstatic dance, literally. Ecstatic dance is not new. It is an old tribal healing practice whose sole purpose is to free the body and allow a way for clarity to emerge. What’s new is the fusion of tribal sound intermixed with modern DJ style music. Ecstatic dance helps the dancer get in touch with the inner self, to cultivate an experience of freedom and joy. You can’t help but feel a strong sense of community with the other dancers in the room. Ecstatic dance helps those who have lived mostly from the neck up to go deeper in the heart chakra. The beauty of ecstatic dance is that there is no specific level of performance to achieve, but rather a free form dance where one lets go and moves freely to the beat of their own drum. Having had the experience of joining in ecstatic dance twice, I can vouch for its benefits. Both times the feeling of lightness and freedom that flowed through me afterwards was palpable. And its effects lasted several weeks. Ecstatic dance is a go at your own pace workout, a stress reliever, and a fun experience of lighthearted openness, all in one package. How many other exercise programs can claim so many benefits? If you want to feel ecstatic, dance like no one’s watching. Why not leave your comfort zone and join a local ecstatic dance group like the one led by Brenda Mailer (facebook/brendrz). It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
It seems a fitting ritual for Boomers as they cross the threshold of work and into the realm of an unknown but beckoning world beyond work. After all, they’ve been dancing throughout their lives. They danced to the song of liberation at Woodstock. They danced a carefully choreographer tango between career and raising families. Why wouldn’t they dance ecstatically as they embark on their second act? Dancing is definitely an option worth looking into. We can always try to figure it out on our own, but time isn’t exactly on our side. Working with a retirement coach can help speed things along.
Retirement is no longer about decline. It is about renewal. And what better way to renew ourselves at this crossroad than to allow ourselves the joy of movement, especially when the body would rather retreat from movement.