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Fear: From Flight-Fight-Freeze to Flow

Fear: From Flight-Fight-Freeze to Flow

FEAR
From Flight-Fight-Freeze to Flow

By Melissa Michaels

This is the peace that will change the world . . .

Been scared lately? Scared of what is to come? Scared for the people you love? Scared for your womb? Scared for those who with diverse religious practices? Scared for our beloved Mother Earth? Scared about a whole lot, more than you can even say?

How do we move from fear into powerful, unwavering, focused, fluid action? Sometimes we must go backwards to go forwards. Usually, we must get present to see what is truly happening. And always, we must get resourced to move forward fluidly in effective and life giving ways.

So often our fear is rooted in the past. Often, a visit with our infant self is a great first step on the journey of finding one’s faith-full flow.

What is a baby is feeling when her Mama is gone for many hours, and a plastic bottle is offered instead of a warm breast full of milk? Through the tears, what is the infant saying when an unfamiliar person picks her up and grins right up close in her face? When the newborn flinches at the sound of anything abrupt, what is she saying? Perhaps she is saying … I am scared. If our mom was not safe in the world or within her self, we possibly then marinated in a womb of fear or nursed fear-laced breast milk. We then may be wired to think fear is a natural state of being. Finding our ground in the face our fears can then be a complex matter. Are we out of danger? Was there even danger in the first place? What do I need to feel safe?

Listening to our fears and the needs we have at the root of them … the need for safety, for protection, for connection … is a powerful practice for re-parenting ourselves. This self-empathy can help us root in our resilience in the here and now.

Fear is a foundational human emotion, an indicator of danger or a signal of something exciting about to occur. Sometimes, we are afraid of that which we long for the most. When preparing to teach a new group of students, a pulsating fear often races through my body. I listen to the language of my feelings inside my body. I am able to breathe right into the sensations and allow the energy to transform into sweet expansive excitement, adventure, and even ecstatic possibility! Moving from fear to excitement, there are similar amounts of energy moving through me, just of a very different quality.

Fear is one of our great allies. It serves as a powerful messenger, inviting us to wake up. Pay attention. Danger may be afoot. So often we shut down in the face of fear. Hold our breath. Curl up inside our selves. Retreat. By cutting ourselves off from the life force moving through us, we are also putting ourselves at greater risk. Contracting, we can miss the clue to mobilize, to get to safe ground. “Fear teaches us to pay attention to what’s going on, and a well-honed sense of fear allows us to maintain dynamic equilibrium in an inevitably unpredictable world.” (Gabrielle Roth, 1998)

Deep breaths. Soft touch. The light shimmering on the sea. The scent of a geranium. Women singing together. Bitter lemon on my lips. Breathing out the day. Prayer. Prayer and more prayer. Talking with a friend. In the face of fear, what helps you maintain that dynamic equilibrium and return to the ground of your being?

In the face of all that scares us, we have the responsibility to learn to pause, to come back to our senses, to catch our breath, to reconnect with our inhale and our exhale, likely shifting our consciousness. From there, we can more clearly assess a situation in the here and now. We can orient, see through the whirl of intense energy coursing through us.

Am I afraid that I my soon to be released book is not that good? Did I write something incorrect or outdated? Will trolls find me? Copy-cats? The list is long of the fears I could hitch my mind onto. In fact, in the writing of a soon to be published book, my shoulder froze. Months of this freeze caused me to turn very deep within and embrace my terror. Day in and day out, I held my left shoulder, offering myself tender touches just above my heart … through long painful nights, on and off the dance floor, during writing, alone with my inner little girl and my mighty muse.

With my self-love and the hands of skillful healers helping thaw this shoulder, my terror eventually calmed down. A sweet excitement began to mobilize in my joints. Feathers of softness and beauty grew out from my emancipating wings. Soon this book will launch, and I may fly in ways I have never imagined.

Congruency between my inner reality and my outer service is critical to my life’s work. So in my personal practice and professional teachings, we dance fear, an exercise taught to me by my mentor, Gabrielle Roth. We also dance excitement. We discover with precision how each emotion moves through and feels in our bodies. We practice breathing into the potent sensations, expanding our capacity to pause, assess, and then either move towards or away from whatever frightens us. We befriend our fear and mobilize, rather than getting frozen in our fear of our fears. We practice staying grounded and rooted in our bodies in the face of our real fears. This helps us rewire our flight response to fear. We learn to literally stay connected to our emotional experience rather than bypassing it in some way … fake smiles, acting like nothing is bothering us.

And of course, by slowing down the exploration of this strong emotion, we are able to experience its energy and make conscious choices about how we want to express it. Instead of picking a fight, for example, we find new options for relating to that which is scaring us, orienting towards our vulnerability rather than our defense. Sharing what scares us allows us to move from these potential states of freeze, flight, or fight into mobility, focused and fluid.

When working with large groups of young people, I hear similar versions of the same fears.

The destruction of the earth scares me. Walking alone in the city scare me. My sister’s cancer scares me. Doing badly in school scares me. Not having enough money to eat scares me. More genocide scares me. The abuse of power scares me. Our government terrifies me. Having sex with my boyfriend scares me. Growing up scares me.

         ~ Voices of Surfing The Creative Youth (Melissa Michaels, 2016)

 

What scares you?

Please pause to listen, to honor the truth of what is in your heart. Write about it. Dance with it. Pray with it. Process it in all the ways that attract you. Befriend the scared little one in you. Attend to the sensations beneath the feeling. Mobilize all that energy moving through you. Make a performance piece about it. Listen to it. What does it need? Protect it. Keep moving towards it and through it.

In our nation at this time, fear is being intravenously fed to us through Tweets and the rapid firing change of long trusted policies that have served to care for people around the world and the Earth herself. How do we stay awake, connected and mobilizing, rather than collapse in terror?

Sometimes, the best way out of fear is to honor its power as an informant, letting its energy move us right into our outrage and right action. Protection of that which we love and is precious to us is ultimately our birthright and responsibility in these times.

I’ll see you on the front lines.

Endnotes:

(Melissa Michaels, Youth On Fire: Birthing a generation of Embodied Global Leaders. Boulder, CO: Golden Bridge, 2016. p.141.)

(Gabrielle Roth with John Loudon, Maps to Ecstasy: Teachings of an Urban Shaman. San Rafael, CA: New World Library, 1989. p.60.)

Spring Time Dancing

Spring Time Dancing

Spring Time Dancing

Greetings dear Dancing Friends,

With hearts and windows wide open, we welcome Spring here in the Northern Hemisphere. This year, it comes as a relief. We made it through a winter entrenched in ice on many levels. Things are thawing. Birds sing with each sunrise. Bright colored flowers bravely pop up all over our gardens. It is a miracle how brilliantly orchestrated life’s cycles are … when we allow them to unfold just as nature intended. Spring really does come, even after such a brutally cold winter.

    In that spirit, we dance. Each time we gift ourselves with time on the dance floor, we return to our most organic ways of being. We find ground. We let go and allow our flow to return to our breath, our blood, our ways of relating to all of life. It is such a relief to remember that there is more to these lives than computer deadlines, the next community or global crisis, or our next big idea. There is this rich pulse of life that nourishes and rebalances it all. There is the unfolding of life’s universal and enduring cycles, inside and out.

This Spring, our community aims to drink in this organic nectar of creation. We hope that you will join us along the way.

Our next community gathering is for the women, Shakti Sisterhood in Ojai, California, April 10th – 12th. This mythic time of working with some of our inherent archetypes through the life cycle is profoundly healing and renewing.

Describing her experience of this work in Boulder, one young woman shares …

    “Shakti Sisterhood was a time for me to transcend the limits of my current consciousness and travel back to my maiden, and forward to my crone. The receiving of wisdom and truth from young women, women, and elders in Shakti has broadened my knowledge and capacity to move forward and endure.

In Maiden, I was able to mourn the lost days of my childhood and adolescence where I was abducted from my truth and my light. I weeped for the 13-year old whose innocence was ripped out of her by circumstance. And I was able to dig deep within and acknowledge the indomitable strength that bursts forth in times of adversity.

In Mother, I was able to nurture my wounds and find comfort in our natural instinct, as women, to heal ourselves. Mothers are the epitome of unconditional love – we must learn to listen to the mother in all of us.

Queen is our highest self. She is the one who has fully acknowledged and is not afraid of shining her own light. The queen is empowered, respected, self-possessed, and confident, yet empathetic and compassionate. She is the one that shines through in times when we are in our best selves.

Crone gave me the unique ability to travel into my mind’s deepest consciousness and unlock decades of wisdom. It felt like an 80-year old me was giving wise counsel to the confused 23-year old and telling me that everything will be ok.

In addition to the wise counsel of our souls through movement, the community of girls as young as 13 to our elders 65 and older, has given me so much great support in this weekend of intense healing of years of wounds, and hope for incredible discovery in the years to come. There is something so special, so unique, and so rare, to have a room full of women who are essentially strangers, loving, supporting, and holding space for one another. It feels like I have been rejuvenated and reborn with my sisters in Shakti. … thank you for the opportunity to dig deep within and express with my body what my words cannot.” ~ A.R

Melissa with Shirley and Navasha, our mighty sisters
from Baltimore’s Youth Resiliencey Institute.

    Another woman speaks of her journey …

    “Shakti, thank you for entering my body, cleansing my soul, and rejuvenating the feminine within.” ~ R.C.

    And, it is not only the women who are dancing! This summer, Golden Bridge will offer two opportunities to participate in our time-honored Surfing the Creative® (STC) program.

One in June for young leaders 16-28 years old, Surfing the Creative® International Youth Leadership Rites of Passage and …

The Intergenerational Program for those of you over 18 who would also like an initiatory experience through this process.

This will be the last STC Intergenerational offered in Boulder for a number of years. Consider dancing with us, honoring your life transitions.

These are life-changing events. Fun. Rigorous. Liberating.

    Bless what is natural and whole. Let’s keep our faith in that.
    Peace.
    Melissa

Another Year of Dancing

Another Year of Dancing

Another Year of Dancing

Greetings dear Dancing community,

As we bring this life changing year to a close, so many of our hearts burn with outrage and awe.

Reflecting on the past months, we continue to grieve for all of the young people in our country and around the planet whose lives have been stolen by recent out of control violence, from Cleveland to Pakistan. We join together to honor each and every life lost, those bombed in the Middle East, those kidnapped from schools in Nigeria, those massacred in Mexico, those shot down in our city streets, those sold into slavery all around the world. Our tender hearts can barely hold all of this. But we must … the truths, the need to rise up in protection, repair, and care for all of our children.There is no human excuse for the kind of disrespect we have seen in the past days, months, year. Bless these precious lives lost for no good reason. And, please join me in prayers and contemplation about how each of us can show up to help bring sanity, justice and peace to all.

Now to the awe part! As we turn the corner into a new year, I am filled with such gratitude for our community’s growth through our trials and opportunities. What a mighty group of human beings have gathered around this work. What an honor it is to be in this timely dance with you. Your steadfast devotion to truth in action quickens our work together at every turn. Reflecting upon our last year, I am deeply moved by our movement.

This year, we have been reminded of the massive privilege in our community and the moral imperative we have to keep finding real pathways for the redistribution of resources and for the creation of more redemptive and collaborative paths for peacemaking. Please check out a few of the overt things we at Golden Bridge have accomplished together in 2014.

  • We guided 90 young people through our Surfing the Creative® Rites of Passage process.

  • We followed up and mentored this group in diverse ways over the past half year, including offering small group sessions and one on one coaching and therapy as needed.

  • We trained another 70 folks in soul based arts for working with teens. Together, we began to adapt our curriculum to serve young people seeking to transform and rise, becoming forces for positive change in many communities around the world. We addressed the specific needs of highly privileged youth in the Western world; young people coming out of slavery; diverse youth in urban settings; young people who had been child soldiers; and youth with terminal illnesses, for a few.

  • We mentored teen girls groups around the world, including Aboriginal girls in Australia, Latina girls in Puerto Rico, girls from the townships South Africa, urban youth in Canada, village girls in South India, suburban girls in England, and numerous school environments in the United States. All of these groups are using some version of our maps for their curriculum!

  • Golden Bridge has been deeply engaged in the conversation about racism, privilege, structural inequality, gender, and sexual identity. We are humbly engaged, deconstructing our biases and upgrading our behaviors, inwardly as a community and outwardly on these front lines with our youth and their communities.  We have established new collective protocol for ever more respectful bridging and community building moving forward. Please take in this powerful piece by one of our mighty youth leaders rising. Tosha Jay.

 

  • Our leadership has presented in numerous rich environments from Naropa University …  to Fielding’s Insititute for Social Innovation … to the United Nations … to the interface of Hutu and Tutsi youth building a peace movement.

  • We continue to grow in our skills of non-violence through the ongoing study of compassionate communication and Dynamic Governance. This past Autumn, 25 of our leaders were trained in  the foundations of the practices of sociocracy.

  • We welcomed children, ages 1 – 12 years, from many diverse countries and communities, for a week long Small World Children’s camp. This annual children’s camp  ran concurrently with our Dance of Adolescence training for international somatic, educational, rites of passage, and therapeutic practitioners.
  • We worked with women from many diverse communities around the world. Together, we are quietly building a movement of women mobilizing across borders to create new pathways for peace … from the dance into action.

  • We hosted a large scale intergenerational dialogue focused on the topics of class, racism, gender, sexual identity, our environment, and our collective future.

And …. we have much to be proud of and much work ahead.

In the year to come, we at Golden Bridge aim to deepen into these conversations and take concrete life giving actions to further support our emerging leaders and their communities, near and far. Our dances are but a small ripple in a large sea of change facing all of us at this time. Let’s keep working together to help move things onto a positive and steady course. The time is now.

We hope to see many of you at Embodying Our Intentions, our New Years Day Dance here in Boulder or in the months to follow.

In the meantime …  Be the Peace.

With great love.

Melissa

Dancing into Action

Dancing into Action

Dancing into Action

Greetings Dancing Friends,

We are so privileged to be able to dance together. Season after season, we gather, pray, move our bodies, listen to the quiet whispers of our souls, mobilize the creative life force, and grow ever more in right relationships within our global community. And for the most part, as we dance, we are safe to do so. We are free to listen to whatever music we choose, wear the clothes we want to wear, dance as close or far away from one another as we would like.

What are we doing with all of this privilege? Are we using all of this energy that we source in the dance to move into action in support of those who might not be able to dance with the same freedom we do? What are we choosing to do with our privilege?

In a recent paper I wrote for The Black Child Journal, I share a story about the power of choice. Here is an excerpt from that paper:

While recently working in East Africa, I had the privilege of spending time with a Rwandan gentleman, Jean-Charles, one of the unknown heroes and survivors of the 1994 genocide in his country. One of his parents was Hutu, the other Tutsi. Jean-Charles’ wife had parents who were both Tutsi. She survived too, although she lost all of her family. Understandably, she also lost her mind. Jean-Charles did not.

What made the difference?

Creative choice was one of the keys to why their experiences were so radically different. During the two months when they were separated and did not know if they would ever see one another alive again, Jean-Charles journeyed on a path unlike so many of his people’s. Amidst the horrors unfolding all around him, he was able to focus not only on his basic survival but also on creative leadership.

As a one-time employee of Hôtel Des Mille Collines, the famous place of refuge for over 1268 Tutsi and moderate Hutu Rwandan’s (Paul Rusesabagina. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10th, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Rusesabagina), Jean-Charles had access to another hotel, Hôtel des Diplomates. This hotel had been shut down early in the genocide. When journalists and certain diplomats were desperately seeking a roof over their heads, Jean-Charles had the keys to re-open this hotel. There was no water, no electricity, nor food. So with great innovation and courage, this man single handedly found a way to create enough infrastructure in this building so that people could call it home. Candles were found. Small amounts of water were accessed. A community was born. Weeks later, he was approved by his superiors for making this brave call without formal permission or basic resources. (J. Charles, personal communication, December 27, 2013)

In our work with youth who have faced trauma, which is most of them, it is clear that those who are most resilient are those who have the opportunity to exercise creative choice on their path through life. Even when the trauma is chronic, due to ongoing poverty, violence, environmental toxins, or oppression from any number of sources, the creative process has the unwavering power to help individuals and communities tap the one resource that no one can take from them – the force of their souls. Whether these young people have been incarcerated or have gone to college, this applies.

Liberating the creative life force is, in fact, revolutionary. If a young person can dream something and know that they have the capacity to create something from nothing, they have both the awareness and internal muscle to do whatever their soul calls them to do. Obviously, they need enormous support to truly manifest a vision. But with the healthy will in tack, with the creative spirit awakened, dreams can be actualized.”  (Michaels, M. (2014). The rite of dance. Black child journal: Arts and the black child, Spring 2014 edition, 18-33.)

I am so honored to be a part of this revolution. For decades, I have been tending to hundreds of young love warriors waking up through the challenges of their lives to create initiatives rooted in truth and beauty, all serving their communities. In celebration of how these young leaders are coming of age, I would like to introduce you all to just a few who are rockin’ it at this time.

At the international level, Chenxi Ouyang, a Chinese student recently launched a program for young girls in her country. Last year, I had the good fortune to work with this young woman in Boulder. She was actively preparing to launch her work with girls across China, Bright&Beautiful.

Bright&Beautiful is now a China-based growing movement of girls learning about their bodies, their hearts, and their dreams through the arts. Their mission is “to spread the girls’ inner voice and raise awareness on educating girls.”
   As part of Chenxi’s preparations for this launching, she danced with us and assisted me with some work with maidens, young girls moving into early adolescence. During our time together, Chenxi learned of the doll making process originally taught to me by my mentor, Tamara Slayton. Just before Tamara crossed the threshold, she came to see us and was so thrilled to see her doll work expand to diverse communities. With so much love and gratitude for this lineage, we are now making these Golden Dolls around the world, from Los Angeles to Kampala to South India to England to New Zealand and now … in China. It is such a joy to help these doll friends of peace connect women and girls across so many borders … awakening creativity, liberating voices, and birthing collaborations.

Many of you know Darius King, another star shining light into the world. He has been a part of our Surfing the Creative® dancing community since 2009, also initiated through his strong lineage of My Brother/ My Sister. Darius has taken his brilliant and brave creative voice straight to the national stage, into the center of the conversation about the inhumane ways that we are treating young black men in our country. Please see this piece that Darius spoke on October 10th, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Genocide

In addition to his clear call to honor every life lost to this unconscionable war on our streets, another one of Darius’s messages at this time is for all of us to take action. Choose something, anything that matters to you and … Stand up. Speak up. Do something to make this country a more just and sane home for all. Leverage whatever privileges you have … and ACT.

To support Darius’s leadership, please check out his own call to action. People order T-shirts and by doing so, they make an agreement to DO something about the injustices facing the black community. Darius pays for production and shipping of the shirts himself, not asking for money in return from recipients. All he asks is that folks agree to the terms! Innovative! Real and True!

At a local level, another golden youth leader is Cali Machan, a senior at New Vista High School here in Boulder. Each year, the seniors in her school engage in an independent study that allows them to learn about something that school has not taught them and that they find of interest.  For Cali’s senior Culminating Project, she chose to do an in-depth study of the 5Rhythms® and how movement can support her personal growth, emotional wellbeing, and emerging career path. In a very disciplined way, Cali embraced curriculum I have developed, dancing on her own for weeks on end, journaling, and painting as means for expressing and integrating her discoveries. As she says:

“I originally became interested in this work through Movement Mass, and it ended up being a huge part of my journey in high school, my journey with my battle with anxiety, and a driving force for my path after high school. It’s completely changed my life, enlightened my path, and created space for me to grow and learn about myself and the movement of my own energy and emotions.”

cali-tattoo    Not only did Cali do intensive inner work through her dancing and studying, but she brought her powerful inner awakening to the world, both visually and in service. Check out her tattoos representing her interpretation of the 5Rhythms® and her dedication to their medicine.

In addition, Cali was able to bring even more dance to teens through Natural Highs, a powerful program developed by Avani Dilger, another beloved mentor of Cali’s. As part of Cali’s high school completion, she and I will do some additional teaching of teens together in our local community. From there, she will continue her studies of the expressive arts for healing, dedicated to this path of growing her world service from the inside out. Cali will share her culminating project with her school community just before the Winter Solstice. If you want to learn more, please contact our office for details.

Thank goodness for these young people who are cultivating their gifts and leveraging their privilege to create safety and opportunities for so many other young people around them. They are being exactly who they are, returning again and again to the dance and the creative process to stay balanced and inspired. Simple, soulful, and authentic … emerging leaders choosing to be sane, sober and in service.

Please join them.
See you on the dance floor ~
Melissa

What a moving summer!

What a moving summer!

Dear beloved Community of Dancers ~

What a moving summer!

Young people gathered, dancing from enormous struggle and loss to inspired service. During the chaos of the recent war, many came from the Middle East. They unwound shock, listened to one another’s different perspectives, creating waves of peace right here on our dance floor. Body – centered leaders from near and far then gathered, together studying and incorporating our tools of body, heart, and soul to address the many challenges of our times. Processes for healing and initiation were concretely developed to serve children living in war zones on our city streets, for girls who have begun the long journey back from prostitution, for boys lost in the labyrinth of pornography, for young people tragically facing terminal illnesses, and for youth aiming to work together from many diverse backgrounds. Humbled by the suffering of our world’s children, we were also inspired by the capacities that we collectively have to find solutions.

I am now sitting at the United Nations having just completed my keynote talk for hundreds of young leaders from over 40 nations. I am so honored and delighted to bring the subject of the body to the next generation of world change makers. I am relieved that doors are opening for this conversation. How can we do our internal repair work and turn on to our vast intelligence right here and now in these bodies? This conversation is now ignited at a whole new level. I had the entire youth assembly up and moving. And, I am so moved by the collective understanding that these young people have for cultural issues and special needs of the diverse peoples of the world as they begin to consider these strategies, and many more, for becoming the leaders the world needs. I remain dedicated to deepening in this conversation.

On that note, please join Matthew Fox and I for a very special evening in Boulder this Saturday night, August 16th. The detailed flyer is below. It will be a gift to work with Matthew who is one of the great Mystics of our times, a friend of the creative pulse and an ally for youth and all of humanity. His work inspires and his spirit uplifts. It will be an evening of weaving together two very kindred worlds in a new and innovative way. Matthew and I will be joined by some of our local youth leaders sharing their creativity and perspectives.

As the wheel turns, I want to thank you dear community for all the ways that you have assisted our mythic summer of body-centered study and transformation. We are so grateful for the ways that you show up on the dance floor, as elders in service to our youth, through your offerings of homes for our out of town guests, through your donations, meals, your special outings with youth, and so many more small and large gestures. It is a joy to be in creative community together.

As Patrick Sciarratta says: Service to others is the rent we pay for our existence on earth.

So let’s make every day a service …. moving prayers in action!

With great love and respect.
Melissa