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402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Tag: soul

Day 41: Why Don’t We Dance?

I’ve always wondered why more of us (Americans, generally) don’t dance. It feels wonderful and it’s incredibly therapeutic. It’s nearly impossible to not smile during and/or after a great dance break.

Tiny Dancer

Every time I’ve veered away from it, dance makes its way back into my life, all sneaky-like. I am currently the proud holder of both a B.A. and an M.F.A in dance. But I firmly believe that a degree is not necessary in order to appreciate, love and use dance to make life better. That’s me on the right, a couple of years before college.

To me, dance is perfect. It connects our minds to our bodies in ways that are impossible to manufacture with other activities. Thinking about an arm, a knee, a hand or one toe so deeply that the owner knows his/her body—really knows it—awakens parts of the brain that don’t otherwise engage. It’s a beautiful thing.

So, I’ve always wondered why more of us don’t dance.

I do realize it can be scary and vulnerable. We get nervous around people expressing themselves with their bodies. Outside of the theater or the dance club, we don’t understand why someone would gyrate their pelvis or thrash their arms around. When a person enjoys a solo dance party on the street or in the park, we tend to see them as drunk, disturbed or out of control.

And maybe they are.

But maybe not. Maybe they just get it. Maybe they understand that one’s body is more than skin and muscles and bones, and it’s more than a temple. Our bodies are so deeply us. They’re our brains. Our souls. Our bodies are ours in ways that nothing else will ever be ours. And when they’re broken, or they don’t work how we think they should or they don’t look quite right, they’re still ours. They’re still amazing.

And we can always, always dance.

Day 39: Brains and Souls

It’s a dream of mine to meet Oliver Sacks. One day this year, I will write a blog about him as a “person you should know” but I have so much to say, I’m not quite sure where to begin.

For now, suffice it to say that he is a physician and neurologist who has collected incredible stories from people with neurological disorders and anomalies. I just started reading Sacks’ most recent book, Hallucinations, a series of stories about others’ and his own mind-altering experiences. It’s fascinating so far.

Yesterday, Sacks tweeted about an article written by Daniel Levitin, a cognitive neuroscientist and writer who is also on my list of people to know. (Twitter is so great.)

The article, “Amnesia and the Self That Remains When Memory Is Lost,” is about Levitin’s experience reconnecting with one of his former Stanford psychology classmates—Tom, a man who has an inoperable brain tumor in his temporal lobe. Temporal lobe tumors make long-term memories irretrievable. They do not typically affect a person’s general demeanor, but they block access to much of the fabric of that person’s life. The tumor carrier retains his/her intelligence, but basically has no prior history from which to contextualize and examine his/her current experiences.

Temporal Lobe

Levitin writes about going to see Tom, who was an acquaintance but not necessarily a friend. Tom had no recollection of his history with Levitin but was interested in hearing about how they knew each other and what they had each accomplished. What I found most touching about the article was Levitin’s final reflection: “When I saw Tom, something fundamentally Tom was still there. Some of us call it personality, or essence. Some call it the “soul.” Whatever it is, the tumor that took Tom’s memory had not touched it.”

It immediately brought me back to Irish philosopher John O’Donohue’s reflection on Meister Eckhart’s examination of the soul (yes, this is a winding—but connected—road). “…There is a place within the soul that neither time, nor space, nor flesh, nor no created thing can touch.”

Perhaps brain tumors and Alzheimer’s and traumatic injuries can’t touch that quiet place, either. Even when our neurological systems degrade and the people, places and things in our lives don’t mean anything to us anymore, something vital and enduring remains.