“Phoenix Birth 2”
In October, I attended an appointment with a specialist neurosurgeon to discuss options regarding an MRI scan that showed a protruding spinal disc and nerve root compression in my neck. She told me very firmly that unless I wanted to head towards having injections or an operation on my spine, I would have to stop dancing flamenco. Clearly seeing the disappointment on my face, she still did not beat around the bush. If I carried on putting the repetitive impact pressure of flamenco footwork on the degenerating discs, the problem, which I had so far been managing successfully with pilates, yoga and massage, would be exacerbated and probably lead to surgery.
At a logical level, of course it made sense. I appreciated her clarity and straight talking approach. ‘You could keep dancing,’ she said, ‘but then you will only return in a few years and blame me for not warning you about what is likely to happen.’
Yet somewhere within me, my Artist Child was feeling despair. The consequences of a future without dancing (most types of dancing put pressure on the spine) immediately brought back negative memories of an interview with my careers advisor at school when I was fourteen. I had excitedly told her that I wanted to choose dance choreography as one of my options and she said that such an artistic pursuit was a waste of my intellectual capability. I was subsequently persuaded to take Science instead.
I started studying flamenco dance seriously following the completion of a workbook called ‘The Artist's Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self.’ In this 12-week course, written by Julia Cameron, not only did I reconnect to artistic passions that I had loved as a child, but I learned to practically carve out the time and space in my adult life to allow my ‘creative child’ to continue exploring and experimenting even after the initial 12 weeks.
The sheer joy and light-hearted wonder of engaging in activities that I enjoyed, for example dancing, writing and designing, with no purpose in mind other than to have fun, felt like the child-like quality of not worrying about the future; I made mistakes, fell down and simply got up again to try out something else. The important thing was not to be a crazy, moody, tantrum-throwing ‘Artist’ (with a capital A); it was about expressing my creative energy and unleashing the part of me that had forgotten how to be playful with life. And six years on, through focusing on nurturing this aspect of myself with kindness and patience, I've fulfilled many of my deepest creative aspirations; getting married, earning a living by doing work I love, writing my first novel and dancing on stage in the West End. I was gradually living my life as the kind of artist I'd always wanted to be.
A week or so after my appointment at the hospital, the reality of having to alter my lifestyle really hit home. I heard music and wanted to dance. I received emails from my flamenco school and didn't know what I would say to my teacher. I watched dance performances at the Trafalgar Square Diwali celebrations and felt envious. The Artist's Way had unearthed what had felt a true yearning, and though I had not trained to a professional dancer level, I'd put my heart and soul into my passion. Somewhere in the recesses of my dreams, I had harboured a secret desire to be a professional one day; it was a matter of time and practice. The thought that I would have to give it up broke my heart and for several weeks, I experienced a sense of homelessness and felt incredibly sad and tearful. How would I let go of the intoxicating bond I felt for flamenco; its rhythm, music, tempestuous song?
I also realised that this was yet another lesson in what Buddhism describes as ‘non-attachment.’ I could see that my attachment to flamenco was to a specific form of creativity and not to the truth that my creative energy flows regardless. It was a reminder that no matter the depth and time span of any one path, all life is impermanent. Whether I dance flamenco or choose any other form of creative expression, happiness and fulfilment is in the doing, the process of nurturing, producing and living in creative vitality.
Letting go of my attachment is also a process of grieving, which is natural when one aspect of who I am must die in order for something new to be born. The image I carry for the moment is that of a sparkling jewel within the palm of my hands. I hold all that is precious for which I have no words — through massage, writing, drawing, embracing, as well as flamenco. By allowing the god of fire, Agni, mediator of heaven and earth, to envelop in flames that which has run its course, then will the brilliant, shimmering wings of the phoenix rise, reborn and transformed by death.