As a Ph.D. student near five years ago, I put myself under a lot of stress at work. Long nights in the library separated me from a healthy lifestyle. My interpersonal relationships suffered as I delved deeper and deeper into the world of research. In that process, I noticed that I had put aside something deeply meaningful to me–my creative writing, a sacred practice to express my emotions. After graduating, I was hired at a prestigious university in New York to teach as a Lecturer. My excitement was immense and I embraced the experience fully yet the havoc of my unhealthy lifestyle continued.
It was only after I found refuge in nature and participated in a Healing Arts weekend retreat that I saw a tremendous shift in my personal, professional and creative life. As a writer living in New York City, the retreat helped me realize that I needed to show more of my self to the world. In addition to being an energized observer, I also had to become a vulnerable participant in things happening around me. A space of uncovering of my creativity the retreat remains with me as I write stories of exploration into the worlds inside and outside of academia that I actively partake.
The retreat organizer Ariel Figueroa, a native New Yorker was a former preschool teacher. He designed ways to bring aspects of meditation, yoga, dance, and nature to children. Today he refocuses his approach to bring exploratory kinesthetic activities to adults. His retreats create safe spaces for participants to be present fully without having to hide aspects of their personalities.
“We are all traumatized in one way or another, and healing from trauma is important.” As he explains, “Trauma means being stuck. All of us to some degree are stuck in an experience. In such extreme cases as PTSD the experience hijacks our whole life. In other cases, our life patterns prevent us from growing and evolving.”
“Some people may say that their life is fine the way it is. That their job, routine, and living arrangements serve them. But is this enough for a fulfilling life? As we break old patterns of body, mind, and spirit,” Ariel says, “we open space for getting in touch with our creativity. Creativity is a prime tool to unlock these stuck patterns.”
A few months after the retreat, we sat down for an interview. Ariel’s philosophy brought home my realization about creativity:
The more we heal internally, the more our creativity comes to light and vice versa.
I realize he refers to creativity in a broad sense. “We become creators when we facilitate a workshop, raise a child, cook a meal, engage in conversation, when we create friendships, chose an outfit in the morning, build a community, and create safe spaces.”
It was fascinating to witness how a dance exercise designed by Tasha Blank allowed me to see the world as a dance floor and my role in it as a writer. I resonate deeply as Ariel continues to explain his philosophy about the interconnectedness of dance, life narrative, and the possibility of shifting that narrative. “Writing is a powerful tool to become intentional about the life we want to create. Even though we are not aware of it, we all have a narrative about who we are, our beliefs, and what we want to become. It is a story we have partly written ourselves and partially has been written for us by others. Because we give our attention to this story, or not, we allow it to become our life.”
“It may sound odd but dancing is my way of working with my narrative. What I am able to express in my body is a reflection of what I can express in my life. These are two sides of the same coin. Everything experienced physically is also experienced in the body and vice versa. If I change the way I move on the dancefloor I change the narrative of who I am.”
When I ask Ariel what the world learns from New York City he said, “There is a sense of aliveness in New York. It is a place you can learn the lesson that anything you want to do is possible if you hustle with passion.” For newcomers, he doesn’t hesitate and immediately says, “New Yorkers are amazing people. Find your community. Be intentional about finding a community. Find new places that are meaningful. You don’t need to go to a bar to meet people.” As for native or close to native New Yorkers, he advises them to get out of the city. “New York is not a relaxing place. Everyone here is trying to do something. Getting out helps with balance. Coming back centered allows you to be more effective. ”
“Like the yin and the yang, to be successful you need to have the opposite energy.”