It took me 38 years and six days in a human dissection course for me to realize that I wasn’t really alive, yet.
I am not a doctor. I have been a Pilates teacher since I was 15-years-old, and will continue to be until I am amongst the non-living once again.
In 2009, I, along with seven other curiosity-seekers, each with various backgrounds in movement and physical therapies, worked together to explore the mysteries of the human form, layer by layer. Each day, with scalpels in hand, we spent eight hours methodically revealing a new layer of the body, and each day I discovered new layers of myself in relation to what I was seeing and feeling on the table. It turned out I was dissecting myself.
By the sixth and last day of the course, I had been through every emotion possible (up until that point I had only known of three: love, fear and grief). The layers we were reflecting shone a light on the many layers of ourselves. The emotions and reactions the lifeless form evoked in me taught me that this diary of a former person on the table had far more vital energy in it than I ever experienced living.
On that sixth day, the day I held a fully formed brain in my hands, my own mind was blown, and my whole life changed in an instant. In that instant, I went from caterpillar to cocoon, fully expecting to emerge a butterfly one day. But I was ready to live fully now, in whatever form that took. I had to make up for lost time.
I spent the better part of my first 38 years trying to be invisible, quiet, unnoticeable, and above all, good. I observed others and measured their responses. I waited to laugh at jokes in case they weren’t funny or might hurt someone else. Doing the “right thing” in any given situation was critical for me, so I lived by rules and codes of conduct that would allow me to be seen as responsible, hardworking, and most of all, to feel under control.
I measured everything - how many calories I ate, how many I burned, my weight from day-to-day. I measured my work hours and the money earned from the effort. My greatest skill, or so I thought, was measuring people’s reactions against my actions, then adapting to make a situation better for the other person. I was busy! I even measured how tired I was as if it were an accomplishment itself.
I was living the “good life,” and I could deem myself good, worthy and in control. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel much of anything at all and had no real sense of what mattered to me unless I was reacting to another person or situation outside of myself. I had become a robot.
On the seventh day, back home in Santa Barbara, I woke up. I picked my head up and looked around as if for the first time. I saw the world as shiny and brand new. The water at Santa Claus Lane was bluer, our beautiful mountains seemed more three dimensional, the grass was greener all around! I could feel the blood flow in my body, and I marvelled at seeing it course in my veins. I was “tripping,” and in the best kind of way. No drugs necessary!
Overnight, I had begun to see, hear and feel more. I laughed without pause. I cried daily for the joy of realizing what being alive actually could be, and thankfully before it was too late. Best of all, I found my voice and couldn’t wait to start using it.
My Pilates practice was transformed. I didn’t have to be right about everything - for my clients or myself anymore. When practicing Pilates on my own, I allowed curious exploration to happen rather than making sure I did the exercises perfectly. I stopped measuring everything. Just like that!
Later that year, I started what would become a successful business, began the process of ending my marriage of 10 years, started dancing at home because it brought me more joy than going to the gym, and began living alone for the first time in my life.
These changes weren't easy, but I felt the emotion of it all! Pain, fear, joy, love, exhaustion, anger, grief, satisfaction -they were all new and fresh, and whichever one was most present reminded me that I was alive, and more than that, I can choose how I live.