“Life is a cycle, always in motion. If good times have moved on, so will times of trouble.” ~Indian Proverb
Two years ago I went on a volunteer trip to Vietnam, where I had hoped to find both myself and my purpose (ambitious), but instead found a rocky adventure that continues to teach me things to this day.
I was in the middle of a difficult time that was secretly a rebirth. It’s always hard to see that when it’s happening, isn’t it?
For a few amazing months, everything made crystal clear sense, and I felt like I could see through all realms of existence to the truth. I started listening to my body and my spirit rather than my brain. Life opened up to me.
I uncovered a deep interest in the healing power of art, especially dance and movement. I realized said interest was embedded in who I’ve been all along, I just had to take a minute to listen and let it show itself.
I have been a dancer all of my life, and somewhere along the way forgot that the reason I started dancing was because it allowed for joyful, authentic expression.
Three-year-old Laura knew that. I got older and forgot—I got wrapped up in doing, in trying to be the best, in comparing myself to others, in pushing myself and my body beyond what was loving.
I believe art is essentially a spiritual practice—any art. But, being humans (oh, humans), it’s easy to get wrapped up in the more worldly aspects of art. I’m talking recognition, fame, money, perfection, applause, all that.
That’s cool, it happens. But what my soul really wanted to do was dance and sing around my apartment and figure out how my body wanted to move when it wasn’t being told what was “good” and what was “bad.”
I could go on forever about this. I’ll spare you. But I implore you, make your art. Just make it, simply because it allows you to express who you are.
You don’t have to make a big stink out of it with performances and shows. You can if that feels right. But if you don’t want to show your art to anyone and want to just create for the sake of creating, that has enormous value and is, indeed, enough.
I started doing dance improvisations in my apartment regularly. I began going to auditions less and going to Central Park to be with nature and read about healing arts more.
I have practiced Pilates for years to take care of dance-related injuries, and a little voice inside said, “Hey, what about teaching Pilates?”
I said, “Alright, what the heck, let’s see.”
I started my certification off with a full scholarship to a mat training program at a studio that welcomed me with open arms. If that’s not a nudge toward something, I don’t know what is.
I met an amazing man approximately five days after declaring, “Okay, Laura! We are not worrying about men anymore! I am going to focus on what I am doing, and worry about that later.”
Before meeting him, I told him flat out, “I’m not looking for a boyfriend right now,” and of course, that’s when your person waltzes right into your life. Our first year together flew by.
I felt my heart opening up. I felt like I was expanding and moving into a different time of my life, a more authentic expression of who I am. I honored my intuition as best as I could, and it served me well. I was crazy happy. Like, hard to sleep happy.
I remembered that I had options and choices—what an incredible blessing. I did not have to keep doing the same thing I had been pursuing for years. I was free to let other, unexplored parts of myself out into the world. This was exciting and relieving.
I simultaneously felt like I had control and that, in fact, I didn’t need to have control, because reality was showing me the way.
I even went to Vietnam a second time and visited the same village I taught in the year before. This time I had a cute and supportive travel companion, as well as a heck of a lot of perspective. I felt like a different version of myself, although essentially the same. (I still got hangry and coped pretty badly with jet lag…)
And then, you know what happened? I got kind of confused again. A few months after the clarity burst, I started questioning again: “What am I doing? What should I do?” And then things were clear again. And then I was confused. And on and on. Sometimes life felt magical and sometimes it didn’t,
Sometimes things make sense and then they don’t make sense again. It’s a spiral.
We circle around to similar lessons, feelings, and challenges, but we experience them at different levels of awareness. And we keep hitting the same challenges until we learn the lessons we need to in order to let go and grow. At least, that’s how it seems to me.
And it also seems that we can learn a lesson, let something go, and then later on forget we learned the lesson and need to do it again. You know what I mean?
For my twenty-seventh birthday in June, I went out of my comfort zone to a hippie farm up in the Berkshires. I’m talking barefoot, vegan, everyone dancing all the time in the grass. It was pretty amazing, but for this city girl, at first it was a lot.
I spent the week on retreat working through Anna Halprin’s life/art healing process. A year before, I read (more like devoured) her book Dance as a Healing Art during my daily trips to Central Park.
The book was one of the first I read during my period of magic. It was very cool to be in the mountains a year later doing the work myself. We danced, wrote, sang, drew, cried, laughed, and supported each other through our individual journeys of self-discovery and healing.
I met some amazing people that I felt deep connections with very quickly. I was skeptical at first, but I did my best to trust the process, and the results were pretty astounding.
One of the last days of the workshop was my actual birthday. I gathered the resources I had created over the week—my writing, drawings, notes, and dances—and saw a message in all of them.
Ultimately, what my heart was saying was “Go deep into yourself and just be.” That was an interesting message, because I came there looking for answers about what to do.
For a week after that workshop was over, I felt like I had expanded, just as I had felt the year before when all the magic was happening, but this time on a deeper level. I felt like I was high. (I wasn’t, I swear).
I felt so secure, so calm, so content just to be—happy sipping tea with my man across from me, happy walking through trees in the rain, happy watching the sky. It was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had, and it all came from being.
Since I’ve been back, I’ve settled back into my humanity, meaning, sometimes I feel grounded and free and other times I feel confused and irritable. I’m getting the impression that this cycle is kind of the way it is, and part of the human experience. Perhaps the cycle is the human experience.
We are in constant motion and everything changes, but this doesn’t have to be scary (even though it is).
Actually, it can be amazingly freeing, because in moments of loneliness or confusion, you can trust that there will also be moments of deep love, connection, and clarity.
Dance the dance, sing the song, write the story, draw the shapes, and embody who you are.
One of my all time favorite quotes is “Joy is the other side of sadness,” which I heard Sharon Salzberg say at Tibet House in NYC almost ten years ago, when I first discovered meditation.
I say this frequently to people who feel guilty or worried about not feeling happy. Joy is not just feeling happy and clear. Joy is also feeling sad and confused with an open heart.
Perhaps the universe lines things up for you in lightening moments of clarity as encouragement, a gesture of unconditional love. But then it pulls away and leaves you to navigate on your own, to wrestle with the uncertainties and take leaps of faith into unchartered territory.
Discovery isn’t nearly as rewarding, beautiful, and profound if you know the exact path to getting there. Up and down, round and round, we keep going, getting closer and closer to who we are.
About Laura Volpacchio
Laura is a twenty-something graduate of NYU Gallatin (January 2011). She has worked as a dancer and model in both commercial and theatrical worlds. (You can view her performance website at lauravolpacchio.com). She currently lives in NYC where she runs a photography business (lvphotoanddesign.com), auditions, reads, writes, and tries to find her way. To read more about Vietnam, visit duclinhdiaries.blogspot.com.
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