(Hooping.org Assistant Editor Bonnie MacDougall blooms, even through grief.)
At the first official event of the HoopPath 6 Retreat entitled “Bloom”, we were treated on Thursday evening to a scrumptious potluck provided by a local Mediterranean restaurant and the local community of HoopPathers who live nearby in Carrboro, North Carolina. After dinner, however, we broke into mini-tribes of 10-14 people where we spent some time answering several questions to get to know each other while sharing our hooping experience and expectations for the weekend. While I didn’t have any expectations for the weekend and was set to just go with the flow, one question really popped out at me – “What does Bloom mean to you?”. I thought of a lotus flower, a bloom which comes up from beneath the mud and muck below to produce a most glorious flower. The bloom may not always be visible beneath the darkness, but it is still there. And little did I know just how much this vision would apply to me in the coming days ahead.
Later that night Baxter spoke, as only he can, and for the first time in the presence of his mentor, his father. He talked of the influence his dad, a minister, had had upon his life. He clearly articulated ideas of honesty, authenticity of self and not expecting our blooming to necessarily be obvious. “Perhaps your bloom has grown beautifully out of back and you’ve been looking in front”, he mused. Later that night, after an incredible hoop jam with 170 eager retreaters, I went to bed tired.
At 5:30 am I suddenly woke up. Feeling strange, I reached over to the side of the bed to check the time on my phone. Through groggy eyes I saw the text message from my oldest sister. It just said “Call me ASAP”. My heart started racing. I stepped outside, as to not wake anyone, and returned her call. Looking out upon the landscape she told me of my brother-in-law’s sudden death, how my parents, middle sister and nephews were on their way to Kentucky. I was in shock and the strong wave of tears began. I sat outside in the dark crying alone, not wanting to disturb anyone so early, but decided to wake up my hoop sister Colleen to sit with me while I tried to make sense of it all. She and I sorted out what needed to be done and even though I had just arrived, it was time for me to leave.
Being at a hoop gathering, I had no appropriate clothing for a funeral. It was in these next few hours that I was cradled in the comfort of my hooping family. I had driven down from Michigan with a friend, Brenda, who quickly informed me not to worry about how she would get home. Natalie Shaw lent me the clothes I would need and let me rest at her home before setting out on the 8 hour car ride to join my family. The hugs and love came from those who had heard and others who could see I was hurting.
Heading to the gym, where the majority of the retreat was being held in order to tie up the last of the loose ends, I found Baxter in the middle of the first session – “Long Sway”, a meditative time of free movement. As I listened my body began to loosen and my mind started to relax. Instinctively, I held my hoop and found a quiet spot. I was surrounded by 170 bodies in movement, mostly blindfolded. I held my hoop tight to my chest, my hands in prayer position and gently swayed from side to side, tears streaming down my face. My body shook and I found myself sobbing at times. It was safe to cry there. No one would approach me or question me. I would just be allowed to sway in the safety of this community, with my hoop, my tears, my grief.
Throughout the rest of the weekend, retreat goers, including Baxter, took time away from their experience to text me or write messages. In my mind, throughout the weekend, I kept flashing back to the short but profound time I had spent in the gym that Friday morning. While I did not experience the entire HoopPath retreat this year, and in actuality was only there a few short hours, what I took away was far deeper than any other retreat I have experienced so far. I discovered my bloom beneath even the dark and murky waters of death, and in it I found the strength to be there for my sister and my nephews. Each of us experiences grief and death in our own lives in various forms, whether it be an actual physical death, the transformation of a relationship, or other significant transitions in our lives. Hooping can allow us the freedom to grieve in the safety of community, through movement meditation within our hoop. Hooping with the intent on healing, we each can bloom through difficult times into the beautiful blossoms we are all meant to be.