Happy Solstice Friends!
As we hunker into the darkest season of the year, I turn to stories which brighten my heart. A good story can steer me away from a downward spiral and point toward an inspiring, often creative viewpoint.
The following medicine story is about a former student, Yvonne Laseur, whose life touched me in many ways: morphing to my client, teaching assistant, apprentice, colleague, friend and teacher.
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MEDICINE STORY: "Rainbow Dance"
I once learned a native american teaching:
Your teacher is the one who is right in front of you,
Your healer sits on your left,
Your protector sits on your right.
I've add to this teaching: Your ancestors sit behind you.
Yvonne sat in all directions for me (and many others). When I first met Yvonne LaSeur in 1991 as my student in my clinical massage class at Seattle Massage School, I had no idea she would become my teacher or how she would shape my life over the next fourteen years.
Since she passed in 2005, Yvonne sits at my back reminding me of our stories together. She splashed a wide array of color over any black and white views of the world and grabbed my hand to dance with her through the unknown.
When I first met Yvonne, something around her glowed, perhaps from her changing array of exotic, hand-sewn, rainbow-colored outfits and thriftstore spoils, her extra-long hand-knitted scarves, big hooped earrings and feathered blond hair. While no outfit or accessories ever seemed to repeat, she had a consistent, wild flare of artistry. Her whole body applied color as some women use make-up (which she didn't wear-- other than frequent sparkle-gel on her face and pink lip gloss.) Her sunny, relaxed smile drew my attention continually back to the far corner of the room where she and her future husband. Eric, parked themselves with notebooks sprawled on top of a massage table.
I didn't find Yvonne "that" brilliant (in the beginning), but she managed to cut through my arrogance with her sparse but sweet comments-- like the time she raised her hand early in my clinical massage class and politely mentioned while chewing her gum, "You know Annie, you only just told us this information for the first time a minute ago, and like, seem to expect us to master it already. It's not like we've heard this material before. Can you go over this again?" She smiled, batting her eyes.
How true and gentle her comment was. I nodded and tried again, watching her nod with satisfaction. The whole class seemed to breathe better with Yvonne around. Throughout the rest of the course, she fed helpful suggestions for my teaching until I became a much clearer, kinder and more patient teacher than I had been (and hope this remains true today!)
After Yvonne graduated, she continued to work with me as my teacher's assistant for clinical massage classes, student clinic, numerous advanced massage workshops and retreats on the west coast. She rarely had criticisms, but continually steered me along with insightful suggestions.
On one retreat at Breitenbush Hotsprings, Yvonne sat across from me at dinner in the cafeteria. I spent the meal sulking in silence over what looked like cold, pathetically small and mis-shapen nut burger-- with not even a bun or decent condiments to go along with them. The burgers weren't even very round, for goodness sake! I dunked my cold burger a few times in my split pea soup, thinking it would taste better warm. Yuk! After I worked through half of the foul thing with bites of my salad, I gave up and shoved the remains of the burger to the edge of my plate.
"Their vegetarian food is usually pretty good. Why was it so cold?!" I grumbled, stabbing at my burger. I noticed Yvonne's eyes fixed on me with amused curiosity. I realized she had watched me suffer through the entire meal.
She commented with a faint smile, "How do you like your cookie?"
The odd flavor, not too sweet, but definitely not savory-- all suddenly made sense. I held up the half-eaten "burger" with two fingers.
"You mean this thing is a 'cookie'?!" I exclaimed, much too loud, looking over my shoulder to see if anyone else heard me. I shuttered, remembering dunking my 'burger' into my pea soup. Yvonne had seen it all: from soup to salad.
She nodded, breaking a wide smile, eyes twinkling.
"Want another?," she started to snicker (lightly-- mind you), with the mischief of a zen meditation teacher.
"No!" I huffed. I pushed my plate away, irritated and embarrassed I spent the entire meal suffering. I was so flustered from the reality switch I lost my appetite.
Yvonne giggles erupted into snorts of laughter. Her snorts tickled me out of my foul mood until we were both howling in hysterics. The whole table found out about my "bad burger" with each student offering me their cookie afterwards and continually...throughout the remainder of our retreat.
Over the years, Yvonne blossomed into an influential massage teacher and Feldenkrais Practitioner. She told me she often joked with people that she was "Annie's Mini-Me" since she followed in my exact footsteps: moving her massage practice to my old massage office, taking over my position teaching clinical massage classes and workshops, teaching student clinic and becoming a Feldenkrais teacher. She even studied Kung Fu at the same school! Even though we had this remarkable bond, Yvonne always had a clear sense of who she was. Her students and clients loved this unique and colorful woman.
Like the burger-cookie story, Yvonne dispelled suffering into humor. I watched her gracefully dance through the six years she fought breast cancer with numerous remissions and chemotherapy treatments that eventually metastasized into liver cancer. She used wildly colorful head scarfs to cover her bald head and cheered her friends throughout the process of her cancer up to the end. Her curiosity and passion for living reminds me to celebrate every moment of living until the last petal falls.
So when it's dark outside or inside, this gift of Yvonne's twinkling smile dispels my attachment to the story of suffering. Even when life is painful or tastes terrible or looks mighty bleak, I know there is something juicy, very much alive just in feeling at all and shifting my perspective. And often, there is the joy of rising above this edgy moment with myself and if I'm lucky, with a friend. Perhaps these bright moments in your life can be shared in this time of year with someone you meet.
I wish you joy in this Solstice and Holiday season-- where each individual light radiants so much beauty in the darkness. Thank you for being in my circle and thank you for your light!
Blessings to you,
Missed past newsletters? Check my archives for past medicine story articles. And thanks to all who write back with your own stories and comments. I love hearing from you!