In 2009 while living in South Korea, I traveled near the Demilitarized Zone, a 250 mile long and 2 ½ mile wide heavily armed swath of land between North and South Korea, to visit and write an article about the then 79 year old Kim Keum Hwa. Ms. Kim, the country’s leading shaman, helps clients heal from illness or cope with a crisis through dance, music, chants, and channeling ancestors. During my second visit, she surprised me by asking me to get up and dance. A disciple helped me slip into traditional shaman ritual attire, a pointy white hat and robe with sleeves extending well beyond my hands. Using my dance improvisation background, I bowed, raised my arms, spun, and undulated, availing myself to the inspiration of the moment which I hoped honored their several hundred year tradition based in Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Obviously pleased, for the duration of the day, she and several of her disciples encouraged me to pursue a path as a shaman.
The encouragement toward a healing practice was not unfamiliar. Over the years in dance studios, my hands have often migrated to my partner’s body to rest in place or move in ways that resulted in a healing. “How did you do that,” asks my pain-relieved dance partner whose astonishment matched my own. I didn’t know. I felt energy. Intrigue led me to follow impulses. I vowed that upon returning to the U.S. I would look into the mystery of my energy sensitivity.
I identified myself as teacher, a dancer, a poet, and a writer, not a healer. How does one switch from the classroom, the stage, and typing at a computer to promising clients relief from physical, emotional and spiritual ailments? When I completed Reiki training in 2011 and my teacher gave me the green light to find clients, I didn’t feel ready. I subsequently enrolled in a Healing Touch program and decided to document my final year of training in poetry. Those poems have since been revised and assembled into my newest collection called Her Body Listening, which is currently under consideration at a press.
Martha Graham famously said, “Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it.” My dance background taught me techniques to investigate sensations and to follow chi, and my approach to poetry is similar. My intent isn’t to write about an incident that has taken place (with its emphasis on the past) but rather to be present-centric. I welcome nonlinearity; lines lead one direction, then may turn based on sound or play. When I place my hands on someone for healing, I similarly follow energy. I listen.
What occurred repeatedly in the final year of my training is realizing how I “Othered” parts of myself. I dismissed impressions that didn’t correspond with immediate understanding. While I practiced energy healing with clients initially, I frequently caught myself doubting the sensations, the gut feelings, and images that popped up in my mind. Events such as these were the result of an active imagination, I thought, the fodder for writing fiction (which I do comfortably.)
My time in Korea showed me my cultural blind spot; I was a cynic. I was an unknowing heir to Puritanism’s discrediting heightened sensory perceptions as hokey, superstitious, or worse. Koreans regarded such cynicism a poverty of spirit, a psychological pathology. My cultural prejudice has since dissipated and I consistently provide relief to folks suffering from a range of ailments including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and a weak immune system.
A refusal to accept parts of ourselves is tantamount to a self-inflicted violence. Embodiment relies on feeling into and coming to know our many selves, our fleeting and indelible emotions and sensations. Moving nimbly from one to another, experiencing a flow in being, is energizing. Connecting inwardly with integrity allows us to similarly connect outwardly with another and our surroundings.
I write poetry and I dance to connect with myself and the beyond of myself. I do energy healing for the same reason.
Let Pretense Go
This she is also an I. I am listening. There is this way of knowing. With bones, breath, a sideways
glance, a whisper. She walks across grass and down the corridor, struts in rhythmic balance in
ethereal laugh, a restorative planetary sigh. Unlike a convulsion. Unlike hate locking doors in
trigger unhappiness. Peepers and crows call. The wasp and June bug land and perform a
symphony of silence, of wait and reveal, of taking in and giving back. There is this way of
listening to the rush of rain, desire besting lush, another pour of coffee, another elbow yank,
another look of misgiving, a furrowed crown, skin clenching after what will not yield. I am
listening to my best step forward. Ancestors string pearls, glean futility for fertility, a promise
of human touch that does no harm and grows a field without mowing down. Anticipate a voice
beckoning impulse that cannot be ignored. Endure this. Breathe its passage. Insist upon nothing.
Assert melancholy’s beauty, its dance in the desert. Oh ecstasy.
Leg in sand. Arm in escape. Thigh introverting plasma glory. Gore from before gone.
I glisten newly born, red faced, mouthing words while stumbling, bumping walls and doors,
the arrogance of surfaces and obstinacy of angles. I pushes, I slides, I gasps the pain of
delight and the light of dark. Take her there. Take me with you.
Cheryl Pallant has four published poetry books, most recently Continental Drifts (Blaze Vox Books) and Morphs (Cracked Slab Books), four chapbooks, and the nonfiction book, Contact Improvisation: an Introduction to a Vitalizing Dance Form (McFarland and Company). Poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in numerous print and online journals throughout the U.S. and abroad in places like This Land Press, Fence Magazine, All Things Healing, and in anthologies like Hope Beneath Our Feet (North Atlantic Books) and Introduction to Prose Poetry (Firewheel Editions). Her article on Korean shamanism was published in Shaman’s Drum. She won the Theresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in Writing, was Bechtel Finalist for Teachers and Writers Magazine, and twice received an NEH in partnership with Richmond Arts Council. She teaches writing and dance at University of Richmond and previously taught at University of Tulsa in Oklahoma and Keimyung University in South Korea. She leads her workshop, Writing From the Body, around the country and abroad and does energy healing through The Wellness Space in Richmond, Virginia. To learn more about the artist visit www.cherylpallant.com.