School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: October 2010
The Story of the Handless Maiden

By Eline Kieft

A very strong experience during two workshops that I did much earlier this year, which I’m now ready to share … Source (9-11 April) and Awakening (13-17 April) added new gemstones on my necklace, helped me to reclaim lost soul parts, to work with understudies, and was, in short, a deepening of an ever ongoing process.

Soon, during The First Dance on Saturday (Source), I became aware of a tense blockage in my wrists, and realised that up until then I’d never fully stretched my wrists, fingers or hands, but always kept them slightly flexed or bent. I remembered the video feedback with Susannah in January this year, in which I observed a ‘holding back’, or caution and restriction in my (beloved student Eline’s) movements, and a self consciousness about moving ‘big’ (‘if only my legs were a bit shorter, I wouldn’t take up half the room when I stick them out’). At the time I related this mainly to my fear of invading (or ‘colonising’) other people’s space by taking too much space, and also a reluctance to include ‘the ballerina’. This morning however, I played with stretching and flexing, and streamlining the energy through my wrists into my hands, filling my hands, consciously, and noticed the different feelings ((un)familiar, (un)comfortable) those movements brought up. I also noticed I crossed my arms a lot in front of my torso, as if to protect myself.

Dancing with and through the elements shortly after that, I suddenly found myself in the story of ‘the Handless Maiden’  (Pinkola Estés, 2008 [1992]: 387-455) or ‘The Girl without Hands’ (Grimm & Grimm, 2008 [1944]: 133-8). My hands severed at the wrists, leaving my arms ending in stumps. These cut off hands became a symbol for the two soul parts that were sent away to soul school long ago, although they are recently slowly coming closer: the wild woman and the intuitive dreamer, both in their own ways so deeply connected to Life and Spirit. Cutting them off, I made, in Pinkola Estés’s words, “a bargain without knowing” (Pinkola Estés, 2008 [1992]: 394). I surrendered my wilder nature “for a promise of something that seems rich but turns out to be hollow instead” (ibid.: 395). While still slumbering as a 2,5 year old, I believed that denying my intuitive, dreamer/seer nature (qualities my mother wasn’t quite able to appreciate and reproached me for), would assure me of my mothers’ love, understanding and acceptance. Later, as a 17 year old, cutting myself off from dancing, which had always been the source of life running through me passionately, wildly, creatively, I became a caricature of the good student, the good daughter and the good wife. A rigid “Miss Perfect” character was born, in order to be accepted in a non-dance world, to prove my worth, to not fail ‘again’.

Earth made me realise how much we need hands to create, to nurture, to caress, to plant and harvest, to cook, to manifest, to express. Without them, I felt cut off from my birth right of femininity, from certain soul parts, and it also literally reflected not having a grip on my own life; always trying to ‘please’ others, in order not to disappoint them, resulting in often force-feeding and chameleoning myself to fit other people’s expectations. With Fire, anger and rage sought their way out: What mother denies the soulful gifts of her child – even if it is unconscious, crushing innocence and creating such dismemberment of the unique spirit/soul that she carries? And at the general repression of the non-rational in our culture and times. Fire also glowed as a fierce, warm pride in my heart, to have managed relatively so well in life without my hands… Supported by Water, soft tear drops falling silently on my stumps made my hands grow back, tenderly made from young springy willow shoots, finally caressing Air in gratitude.

Dancing with Yin and Yang, this journey continued. Stepping into my past childhood experiences, I became aware of the box around me, with its’ weight on my head, suppressing me, and my wrists held in a vice-like grip, something I felt is tied in with the Calvinist/Protestant ethos: ‘Yin’ was told off for being lazy, dreamy, or useless, while ‘yang’ energy was also reigned in: ‘don’t stick your head over the parapet’, ‘acting normal is abnormal enough, so don’t get any idea’s’. In the dance, I could release the shackles, lift the weight and push down the sides of the cardboard box, freeing myself from these limitations that I’d started to buy into [thank you Dance, you wonderful Friend!].

The next morning, in bed, I dreamt that I dug my moms grave, although she wasn’t dead. I decorated it with fresh, yellow daffodils, which contrasted strongly against the bare brown earth. In the dreaming the healing continued, something was put to rest. That morning, during The First Dance Joy, and Gratitude, and also disbelief:


And the no-longer-handless-and-boxed-in-Maiden received a hand massage, thank you Alex!

On Awakening my dances oscillated between the two poles of jubilation for having my hands back and sadness for not having had them for so long. This process feels related to the permission to standing up tall, with joy instead of shame, and filling myself fully. This also meant moving as ‘big’ as I felt like in each moment, dancing like a ‘stick-out-my-legs-insect’, although all the time I was still so aware of the many, many critical voices in my head why not to take my full space. These could be (not so in order of appearance): “you’re  being a show off, too arrogant and boastful, too sexy and seductive, too ballet-like, too spiritual, too pretentious, too powerful, too unfeminine,” etc. And every time I heard a voice like that, I said: “Thank you, I hear you, and I choose differently now,” and continued doing my thing. Chin up. Eyes open. Fully stretched limbs (how scary! and; what a relief!). Expressing myself without shrinking, apologising, or diminishing myself; consciously inhabiting all planes of my being, physically, emotionally, mindfully as well as energetically and soulfully. A full YES! instead of a whimpering ‘sorry’…

My elemental incantations all underline this permission that I really can and may take my place, like the ocean who would never think it would be too big. And I commit to increasingly occupying all of my being and leave no space, no room uninhibited, musty, dusty, or dark. This also means ‘my other leg’, the rooms signed with ‘shouldn’ts’ or ‘don’t enters’, and also the forgotten rooms of which I am currently still unaware; I acknowledge and welcome them in my house.

So the necklace of acceptance and permission is growing. Becoming all I can be, so I can give all I can give. A bit more… and a bit more… every day. Sometimes I forget… but then I re-member: my hands are back! No need to apologise for Being! I would like to conclude with a quote from Pinkola Estés:

“When a woman surrenders her instincts that tell her the right time to say yes and when to say no, when she gives up her insight, intuition, and other wildish traits, then she finds herself in situations that promised gold but ultimately give grief” (Pinkola Estés, 2008 [1992]: 397) (p. 397).

And how often this happens unconsciously, and how long it takes to become aware of it, and then the courage and ‘work’ it takes to come back to instinct… Thrice hurray for the Dance!!!

Grimm, J., & Grimm, W. (2008 [1944]). Complete Fairy Tales. London and New York: Routledge.

Pinkola Estés, C. (2008 [1992]). Women Who Run With The Wolves. Contacting the Power of the Wild Woman. London: Rider.




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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.