Dancing With A Bull On My Deathaversary

Aug 02 2022

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Four lit candles lighting up a wee statue of the buddha sitting under the bodhi tree, two cards from lovely friends and a vase of wild flowers picked for me by one of my fellow coordinators.

Today is the one year deathaversary of mine and Joe’s relationship. This time last year, I was sobbing on the carpet amongst the dust and debris that he left behind in our terraced house in Bristol. That morning, Joe had helped me move our bed into the smallest room, which became my ship on a stormy sea of grief for the next six weeks. I battened down the hatches and lashed myself to the bed with a weighted blanket, gorging on sitcoms, podcasts and carbohydrates while I waited for the storm to pass.

One Year Later

This morning I was awoken from my slumber at 6.20am by the sound of gentle chiming bells outside my room. I rolled out of my single bed, straight onto my yoga mat for 10 minutes of power yoga before gliding down the stairs to lead a slow mindful movement session for a group of 11 bleary-eyed retreatants. We’d normally do this out in the picturesque Devonshire hills, overlooking the river Dart, but today it was pissing down, so we crammed into the cosy meditation room to swing, shake and rotate our limbs.

The parched yellow land is grateful for the rain, but with the sun behind the clouds, our solar panels are out of action. This meant I got to light the furnace that heats the water for the first time! Ahhh, lighting fires brings such sweet satisfaction and even more so when it means everyone gets to have a hot shower!

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Love a good wood pile

We ate our porridge in reverent silence before heading back to the meditation room for the morning gathering. Sharing our first words of the day, we offered each other precious glimpses of the states of our hearts, bodies and minds. Then I got to do my daily stand up set - ahem, I mean - I introduced the schedule for the day. (OK OK, I did say I was taking a year out of doing shows of any kind, but if there’s a laugh that needs to be released, who am I to stand in it’s way?)

After a tea break, I led the retreatants up to the explosively abundant garden to weed the vegetable beds and sew new seeds in the poly tunnels. I had an altercation with a clump of angry stinging nettles - they won - I’m still feeling that tingle now - ah, another wonderful opportunity to practice meeting my experience with curiosity and compassion!

While the retreatants wended their way through the trees on a mindful walk, guided by my fellow coordinator, I finished preparing the delicious healthy lunch, made mostly with the organic veg grown here. We ate and chatted around two big dining tables, making plans for the afternoon; there was talk of yoga, blackcurrant crumble and playing with watercolours...

A Ritual To Mark My Deathaversary

Wanting to honour this momentous day and think about how far I’ve come in a year, I stomped up the hill towards the natural burial ground out the back of The Barn. I had an idea that I would perform some sort of ritual to honour the relationship, reconnect with the spirits of the babies we lost and reflect on what and who has supported me through this last year.

I clambered over styles and vaulted over gates and just as I was coming to the final hurdle, I was intercepted by a cow who didn’t want to move, however nicely I asked. Looking at the cow’s solid horns, sizeable bulk and pendulous bollocks I realised this cow was in fact a bull. 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Guru Bull

I leant on the gate, gazing into the bull’s dark soulful eyes and breathed for quite some time. Eventually I followed an impulse to put on my headphones and press shuffle on my ipod. At first, the ipod gods chose slow and gentle piano music. Holding eye contact with the bull, I started swaying my body from side to side. Moved by the poignancy of our encounter, he wept a single tear (OK this might just be something that bulls do to deal with flies gathering around their eyes, but my version works better for the story.) The ipod gods gradually cranked up the beat, moving my hips with spacious hip hop, animating my hands with firey flamenco and twirling me round with a baltic brass band frenzy. The bull didn’t take his eyes off me.

Why Meditate?

Back at The Barn, I sat in on a dharma teaching from the incredible Katherine Weare, who co-wrote a book with Thich Nhat Hanh called “Happy Teachers Change The World.” Amongst Katherine’s many pearls of wisdom was the notion that kindness and curiosity naturally emanate from an open mind and meditation is a great place to practice opening your mind. 

I’ve been exploring meditation for the last 18 years, and I can’t say it’s been the smoothest of paths. It took me years and years to surrender to sitting still and even now I often need a run-up to stillness (hence the first thing in the morning power yoga and after lunch hill walking!). But I believe meditation (along with clowning and therapy) has been a vital component in learning to relate to my experience with compassion and curiosity instead of my habitual reactions of closing down, numbing out, pushing things away or striving towards anything else but this!

Gratitude To Guru Bull

Back in the meditation room for the final sitting of the day, the image of the bull came into my mind. I felt a rush of gratitude for his interruption of my familiar path towards solitary grief. Guru bull opened me up to other possibilities. 

If I’d have belligerently clung on to my original plan (to stomp up the hill and do serious and sad things on my own), I might have tried to push past the bull and either got maimed or missed out on our joyful interaction. If I’d have steadfastly believed my original plan was the ONLY way to meet my need for ritual and mourning, I might have been angered by the bull for stopping me doing my thing and marched back to The Barn in bitter disappointment, which would most likely have hung around me all day. But instead I paused, breathed, let go of my plan, dropped into my curiosity and followed the flow.

I mean, look, I don’t know what was going on for the bull; he might have been judging my every move, watching in incredulity as I flailed and span in the long grass. Perhaps he was taking mental notes to do impressions of me for his mates in the Bull Club later on, but nevertheless I enjoyed his disruption and the creativity and insight that emerged from it.

Medicine and Magic

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Prayer flags on the washing line

Thinking back to those first six weeks in my lonely bed-boat, I could never have imagined I’d be celebrating my one year deathaversary by dancing for a bull at a meditation retreat centre where I’d be living and volunteering for a year!

My grief has been my guide through this past year, it’s shown me what matters and what doesn’t. It started whispering; “I need simplicity, nature, community, structure and freedom,” a year ago, but it took me six months and a lot of support from friends, colleagues, supervisors and meditation teachers, to be able to hear it and another six months and a lot more support to completely change my life.

I’m grateful for my grief for leading me here to The Barn. It’s been three and a half weeks since I arrived and I’m already starting to experience the medicine and magic on offer. 

Watch this space for the next instalment of The Barn Diaries.

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