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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Beyond the Leaving … and What I Learned from Gil Hedley

hard cover & paperback

1. Did you know that your heart has arms and legs? It does. The heart that we see in medical shows when a surgeon is saving somebody’s life is only part of the organ. The entire heart has long tendrils like tree branches that go down each arm and each leg. Imagine how amazing it would be if you could walk down the street looking at everybody through special X-ray–vision glasses that singled out the heart!

2. Super models are freaks of nature because, according to poet/anatomist/teacher/author/ethicist/renaissance man Gil Hedley, “our bodies are not symmetrical. Not even close.” They’re full of surprises and anomalies—like the most perfectly formed little ovary that looked like a miniature brain … in an 83-year-old woman who had donated her body so that people like us could learn something and maybe wake up a little.

3. It’s a well-known fact that New York pigeons smoke—you see them poking around sidewalks filled with butts, so who else could have dropped them? And lest you judge them harshly for stinking up the environment, just take another look—really look: See that pigeon taking off for the sky, tail feathers down, beak up, effortlessly defying our human body limitations and looking like a grey angel. I know this to be true because Gil Hedley showed slides of pigeons, both pre-smoking and frozen in flight, in his recent New York City intensive (which seemed to be over in about five minutes—blink, it’s eight hours later—really) at the Cantor Film Center, where about 120 of us packed into a tiny theater and were riveted, laughing, and grateful for what was really an indescribable experience of learning who we are through a mosaic of lecture, stories, slides, little movies, art, poetry, and Gil, Gil, Gil—who, in the course of a day, managed to gently and reverentially shatter all inhibitions, shame, judgments, and biases we humans walked in with.

OK, enough about the intensive, since I can’t really describe what happened … but if you want the experience of being gently shattered, having your judgments replaced with curiosity, and maybe coming home to stand stark naked in front of a mirror to say, “Hello, I’d like to get to know you, and thank you” to your body for maybe the first time in your life, then take a look at Gil’s workshop schedule, and if he’s within driving distance, for goodness sake, drive!

What I really meant to write about when I started this blog was Gil’s new book of free verse, Beyond the Leaving. Much like the aforementioned intensive, I cannot really tell you what happens in this little book. It’s only 86 pages, but it took me a month to read them. Why? Because they, too, reverentially shatter, move, take your breath away. Unlike Gil’s last book, Coming Into Form, which sometimes echoes of Rumi, Beyond the Leaving has no models. Like his workshop, it doesn’t copy anybody, doesn’t sound like anybody else, but is a spontaneous flow from this particular heart with arms and legs named Gil Hedley. It is the product of somebody who has investigated the heart, the body, life, and death and found that there are no separations between any of these things.

If you can’t get to a workshop, if you don’t want to investigate who you are by seeing into another’s dead body, if this whole thing is just not your thing or too hard or … whatever, then just read this. (Take it away, Gil):

Your body
is a holy book,
a scripture~

the pages
of your flesh
are marked
in exquisite detail
with the finest hand,

inscribed by spirit
with the poetry
of love,
lessons of mercy,
angelic hosts,

and the story
of your life
perfectly told,

an illuminated manuscript
of a sacred writing
epic in scope,
and grace.

Every hair
on your head
and line on your face,
every rushing tide
of wind and wave
moving you
from within
this living testament
bear witness
to the truth
within you~

Study this text
with conviction then,
reflect with care
upon its meaning,
and enjoy
the divine

—Gil Hedley, Beyond the Leaving





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