What is a Living Sage?

This Blog Post was written by Beth Waddell at my request. I am so inspired and encouraged by this woman, that when I met her, I asked her to write her story for you, my readers, because I felt she would have many enlightened insights and there could be possible lessons to be learned just from what little I knew of her experience. I honestly had no idea how deep her story went. So here it is:

Summer of 2008 I discovered Nia. From the moment I “stepped in” I felt the connection. Danielle Eastman became my Nia mentor that summer, eventually inspiring me to take my White Belt and Green Belt.  I found that Nia aided me in my continued healing following the loss of my husband. In August 2005 Rob was a vital 55-year-old psychologist at the peak of his academic career. He went in for a “ simple outpatient “, same-day sinus surgery and was declared dead 12 hours later. A surgeon’s “oops” changed my life forever.

Prior to Rob’s death I had envisioned closing my 20-year private psychology practice and had begun work toward a coaching credential. Positive psychology was much more to my liking than traditional pathology-focused psychology. I wanted to work with what was right in people, with their strengths, rather than focus on the deficits. So, following Rob’s death I closed my practice and began Phoenix Rising Coaching, working especially with widows coping with the loss of their partners. I began presenting at Widows’ conferences about thriving after loss. All the while attending to my body through Nia.

Through all these changes, Nia remained central to my own journey. Nia lead me on a path of physical, emotional, and psychological healing. Having been a dancer growing up and in college, I always found that dance was a way to connect--with others, with myself, with a cosmos that seemingly designed us to move in the ways Nia helps us move. But having two children and working on my PhD in psychology and then building a practice, the only “dance” I had done for a long time was step aerobics. I shudder even to call that dance.

For a long time, my dream has been to open a studio/workshop place to offer coaching groups, movement-focused classes, and other life-affirming activities related to positive psychology. I never had quite the right space I wanted, and couldn’t find space locally that felt right. I decided to transform an outbuilding on our property into a workshop space. We cleared out mountains of debris from decades of accumulation, and slowly the space came together. The interior is clean and simple, suited for dance as well as for programs that can help people engage their own strengths in service of their own well being.

The name Living Sage came to me in a semi-awake state. The notion of burning off bad energy to make space for good energy with sage has long been a ritual in our home. When the girls were little, we would sage the house during periods of emotional house cleaning—a practice and an attitude we embraced while also ringing bells and inviting in good juju.

Our contractor broke ground on the studio in May of 2012 in the hope of opening in August 2012.  Bill, the love of my life and I spent evenings visioning the space and the work I would do there and the work we would do there together. It was time for my yearly mammogram in July, so I went and did the yearly deed and quickly forgot about it.

We made a trip to Esalen and the vision became even clearer. While I Esalen we solidified plans for a burning pit and were anxious to get back home and dig in.

Having been in theatre I always loved call backs, but that fateful July day I got a call back from the local hospital for a do over mammogram. That was one call back I didn’t look forward to. But, for 20 of my 61 years mammograms were a yearly routine so I assumed nothing big could be going on.

Getting to the truth took a couple of weeks. The upshot: breast cancer. I had thought that after Rob died I had a karmic pass for the remaining years of my life. Wrong. So, in August of 2012 I had three lumpectomies, but the doc could never get the appropriate margins. My only option: mastectomy.  In August I decided: double mastectomy time and doing breast-conserving reconstruction, which I did in October of 2012. Recovery and reconstruction occupied the next 9 months.


I firmly believe in the Barbara Frederickson research which asserts for every negative encounter/emotion one needs 3 positives to counterbalance it. The more positivity a person can bank the easier it is to flow with the shit life invariably sends you. So, following Rob's death I worked long and hard to increase my positives, rid my life of toxic folks, and listen to my intuition.

When first diagnosed with DCIS breast cancer I did two things: became an information hound and told my story. I have always adhered to the idea that we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. And, given I was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn't afford to get sicker, so I essentially told everyone who would listen about my breast cancer. I plastered my story on facebook, I started a Caring Bridge blog, all with the hope that other people might benefit from my story. I somehow believed that because I got yearly mammograms I would never get breast cancer. Crazy thinking, yup. So, i decided to take the negative and turn it into a positive my life became a public service announcement. Payoff ? The number of women who sent me notes or called saying they had just gotten their first mammograms. Or, a woman calling saying she had been diagnosed with DCIS 5 years previously and instead of opting for recommended treatment, she chose to do 5 years of coffee enemas. She was calling me to say that the coffee enemas were not effective and now had an invasive form of breast cancer. I kinda became to go to girl and I liked that. It made my situation meaningful in a good way.

I also scoured the internet for useful information. My main source was BreastCancer.org. What a great service that group provides. I stuck with that group and learned tons of stuff. I was ready for what happened. I also called the local radiologist to ask questions about my biopsies. I asked anyone and everyone who seemed credible and I got my questions answered. I attended two breast cancer support groups, but those groups were not for me. I did not want to be a cancer survivor. i did not want that as part of my identity. I knew this situation was a temporary glitch on my Life Screen. I hated pink. I hated all the pinkwashing. I was disgusted with the politics of the Susan B Komen Foundation. I wanted a tee shirt that said, " Yes, they're fake...my real ones tried to kill me." Several people ran the Race for the Cure in my name and I was deeply touched, however I knew that was an event I personally would not endorse.

I had my mastectomy in October, Breast Cancer Month, and was a thorn in the side of store owners who sold pink ware. I would ask what portion of that pink item really went to breast cancer research and was greeted by folks who just didn't seem to know. Yup, my rebel side go to act out quite a bit last October. And, I think that Rebel part made coping with this chapter in my life much easier. I was focused like a laser on taking care of business and taking no prisoners.

I choose to travel to Seattle for my treatment. I view myself as fortunate that I only had to have a mechanical intervention and not go through chemo or radiation. My treatment team were all women and 3 out of 4 of the women were women of color. In fact, my plastic surgeon who did the breast reconstruction was also a survivor of breast cancer. And, my breast surgeon was a Reiki master. I never tried to micro manage any piece of the medical aspect I had complete an utter faith in my Woman Power team.

So, my advice to all who will listen...stay focused, get information, be bold and demanding and don't settle for any bullshit.

The most frustrating part of the ordeal was not being able to really dance. My plastic surgeon wanted me to walk. Nothing more.  My body missed the healing properties of Nia. I missed moving. I missed feeling healthy.I missed my body. I was not at home in this new body.

Facebook became a real connection to me and I love reading the posts by my Nia colleagues. Jason’s insights and perspectives on life always made me smile. One night around midnight while investigating breast cancer I messaged Jason and he responded quickly and compassionately. I liked him immediately.

The first time I returned to Nia following my surgery was with Kristine Zakarisian. Toward the middle of the dance, I started shedding tears. I was relieved the studio did not have any mirrors, but all my fellow Nia dancers “knew” my pain. After that class, Kristine and I embraced and with the others we laughed and cried together. Ah, Nia.

In the meantime, of course, the studio was being finished--Living Sage Studio was now a physical reality, a lovely space complete with suspended floor, projection screen, and sound system. Was I really going to do this ? I mean I am 62 years old had breast cancer and reconstructive surgery in October 2012...and now this ? Am I in too deep, am I a fool to think my body will ever come back ?

I had long ago decided that The Living Sage Studio would be a place for people of all ages who want to connect with their bodies, minds and souls. My plan was and continues to be to reach out to invisible women ( post 40 year olds ), women in what I like to think of as the prime of age and wisdom who are interested in fitness as one path to greater well being. However, in this university town of hard bodies there are few safe places for them to reconnect with their bodies. I am hoping Living Sage will be a sanctuary for them.

Jason’s Rockin’ Nia tour fit into my life plan beautifully. I was pondering the best way to begin programming in the studio, and what better inauguration than Nia--the original inspiration for starting down this path ? Jason had messaged me about meeting and hoping to do his Nia class in Pullman. July 3rd is typically slow season in Pullman, WA, so when the two premiere studios in town opted not to have classes that day, I jumped at the chance to have Jason, a sweet sweet talented soul, come and break ground.

And break ground he did. He “got” who his dancers were. He laughed, smiled, and cajoled us all into being in our bodies and honoring ourselves. He reminded us to dance our bodies way while  inviting us with his own dancing eyes to move...move...move.

Who knew Living Sage Studio would open on that day, when I’d long planned a Fall opening? Twelve dancers and River, Jason’s wonderful dog, spent a delightful and energizing hour and a half dancing, laughing, and celebrating ourselves and this new beginning. So thanks, Jason, for some great timing. Living Sage is off to a terrific start. And thanks for letting us all experience our Jason man-crush.

Thank you, Beth, for such amazing, open and honest sharing. I hope your story helps inspire many people to live life playing a positive and active role in its outcome. By your very life right now, you can show others the wisdom you have earned. You are a living sage. 

Click here to check out Beth's blog


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