The Gil Hedley Experience


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Last Monday morning I picked up a scalpel for the first time since seventh grade biology class and made a tentative incision.  Six days later at 3:00 in the afternoon I saw a brain that had been meticulously dissected with the spinal cord intact.  I touched the bundle of nerves in our lower back we call Cauda Equina and watched as the white filament in the middle of it all – the filum terminale – was teased into view.  It was like looking into the center of universe.  It was the Source.  It was what I came to see.

When we meet our cadaver for the first time we begin by lifting a fitted rubber sheet.  This exposes her form, covered in layers of white gauze.  Each layer of the shroud is a long veil.

As the days progress we continue to remove layers. Skin, fat, tissue, viscera, bone, brain.  Each layer is another beautiful veil and each time a layer is eased away, a new secret is revealed.

And as the veils on our form are drawn back, so our own veils are, too.  How we perceive, our beliefs, our longing, our pain – it all floats to the surface, is taken up and the next layer revealed.

Gil Hedley is an unconventional teacher.  For six days we did clinical work, named muscles, found ligaments, traced nerve paths and looked inside the brain.  And while we were doing that, we were listening, too.

On death:

“We are walking in the land of taboo.”

On life:

“We resist the life that we’re given.”

On the body:

“The spine is a string.  It’s not an instrument of compression but an instrument of levity.”

“We don’t need to choose between the heart and brain.  The body is the shape of the heart.  The body is the shape of the brain.  And they’re braided together.”

“How do we feel about the body?  Sometimes we feel we’re a victim of the body.  Sometimes we’re taught to be disgusted by the body.  Sometimes we’re taught to love the body.”

“Instead of thinking ‘look at the body I’ve been given’ why don’t we think ‘look at the body I’ve chosen’.  And aren’t some folks incredibly brave and courageous for making the choices they make?”

On learning and teaching:

“If you’re afraid of making a mistake – of hitting the ball into the net – put down the tennis racket and don’t play.”

“You attract a different crowd of people by being vague.”

“Will you dare to embrace your power?  Dance through all your layers.  Is your heart free to dance?”

So today, after everything I’ve seen this past week, it’s time to ask myself:

“Is my heart free to dance?”

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