Ian Carrick referred Tiffani to participate here after having met her at an ecstatic dance event. I’ve yet to personally experience ecstatic dance in any kind of structured setting, but I can say I have had some really wonderful times while dancing and have come away from them with a feeling that could probably best be described as ecstatic. Tiffani is now the third participant of this project who has mentioned ecstatic dance with great praise, so I might just have to try it one of these days. Anyway, it was so wonderful to meet Tiffani. We had a very warm and sincere conversation and I am so happy to be able to share it with you here. She and her dog, Banjo, and cat , Wiggin, all made me feel very welcome in their home. I spotted Tiffani out and about in town a couple of weeks after our interview and walked up to her to say hello. It warms my heart to recognize a new friend after having newly met and I always wonder how many times we might have unknowingly crossed paths previously.
ACT: Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
TBH: I'm a lot of things. My name's Tiffani Barnum-Hess. And I'm a dancer. I'm a coach. I'm a healer. I'm unapologetically - these days - me, which has been a journey and is continuing to be a journey and a process of just rediscovering who I am. And moving to Bend two years ago has been a huge part of that. Leaving my corporate job with no plan and then moving to this town and having a period of total isolation - not knowing anyone - and then, really, just finding dance, finding community, letting go of all these old stories about how life should be, what it means to be married, what it means to work, you know, the achievement (laughs) journey of college, marriage, job, kids, house - really just clearing all that away to really figure out who I am. And really just embodying love as much as possible - for myself even when I suck (laughs) and for everyone else even when it feels like they suck. And finding that compassion and trying to hold that in all interactions.
I mean, you talk to people a lot. I've probably coached thousands of students in my time. And I talk to people every where I go. People come up to me - grocery store, I could be on top of a mountain - and so people come and share their stories with me and I feel like I attract that. And so, I feel like part of who I am is to shine my light as much as possible so that hopefully others can do that, too.
ACT: Did you start to take that course later in life or have you always felt that light and wanted to be that for everybody?
TBH: I feel like it kinda was always there. I grew up with a lot of chaos and was always handling the things - helping at even a very young age - and I didn't really know what it meant to shine light in that way. It was just like, There's something happening - somebody needs to take care of it. The adults aren't doing it. I guess I'll do it. And then it was probably... when I was 15 I actually moved away from home - I was raised by my grandparents and then went to live with my great aunt and uncle 'cause I wasn't doing well and I knew I had to leave or I might not exist - and started to find the light. 'Cause growing up in a lot of darkness and just being seen for who I was, being seen for some value that I could provide to the world outside of just trying to survive. Since then is probably when it sparked that kind of first awakening, I guess, if that's what we call that (laughs). Whether it was a spiritual awakening or not, at 15 it was just a very strong call to go and do something and really get there - wherever there was.
That's a lot of what my private coaching is - or has evolved to - is a more spiritual-based - not in any prescribed way - but in a more holistic way. And then it's through that lens that I try to get into my alignment and figure out what feels good and take action from there instead of reacting all the time like I feel so many of us do in traffic (laughs) - like we were talking about. When you're angry or upset, you're gonna react to things in a very different way than if... continually coming back to I am a being. I'm a spiritual being. So is everyone else. Whatever beliefs are, we are these beings and love or fear is what we can do, I'm gonna try and choose love as much as possible. And when fear comes up, hold it, recognize it, not push it away, and love it, too, until I can get back to that state.
ACT: I've been asking a few different version of these questions and through the course of the project, I've come to decide - for now, this could change - that while the point of this, in some capacity, is to put out some positive news into the world, I don't think it all has to be all bright and shiny and I'm beginning to realize that some of our pain is what we have in common and what we do with that pain. So, in that vein, what is it about this life or society or how we get along or the world that concerns you or what makes you sad or breaks your heart? But what motivates you to do something about it, too?
TBH: Hmmm, I think the things that break my heart and just, you know, right to the gut are just when I see people struggling with the pain. I mean, I've certainly been there. And I'm not happy shiny all the time, in fact. Pretty realistic (laughs) when it comes to, yeah, sometimes things suck. Doesn't mean I'm any less valuable or worthy than anyone else and I think that's been my, Man! Things can really be shitty! I can also be really shitty. I'm married and there's stuff that happens. And so what breaks my heart is when people don't actually believe that there's more or that they're worthy. And watching people just kind of struggle and spiral in that pain without allowing themselves to break open. Like, there's heart breaking, but heart breaking open. I feel like the cracks are where the light gets in. There's a quote about that and I feel like that's true.
And in my moments of heartbreak, if I'm paying attention, if I allow it to just break me wide open, then that's where the light is. And so, that motivates me and the work that I do from the students I work with on sometimes a more surface level, but also my clients with a more deep, This is what I want to do. I want to change my life. Or even at dance, you know, it's all about finding out how to do your own dance and what that means. And how to allow and have compassion for others who are doing that, too, even if you might not agree or whatever they're doing is triggering what we're doing or whatever - it's all part of the journey and we're in it together. And I think where we get stuck - and I know I am guilty of this - is the judgment around it.
Judgment of self is usually what's at the core of it. Where you're like, What's that guy doing in the car? Why did he cut me off? And we've all cut people off 'cause we're like, Shoot, I gotta get over here! In the moment when it feels like something's being done to us, I mean, it's really not. That's not always where we want to go. Sometimes we really want to be angry (laughs) and feel really good about that. And that's beautiful, too. But also just being mindful of like, Oh, this is happening for me. For me. Not to me. At least that's my perspective. It's always happening for me. Do I want to engage with that or do I just want to be angry about it today? This week? I usually like to think that I get past things a little faster, but you know, it doesn't always work that way (laughs).
ACT: What do we mean to each other on an individual to individual basis?
TBH: Hmmmm. I think it's such a beautiful opportunity to connect in such a specific way. You know, we run into people all the time, casually or our friends and family, but this is really cool. I felt really honored when Ian had referred me to you to do this because I love talking to people even though I'm very much an introverted person. Just the connection that we can make is like there's this human here and we're having this moment. You've met my dog. We're now connected. My cat might drool on you at some point. And I feel really honored to invite people into my home, which I don't do as much as I used to because I just have small space.
And so I think this is a moment in time where we can take from it what makes sense and go off onto our next step, whether we never speak again or not. Something my grandfather used to say all the time is that we're made up of all the people that we've ever met. Whether just a quick, Hey cashier, here's my money or deeper relationships - however short or long they are - and I find that to be true. I'll be thinking about this probably for the rest of my life, maybe not every day. But the little impacts and seeds that we plant in our connections and interactions, I think, is what this is all about.
ACT: What does it mean to you to be part of community in this life - whatever it is - with all these different people and all these different opinions?
TBH: We're always in community whether we want to engage in it or not. I mean, I don't believe we're meant to live very isolated even though that's kind of what a lot of our society has created - is this separation - and fed into that separation wound that we aren't connected. I truly believe that we all are. I am still connected to folks that I met 20 years ago that I might talk to once a year, but they're still part of my community. And having been in Bend for the last couple years, with the kind of community I've created here physically, it's been a really different experience. My family, growing up, it was a lot of like, For the family even when things are hard. And even when you're mad, you still come together to do the work or have the celebration. There's something really beautiful about that. To be able to come together for whatever's being called for - whether it's support of a particular person or a cause or to celebrate.
I mean, dance every week is that; it's a celebration of everyone in that room. And it's not always the same people; we have new people coming in and out all the time. And it's a container for anyone - it's not always for everyone, but it's for anyone - to show up and be exactly who they are. And to be held and seen. It's not all about happiness. Ecstatic dance, I think sometimes people feel like it's got to be joyful all the time, but I've cried my face off - just whatever had come up and I'm there. And so I think community is about that. About people coming together despite differences. And because of differences. I don't always agree with what all these folks that I work with so closely and hang out so closely are doing or saying, but I still care about them and can still hold them in compassion. Without judgment, most of the time (laughs). And knowing that any time I feel judgment, there's something here (points to self) that wants to be examined, that I'm probably judging. And so, community's all about support and also the mirroring and the healing that we can do since I think we really are all connected - more than we'd like to believe.
ACT: Do you have a sense of purpose or some sort of compulsion to live with intention?
TBH: I do. I don't know exactly what that is all the time, but I feel like that was present as a child. It was like, There's something here that I'm supposed to do. And I think it's a question I've started asking almost daily, like, What am I being called to do today? How may I be in service of the highest good today? Sometimes that answer is to take a bath and stay home. Sometimes that answer is go do this thing. Every once in a while it's like go to this random place that you would never go and show up and run into somebody you didn't know you were gonna run into and have this beautiful connection.
I don't know if there's a specific purpose other than just showing up as whoever I am on any given day and kind of surrendering a little bit to the universe or whatever cosmic flying spaghetti monster is controlling things or not. But just asking the question and following what feels true. I've really tried to fine-tune that sense of - is this in align... does this fill the call? Or is it from a place of love versus obligation? And I've learned that if I'm doing things because I feel like I have to or there's someone telling me that I should, then it's... yeah I just feel like it's an obligation. There's a difference there. And that's heavy and it doesn't feel good to me. And it rarely feels good to the person that I'm trying to do it for or with or whatever. And so I think that purpose is to just show up in my full self (laughs) - whatever that looks like.
ACT: That's great. It seems like the busyness that seems to be so popular these days is potentially getting in the way of people being their best self. I wonder sometimes if people are so sure of their purpose that they're willing to sacrifice all of that time spent exploring what it might be.
TBH: Yeah. I agree with that. I've been there. I'm so busy. I don't have time to blah, blah, blah - text my mom or whatever. It's a story we tell, I think, to distract from the deeper stuff - whatever that is - the emotional work or connection, which can be really scary 'cause there's also sometimes hurt and pain and heartbreak that's come from that for probably all of us. But the busyness is really, I think, a story we like to tell to feel like we're doing something when I feel like the greater purpose is being more than doing. But doing makes us feel productive and accomplished.
ACT: Somebody asked me a few interviews ago and I really appreciated it - it was a question I was contemplating inserting - what makes you feel alive?
TBH: I don't know if there's anything specific. Certainly, for me, being in service of some way - and I don't mean sacrificing my own needs and desires to serve others or a greater purpose or whatever - but that sense that I've done exactly... whatever cosmic plan is happening, that I showed up and I did it. And I think an example of this, as we're cleaning the house and doing stuff this weekend, I had this call to go clean up the back yard and picking up poop, which I never want to do. It's the last thing I ever want to do. But I was like, Great, we'll go do it. And Adam never usually does that stuff with me, but he was out there and we were chatting and all of a sudden, this car pulls up and a guy jumps out and says, Call 9-1-1! And he had a woman in the car who was unresponsive. He thought she'd maybe had a seizure and they were on their way to the hospital, but she had become unresponsive, so he saw us just standing in our yard, pulled over.
And the aliveness that comes from that... yes, I was helpful, I did a good thing. I'm also well-trained in crisis and things like that so he couldn't have picked a better couple to be standing outside picking up poop (laughs) to pull over and say, Can you help? We did the thing and they went off to the hospital. I think it's kind of, for me, being alive is being present. I could have stayed in the house and watched more TV or a thousand other things, but to be really present and tuned-in to, I don't know, I'm gonna follow this nudge. The presence and clearing away the clutter and the stories and the shoulds and the supposed to's to just say, Yup, this is what I'm doing today and being okay with changing the plan, too.
ACT: Do you have anything you'd like to ask me?
TBH: It's kinda funny, I'm usually doing a lot of the question-asking with the coaching. So, it's nice to have that switch on occasion (laughs). I'm curious what your takeaways have been for you - just your own personal takeaway.
ACT: It changes. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes it feels lonesome. To undertake a project like this alone comes with a lot of alone time and a lot of introspection, right, which can become tiresome. And I can lose sight of lots of things. Sometimes I'm not really sure what I'm doing. Or why. Or for who. So, it means all of those things. Which means, beyond that, resilience and my own strength and what I can tolerate and put up with in hopes that even though I can't always understand what it might be, there's some reason for this or some reward. Whatever that means.
And it is building the case for human decency. And so, what I hope is that that will become more and more obvious to people that come across the project. For other people that get down or for other people that are frustrated or for other people that have a hard time seeing past the fog - that we all, I think, do care. And I don't know what it is that gets in the way of that so often, but this definitely helps me understand that we all share a general concern for one another or for our existence as a species or insert some good thing. And depending on the day, you know, that's more or less accessible to me.
TBH: Yeah, I would agree. I think at the end of the day everyone has a level of care about the world and I think some of us get really lost or get used to hiding behind or we're all, really, these beings with a lot of wounds and stories from our childhood or past lives or whatever - if that's something you believe in - and we carry those forward. And hurt people hurt. When we feel scared or rejected or hurt, we don't often react very well to other things. And some people never stop to take the deeper look and just continue to react and say, Well, you did this to me. And I'm a victim and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. We can take a look at Trump - he's a severely wounded little boy who's never learned or never been told - probably by many people, given his status - Man, I'm sorry that you're just such a hurt little kid. And it's a choice. We always have a choice.
ACT: Yeah, I've been thinking about something a lot lately about the worst of humanity's behaviors. If the perpetrators of those… if doing that thing resonates with them - if it feels in line with them. If overt acts of racism or sex trafficking or murder - all the things that we tend to hear quite a lot about - it seems to me like it's some kind of a farce. It's definitely gone too far. It can't feel good. I'm kind of exploring what it means to that person and why they do it. Because I don't know that it can feel good. And then why do we do it? If I could really tackle the issue, that's what I would be interested to learn. Why are you so stuck and committed to this idea of hate when it can't make you feel good?
TBH: Yeah. I think a lot of us don't know what feeling good actually means. So there's this distorted perception of what that is. Usually it's not good in that true sense, but in that maybe you feel more powerful or better than or whatever. That's kind of a theory I've been playing with. Not that I've done any heinous crimes, but even when I'm a total jerk to my husband I'm like, God, what was I thinking? That felt terrible. In the moment it's like, Yeah! And then you're like, Oh, no (laughs). And we've all done and said things, but in certainly the more extreme cases, where that comes from. Yeah.
ACT: Do you have anything to say in closing?
TBH: I mean, this is great. I really love this idea and the project and when I learned about it, I got on there and started reading and listening - even folks that I know fairly well and definitely folks I didn't know. As someone who does similar things, even though I'm talking to students most of my day... I'm also asking those questions from a place of curiosity because it's not often that we get to without seeming nosy or judgy or whatever. So I really appreciate what you're doing as a whole in the community and curious to see what comes from this. I think it's such a cool experience. I mean it, I feel really honored to be part of this with you for whatever this will do. I'm glad to have made this connection and see what else might come from it.