Belonging to Life
A Reflection on Movement and Meditation
Throughout my life I have been drawn to contemplation, meditation and movement. As a child, my love of movement carried me into the world of dance, where I have developed and worked as a dancer and choreographer for many decades. If you had met me as a five year old child, and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have responded with full confidence that I planned on being a dancer and a nurse. I never became a nurse. However, a fundamental interest in healing, and serving the larger world shaped and guided my journey over the years. I also learned to love the natural world, and the animal world from my parents who were both from farming families. I continue to believe that this connection to nature has served as a foundation for the somatic inquiries in which I have been engaged.
Despite the many gifts of my childhood, another powerful shaping force in my life was paradoxically the feeling that I really didn’t belong anywhere. I was a highly sensitive child who felt and expressed emotions deeply. I grew up with loving and well-meaning parents who did not have the emotional resources to respond to the depth of my feeling. The result of not being met emotionally was that I struggled with feeling abandoned and unrecognized. I spent many hours in an interior world of imagination, realms of light, prayer, and long conversations with the understanding community of stuffed animals on my bed. For years, I felt great secret anguish behind my very accomplished, public, outgoing persona.
I now value the wisdom of that child and her early choices. I see how my interior struggle was a guiding force for future learning. I eventually found my way into different therapy situations, and I have continued a life-long interest in the field of psychology. I met the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, and the Sufi Order of the West, where I felt an attunement to the perspectives and philosophy of that mystical path. I also had the blessing twenty-five years ago of meeting Emilie Conrad, founder of the somatic practice Continuum Movement. Continuum forever changed my understanding of embodiment, movement, and how we all intimately belong to life.
I am sharing a small part of my personal story to begin this reflection, because the silent worlds of movement and meditation are subjectively experienced. What follows is an offering from my experience.
When I began meditation, I considered it to be a refuge of complete stillness and release of thought: a place of rest where we would allow our spirit to leave the prison of our bodies and flow freely into higher realms of light and consciousness. I had many moments in my youthful meditating life when I wished I could just let go of the struggle of this physical life, and solely live in the magnificent realms of light I experienced. My problem was that I also loved the joy and physicality of dancing where I felt myself in total communion with the music. This was a passion that propelled my life, and I believe it often saved my life. I felt totally empowered when I was dancing. I considered the movement of my body to be an external activity that I was in absolute control of directing: such as the combinations of steps I did as a dancer, walking across the floor, stretching, lifting an object, or standing up and sitting down. That mastery was an important resource of self-confidence and identity in my early years.
As the years went by, I began to wonder how I could bring these two worlds together. I wondered how my dancing could reflect the realms of light and beauty I experienced in meditation. In meditation, I began to wonder how my body could go with me into those expanded states of consciousness. It was through meeting the somatic practice of Continuum Movement, that I began to learn my way into these questions.
Continuum offers a completely different understanding of the body than what Western Culture believes a body to be. It was world changing for me to consider that the body is an expression of an ancient unfolding planetary process, comprised of approximately 70% water that is in constant motion, instead of a solid stable form. I learned that water is liquid crystalline. Every cell in the body is made of this sensitive pulsing substance capable of receiving and transmitting information. Core teachings from many wisdom traditions, and the scientific world all emphasize that life is a process of constant change. I resonated with that idea, but I never fully grasped its significance. I needed the experience of life as movement for that truth to metabolize and grow within me.
When I speak of movement now, I am speaking about a primary movement of life. Most of us understand that any living system needs water to survive. However, we often overlook the fact that the movement of water itself has shaped all life forms: from our development in the fluid environment of our mother’s womb, to the arcing shapes of trees, meandering rivers, curved stones, unfurling plants, and the wavelike landscape of mountains. Western culture tends to emphasize static form and facts. The perspective of Continuum is that all form is the result of movement. The entire living universe is a process of fluid movement.
An important principle of fluid systems is that they function in resonance or immediate communication with all other fluid systems. A characteristic of fluid movement is that it is radiant, spreading out and connecting, as rivers move toward the sea. My blood, my tears, my breath and my pulsing organs are in a dynamic exchange with all other living processes. As I have developed greater awareness of the sensory communication of my body, I have learned a new story of how I deeply belong to life. As an integral part of the fabric of life, I now understand my body as a portal to the larger universe from which I am not separate, and to which I deeply and intimately belong. The angst of my early childhood story began to shift as I experienced the ever-present touch and response of the living universe.
With the perspective of all life as moving vibration, we can explore a continuum of consciousness from the physical world into the subtle movements, textures and vibrations of the invisible world. Conceptually, it was much easier for me in my early years to accept the idea of spirit and energy moving into form, rather than to accept that we might also follow the path from the denser more visible configurations of our bodies to the finer realms of energy and vibration. I have learned a new reverence for my body and its miraculous intelligence and capacity to serve multiple functions as I have explored a path of conscious embodiment. I have come to consider my entire being, including my thinking capacity, to be a sensitive, intelligent, perceiving world of movement intimately and dynamically engaged with the larger universe.
Movement and meditation are practices in which we make ourselves available to life as it unfolds in the present moment. We enter a much broader field of engagement than the limits of thought and personal preferences. Both contemplative inquiries are creative endeavors that require courage, discipline, and a radical choice to be with the tempo of a process that moves much slower than the acceleration of our culture. We step outside the familiar context of daily life in order to gain a deeper and expanded view of our lives where we may encounter what is unfamiliar and unexpected. We have the opportunity to re-familiarize ourselves with the subtle textures and sensory language of the natural world, which is the first language we mastered as infants. Impulses of new and unexpected forms may begin to move into our awareness through sensations, feelings, intuition, or inspirations of new possibilities for our lives.
The perspective of the body’s role as an essential aspect of our intelligence is not always held as a value in western culture. Many people find it difficult to engage in somatic practices. It is much easier to engage in physical activities that have external goals to achieve or skills to master: activities in which we feel in control and capable of directing all actions. After years of exploring movement, I have come to think of the body as a living library of a person’s entire lifetime. The highly sensitive, responsive capability of liquid crystalline substance within us carries the memories and imprint of all our experiences. It is inevitable if we embark upon the path of embodied inquiry, that we will need resources in order to meet what emerges from within. I have found that many people are frightened of movement practices, as so many memories of pain and struggle reside in the body. The body becomes a landscape of fear instead of possibility.
As infants, we felt things throughout our entire bodies. If we were hungry, our entire body would cry out in distress. There was not the differentiation or development of consciousness to know that we were hungry and that our caregiver would be there in the near future to feed us. Every cell in our infant body would express the total global distress of the moment. There is not a developed sense of self in an infant. All conscious relationship requires a level of differentiation in order for the space of relationship to be possible. The extraordinary gift of our human consciousness is that we have the opportunity to be self-aware and in relationship with ourselves. The hyper-sensitive and brilliant awareness of the infant still exists within our adult bodies. As we grow in awareness of our embodiment, we gain the differentiated ground and spaciousness needed to be in relationship with that core sensitivity. We can learn how to encompass and value our vulnerability as an attribute rather than a weakness. I have found this journey of exploring movement and meditation to be a path in which I have grown in compassion for both myself and the larger world.
As a dancer, I have learned that if I want to leap into the air, I must first lower myself to the earth in order to gather my strength to push off the earth and rise up into the air. To rise up, I need ground. The two directions are in relationship with each other. I see the partnership of contemplative movement inquiry and meditation in a similar way: as we cultivate more sensory awareness, it is as if we grow a bigger container and broader field through which to receive and engage expanded dimensions of life. A larger sensation-body supports us in meeting the more subtle realms of consciousness.
The practice of movement and meditation is an unfolding path of discovery. We are never abandoned by the movement of life. To perceive all existence as movement is a very hopeful endeavor, as new possibilities endlessly emerge. The richness of what we are privileged to experience in life is boundless…...