Following the Rules: Embodying Ourselves and the Practice by Germaine Fraser

The embodying of an art form, practice or ourselves, means a two-fold process:  learning the "rules" well, living them so they are a natural reference point, and then letting go of the rule's structure.  Only then is there a deep confidence in one's "Way" and a freedom in that Way. Only then do we become ourselves, or form art or live a practice.

I am not particularly a lover of rules.  In fact for me, it has always been a secret pleasure to bend and/or go against them.  Rules often impinge upon "individuality", a self's impulse.  They are often restrictive, even stifling.  But as in all things, there is a season, a time for everything.  So there is a time to understand and live the rules (without them absconding who You may Be).  To blindly identify and attach to rules, whether they be a religious or spiritual practice or a craft/art, is to live bound.  There comes a time when stepping beyond the structure of rules is necessary to grow oneself and one's practice up.

I am a 'personal witness' for someone in a large group Authentic Movement (AM) session.  I move first and find myself doing a lot of strong, grounding movements with my arms, legs, body.  It's as if I am filling myself with strength and courage.  I move out and my mover moves in.  I am 15 feet away from her and have the impression I should be closer.  This would be breaking the group agreement (rule) of returning to the same place for witnessing all the time, established at the beginning of the group session.  I stay where I am, but keep feeling the tug to move closer.  I finally move the 10 feet I need to be closer to her.  I "sprout" my arms, moving them into a large embrace of the space to identify my new spot to the other witnesses. They sprout their arms as well, acknowledging the change. The container feels intact.

Despite my deep love and appreciation of Authentic Movement practice, I almost always have an inner eye roll when the form's guidelines get raised in a new group.  They are practical and almost entirely safety based; why take the trouble to bring them up, we all know them.

Glenn Gould's hands, Paul Rockett photo
Well, we don't all know them in the same way. It is an assumption to think otherwise. Much like social etiquette in different families, regions and countries, the rules, customs and the understanding of AM rules can be different.  It becomes necessary when crossing boundaries and terrain to keep clear the very simple guidelines.  The reminder of them actually sets an intention for safety.  Safety is imperative in an AM setting; the depth of our work has the possibility of surfacing and showing us our otherwise submerged material.  Without safety, our protection and survival mechanisms are always in play, in at least an oblique defense, making it impossible for the more subtle expressions to reveal themselves.

As I witness my mover, I remain standing, this being somewhat irregular in the form.  The mover's process is intense and the witnessing requires a significant renewal of self-grounding on my part.  I find myself moving slightly (maintaining stillness is a norm in the practice) to what I witness.  This standing and moving is necessary for me to stay present and unattached.  I have an impression of myself being a samurai; knees are bent, feet wide apart, arms bent in front of me as if protecting my dantian, my torso, my 'home'.

 Embody:  to give a concrete form to; express, personify, or exemplify in concrete form: (to embody an idea in an allegorical painting.); to provide with a bodyincarnate; make corporeal: (to embody a spirit);  to collect into or include in a bodyorganize;incorporate; to embrace or comprise.  Merriam-Webster Dictionary

photo credit:  David Whyte
What does it mean to embody something?  M-W Dictionary says it in a cerebral way above.  Embodiment is quite the opposite of cerebral.  Embodiment is a full integration of parts; parts of an understanding we hold in varied aspects of ourselves.  Embodiment is to fully live or express something complete.  To be embodied is to be ourselves as we are meant to be in that moment.  To be a complete expression in movement, verbalization,  or visualization.  For anything to be embodied is for it to be perfectly Whole, to be exactly as it is meant to be.  This usually doesn't look or sound like what we  imagine the expression to be.  And yet, it rings absolutely true when it is expressed.  Embodiment can not be forced or created. It creates itself.  It's the timely accumulation in experiencing the suffering and joy of our material over our continuum, and the benefit of having lived the rules.

My witnessed mover has moved out of the moving space and is now witnessing.  I enter the space as a mover, running, skipping, jumping lightly, releasing any held tense material.  I circle and bend and turn and feel absolute lightness and joy.  My face feels open and ecstatic.  I become aware of another who has entered the circle.  She is following me;  it actually feels like I am being stalked.  I feel she wants a part of me.  It comes to me that this needs to be confronted.  I stop circling and stand in my samurai pose.  I am surprised at how relaxed and unafraid I feel.  The other mover doesn't hesitate to move into my body and attach.  The primary guidelines for contact in AM-- to move slowly, wait for cues that mutual engagement is desired by all parties, has not been maintained.  My samurai arms move swiftly up disengaging the mover.  I feel angry at the violation. 

I later describe this experience in the circle.  The other mover reacts and starts to justify her actions.  Before she starts to speak, I want to ask her to take three breaths before speaking so as to enter herself, the cell memory of her experience.  But I am too slow and also, this would be irregular to do this.  She is defensive, reactive, not clear in her verbalization.  She forgets or doesn't know the AM guideline to attempt to be in oneself (one's embodiment?) while talking about a movement experience, as she was in the actual movement.  She forgets or doesn't know that witnessing response to a mover is always in service to the mover not themselves as witness.  When this (difficult) effort is made, the verbalization becomes an extension of the movement experience instead of outside the movement experience.

The concepts of following the rules and being embodied seem antithetical on the surface.  But they are related, part of the same process.  We have our attitudes about words, like "rules" and "embodiment".  When these attitudes relax into an open inquiry, a word and its previously assumed meaning becomes an unknown.  It isn't attached to the attitude any longer.  I can have a different, fresh experience of it.

photo credit:  Estudio Pirata
Not living the simple guidelines/rules of AM practice agreed upon by a group of movers/witnesses, can have dire consequences; even in 'mature' and seasoned groups.  When the rules are relaxed in groups where the trust level is high amongst the members, a certain vigilance and integrity also relaxes.  Sometimes it results in a further spaciousness, an expansion of possibility.  Sometimes it leads to a 'no one being home' situation, and a drop in meta support of its members and the container's safety.  In groups that don't have a seasoned foundation, people get stepped on, bumped into, (not usually serious) injuries can ensue, as well as the obvious psychological repercussions of not being seen, felt or respected through "accident".  Unwanted contact can feel like a violation.  Unwanted, unembodied verbal witnessing in a circle cheapens the mover's experience and can feel like a violation.  Rules in the form are not arbitrary, but provide safety in a circle of movers, seasoned or not.

No matter how mature one is in a practice or art form, returning to and letting go of the rule's of the form is necessary. As one becomes more seasoned, they are a light reference point touched upon and released.  As in all rules maintained in society and elsewhere, one doesn't have to think of them, they are well established in our interior.  When this is mature in us, embodiment of a material and of ourselves is possible, in large part to the safety of the rules we have integrated over time and practice.  How do I know where I am in this way?  Our self-awareness becomes more refined with practice.  I begin to see the natural adherence and letting go of the guidelines and the oblique repercussions.  This is my maturity, my seasonedness.  This is how I know where I am in the practice.

Germaine Fraser writes her own blog at this link: IntegratedMedPhiladelphia  Thanks to Germaine for submitting to our blog this article so pertinent to our practice. 

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