Hearing about One Tribe Dance’s aspirations a few months ago, I felt inspired to contact Amara and tell her how happy I was to hear of the intention to create a platform where the conscious dance community could come together
regardless of the specifics of their particular modality. Hearing that I have spent the last five years writing a PhD on embodiment and the sacred, Amara asked me if I would write a blog on embodiment. Not long after I found the
photograph to the left here, hidden amongst some old papers. It was taken 23 years ago, on my first 5 Rhythms workshop, when I was 27. A few days later I came across the photograph underneath and was immediately struck, by both
the similarities and the differences, in evidence in the two photographs. In a way they remind me of those diet adverts I hate so much, that use before and after pictures. Except that for me, these two photographs illustrate something
about what the process of what “before and after” embodiment has involved in my life.
In the first photograph I am on my tiptoes, reaching, almost
desperately from the look on my face, for...something. To my mind, I look afraid and unconvinced that the world is a particularly safe place. Indeed, having come from a family background of domestic violence, I was holding, what I now understand to be at least several generations of unprocessed trauma within my body. I hurt – everywhere – in my body, my mind and my heart. I was also, as I believe many humans are, underneath our conditioned states, a creature of a deep sensitivity to the world (s) around me. Determined to find a way, some way, any way, to break
free of what I perceived as the strictures of mainstream culture, this was a sensitivity I sought to protect and foster, by immersing myself in the kinds of consciousness altering activities common to certain enclaves within the counter-culture. Which is another way of saying that I was “stoned” pretty much most days. While I learnt an enormous amount from what I would now refer to as teacher plants, it also seems quite clear to me that the decade I had spent consistently engaging in these sorts of activities wasn't particularly grounding for me - so much so,
that if I had to apply a one word description to the first photograph here, it would probably be escape. I look at it and I see my deep unhappiness, my desire to flee the world and my tortured relationship with my own body written all over it. The creation of the body painting hung behind me had at that point in time, tapped me into such a deep reservoir of pain that it catapulted me into an experience of rage and grief that I feared would never subside. I revisited those landscapes time and again over the coming years on the dance floors that I chose to be the ground for my transformation into what I hoped would be a happier form of embodiment. Eventually, as my body was given the opportunity to tell her stories of the suffering that had been experienced down her ancestral lines, they morphed into gifts that enabled me to begin to serve others engaged in the alchemists task of turning lead into gold.
I have no idea what you will see as you look at the two photographs shown here and of course I have no real desire to prescribe what you see, but just like those other before and after photo’s I have mentioned, I’m convinced that they
act as a good advert for what might be gained from following the conscious dancer’s take on embodiment. In the second photograph, my feet are firmly planted on the earth. I’m still reaching, so obviously there is something of a motif here and I’m aware that these days this reaching movement in my dance tends to connect me, very fast to an ecstatic relationship with what I like to refer to as Great Spirit. Gabrielle Roth is reported to have suggested that integration of our pain (or what we might otherwise call our shadow) means that what, at the beginning of our healing journey, is our neurosis, has
the potential to become our style, or some kind of recognisable signature of our unique expression. Relationship with that which lies beyond the known world
is still a very important facet of my life. These days though, it functions as a source of nurture and support for my deep engagement with the grounded reality of the here and now, everyday world, rather than as a means of escape. The piece of art depicted in the second photograph, rather than being
an expression of my pain (valid and necessary though that was at the time) was co-created with my life partner, as part of an environmental campaign to save our local estuary from the tragic fate of becoming a shopping centre.
Part of my journey with becoming embodied, here and now, in this world, has also involved really opening to all the pain
and destruction that is currently taking place in our increasingly environmentally challenged world - feeling and expressing it, in as many creative forms as I can find time for - dance, poetry, art, song and my academic work and engaging that creative process in service of all our relations. No longer seeking to escape the deep reservoirs of grief that live alongside my immense love and passion for this beautiful planet, I have discovered that the light to the shadow of suffering is ecstatic embodiment, in the present, with all the flaws, frailties and bejewelled fragilities of what it is to be fully human.
This last year my husband and I have been organising a series of fundraising land art and dance events to raise money for The Pachamama Alliance in Ecuador in their endeavours to protect and preserve both the rainforest and the traditional way of life of those who have lived there for many, many generations. This has been done under the umbrella of the annual 72 hour Long Dance organized by the School of Movement Medicine. My third long dance, this was also my most peaceful, as I had the great good fortune to experience an extended state of grace, as my mind quietened and my heart opened ever wider. I also realized that really even after 23 years of conscious dance practice I am but a beginner in my quest to be embodied. Who knows what might be possible with another 23 years practice.
Ali Young is both a published poet and academic, with book chapters in collections on
embodiment published by
Routledge, as well as a
variety of academic papers.