Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.
Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi ,13th century
I had in mind for this month’s blog-post, some further reflections on the connections between movement and emotion, but instead I’m going to let you into one of my not-so-very-well-kept secrets: my greatest talent has always been the unerring ability to make things a lot more difficult than they need to be! If there is a field such as the one Rumi describes in the poem above, and I hope there is, I would probably find the only tangle of briar in it and work myself into its thorny centre. Now there are benefits to my approach, I’ll concede; there’s a particular joy and satisfaction in unravelling a knot, or, teasing out a puzzle. Yet, in the last weeks teaching Awareness Through Movement, I’ve been reminded of another way, the path of least effort and the way of ease.
In class some time in the last weeks, we worked with an Awareness Through Movement lesson that is sometimes known by the title “reaching like a skeleton”. It was one, amongst the first groups of lessons taught on my training, and I have vivid memories of watching my class-mates reaching out in different directions with their arms and having their apparently fluid skeletons follow in the trajectory of their reaching. I also have vivid memories of my own felt sense of effort, a feeling of resistance, especially in my chest and belly, a feeling of being stuck or weighted in place by something terribly heavy. Perhaps you’ve guessed? I was trying too hard!
Reaching like a skeleton is on the one hand an artifice. Of course our bones are swaddled in muscle, nerve, ligamentous and fascial tissue and beneath the dome of our cranial bones there is a brain housing an intricate sensory-motor centre that is busy co-ordinating the movement of all these systems together. On the other hand, the image of the skeleton and how it might reach given the natural physics of a situation, provides us with a metaphor of how we might move if we were unhampered by any of the muscular habits of holding or protecting that we may have picked up in our encounters with our life-worlds. Metaphors and imagination are critical for we human-beings in our attempts to make sense of the world and our place in it. In Metaphors We Live By (Johnson & Lakoff, 1980), Mark Johnson and George Lakoff argue at length that metaphors play an extensive role in the way we function in the world, the way we conceptualise the world and the way we act in the world. For Johnson and Lakoff, there are certain kinds of metaphors that are capable of giving us new understandings of our experiences. I like to call these “metaphors that matter”. Reaching like a skeleton is potentially one of these metaphors, because it invites us into an experience of the weight and shape of our bones and the manner in which they respond to the gravitational force that pours through the skeleton as the arm reaches.
What is needed in order to begin to feel these kinds of experiences in ourselves? The answer is surely not the same for everyone. For some, it is enough to work with the image. For others, carrying through themselves the question of how to do less and where to do less is the task at hand. As with every Awareness Through Movement lesson, this is the process of slowing down and scanning through the entire self with a kind eye for the places in our being that need some softness. One of my students found that what helped her most was to imagine another person, taking her hand and supporting her in her reaching. For myself, back in those training days, what helped most (besides remembering to breathe) was tidying away my impatience and ushering in the unfamiliar figure of patience. Impatience had been giving me a hard time, telling me to hurry up and get it right, telling me to work harder against the parts of myself not yet ready to be involved. Patience opened up a space for something different. With its alternative relationship to time, patience had enough of those precious hourglass particles to take its time in listening to those parts of myself that seemed so unwilling to yield to gravity. Patience changed my pacing entirely; overseeing my making of movements small enough to be able to sense my weight shifting across my mat, without setting off any of my inner alarm bells.
The paradox of “reaching like a skeleton”, for me at least, is that although it seems simple, it is not easy. The contrary is also true, even when it seems easy, it is not simple. Movements in an Awareness Through Movement Lesson mirror life in this way. We can direct our awareness to sift out the fine details that are involved in an apparently easy movement or an effortful movement. Even without the details however, experiences of ease in movement are well beloved of the brain that seeks always to select the most efficient ways of self-functioning in the world, so that it can save its energy for other concerns. Experiences of “reaching like a skeleton” sink in. The more pleasurable you can make them, the deeper they sink. They can become baseline sensorial memories against which we may check ourselves when we begin to feel ourselves working too hard. Experiences on the floor in Awareness Through Movement, I mean to say, move with you out into the world. They are yours to keep, if you choose.
(I’ll leave you with a photo of bonie Emmie, my friendly skelly. I’m giving her a hand to reach here. Even though Emmie is full of all kinds of screws and metal, the weight of her head and pelvis still pour in the direction of her reaching. I hope she enjoys this feeling as much as I do!)
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!