What does it take for someone to actually feel something when they move? Several years back, I wrote a whole 300+ page dissertation (a spiritual boot camp process that almost did me in, I do not recommend it) exploring with a group of brave movers this very question. Having experienced the amazing unlocking powers of conscious dance I wanted to understand how to shape practices that would open the door to, encourage, and support feeling on the dance floor.
By feeling I mean anything that can be felt in the body. Weight in contact with ground, vague pressure, vibration, tension in my lip, compression in my ears, a crowded feeling around me, the shape of space inside, the streaming of energy in my legs, the smell of jasmine wafting in, tears building up behind my eyes, the heat in my belly, even the apparent absence of feeling we call numbness which is a whole sensate scenery in itself.
The territory of feeling is a soulscape forever shifting, often unclear, exciting, terrifying, sometimes infused with a sense of urgency, longing, deep unfamiliar pleasure, vague discomfort, unintelligible swirlings, oscillations, openings. It is full of secret meaning, ultimately asking me to pause, release, offer myself to this life I have been given, now, no longer seeking the false refuge of illusory control, to sing my song, now, no longer waiting for the perfect situation, now, now.
Here’s some learnings from my study: The willingness to feel is a must & the first step. Passing through the gate of fear is often required. Repeated sacrifice of identity (i.e. the I that I think I am), habit, attachment to outcome, all that may be asked for. Ability to trust the unknown and surrender to the Mystery is essential.
It is, of course, not as dire as that. Dropping into this level of being alive is exhilarating and creates a clear open space for whatever comes next. When given time, space, permission to express in everyday doses, feelings naturally flow through and become a resource for aliveness, authenticity, power, and love.
But there’s nothing more alarming to the so called higher brain than to be exposed to something it cannot predict, control, organize or problem solve. To be sure, same goes for much of the culture which we inhale daily and which chants to us in a myriad of ways: do not feel. you can figure this out. if you control your breath, you’ll be fine. stay busy. have another joint. take this pill. take a cruise. take a shopping trip. do not stop. Even in the dancing circles I once heard, Give me a break, I come here to get out of my body, not to feel the mess inside!
It’s as if we’re not supposed to live, really, before we all die. Meanwhile, even science says a dynamic range of experience is healthiest, physiologically and emotionally speaking. A chaotic heart rate is healthy – yes! – not arrhythmia, but a variable rate. When the heart rate is too steady you are near death. You’d better check, eh?
It is a revolutionary choice to turn toward feeling. How bizarre is that, given that somatic awareness, or embodiment, is key not only to our ability to orient, move, and find nourishment in the physical world, but to our mental, emotional and relational sanity? But then, how sane do we really want to be?
Join the counter-culture. We were feeling, moving bodies first, a long long time ago, and thinkers last. Let’s turn and re-turn toward the mysterious process of real time body-ing, breathing, unfolding, opening, sensing, trusting … bowing in the vast holy field of presence to which feeling is one doorway.