“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Being Present. We hear this all the time nowadays and as we can see Mr. Emerson was contemplating it, too. It seems that we have always looked, as a species, for those instances to find the peace within the moment, the joy from being present.
So, what exactly does it mean? Well, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the meanings for present is, to become manifest. Therefore, being present might mean the process of becoming obvious or self-evident; to find a way of knowing what is real.
Well, how do we do that exactly? I believe that one possible answer lies in the movement arts, those different ways of moving/dancing with our bodies that allow us to find the time frame called “the Now”. It is through the use of our individual body, mind and spirit that we experience the present moment as a real or obvious place of being. In fact, once we have experienced this moment of awareness, we find that this is really the only truth out there. The past is finished and the future hasn’t been determined yet. Therefore, why not stay where we can only be? Good question. I think that it is easier to say than to do and that is where, I believe, the movement arts come in. My belief that the movement arts are a presence practice is based on the following two assumptions.
1. The different movement practices that I will be referring to all need the assistance of the mind, or in particular, the attention to intention of the mind. Movement or dance is magical and wonderful in it’s own right, but that doesn’t make it a presence practice without the addition of some intentionality to the activity.
2. To increase the connection with the present moment the movement practice must have some structure to it. This could be very limited, quite controlled in its nature or somewhere in between. However, if this is accomplished, it helps the mover use less of the mental energy that is normally required on how to make the movement happen and allows it to go directly into the physical movement itself and intention behind it. For example, if I asked someone to move like an animal. First, they must figure out, which animal to do and then how that animal might move. If I bring in some structure to the activity and by saying move like a dog. The person has had the activity closed down a little more, which allows them to focus on the task at hand. It is therefore easier to accomplish and the focus is then more precise.
There are so many examples within our amazing planetary history of ways to move and experience the Now. I would like to take you on a journey to look at six of the amazing movement presence practices that have offer mankind a glimpse into a space of time called Now. These forms and traditions have been developed and practiced over thousands of years. They range from religious to the secular, from eastern philosophies to western transcendental movement. All have a common thread, which is that they are focused on bringing the individual and/or group into a state of being present so that one might truly live with awareness and authenticity.
Movements in the East
Historically speaking, eastern traditions have some of the first examples of movement used for authentically living in the present moment and one of the main ones is through the Indian practice of yoga. Through it’s origins in Ayurvedic medicine, yoga has developed through its many branches into a healing practice of focus and presence. It has at its heart, the concept of movement - be it breath, body and/or mind. Early yoga practitioners recognized that through the blending of all of these attributes into a stretching routine, which challenges one’s way of “normally” being that they could create a shift within the psyche. That shift allowed the person to be totally focused on this present moment of being and allow all other time frames to float away. This also had the wonderful benefits of calming the mind, increasing vitality and improving overall health along with many others.
Yoga’s appeal in our western society is, I believe, in part because of it’s ability to quiet the monkey mind and bring us inward with the focus on our breath. Slowing down through bringing your attention to the air flowing in and out of your lungs has created a legion of followers as just one of the benefits they get from their workout, thereby helping them become healthier, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
Resources: Just Yoga and Open Door Yoga
Another presence practice from the east is Qigong. There are many different forms of Qigong, ranging from martial arts to medical, all of which work with the intention of using movement to assist the Qi (chee), or your life-force energy, to flow throughout your body. The most efficient way to do that is through clearing your mind and focusing your intention on the goal at hand.
In Medical Qigong, a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is essential that the different movements called prescriptions are closely followed by intention. The movement by themselves will have only limited effect, it is
with the addition of using one’s mind that make this a healing art of the highest degree. In fact, Jerry Alan Johnson, Doctor of TCM and Medical Qigong says, “the ultimate goal is to combine both the physical and mental activities to promote harmony in the body’s energetic fields”. This can only be accomplished when we are in this present moment of time. Qigong movements are completed through a series of repetitions from a standing, sitting or lying down position.
Another important presence aspect of Qigong is the influence of the spirit, a.k.a. the Dao. By connecting with your own personal divine guides and entities along with the Dao, you are able have an even deeper connection within this present moment. Before each Qigong workout, it is recommended that you go through the 1-10 meditation. As the name indicates, it is a ten-step process of energetically moving through the body to bring one into this moment so that your workout can have it’s maximum benefit. By connecting with the energies from the Earth and the Divine, you are “hooked up” to the energetic matrix of this moment.
Resources: John Weiss, Medical Qigong Practitioner
Tai Chi is another wonderful example of an eastern tradition, which is has made a big splash in the west, and can be thought of as a sibling to Qigong. Both are focused on the use of movement, breath and intention to clear negative chi and bring in positive, life-affirming chi. The main difference between the two practices is that while Qigong is about repetition, Tai Chi is about flow, the movement from one shape to the next. Perhaps, you have seen an individual or group doing Tai Chi in a park somewhere and have been mesmerized by it’s beauty. You are, in that moment, feeling the effects of how being present opens you up to the beauty around yourself.
Tai Chi is an internal journey, much like Qigong, and has been referred to as a transformational process by some who practice it. The combination of slow outer movements and internal focus brings the participant into a state of feeling their authentic power by truly centering themselves within the heart of their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual awareness. This allows the outside world to be whatever it wants to be all around you while you are tuck within the present moment bubble flowing from movement to movement...a truly exhilarating feeling of authenticity.
Resources: Taoist Tai Chi
While many forms of therapy have as their basis some form of looking into the past for answers regarding something in the present, movement/dance therapy takes the additional step of working with life material through the idea of embodiment. Embodiment means a concrete representation of an otherwise nebulous concept. In order words, movement therapy allows an individual or group to work with whatever is happening, past, present or future in this moment here and now and find the meaning, feelings and thoughts behind it through dance.
This has the wonderful capacity of having the human body move in it’s own unique way to process whatever is troubling the subject. By doing that the subject brings the information into the present moment to work with it within their movements and expressions. Expressive Arts Therapist, Daria Halprin says, “ When we are tuned into the “creative flow” (of movement), we experience a freedom of our energy and expression and an usually heightened sense of awareness.”
This has been my experience as well in my over a dozen years of working with movement therapy in my own life. By moving from a personal, resonating place, I find myself dropping in the magical moment of possibility. This moment here in the present. I don’t dream about the future or dwell on the past. I am working with my material, regardless of where it comes from, in this moment now. That is it power and how it assists in helping me change to be more of what I want in life.
Resources: John F. Weiss Reg. Somatic Movement Therapist and Tannis Hugill, RCC
During the 1950’s Mary Starks Whitehouse developed the practice of Authentic Movement. What she discovered in this modality was the idea of how the witness, both internal and external, relates to the mover and the coined psychological concept of “witness consciousness”. Ms. Whitehouse, a professional dancer and choreographer, she started to help her early dance students realize the difference between performance and moving from a place of impulse.
As the concepts around Authentic Movement continued to evolve, Ms. Whitehouse found that having the participants move with their eyes closed could intensify this internal focus. She would have them move for short periods of time while being witnessed by another, all the while witnessing their own movements. This allow them to close off much of their outside stimulus and focus on what is happening within and responding to it in movement, without an pre-conceived notions of how that might happen.
Dr. Janet Alder, a protégé of Ms. Whitehouse says this about inception of Authentic Movement in her book, Offering from the Conscious Body; the “architecture of the discipline of Authentic Movement is based on the relationship between a mover and a witness, the ground form. For each, work is centered in the development of the inner witness, which is one way of understanding the development of consciousness.” She goes on to say, “Many of us arrive into adulthood, into practices concerned with the development of consciousness, such as the discipline of Authentic Movement, with some experience of the inner witness, with some consciousness, and with a desire to be present.”
Resources: Anna Kemble, RCC
Gabrielle Roth, a dancer from New York City developed a practice of moving to music, which invites the mover to focus on their movements through the image of a “wave”. These 5 rhythms, flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness are at the heart of the practice and help the dance start out slowly, move to a crescendo and descend into a still point. At each level, the dancer finds out different things about themselves viewed through the eye of the present situation. For example, while they are in flow, they focus on the feminine energy as it is now within their lives. They use the structure of the circle and figure 8s to make their movements. This helps simplify the dance without completely closing down the movement. When moving in this way with intention one can find many of the positive and nourishing qualities of the female.
The wave continues on through the other rhythms. Staccato helps the mover get in touch with their inner masculine energy by moving with jagged, angular movements. Chaos is freeing movement of flowing between the feminine and the masculine in a clash of the two...a letting go of form and allowing whatever it resonating to surface and be freed. Lyrical is the afterglow from Chaos symbolized by the lightness in one’s step. Finally, the wave comes to stillness, which embodies the rest within the moment and finding a place of peaceful existence.
Ms. Roth describes her creation in her book, Sweat your Prayers by saying, “Doing the rhythms is about waking up to your most essential nature, stretching your intuition and imagination as surely as your body. “ She goes on to say about the practice that it is, “a spiritual practice (that) requires consciousness, both awareness of the whole and attention to the details.”
Resources: Bettina Rothe, 5Rhythms Facilitator, Jelena Marda, Dance Divine (5Rhythms-inspired work)
As you can see, the movement arts are as wide and varied as the human imagination will allow. They have been created, developed and practiced, in part, because they assist us in moving towards awareness of that thing which is bigger than ourselves and that place in time to truly appreciate it...NOW. Without the attention to intention, this would just be beautiful movements and art, however they are more, they are the embodiment of what makes life exciting and exhilarating.
In an age of computers, video games and other sedimentary activities, the movement arts offers you an opportunity to find healthy and fun alternatives to stretch your body, lower your stress and, most importantly, live in the moment. After all, that is truly all that we have!