Offering from the Conscious Body
The Discipline of Authentic Movement
When you brush a form clean, it becomes truly what it is.
In 1969, in my twenty-eighth year, I experienced the clarity of John Weir’s perception of the self in relationship and the depth of Mary Whitehouse way of knowing body consciousness. Though my encounters with my teachers were brief, the jewel I received from each became the source for the discipline of Authentic Movement, both a form and a practice which developed within the following thirty years in my studio work. This discipline has evolved because of each individual who has committed to it and because of my deep, unexplainable need to track its unfolding.
It was John Martin, in 1933, in speaking of the dances of Mary Wigman, who I believe was the first person to use the words ‘authentic movement’.
“This class of dance is in effect the modern dance in its purest manifestation. The basis of each composition in this medium lies in a vision of something in human experience which touches the sublime. Its externalization in some form which can be apprehended by others comes not by intellectual planning but by “feeling through” with a sensitive body. The first result of such creation is the appearance of certain entirely authentic movements ...”
It is not surprising that though these words come from the world of dance, authentic movement has become a source from which both therapeutic and mystical experiences manifest. Witnessing the emergence of a discipline with authentic movement reverberating at its center, I have been witnessing the body as a vessel in which healing occurs, a vessel in which direct experience of the divine is known. As the vessel becomes conscious, it becomes more capable of enduring the darkness and receiving the light of our humanity.
With roots in dance, healing practices and mysticism, this practice reveals an inherent order. This order, the theoretical ground of the discipline of Authentic Movement, slowly became apparent as immersion in studio work relentlessly pushed toward the edges of that which we could not yet know. Trusting only what we could know, our experience in our bodies, was challenging, at times for me unbearable. Stumbling into clearer seeing in blessed moments was ecstatic. It seemed as though the form itself was insisting on opening, calling for change in the practice, demanding clearer presence. The tension between the longing to see clearly and the longing to surrender to the mysteries of embodiment contained a potential for transformation of the work, perhaps of the individuals committed to it. In moments of grace, the clarity and the mystery became one.
The architecture of the discipline is based on the relationship between a mover and a witness. For each, work is centered in the development of the inner witness which is one way of understanding the development of consciousness. Because it is a Western, contemporary awareness practice, aspects of the whole are often separated, making the relationships among them more conscious. In this discipline, the inner witness is externalized, embodied by one person who is called the outer witness. Another person, called the mover, embodies the moving self. Though the name of the discipline suggests work concerning movement only, the core intention for each person is toward bringing awareness to the relationship between the moving self and the inner witness.
This relationship evolves within the study of three interdependent and multiple layers of experience: the individual body, the collective body and the conscious body. The work is developmental but not linear as both personal and transpersonal phenomena occur in the practice within each realm. Individuals can enter this evolving practice at any time if experience in another discipline appropriately prepares them.
Beginning with the study of the individual body, an individual commits to the moving practice, to a longing to be seen. In the presence of a witness with eyes open, the mover with eyes closed, learns to track her movement and her concomitant inner experience. Entering the empty space, the mover discovers an infinite range of physical movement, of sensation and emotion as experiences emerge into consciousness. In this process, the mover discovers movement which is authentic, that which she recognizes as her truth.
As her inner witness strengthens and she becomes more present to her embodied experiences, the mover opens to another longing, a longing to bring such presence toward seeing an other. Continuing her movement practice, she now also commits to the witness practice. The witness, who sits in stillness to the side of the movement space, learns to track another mover’s physical movement and her own inner experience in response. The witness, too, discovers an infinite range of sensation and emotion as her experiences emerge into consciousness. Within their developing relationship, the mover and the witness speak together about their experiences after each round of work. Because words bridge experience from body to consciousness, a rigorous practice toward clear articulation in speech as well as in movement becomes necessary.
The relationship between a mover and a witness, the ground form, most clearly reflects the root system originating in early healing practices, what has come to be understood in the West as a therapeutic container. In this discipline, instead of only talking about sensations and emotions, the literal force of moving and witnessing them, in a safe and appropriate way, infuses the relationship with new ways of knowing the self and the other.
Because of the depth and complexity of the embodied inner life of the mover, the witness must be professionally trained in the study of psychotherapeutic practice. Therapists trained in body- based disciplines, such as dance/movement therapy, somatic psychotherapy and creative arts therapy are especially qualified to become teachers of this discipline or to use it in their therapy practice with individuals or group.