Below are her words describing her experience of integrating Authentic Movement principles into her daily DMT practice.
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom shall be as the noonday. –Isaiah 58:10
I came across this quote recently as I was looking through an old scrapbook that I made during a challenging time in my life. The verse was given to me by my paternal grandmother, as she often gave me little prayer books or bible verses while squeezing my hand and looking intensely into my eyes. She believed in the power of prayer and in the idea that we do not truly love unless we give selflessly to those less fortunate than we are. Like me, my grandmother was a sensate, in that she felt the feelings of others as if they were her own. Her compassion ran deep and I think it would often overwhelm her, which is when she turned to prayer to regulate her sensitive nervous system. Maybe this is why she would look so intensely into my eyes when giving me prayers to read, as she knew we shared a similar way of being in the world.
Through a somewhat circuitous journey, I found that DMT was a way for me to harness and share the gifts of being a compassionate sensate. And like the prayers were for my grandmother, dancing with others and meeting them in the unique expression of who they are is a balm for my nervous system and for my spirit. Leading groups has also become a daily laboratory where I am continually pushed outside of my comfort zone and given the opportunity to grow and practice humility. As Emily so eloquently emphasizes in many of her blog posts, meeting the clients/patients where they are at is of utmost importance if our goal as embodied therapists is to create a space for healing and change. Meeting others where they are at, however, asks us to drop our egos and our agendas to a certain degree. It can also feel like the great unknown, especially if those we are working with are from a different background or culture than we are. However, since my goal is to communicate that I am here for them, I aspire to honor the differences between us yet search for a way to connect.
As a DMT, movement is the language I ‘speak’, which allows me to create a bridge of connection with others through both seeing them and allowing myself to be seen. I not only see them through my sense of sight, but also through my moment-to-moment awareness of my own sensations/thoughts/images/feelings coupled with the desire to be in service of the other. The nonverbal dialogue that takes place is then birthed from a deeper awareness of self which gives space for (and models for) the other to find a fuller expression of self in the moment. In other words, as I attune more deeply to myself, this gives me more capacity to attune to another (Siegel, 2012).
I have cultivated this ability to tune into my moment-to-moment experience through the practice of Authentic Movement (AM). I had the honor of studying with Zoe Avstreih, one of the pioneers in developing the form. AM came into being on the west coast through Mary Whitehouse around the same time that Marian Chace was practicing what we now call Dance/Movement Therapy on the east coast. The essence of AM involves allowing oneself to be seen and seeing another in an unconditionally accepting way through the relationship between mover and witness. The developmental transition that occurs between allowing ourselves to be seen and seeing another involves the emergence of the inner witness. The inner witness develops as we internalize the compassion and acceptance that the external witness offers us. As our inner witness develops, we then long to see another with the same unconditional acceptance (Adler, 1987). This development cannot be forced, nor can this transition be skipped if one’s goal is to be truly present to others. As we traverse and learn to accept all aspects of our own inner landscape, we naturally become more present to the internal landscape of others (Adler, 2002). This presence has the potential to break down walls of race, culture and all kinds of perceived differences between us.
An example of this occurred in one of my groups last week on the inpatient psychiatric unit where I work. I came into group on a Monday morning, somewhat weary and guarded, feeling a sense of passive weight. A gentleman was sitting close to the front of the room, talking to me in a friendly and open manner. It was a bit difficult for me to understand him (as he didn’t have any teeth) but he kept repeating himself until I repeated back to him what he said to me. As I was listening to him and trying to understand him, it dawned on me that he is used to repeating himself because he knows that his speech is difficult to understand. This awareness pierced my heart as I thought that I often give up rather quickly if I don’t feel understood by someone, and here he was, insisting to be heard. His persistence softened my hard edges, and the more I listened to him, the more I noticed that I felt like a genuine version of myself. My mood quickly went from weary and guarded to peaceful and sharing, and my sense of passive weight shifted into a feeling of enlivened groundedness as he entertained me with his observations on life. And as if this wasn’t enough, he then began to witness me as I danced with the members of the group. Among other things, he said, You’re a dancer, aren’t you? The movement is in you and there’s a lot more where that came from. You’re kind and you take the time to listen to people. You are a really nice person so others respect you.
I felt seen in a compassionate and unconditionally accepting way by this gentleman. My whole being felt revitalized and clear, and my heart felt more open than it did when I walked in the room. I then had thoughts of guilt, that I’m supposed to be the therapist and so I must not be doing my job well enough if he is the one bringing healing energy to me in this moment. But then I realized from what he said to me that he must have felt seen by me in some way and perhaps he wanted to give that feeling back to me. As often as this experience of being seen by my patients happens in my work, it catches me off guard every time. I always strive to be the good therapist, and then it is somewhat shattered when a patient has clarity and insight that transcends anything I was planning to do or say in that moment. But is this not a goal of therapy and healing, to empower the people we serve to discover their own light and share it with others as well?References
Adler, J. (2002). Offering from the conscious body: The discipline of authentic movement. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions.
Adler, J. (1987). Who is the witness? A description of authentic movement. In P. Pallaro (Ed.),
1999, Authentic movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler, and Joan Chodorow (pp. 141-159). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Siegel, D. (2012). Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
(1977) The new oxford annotated Bible: Revised standard version. New York: Oxford University Press.