By Leslie Davenport, who will be presenting Deepening Climate Advocacy at Hollyhock in June, 2017.
Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order. -Samuel Beckett
Movement is life: the rhythm of our heartbeat, the ebb and flow of tides, the turning of the seasons, the cycle of our breath. Even the youngest infant expresses a range of core emotions in the language of movement. It’s a tiny dance with an arching and contracting torso, flailing arms and legs, before releasing the physical energy of delight, fear or frustration into sound.
Throughout our lives, we retain a unique form of internal perception only accessible through our physical being – a kind of somatic listening and expressing of essential life knowledge. When we allow our bodies to express themselves freely though movement, we increase awareness of our sensory/emotional/energetic dynamics, bringing attention to our internal landscape. This somatic perception is clearly experienced but non-verbal, and it can help us understand what we need or feel. In the words of dancer Ruth St. Denis, “I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.” This body-based awareness can catalyze change or healing.
Movement has had therapeutic value since the beginning of human history, often used in rituals of harvest, celebration, life transitions, fertility, purification and healing. Movement has a surprising role to play now in the healing of our planet. The cultural revolution that has restricted and devalued our somatic ways of knowing has also impeded our ways of perceiving and interacting with the natural world.
While we rely on our body’s muscle memory for a vast range of daily activities, from riding our bike to typing on a keyboard, accessing deeper wisdom held in the body has largely become dormant due to a cultural emphasis on extreme productivity. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, our awareness has been pulled right out of our bodies to take roost in just a portion of our minds.
Consider the shifts in lifestyle that propelled America’s Industrial Revolution. In New England, farms and rural villages had been producing food, textiles, clothing, and shoes for local markets. There were also blacksmiths, tailors and other trade skills, all often bartering with neighbors to meet their essential needs. Things began to change in 1810 with the creation of the power loom, and the textile industry was a key enterprise where cottage industries were giving way to factory production. Young women, usually from nearby farms, were recruited to do assembly line work in massive textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. They were restricted to small repetitive movements standing at one spot on the assembly line, averaging 73 hours per week. They lived in adjoining rows of small boarding houses. This is not an isolated example, but the start of a massive shift not only to machines and factories, but also the development of corporate enterprise which soon spread to a broad range of commerce.
A work day previously prompted by the rising and setting of the sun was replaced with the industrial clock and speed of the machine; the work environment moved from fresh air and natural colors, to hot rooms filled with the noisy machinery and breathing air hazy with thread particles; demanding production goals replaced a healthy pace guided by work quality; people were valued solely based on their contribution to the bottom line; physical movements only supplemented machines, becoming fragmented, small and repetitive, disconnected from the whole body and creativity.
Our excessive rise into corporate production has degraded our relationship with life and taken a huge toll on the natural world by decimating a holistic paradigm. The body-mind-emotions-environment continuum is a living network of knowledge, and movement between these aspects of experience inform the understanding of ourselves and life. Our fragmented worldview that has predominated the last centuries is simply too reductionist to embrace the complexity of the web of life, and one of the consequences is seen in the severity of global warming.
How can we heal and reverse this destructive trajectory? One way is to MOVE! This is not about dance technique, but rather reconnecting to our natural somatic perception and allowing expressiveness of the physical body to be experienced. Research has found that conscious movements can activate several brain functions at once: kinesthetic, rational, musical, spatial, temporal and emotional. Movement is a way to enliven the atrophied links between human consciousness, compassion, emotions, social connection, ritual, physicality and ecological integration. Moving together in groups supports our capacity to give and receive in ways that are mutually life enhancing.
Consider the ways in which our physical bodies, the instrument of movement, are not simply attuned to, but are literally part of the natural world. We share our circadian rhythm with other living beings, including plants, animals, fungi and even cyanobacteria, regulated by environmental cues such as temperature and sunlight. Our vitality relies on water, air, sun, soil minerals and nutrients that grow our food and becomes our body. Our DNA is encoded with the evolutionary history of our planet and humanity.
Move the qualities of the earth. Feel the flexibility in your spine when you allow easy flowing movements side-to-side, and know that such movement will also foster flexibility in your thinking and relating. Plant your feet solidly on the ground, feeling a dynamic strength that rises up your torso like the trunk of a tree. What emotions accompany that stance? Notice the enjoyment of a quick burst of fiery physically that sends you sprinting along the beach. Sit quietly, harmonizing with the slow rhythm of the natural environment, taking note of how it makes you feel. What does the natural world want you to know if you tune into a “felt sense” of its nonverbal communication?
It is not a frivolous act to take time to sink our hands into the soil, to let the beauty of a night sky rush in and nourish us, to move our bodies in all the remarkable ways it can with strength, flexibility and expressiveness. These are essential acts that allow us to continue discovering and embodying the full spectrum of our humanity and our place in the family of all things.
Leslie Davenport, author of Emotional Resiliency in the Era of Climate Change, is a licensed therapist and an international speaker in transformational leadership with an emphasis on the evolution of consciousness and societal systems to address global warming. She is on the faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies and John F Kennedy University in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Join Leslie at Deepening Climate Advocacy at Hollyhock on June 19-23!Register Now!