Embodying the Individual and the Collective Psyche
The universe unfolds
in the body, which is its mirror and its
creature. (Octavio Paz)
"A group of people
sit in a circle, witnessing eight people moving. The movers have their
eyes closed. One woman is curled up very tight and still. Another
is exploring with her hands, feeling tentatively the grooves on the
floor. A man standing very tall makes cutting movements with his arms,
rigid as they slice the air. Another man beats a rhythm, with his
fingers against different parts of his body. A third man rolls on
the floor, rolls into the woman who is feeling her environment. He
stops, frozen. She feels his face delicately, sensitively tracing
its outline. He begins to cry. Another woman has been swaying, her
arms straining upward. She softens her movement, and begins to stroke
her own arm. The drumming fingers find the floor, become clawing,
scratching movements. Someone crawls towards him, starts clawing with
him, at him. They hiss. Another woman is standing very still. After
a while she sighs deeply, and begins to rotate her hips, letting out
a long, deep cry...."
creates a space for the emergence of a process through spontaneous
movement. As a practice, it bridges many traditions: therapy and meditation,
individual and community process, ritual and improvisation. Deriving
originally from the work of the pioneering movement therapist Mary
Whitehouse, Authentic Movement has been extended by her student Janet
Adler into a discipline with an increasing focus on embodying collective
In 'The Collective
Body' Adler writes about the need to bring the fruits of personal
development back into our membership of a larger community. She points
to the shift in world culture within the last century, where "change
away from tribal living has accelerated dramatically. For countless
centuries preceding this change we belonged before we asked "who
am I"? We were born belonging not only to a tribalbody but we
belonged to the earthbody."(1)
the importance of developing individual awareness as a remarkable
aspect of freedom, of the need to throw off the bonds of religious,
political and familial rule. But, "This sorting through the parts,
a very Western way of understanding, has offered a particular kind
of learning, resulting in a particular kind of self-knowledge."
She suggests that the loss of community, of the 'sacred circle"
has "contributed significantly to the creation of unbearable
rage, isolation and despair". The unprecedented task for us now
is to find ways to re-enter the sacred circle, to come into conscious
membership in the whole, and to be uniquely ourselves within it.
"How we discover
this is a great mystery. Willing membership just with our minds cannot
create the shift in consciousness for which we long. The shift must
be an embodied shift [...] One by one knowing (and knowing implies
consciousness), knowing in our bodies that we belong, creates a collective
body in which life energy is shared."
a practice which has evolved out of dance therapy, provides one way
to re-connect to a conscious collective. As a place for individual
process, it offers safety to move spontaneously. Viewed as a group
practice, it sometimes features extraordinary synchronous events -
the coinciding and converging of people's gestures and impulses. Authentic
movement is both like and unlike a group of people doing tai chi together.
The characteristic form of authentic movement lies in the explicit
structure of the process. There is the sense of deep connection to
one another. But the movements themselves are unchoreographed, unpredictable,
process-oriented. And there is the dependence
of the movers on the relationship with the witnesses to provide containment.
has a formal and simple framework. The group is usually divided into
movers and witnesses (later swapping roles) working either in pairs
or with the witnesses acting as a containing circle for all the movers.
There is no music, the mover has to listen to, sense deeply, himself.
With eyes closed it is easier to focus inwardly. Moving blindly symbolizes
the journey into the unknown. Only if someone is moving very quickly
or with some violence, the eyes may be kept open to make sure no-one
is hurt. The time for movement may be short - ten to twenty minutes
- but the experience can feel very condensed, like a dream.
Afterwards, the movers
may draw or model with clay or talk directly about what occurred for
them. The witness may respond in movement, or by drawing, or verbally.
The subjectivity of her experience is owned through phrases like "I
saw....I imagined....I felt....I heard". The witness does not
interpret. In the most formal version of Authentic Movement, the witness
only comments on material that the mover refers to. In this sense
it is not like a psychotherapy group where a group member might go
from observing to dynamic interaction with a process. The witness
is active in her participation, but contained in her response. The
discipline of witnessing supports the mover's drop into the depths
and the Emergent Self
"The symbols of
the self arise in the depths of the body (Jung, 1940, p.173)
offers the opportunity to develop a deep, self -sensing awareness.
Authenticity is not a goal to be achieved, but rather a constant process
of becoming. It is both sought for, through deep attention, and waited
for with humility. Each individual has to discover it in their own
way - listening, tuning into, internally generated cues...a sensation,
an image, an impulse, a feeling. For some it comes as an urge to embody
a rhythm, and then the rhythm itself takes them further into unplanned
Mary Whitehouse described
the core of the movement experience as the sensation of moving and
being moved. " To feel 'I am moving'
is to be directed by the ego. To experience "I am moved"
is to know the reality of the unconscious. Ideally, both are present
in the same instant....it is a moment of total awareness, the coming
together of what I am doing and what is happening to me." (2)
Whitehouse was influenced by her Jungian analysis and by the pioneering
modern dancer Mary Wigman. The movement critic John Martin first used
the words "authentic movement" in 1933 to describe Wigman's
expressionistic dancing: "Its externalisation...comes not by
intellectual planning but by feeling through with a sensitive body.
The result...is the appearance of entirely authentic movements which
are as closely allied to the emotional experience as an
instinctive recoil is to an experience of fear."(3)
In this sense Wigman's dance was comparable to Method acting.
Whitehouse took this
principle of "feeling through" into her movement therapy
work, deliberately discarding the word 'dance' as implying a finished
product. She encouraged the development of kinesthetic awareness,
an embodied internal sense. She also drew on Jung's method of active
imagination to invite free association in movement. This allows gestures,
impulses and movements to emerge from all levels of conscious and
unconscious. The body becomes both vehicle for expression and a sounding
board for a deeper sense of self.
For newcomers to Authentic
Movement, a sense of self-consciousness and inhibition may be overwhelming
initially. Some people find a way to embrace their own paralysis,
waiting in the deadness till stirred. Others accept the mechanicalness,
the difficulty with letting go control, and then notice when a flicker
of something unbidden happens. Rather than being 'authentic' at each
moment, movers struggle with moving in and out of the self. In this
excerpt from The Diary of a Mover, there is a sense of conscious effort,
stiffness and fragmentation in the beginning:
To get started I focussed
my awareness through various body parts - noticing first the block
or tension, and then, as I tried to release it, connecting it with
a feeling or situation [...]
pelvis - felt like
a buzzing energy wanting release, too inhibited to do anything, eventually
put my feet against the wall and pushed
- enormous head - weighing me down, very hard to hold up, dropped
to one side, sad.
Stiff shoulders. Tried
to loosen my right arm, found my left arm covering my chest, protecting
Arms cradling head,
My drawing was off
a body with the lower half on fire, and the top being protected.
Next day I realised
I always have difficulty sitting up straight, and particularly holding
my head up.
A few weeks later an
image arises more spontaneously: "a noose, something from above
pulling out my heart, being led by my heart. As soon as I started
talking, I knew it was about passion, the danger of being led by my
heart, losing my heart and having it broken or not returned."
Conscious Commitment to Another
Janet Adler took the
Whitehouse approach to another level. Developing the role of the witness,
giving it to the movers, not just the therapist, was a radical act. It was the first step towards
working with the collective, and taking authentic movement out of
the realm of therapy. The words of body psychotherapist John Waterstone,
writing about witnessing in supervision, are relevant here:
terms the fact of being seen is essential to the process of existence.
The individual ex-ists, ie. stands out via
the dynamic process of showing the self to the self and to others.
The self is defined (comes into being) [...] by being /doing in the
eyes of another, in the eyes of the self, and in the witnessing of
the impact of the self on the other."
For Adler, Authentic
Movement is as much about the witnesses longing to see clearly, as
the mover's desire to be seen.. The witness
learns to cultivate their capacity to attend to the inner experience,
as they are stirred by what they see and feel. Through this engagement,
they are affirming the immanent happening in the body. Adler speaks
of herself in the witness role "my intention is to practice towards
an emptying of myself, which paradoxically means entering the fullness
of myself, my feelings, thoughts, sensations
". Witnessing is like meditation in that it aims for an accepting
awareness. But the crucial difference is that the inner witness develops
in conscious commitment to another. And the commitment is reciprocal.
Adler insists we need each other "in order to stumble towards
embodied wholeness....:Our compassion completely
depends upon our experience of each other, our relationship to the
In our culture so much
looking is mere scanning - seeking the highlights.
A longer look is often objectifying or voyeuristic. Just as we may
overeat because we feel empty inside, so we often greedily consume
images without finding resonance with or satisfaction in them. Our
eyes may be become weary from too much looking, too much stimulus,. We forget how to soften and relax the eyes, to receive
images and let them touch us. ' Witnessing'
deriving from the old English word 'wit' encompasses the sense of
knowing and affirming, as well as humour, seeing unexpected connections.
Bearing witness has a vital function going beyond simple acknowledgement.
It gives meaning to experience. The witness in authentic movement
receives the mover. She then gives back to the mover the impression,
the effect on her of the movement, not as the truth but as a real
The reality of the
body is not given
But to be made real,
to be realised (Blake)
Participants in Authentic
Movement come from all walks of life to engage in exploration. Authentic
Movement is not therapy but it can nourish and be nourished by a therapeutic
or creative process. Every shape or gesture is a seed, suggesting
a new possibility of being or making. It is the gift of space, time
and attention that allows the seed of an impulse or image to be elaborated
freely, without pressure or goals. Elaboration is allowing the body's
wisdom to take you on a journey. Material is often primitive, and
yet intricate and subtle in its emergence. As when we explore a dream,
even a small fragment can harvest a wealth of meaning. Some times,
it unleashes intensity, buried passions and visions. Sometimes it
allows the joy of play to well up and take form.
Two contrasting entries
from ' The Diary of a Mover':
in a foetal position, and then suddenly swirling that was chaotic,
turbulent - kaleidoscope of colour - loss of control.."
"K and I played
playful cats - the contact and immersion in fantasy was great. Then
pushing and pulling against each other. Then I turned round and sat
in her straddled legs. We did rocking, pulling oars and made wind
sounds - boat journey. Sound "wee ahh!" became "we
are" to me, with wonderful feeling off union. Then K lay back
and I was born out of her, sitting, but with legs and arms floating
in joy and freedom. Felt calm and happy even when I sensed K getting
restless and angry. She moved off and let out an extraordinary ROAR
- I was thrilled, startled, frightened by the depth of it."
The attention given
during and after the movement process allows for the image to continue
reverberating. The group acts as an energetic web as well as some
kind of container. Adler comments, "When each individual does
as he or she must do, regardless of content, we notice that the group
as a whole seems to be in synchrony". Stories unfold of conflict,
loss, separation, birth, passion, meeting, dying - with links to each
individuals personal stories and to archetypes and myth.
of Authentic Movement has shifted increasingly towards an emphasis
on the collective, with both political and spiritual implications.
Her work has been associated with nonviolent community action, with
ecology, with Zen, and with the transpersonal. She evokes the idea
of the body as a collective, millions of one cell units forming clusters
which create organs, bones, muscles. She asks "How does the human
body, as a collective in itself, mirror the collective body
? In the collective body we can see the intrapersonal work
of each person, like each cell doing its job. We can see combinations
of two people in relationship, the interpersonal connection, like
two cells working together. Now, like a cluster of cells creating
an organ, such as the heart, we can see clusters of people some small
like the family and others including more people, like a village.
Just as many clusters of cells create a whole person, many villages
create counties, states, nations, the whole
The collective becoming
conscious must prepare to safely hold that which is too great for
an individual to hold alone. There is plenty of evidence for the hunger
for an embodied collective experience -whether it be to mourn, to celebrate or to create something new. "We
need our tribe desperately. We need to feel membership, especially
in relationship to the mysteries, the unknown, the ways in which spirit
Roz Carroll is a body
psychotherapist (UKCP reg) and a trainer at the Chiron Centre for
Body Psychotherapy. She has twenty years experience of working in
groups with movement. She studied Authentic Movement with Anne Hebert
Smith in the U.S.
and with Linda Hartley in the U.K.
For details of her Introduction to Authentic Movement weekends and
All quotations from Janet Adler are from her essay, 'The Collective
Body' in Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet
Adler and Joan Chodorow Ed. Pallaro (London, 1999) or from her interview
with Annie Geissinger 'Toward the Unknown' in A Moving Journal: Ongoing
Expressions of Authentic Movement Vol 5, no 3, Fall-Winter 1998
Mary Whitehouse Physical Movement and Personality (1963), p.3-8
In Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art Fran Levy (Reston,
The Diary of a Mover (unpublished)