Tag Archives: healing

Balance in Healing part 1

How can we recognise what needs healing in ourselves and our communities?

For my friends and community members

When I studied Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, I learned a lot about going into situations of violence. I learnt that when people are in conflict they can be traumatised, they lose trust in each other, and they require time and space to heal. I learnt that, although all violent situations are unique, there are some unifying principles we can utilise in order to help us come to terms with violence and conflict and to transcend cycles of violence in order to create something new. In today’s world of UN Mandates and far-off wars it can be easy to think that this transcending has to be imposed from outside, but this is an illusion. It always begins on a personal and community level.

‘Community’ means many different things to each of us. For our ancestors, ‘community’ was perhaps simply the beings who lived around them. In tribal or similar societies, your community is your family and neighbours, who are also the people with whom you work, spend time with, make love to, have conflicts with, and generally create a life. It has become more complicated over time, and now for many who live in modern societies, community can almost be a choice; something you could be involved in, if you had time, but really, you are just so busy.

Because it’s not necessarily a matter of life or death whether or not you speak to your neighbours this week; because if someone does something you perceive as wrong, you can trust other people to deal with it; and because you see your internal traumas and healings as separate from those around you, you have maybe not consciously considered cultivating community within and without you.

An invitation

This article invites you to do just this conscious considering, as we explore what community is and how we can heal our communities. It is going to be quite a journey but I invite you to join me, if you can, with an open heart.

We begin in the forests.

We begin on the plains.

We begin in the mountains, with the sound of the swift-flowing mountain streams.

The forests, the plains and the mountains are our ancestral homes. Somewhere in the world are wild places from which you sprang; places where your roots reach down deep. Even if the trees have been taken from your root-forest, even if the plains of your ancestors are made now of concrete, even if the mountain streams from which your grandmothers refreshed themselves now run black and oily, the places remain.

At some point in our history as a species, many of us decided to engage in agriculture. Agriculture (from Latin ager, ‘field’) is the cultivation of plants and animals on a large scale, in fields, which are placed over the top of whatever ecosystem is already there.

The forest could not stay. The plains had to be dug up. The rivers were diverted for irrigation.

By destroying the existing ecosystem, those who create the fields thus become dependent on the crops they produce therein. They couldn’t live in the wilderness anymore as it had been changed from flourishing ecosystem to sterile desert, so they built houses in groups close to the fields. Most large-scale agriculture is based on monoculture – production of one crop in one place – which can rarely provide enough nutrition to feed all of the people who are needed to work the fields, so they have to also exchange some of their harvest with others in order to survive. Thus the simple invention of growing food in fields can be seen to have led to the invention of cities and trade, which in turn led to hierarchies (who decides who eats what?), police systems (how can we stop people from going agaisnt the system we all depend on?) and many more factors of what we would now recognise as modern society.

Down with agriculture?

This is not to say that agriculture is inherently a negative thing; or that it was the only factor in humans disconnecting ourselves somewhat (or at least, imagining that we are disconnected) from our environment. Farming has helped us to multiply as a species and live in more diverse areas than any other living creature on the planet. Right now, most of us do not have enough carefully tended wilderness or permaculture gardens in our immediate vicinity to sustain us without agriculture, so in a very real way, it is also keeping us alive right now.

And it is not to say that modern society is necessarily negative. But when we look at modern society from this perspective, it seems clear that the very foundations of the communities many of us were born into are rooted in the conscious destruction of the natural surroundings. This has helped us to survive. But it also means that any society with these foundations is probably going to be one of inherent violence. We may not be experiencing ‘conflict’ as it is recognised by the mainstream media: many of our houses are intact; a lot of us may never have seen a gun; our interactions in day-to-day life involve words and discussion rather than fighting or hiding.

Nevertheless, we can all to be seen to be living in a very real conflict situation, which Barash (1) would call “negative peace”; one which is so subtly set up and so deeply embedded in many people’s minds that it can sometimes be difficult even to recognise – which may ultimately make it even more dangerous than living in a situation of overt conflict.

I won’t do what you tell me…

Of course, this recognition of modern society as one of inherent violence is not a new revelation. People have been complaining and singing about it, probably for almost as long as it has existed. For example, someone may realise that the situation they are living in is inherently violent but that it does not necessarily provide any kind of safe or supportive space for the free expression of overt, actual, genuine violent emotions. A common reaction to this realisation is to express these emotions anyway. If they have been repressed for many years it could get very messy, unless the person in question manages to get a guitar in their hands, then they can just rage against the machine in a musical way.

For some people, the angry rebellious stage is a necessary one. Marshall Rosenberg, who calls it the ‘obnoxious teenager’ phase, describes our expression of anger and rebellion against those who we previously saw as authority figures as a way of beginning to draw our own boundaries, so that we can begin expressing our genuine wants and needs rather than going with what other people tell us to do (2).

Fire can help us to connect to our primal emotions. Photo by Catherine Brogan.

Intentional community healing

Having gone through this stage (because, in many cases, if you can release your anger you can be free of it), many people decide to become more conscious about how and where we live. One expression of this is the creation of ‘intentional communities’; groups of people who consciously choose to live together and share their lives, to a greater or lesser extent, while engaging in a new way of interaction which can transcend modern societal rules and norms.

I am one of those people. I have lived in many communities, and visited or studied many more. In a way, anyone who decides to start considering their life choices is making their community an intentional one, whether or not you actually physically move onto a piece of land with your intentional neighbours and friends.

Trauma and art

So now we have reached ths point in our journey. It was a long way from the forests of our ancestral birth-lands, through the blank concrete stares of the labyrinthine walls of our physical birth-lands, embracing the anger and rebellion at the realisation of the secret subtle violence which is present all around us, and a coming to terms with this, in whatever way is right for us, in the decision to be more conscious and intentional about our choices of how and where we live.

We are all at different stages of the journey and of course not everyone’s path leads in such a simply explainable way. But if you have read this far I am guessing that you are also somewhat considering how you are a part of an intentional community. And this is where it may start to get complicated.

Opening the portal…

By making intentional communities, whether in physical space or as a non-physical network, we can be seen as opening up spaces for people to come together and create. This may be with a physical space such as a community garden, or a network of like-minded individuals; it could be people coming together to create events, or those who have chosen to build everything they need to live, together, in one place. John Paul Lederach, one of the leading practitioners in the field of peace studies, says that creativity and the creative process is “the wellspring that feeds the building of peace” (3). If we can be creative, we can imagine ways out of situations of conflict. In this way we are building a positive collective of humans engaging with each other.

However, creativity is also an important part of dealing with the effects of violence. Those traumatised by violence (which, in this modern world, is probably everyone), require healing. Sometimes huge amounts of grief, anger or sadness have to be expressed before any other healing can take place. By making spaces for people to come together and create we are also opening up the space for this healing to begin taking place. So any intentional community also has to deal with the grief, the anger; we have to deal with community members lashing out at other community members, not because they have a particular personal problem but because they are expressing the effects of a deep and violent trauma, which in itself may also not even be personal, but part of our collective ‘primal wounding’ (4).

I say, we have to deal with it; because if we open this space, these things will come out sooner or later. Our psyches do not necessarily recognise when it’s a good time to express our wounding or to express a new creative action; and indeed there may be no separation between these things. So whether or not we are prepared, we do have to deal with it.

So then what happens if someone goes ‘crazy’?

What if the expression of collective primal wounding by one community member ends up hurting another community member – either physically or emotionally, or both?

In ‘normal’ society, the answer is simple – remove them from the community and put them in a contained space so they can get ‘better’. This way of thinking is so far removed from all of the intentional communities that I have been and continue to be a part of that it would not really occur to us to take this action. We can recognise that outbursts of so-called ‘crazy’ behaviour are not necessarily signs of illness, but parts of a process which is important to go through. But this does not take away the actual reality of community members being violent to each other. Having decided that we will not section each other, what can we do in these situations?

There is no easy answer. But in part 2, I will explore some possible techniques which could be practiced by community members together to try to achieve some kind of balance in healing.

Healing takes time…

Our collective trauma is still healing. Our ancestors’ grief at the loss of their connection to the trees and creatures with whom they shared life may not yet be fully expressed, and is awaiting expression through our own actions before we can fully heal. Our own personal expriences with violence, both overt and covert, may not be fully integrated. May we be kind to ourselves and to each other, as we try to recognise that we are all healing together.

References

  1. Barash (ed), 1999. Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.
  2. Rosenberg, R, 2003. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press: Encinitas, CA, USA.
  3. Firman, J; Gila, A, 2002. Psychosynthesis: A Psychology of the Spirit. SUNY Press: New York City, USA.
  4. Lederach, J.P, 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.
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Down the Rabbit-Hole

Storytelling and its healing potential in modern society

Humans and nature: two things which many modern societies see as separate, in spite of the fact that we clearly remain very much a part of, and connected to, the natural environment around us. Just because you may not immediately sense the vast swampy wilderness beneath the city concrete under your feet, or smell the sweet, fresh tang of the mountains and wildflowers beyond the more immediate exhaust fumes and smog, it doesn’t mean that they are not there. The web of life is all around us and wild nature calls to us from within our own hearts if we just listen.

Our unique cultural advantage

Much of our modern society can be seen as far from perfect, and there are many aspects of our disconnection from nature which may be causing unbalance and therefore lack (or perceived lack) of abundance in our local ecosystems. Our ancestors rejoiced in the gifts of the wild forest and danced in the footprints of the animals whom they revered, adored and devoured; when compared to our own version, our fluorescent pre-packaged experience of food-gathering may sometimes seem a poor substitution.

Yet there are some things we have which are unique to our culture and which, if we do it in a considered way, we can use to help us to re-strengthen our connection to the natural world and all its abundant wonders.

Adventures and shamans

Communing with the ‘more-than-human world’ (1), finding balance and harmony within to strengthen the balance and harmony without, and healing yourself and your community as part of a wider healing, are all traditional roles of those members of ancient societies who have been termed ‘shamans’ by modern anthropologists, although what they call themselves differs from culture to culture. All of these things can be seen as of huge importance in today’s world to help us to gain the balance and harmony which we can achieve within our ecosystems if we are attuned to it. Yet ‘shamans’, even in their own societies, are not generally seen as ‘normal’; the role is not one which everyone partook in, and probably not everyone would want to. Many of the things which ‘shamans’ did may well be seen by much of modern society as signs of ‘madness’ (see for example 2).

Are we all then mad?

However, one thing to bear in mind about shamanic tools is that the vast majority of people in modern society, regardless of how little interest they have in ancient cultures, are very skilled at using some of them, and if these words are creating sounds of sense within your head at this moment then you are one of those people.

What I mean is, with the skills of reading and writing which many of us may take for granted we can engage in powerful creative practices, the likes of which the ‘shamans’ of less literate cultures would have had to ingest strong entheogenic medicines, deprive themselves of food or sleep, or engage in repetitive activities for many hours to achieve.

As Serge King, author of Urban Shaman (3), puts it,

” We are part of a unique society that has already, though
unknowingly, prepared us well…Ever since you started reading about Dick and Jane and Spot you were in training to be a shaman. Radio, television,
and movies have all helped to reinforce your skill. The development
of intentional inner vision took a long time in
traditional societies, because it wasn’t reinforced by the
whole society. Exceptional people like poets, storytellers, and
shamans seemed to be using magic when they evoked waking
visions in the minds of listeners to their tales, legends,
and inner experiences.” (3)

Weaving our own magic

It is this magic which we can use to help us to create what we imagine, and to give special attention to particular things, people, places or events which can help us to respect and honour them. Perhaps you do not believe in magic and that is fine, since, as King would say, “the world is what you think it is” (3). It may be worth considering, however, that our connection of literacy and magic is present even in our modern language – when we speak about how to write a word we talk of the “spell” needed to create it.

King says,

You, now, have the skill of reading, a rare skill in the history of mankind, which trains you to focus your attention and evoke internal experience on your own at will” (3).

What took a gifted few years of practice, dedication, meditation and art to achieve is now accessible much more easily to huge numbers of us because of this skill. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to learn how to use our imaginations wisely. We do, and this in itself, with the self-reflection and realisation that may come with it, may lead to what feels like madness, especially when considered from a societal point of view.

Treading the labyrinth

It is when we start to walk the path consciously that we may be most in need of stories to help to guide us. Luckily, such stories already exist in their thousands and many are freely available through that great storyweaving machine, the internet. The stories which we choose to resonate as part of our lives can help to sustain us and to heal our own psyches, thus enabling us to heal the outer world as well.  From this perspective even our most grotesque and seemingly destructive human creations can be seen to be a part of the web of life.

Big wheels and little wheels

How can we start on this path? How can we, as Joseph Campbell put it, pick up the golden thread left behind us by the storytellers of the past, and use it to help us find the way through the labyrinth? How can we step beyond the seeming comfort of a life half-lived and step onto the sword-edge of the path to our own bliss?

Perhaps a simple way to start is to consider what stories you wish to resonate with about the cycles of time in your own life. The moon and the sun are things which all humans have experience of, and in Europe the cycle of the sun was in the past by many and is by a few even now, closely followed and celebrated, with each stage having its own story and meaning, so that people could attune and resonate with the seasons and the unique gifts they bring. This ‘big cycle’ of the year, with its eight ‘feasts’ of Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Bealtaine, Litha, Lammas, Mabon and Samhain, during which time the daylight present in the day goes from very little to a lot and then around again, is reflected on a monthly scale by the cycle of the moon, which is also noted and celebrated.

Sun is come

The ‘Wheel Year’ is celebrated now in Britain mainly by people who have picked up the threads of the old stories rather than as part of an unbroken tradition. This means that the stories are always evolving and reflecting our changing ways, and we can interpret them however seems fit to us. You may not care about the upcoming Litha or Summer Solstice, which is happening in the Northern Hemisphere tomorrow. Many people do, and in England hundreds shall gather at Stonehenge, in spite of the newly-introduced parking fees there, which were put into place even though they were fought in court by none other than King Arthur Pendragon (4). Those who wish to mark the Solstice by going to a special place but who do not want to ‘pay to pray’ (or who may find the crowds at Stonehenge not their cup of tea) may well choose to celebrate at any of the many other stone circles and ancient sacred sites around Britain.

All over Spain even nowadays, Midsummer’s Night is celebrated by jumping over fires, into rivers, springs or the sea, or in some places both. You may not be so interested in such revelry, but it may still be helpful to you in your own personal storytelling to acknowledge this shortest night of the year and reflect on its symbolism. What that symbolism could be is up to you; our pagan British ancestors probably (according to some sources (5)) associated the Summer Solstice with Ura or heather (ericaceae spp), a plant which needs fire for the seeds to germinate, so reminding us perhaps of the fire which gives us life, the sun which shines the longest on this day for the whole wheel year. In Spain and other parts of Europe the celebration is associated with St. John and his flower, St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) whose yellow petals and red juice can also remind us of the fire of the sun. It is also a traditional symbol of protection and of strengthening energy, perhaps reflective of the long days reminding us to gather strength ready for the darker colder times ahead.

Stories and spells

Whether you choose to acknowledge the Solstice tomorrow or not, you will surely continue to tell stories of your own, as well as being exposed to many others. How you choose to tell your stories is up to you, but as King would say, just by reading story books and watching films you have already started on a path which can aid you in healing, imaginative creation and gaining stronger connections to yourself and your world.

Your own way is yours to follow and your call will be unique. May you go with sunshine.

References

1. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in the More-than-Human World.  Vintage: New York City, USA

2. Logan, K, 2017. ‘A Shaman’s View of Mental Illness’. Forever Conscious, 2017. http://foreverconscious.com/a-shamans-view-of-mental-illness

3. King, S, 1990. Urban Shaman: A Handbook for Personal and Planetary Transformation Based on the Hawaiian Way of the Adventurer. Simon & Schuster: New York City, USA.

4. BBC News, 2017. ‘King Arthur Pendragon loses Stonehenge ‘pay to pray’ court challenge’. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-wiltshire-40033998

5. Sentier, E, 2013. Trees of the Goddess. Moon Books: Hants, UK

 

 

Sacred Dance to Reawaken our Truth

With thanks, love and appreciation to David Ashwanden and to all my fellow space-holders.

Many people have written about the various themes which underlie all of human society and culture, regardless of how far back in history you go or how far-flung from each other the societies are.  Among the things which unite us all as humans we have myths and stories (1), transcultural symbols (2) and even intoxicants, which have been used in one form or other by the vast majority of societies in human history (3).

As fundamental as all of these is our need to express ourselves with our bodies, an expression which comes out in dance. Having been following this need as a professional artistic pursuit for the past three years (as well as a social enjoyment activity for much longer!) I decided to take it further by doing some kind of training. But what kind? I am not really interested in learning formal steps or a particular style, but more in the free expression. And there are plenty of dance courses which encourage this out there, from 5 Rhythms (4) to Biodanza (5). Such styles seem interesting, if a little prescriptive, yet I did not feel drawn to actually training in them. Perhaps because as important as the free expression is the recognition that dance is a form of healing, an integral part of human enjoyment and therefore as such can be recognised as a sacred act.

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Dancing as a Sacred Act. Photo by Catherine Brogan.

Maybe it was too much to hope for to find a training which combined all these things: healing, enjoyment and recognition of the sacred. Yet find it I did when I discovered Daisy Kaye’s  5 Element Dance Teacher Training (7) – a training which focuses on using cacao as a key part of the ritual and ceremony in order to enhance the experience. This meant I got the added bonus of being able to practise and expand my love and knowledge of herbalism. Oh, and the course was being held on a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand. Somehow, it just had to happen.

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Arrival on the island. Photo by David Ashwanden

And it did. And I got out of it a sense of healing and reconnection with my body, renewed enjoyment of dancing, and many more tools for welcoming the sacred into my everyday life, as well as much more knowledge of different medicinal plants from around the world.

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Some of the herbal medicines we were learning about, including, of course, cacao. Photo by David Ashwanden

However, I also got more even than all of this. Because part of what the course helped me and the other participants to gain was a sense of deeper truth. What do I mean by this? Read on to find out…

Dancing Alchemy – Mixing Up the New Human Culture 

Though the course was a teacher training which eventually gave us the tools to run our own ceremonial dance meditations, the first week was simply an introduction to Daisy’s Five Elements dance, which uses a system of symbols to understand the relationships between things in the world, including our bodies. These are used in various ways by different cultures globally, though one of the interesting aspects of Daisy’s style is that she does not focus on one system only. While she is very experienced in and influenced by Chinese medicine, Taoism and Qi Gong, ‘her’ Five Elements are not based exclusively on the Chinese interpretation but also use Ayurvedic, Native American and Daisy’s own ideas.

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Connecting with the Fire element. Photo by David Ashwanden

Indeed, this amalgamation of ideas from different cultures was a recurring theme throughout the course and was one of the most beautiful aspects of it to me. Though much of the actual action we were engaging in can be seen as an ancient practise – breathing and breathwork, gathering together, sitting in circles, sharing herbal intoxicating brews and of course dancing – the fact that Daisy was bringing together traditions from many cultures across the world meant that this course was encouraging the development of an entirely new practise. Importantly, as Daisy puts it, her ideas are not fixed and we are all encouraged to create our own personalised versions. Thus we are engaging not in a rigid system but in the growth of a transglobal new human culture.

Listening to Our Bodies

Five Elements dancing is not just a dance, it is a “manifestational movement meditation” (8). By dancing to clear our minds, we become clear about what it is we actually want. By sharing this with others in a circle we help to crystallise it and make it even clearer. Then we dance through the five elements: grounding with the Earth, flowing with Water, enlivening with Fire, soaring with Air and connecting with Ether. This has the effect not only of helping us to achieve a meditational state but also with helping us connect deeply with our bodies. And when we do this, perhaps surprisingly for some, our bodies usually have some messages for us.

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Listening for the messages. Photo by David Ashwanden

As I’ve quoted before (9),

“We may never have been conscious of our life energy, but our bodies can feel it. We may never have been conscious of our suffering in childhood, but our bodies can remember. We may never have been conscious of the suffering of our parents, but our bodies received it in the womb and carry it. We may never have been conscious of the pollution of the planet but our bodies feel it and manifest the effects…

So if we inhabit our bodies and let them speak to us, we can become aware of transpersonal energy, and in welcoming it, we heal not only ourselves, but our families, our communities and our planet” (Hayes, 2007) (10)

This ‘inhabiting’ is a practise which is often so overlooked in modern culture that it can be a bit of a shock to begin doing it once more. The Five Elements seem a very effective way for helping to tune to what our bodies are telling us, as each element connects us to different emotions, so any emotions which our bodies “remember” can be released. However, we do not dwell on any element in particular, so the emotions can also be let go of.

Magic Circle

Holding space is a key part of helping make a place sacred. It can help to create your own sacred space like this Magic Circle, though the first sacred space to create and recognise is within you. Photo by David Ashwanden

Mind-Truth and Body-Truth

In the circle we are encouraged to speak the truth and part of the art which the course helped me to learn was holding space in a way which facilitates and fosters this. However, sometimes our minds may get in the way of what we’re saying so that even we are not sure if it’s really true.

The dance meditation connecting us to our bodies, encouraging us to be “at home in our bones” brings out a kind of truth which is even deeper, more subtle and perhaps more difficult to define – the truth our bodies and senses are sharing with us. It seems as though once we connect to this the whole way in which we speak takes on a different significance, as well as the way in which we act and move around in our lives.

circle-dance

Circle Dance. Photo by Tianna.

Because one thing which the course helped with was in making it easier to connect to our  deeper truths – to be honest with ourselves. The radiating effect of this is that it’s less easy to lie about anything in life, whether it’s participating in an activity that you do not really enjoy or agree with, or speaking your mind about something.

Bringing the dance out

In the sacred dancing circle we are all human beings, fresh personalities poised and ready to listen to our guiding desires and to begin the delicious journey of manifesting them.

Outside the circle, we may pick up different characters here and there to help us in our journeys. One of the main teachings of the course for me was being able to tell which of these characters are beneficial to us and which help us to develop healthily in body, mind and spirit. The dancing meditation makes it easy to differentiate – but once we go back into the world, it may also be easy to forget. The fact that the course was on a secluded beach on a tropical island meant that it felt very much like a holiday. Many of the other course participants defined themselves as living double or triple lives and seemed unhappy with the lack of integrity this seemed to be giving them.

Hopefully by the end of the training they were more sure about where their integrity lies, and strong enough to follow it: why leave holiday behind when we can embody it as part of our lifestyle?

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Creation of altars – one way of making a space sacred. Photo by Tianna.

Tune in now

You don’t need to participate in one of Daisy’s courses in order to connect to your deeper truth or help you to make every day sacred, though it has certainly aided me in re-finding my path. There are so many ways to do it: maybe you find it through yoga, qi gong, mindful walking; from practising circus skills or martial arts; by learning about the Tao, the Chinese medicine system or Buddhism, or simply by standing still and focusing on your breath. None of these things are exclusive and the most important thing in practising them is probably your own enjoyment.  Sacred spaces are all around us, and the sacred dance is within us all the time. We can let it out however we like…

Just remember to keep dancing…

Notes

If you are interested in reading more about the course, feel free to check out my fellow participant Debbie Bird’s experiences here: Bird is Travelling.

References

  1. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books: New York City
  2. Corbett, L, 2012. Psyche and the Sacred: Spirituality beyond Religion. Spring Journal Books: New Orleans
  3. Walton, S, 2003. Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication. Three Rivers Press: New York City
  4. 5 Rhythms, 2016. ‘Who We Are’. https://www.5rhythms.com/who-we-are/
  5. The Art of Biodanza, 2016. ‘About Biodanza’. http://theartofbiodanza.com/origins-of-biodanza/
  6. Daisy Kaye, 2016. ‘Live a Holiday Lifestyle’. http://www.liveaholidaylifestyle.com/
  7. The Sanctuary Thailand, 2016. ‘Sacred Cacao 5 Element Dance Teacher Training’. http://www.thesanctuarythailand.com/sacred-cacao-5-element-dance-ceremonies-teacher-training-with-daisy-kaye.html
  8. Daisy Kaye, 2016.
  9. Haworth, C, 2016. David Bowie: Helping us Dance to Heal. Abundance Garden, 4/2/16. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/david-bowie-helping-us-to-dance-to-heal/
  10. Hayes, J, 2007. Performing the Dreams of Your Body: Plays of Animation and Compassion. Archive Publishing: Chichester

David Bowie: Helping us to Dance to Heal?

It’s been just over 3 weeks now since David Bowie moved from this dimension into one even more infinite. In those 3 weeks many others have died; ‘celebrities’ and others; and many, many people have been born as well – the human cycle continues to turn. Yet it seems fitting to me to mark the memory of this particular human as someone, at least to me, rather special.

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A tribute to Bowie on a tree in Brixton. The quote reads ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’ – a line from one of his latest singles, released a few days before his death. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

In many ways it will be an echo of other tributes; I am happy to have had Bowie as part of my life as he helped me to see that being ‘not normal’ can also be perfectly fine; like many others who “felt like freaks and oddballs” (Madonna, 2016) (1). His changes of characters and personae are an everlasting inspiration; showing to me that the exploration of deep mythological archetypes can be fun like the eye-patch ( see for example 2) or mind-blowingly eerie like the Blackstar dances (3); sad like in Ashes to Ashes (4) or triumphant like the Heroes (5).

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The impromptu shrine at Brixton tube station. Photo by Charlotte Haworth.

So moved was I to pay tribute that I decided to visit the mural of Bowie’s face outside the tube station for Brixton, where he grew up. The mural has been turned into something of a shrine, with many people gathering to leave flowers, candles, pictures, poems and other gifts.

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Some of the many flowers and gifts, including my poem, which you can read here if you like. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

It seems that we can all learn from David Bowie, whether we have listened to his music before or never got into him at all. Bowie followed his inspiration, and did whatever seemed right to him. If you watch him dance it doesn’t look necessarily as though he is moving his body- rather, that something is moving through him. Of course, having not known Bowie personally I cannot say for sure if this is the case, yet the fact that he continues to have this inspirational effect remains. Even up to his death he was still exploring the various facets of the human psyche for us through his art. His latest album was released 2 days before he died (6): he didn’t work as a singer, dancer or musician- he lived his art, which we are all capable of doing, and if you are not right now maybe you should be wondering why?

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A true artist. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

There are many who see dance and music as part of the storytelling of our lives (see for example 7, 8); as a means not only of recreation but of connecting profoundly and sensuously to ourselves and those around us – one of our most primal means of communication, and still one of our most effective. As Hayes (7) puts it,

“We may never have been conscious of our life energy, but our bodies can feel it. We may never have been conscious of our suffering in childhood, but our bodies can remember. We may never have been conscious of the suffering of our parents, but our bodies received it in the womb and carry it. We may never have been conscious of the pollution of the planet but our bodies feel it and manifest the effects…

So if we inhabit our bodies and let them speak to us, we can become aware of transpersonal energy, and in welcoming it, we heal not only ourselves, but our families, our communities and our planet” (Hayes, 2007) (7).

How we decide to go about this healing is up to us. Along the way, it may be helpful to remember the immortal words,

“Let’s dance!” (9).

And of course, “let the children boogie….” (10)

References

1. Geoghegan, Saunders, et al, 2016. ‘Reaction to David Bowie’s death’. BBC News, 10/1/16. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/entertainment-arts-35278886

2. David Bowie, 1974. ‘Rebel Rebel’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa6bI_95G9I

3. David Bowie, 2016. ‘Blackstar’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kszLwBaC4Sw

4. David Bowie, 1980. ‘Ashes to Ashes’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMThz7eQ6K0

5. David Bowie, 1977. “Heroes”. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tgcc5V9Hu3g

6. Wikipedia, 2016. David Bowie: Blackstar album.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackstar_(David_Bowie_album)

7. Hayes, J, 2007. Performing the Dreams of Your Body: Plays of Animation and Compassion. Archive Publishing: Chichester

8. The Dynamic Turnaround, 2016. ‘The Healing Power and Joy of Dance’. http://www.thedynamicturnaround.com/dancetherapy.htm

9. David Bowie, 1983. ‘Let’s Dance’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2HWuR2mq5M

10. David Bowie, 1972. ‘Starman’. Music released by Columbia records. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B5zmDz4vR4

 

Kosmicare: Cosmic Care at Festivals helping to create positive societal change – Part 2

When we have clear ideas of what the symbols which appear to us – whether in folk myth, dream or chemically-induced vision – can represent, we are better equipped to understand our own role in the great narrative of our life. However, if we have not had such training as that given to a tribe which values shared metaphors and symbols, we can be

“left alone with our unpredictable emotions and the sometimes terrifying visions of the collective unconscious” (1); in what is termed by some as a ‘bad trip’.

Tripping through the Dark…

If we have not been brought up with a conscious defining mythology such as that of the Wixaritari (see for example 2), that is not to say that we are in any disadvantage. As Campbell (1959) (3) puts it, we have to be aware of what our own stories mean, and can even be a part of creating our own new symbols which are unique to us.

Such symbols may be all the more potent if we have undergone some kind of journey in order to discover them. An important part of Kosmicare UK’s work is the recognition that whatever is happening in someone’s mind, there is probably a good reason for it, even if the person is not having the most comfortable time. As it says on their website,

“We think that if someone is having a “bad trip” it is because he/she is really in need of it.  They may be confronting their own fears, and there is potential to benefit from it. Therefore, we do not work with denial or try to make people come back to “normal” but, embracing the moment, we provide support for the individual to come through the ordeal more wholesome and wise.” (1)

Into the Light

For Kosmicare,

“An important step to take is to acknowledge that in gatherings and festivals people are pushing boundaries, and it is here that we need to give support.” (1)

One inspirational aspect of being part of the Kosmicare UK team at Goa Cream, a festival designed to promote Kosmicare, was to see so many festival-goers who are already prepared to give support to each other, and who recognise the benefits of their work even if they have not been personally cared for at the Kosmicare area. Such support is also inspirational in terms of considering the wider reach which Kosmicare, or similar initiatives, could have.

As well as one-to-one support for those already in drug-related experiences, Kosmicare provides non-judgmental information on, and in some cases testing facilities for, all kinds of mind-altering substances. When pushing boundaries by using these, one can be catapulted through a psychological exploration which, though it may feel like a number of millennia, lasts on our timescale only around 6-12 hours. This is why it is so important for Kosmicare to be present at festivals and parties, as such experiences can give you little or no preparation for what could be in store, and the mental effects are so quick and strong that occasionally they can be a handful.

However, people are having more sustained psychological explorations all the time, which have been variously described as ‘voice hearing’, ‘schizophrenia’, ‘psychosis’, or a host of other labels, for which British and other “Western” societies do not necessarily provide adequate facilities.

It could be argued that someone who is experiencing what modern Western medicine could term as psychosis, delusions, schizoid or paranoid behaviour is going through a similar kind of ‘bad trip’ as that which can be induced by entheogenic substances, though the trip generally takes a lot longer than 12 hours. The general response in “Western” society is to place such individuals in the mental healthcare system where medical staff attempt to make them “better” or fit in with society again. While such a response may have benefits for some individuals, it could be important to note that “mental illness” as defined in “Western” society is seen by most shamanic cultures as “the birth of a healer” and those experiencing it are seen as undergoing a necessary stage in their journey towards becoming, if they wish to accept the role, an important community facilitator and healer (4) (5).

Healing Options

If such perceptions of mental illness can help individuals in ways in which the western system falls short, such as with the case of Franklin Russell, hospitalised at 17 as a “schizophrenic” in the USA but hailed as one of the “mediums bringing messages to the community from the spirit world” in West Africa (6), then perhaps we need options other than mental hospitals in which to support them. One such option could be an extended version of Kosmicare; where the spaces are in one fixed place within the community and where support can be found not only for a few days at a time, but all year round, and with a much longer time limit on how long one can be in the space.

Such a static healing space should not replace Kosmicare, but rather work alongside it, as the focus is on slightly differing, though interlinked, psychological experiences. The space, I feel, would have to be centred in a natural environment; even if set up to serve a city community it should be on the outskirts of said city, in a place where there is less psychic noise than can be found among the busy city streets.

As such, it can be seen as a kind of ‘Healing Forest’, or whatever natural phenomena is seen as important by a particular community. So those who dwell near a river may prefer to go to a ‘Healing Valley’ whilst those who live in high altitudes may prefer a ‘Healing Mountain’. It is important to connect the landscape to the community as then those going there to undergo their difficult experiences will be able to relate more to it. Sacred space appears to be a key part of all human culture, whether we have a religion or not, as I explore in my ‘Sacred Spaces’ article (7).

Another important reason for having the space in nature is that those who live there permanently as supporters for people in need of care will have to be grounded in non-human nature as well as deeply understanding of human psychology; as David Abram eloquently puts it,

“the primary role of the indigenous shaman [is] a role that cannot be fulfilled without long and sustained exposure to wild nature, to its patterns and vicissitudes.” (8)

Modern Shamans?

Those who work in such a place as may be created as the Healing Forest, Valley, Mountain or others may have some professional similarities with shamans of traditional societies, though they perhaps prefer not to be called shamans themselves. For although this idea of a static Kosmicare available in every town and community is not so different from the traditional role of shamans in indigenous tribal cultures, the fact that we have our own, literate, abstracted, diversified, flexible and, to a huge extent, highly individualised cultures means that such an endeavour will be not simply an emulation of older societies but the creation of a new cultural paradigm.

Grand words, perhaps; though in reality the adventure will be quite simple. All that is needed is a few willing people, a corner of land and some imagination.

In the meantime, Kosmicare UK will continue creating spaces at festivals throughout the country, beginning in the spring of 2016. Even if you are not experiencing psychological or drug-related difficulties, look out for us! You may well find some positive surprises.

References

  1. Kosmicare UK, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.kosmicareuk.org/about-us/
  2. Alfredo López Austin : Tamoanchan, Tlalocan. U Pr of Co, 1997.
  3. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon: New York City
  4. Halifax, J, 1988. Shaman: The Wounded Healer. Thames & Hudson: London
  5. Marohn, S and Somé, M.P, 2014. ‘What a Shaman sees in a Mental Hospital’. Waking Times, 22/8/2014. http://www.wakingtimes.com/2014/08/22/shaman-sees-mental-hospital/
  6. Russell, D, 2014. ‘How a West African Shaman Helped my Schizophrenic Son in a way Western Medicine Couldn’t’. Washington Post, 24/3/14. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/03/24/how-a-west-african-shaman-helped-my-schizophrenic-son-in-a-way-western-medicine-couldnt/
  7. Haworth, C, 2015. ‘Sacred Spaces’. Abundance Garden, 3/3/15. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/sacred-spaces/
  8. Abram, D, 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage Books: New York City