I Was A Mountain: The Journey of Apprenticeship

About a week ago, I rose up out of bed and had the felt experience of growth. Something in my spine felt longer, taller, straighter. As I inhaled, I felt my rib cage expand as the top of my skull lifted up and slightly back, shoulders at rest, arms loose. In the early morning darkness, curtains drawn, light pushing through the seams, I sensed the energy body surrounding me, growing up and expanding. It felt light and good.

I was waking up at Fort Worden, a beautiful old military base in the Pacific Northwest converted into a State Park with dormitories and meeting spaces. I’d slept on a firm mattress in a room that had been home to medical personnel in an earlier incarnation. I was there for a Movement Medicine workshop called The Alchemy of Infinity.

My roles for this workshop were organizer and teaching assistant. I’m about four months into the Apprenticeship Program with the School of Movement Medicine, and this workshop was the second in a row I’d organized and assisted within the last two weeks. I love and feel deeply honored to hold sacred space for transformation, and in this role of teaching assistant I get to live my life on purpose.

On this day last week when I truly felt growth, I stood next to my teacher and the other two teaching assistants and felt like a mountain. I felt solid. I felt strong. I can’t say I have had such a clear knowing of this feeling state in the past. As an apprentice I am practicing interoception with regularity. Checking in with my body and asking what I’m feeling, where I’m feeling it, what are the feeling tones, shapes and qualities, getting clear about it, the good, the bad, the stuck, the pain, the flow, the radiance, the lightness, the darkness, etc. Last week I was a mountain.

I was also the wind, the waters, and the fire…..

Feeling the echo of this statement that I said in front of my community in San Rafael, “I have a dream to grow Movement Medicine community in the United States.” I had said the same statement a month earlier at the end of the Realizing Our Full Potential elective in front of the group of apprentices and teachers there, and also on Facebook.

What do I mean when I say I want to grow movement medicine community? Little m’s or big M’s? How has it landed? What did I mean by that? When I said it in San Rafael I imagined every dancer with a seed planted at the place where their body connected with the floor. Knowing it takes time for seeds to grow, and sometimes seeds just get blown away in the wind, or sometimes they don’t get enough water or sun shine, or love. Sometimes they grow fast and in groups. Sometimes they grow in a single bowl alone, tended, fed and loved by the organic nature of the elements.

Another inquiry I’m sitting with in the echo is about what is it that I actually am wanting more of, dreaming of? Is it about the specific teacher/ego/personality, or is it about the teaching/curriculum content, or is it about the community of people that show up for the work? I can say I’m 100% mountain next to/behind Ya’Acov, his and Susannah’s teachings, and the community of people who show up to learn from him. And I wonder if the teachings stand on their own in the way that Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms stand as a solid framework for me that I know in my body quite well. Map upon map. Can I go into a Movement Medicine class or workshop taught by someone who is not a Darling Khan and know in my body that the container is backed by mountains, and that the teacher has been steeped in the wisdom of their own journey? How long and what will it take for that to be an embodied yes? I’m even struggling to write this since I am still in this inquiry and can see that I have many more miles of discovery ahead of me. I will leave it here for now….

Snapshop lessons learned/reflections:

  • It’s challenging organizing a residential workshop from a distance, and I can do it!

  • Better to have the craniosacral session before or after a workshop I am assisting.

  • Showers and baths are grounding.

  • Walking on the earth with shoes that allow me to feel the textures of the earth is healing and nourishing.

  • I noticed the pattern that has repeated in my life since childhood where I’m perceived to be “bright” and therefore accelerated and/or given more responsibility than average, and missing out on some basics, expected to catch up. Managing to perform very well at high levels, and feeling like a failure at some basic levels.

  • Sometimes growth hurts in very real ways. Breaking out of a pattern of guarding my knee with a series of contortions in my hip and toes, yielded a new pain in my shin, while my knee looks and feels better than it has in years.

  • Working with the infinite pattern of giving and receiving this past week, much of my personal focus was about money.

  • I can do less.

  • I will fuck up, water will spill, and it’s ok.

Epilogue: Last night I decided to register for the Syzygy Facilitator Training which began THIS MORNING. FUCK!  I recall some teacher saying something about how it’s a good idea to study at least two other things while doing an apprenticeship, so here’s the first other thing. While on one hand it seems last minute, in truth, it’s taken me several years, and multiple conversations with Sylvie Minot to be a yes to this training. So after this Sunday, if I find myself a monastery and people ask me to lead them in dance, I will be able to say yes. That is all.

Am I Safe To Be Beautiful?

At dance today on the Open Floor in Sausalito I noticed that when I had the awareness of a man that I know and trust, who I believe would cut the balls off of any man that harmed me, I suddenly felt safe to be beautiful, to truly shine from my heart, with my body in all of its majesty.  

One of my intentions for 2019 is to be with beauty. Yesterday at an Open Floor workshop I went into the center of the room for a dancer/witness exercise with the intention to scan the environment for beauty rather than pain or blockage. Often when I dance I scan my body for where there’s a pain point and use that as leverage for my practice. Yesterday I decided to look for the beauty instead. Could I reprogram my mind to be in a state of beauty or grace, rather than criticism or fear? How flexible is the neuroplasticity of my brain, and how long will this rewiring take?

As I moved into the center of the circle, with my witness watching, without thinking, I began caressing my wrists together, feeling the softness of my skin. Letting my wrists move to glide along my inner arms, luxuriating in the beautiful feeling of my skin on this part of my body. I could feel a smile forming on my face, and my hips begin to sway. I felt a deep relaxation melt my shoulders and neck. At some point I realized my eyes were closed and I wanted to be more conscious, eyes opened. As my eyes opened somehow, something in the music or the energy of the space made me feel sad. I could feel the tears coming, and my initial attempt to fight them back. “Not here, not now, I’ll get to those tears later,” I thought. And then I surrendered. No, this sadness, these tears are coming now, and with them my hands pressed to my lower jaw. Let the body cry. Free the tears. I stood there with a very slow sway as the tears formed like huge lakes in my lower eyelids and flowed down my cheeks like little waterfalls slamming into rocks.

“No, it’s not safe” was the message coming through the lake of tears, flowing into waterfalls, hitting the rocks of my present moment. “Thanks for asking again, and no, it’s still not safe to be beautiful.” Bam. That was it. Moments later we did a closing dance and circle. Thanks for coming and hope to see you again. Bam, water hitting rocks, flowing around and down to the next series of present moments.

Which brings me to today and the fire that has been burning in me for some time now about inclusion, care, and safety on the “conscious” dance floor.  I am aware of too many people who have come and gone from so-called conscious dance spaces because their boundaries were crossed, or their boundaries were crossed and they didn’t have a place to go for support in the moment, or they didn’t want to admit to anyone that they couldn’t handle what had just happened so they simply sent themselves into isolation.

This brings up many questions for me that I don’t have answers for. Please know that I’m not asking these questions of the Open Floor or 5R faculty or staff here in ways I haven't also asked some of them in person, and that what I’m really curious about is what is our role as a community member that includes them, but isn’t reliant on them for everything, in the way that we have a government, but we also have other organizations that have impact and provide support.

Join me in my very busy brain as I ponder these topics….

  1. Are you and I in a community together? If so, what are our values? Do we have a code of conduct? Is something like that too rigid? What are the unspoken norms, rules?

  2. If we do have rules (more than just no talking) about caring for each other and ourselves on the floor, whose role is it to make sure the rules are maintained, and what is the process for maintaining it and keeping the community apprised that it’s working?

  3. Is the Saturday and Sunday morning Open Floor dance purely social or also a practice? If it’s mostly social, is there a place to go for a purely practice dance group? If not, can we create a container like that? Am I the only one wanting a regular safe group dance practice space?

    1. Can we have some signals like they do in other dance communities? For example, wrists crossed at the heart in the LA 5R dance symbolizes a non-verbal “no thank you” and this is part of their official orientation.  At dance camp, teaching assistants with years of dance practice and comfort in providing emotional support wear a colored wrist band. Practical assistants/crew could wear a different colored wristband.

    2. Why don’t we have teaching assistants (or some other name) in addition to crew? In the Movement Medicine community there are always teaching assistants, at least one near the DJ/facilitator available to support the facilitator and handle any questions coming from the floor toward the facilitator, as well as keep an eye on the overall space. This is someone with years of dance experience and training on holding space for process. At Burning Man consent culture is brought in as training to all camps through the Bureau of Erotic Discourse, and the RhythmWave dance camp takes this conversation very seriously. I feel very safely held by the men leading that community, I like believing they would cut the balls off any man that violated me, at least metaphorically.  

    3. Could we make sure everyone coming to dance has read over some kind of rules of engagement before entering, and a verbal one-on-one orientation is given to new people?

I LOVE movement/dance practice, this community, and believe in it’s healing qualities. I want to invite people in to it, and find myself afraid to bring people who might not have a strong enough body to handle the weight of someone doing contact, or trying to lift them, or the self esteem to handle being ogled at, thrust at or upon, or touched in ways that feel violating.

I’m not advocating for a ton of rules, but a few solid rules that I witness consistently being maintained would make me feel a whole lot safer to be beautiful.  I go to deep vulnerable spaces when I dance, it’s not purely social for me, and there is a social aspect. I have danced enough hours in enough circumstances to now know how to take care of myself, physically and emotionally.  It’s not just about me anymore, it’s really about community.

Here’s an example of how a dance container was created that made me feel safe. It was during a Movement Medicine Initiation workshop I went to a few months ago in England.  Before going into a dance party atmosphere, where we were encouraged to feel into our adolescence and play with sexual energy and gender, the facilitators first said something like this…..”If you came here with a partner or you have a partner at home, we expect you have discussed boundaries and have agreements about what you can and cannot do with others while dancing. If you have not yet had that conversation, you have three hours to have that conversation before we dance.” They then demonstrated what this conversation could be like, including specific examples from their own experience. They then said something like, “If any of your partners asks us if we saw you doing something, we will tell them the truth.” WOW! That made me feel very safe! As a single person, often in a room full of partnered dancers, it felt really good to know that this particular pool of dancers would all have agreements with their respective partners, and that I could ask them about it, and that this community and it’s leaders expected that of its members. Yeah, that feels safe. That feels really good for me. As a single person I like knowing that all of the partnered dancers around me have agreements with their partners and I can ask them where the boundaries are to keep me, them and their absent partners safe.

Perhaps everything goes in the Marin dance community, and that’s just our flavor. Perhaps we are a community where only the strong continue. Perhaps I’ve got a particular lens on right now that is more of the critic, and it’s still early days of scanning the environment for beauty.  I am coming to terms with the predator shadow, as well as the accomplice. It’s been a sobering experience for me, and it’s ongoing. In my silence, am I complicit? When is it my place to speak up and about what? Who am I protecting with my silence?

While these questions come up for me, and I frame them above in terms of the Marin dance community, really this is a reflection of the larger world around me.  What do I stand for? What does our community stand for? What actions reflect these truths?

Recently a male movement teacher gave me praise and then told me that he found it difficult to make a heart connection with me. I smiled, and in front of a group I explained that he was feeling my boundaries. I’m not always open for deep heart or body connection, and for me, I need to establish a sense of safety before I let someone into connection. It doesn’t matter if you’re the official teacher. Sometimes that sense of safety is immediate, sometimes it takes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. It’s my territory. Just because you’re the teacher or you’re another dancer that paid your entry fee at the door, you do not have permission to touch me, or the right to expect a smile from me. Because I show up (t)here, you do have the right to see me, my truth in motion. If you’re not sure if you’re getting a yes or no to get close, take that as a no. Period. If you’re not feeling a hell yes from me, back the fuck up. He then understood and used me as an example of good boundary setting for the group.

To be clear - #me too

Which means specifically, I have experienced a series of physical, sexual and emotional abuses by men, including being physically attacked when I was 17 by two men, complete strangers on a public path, speaking a foreign language I could not understand. I have also been attacked by  men I knew and trusted. In both of these examples I was feeling safe to be beautiful. My heart was open, and I felt free to shine. I was walking with my chin up, chest open, hips moving freely, dressed in ways that complimented my features and made me feel good. I could go on and on with examples of violation, or you could just watch me dance. Yeah, that’s what a lot of my dances are about. Healing this wound upon wound upon wound, for me, my ancestors and the generations that come after me.

In our silent dances, we are all hearing the story we want to hear, and it’s all just stories. At the end of dance today when I approached the man who I believed would cut the balls off any man who harmed me, and I shared this story with him. He was like, “That’s a great story you got going on. Well maybe metaphorically, what did he do, do I know him?”  

So if you see me at dance and I don’t greet you right away or give you the response you were expecting, consider that I might be putting salve on these wounds when you bounced up, or that I might be working very hard to stay with my practice, knowing I feel predatory energy around me, even when it might not be true, it’s one of the many stories I’m working with.

Resistance to Teaching

Early 2018 one of my movement teachers said something like, “It would be beneficial for you to master the the craft of teaching.” It wasn’t those exact words, but something to that effect. This was said to me in the presence of three other people who are teachers and therapists. They agreed, and I went into internal panic. “No, no, no, no, no”was my response. I could feel my pulse racing, and my face blushing. It took me a few minutes to notice that without thinking I had grasped one of my wrists and was twisting my own arm while not being able to hear what was being said to me next. I imagine what was said was encouraging and kind, and gave me an instant headache on top of the self-inflicted arm twisting and body contorting.

I got into a bit of debate with my teacher about it at that time. I explained that once upon a time, many years ago, in a distant land, I was a terrible teacher and did not ever want to do it again. In recent years when people in the movement community context ask me if I’m a teacher I have a standard cheeky reply to get out of the discussion, “Did you learn something?” I say with a big grin. That seems to be enough to get a grin in reply and buy me  time to mysteriously float away from any additional inquiry.

From 1993 to 1996 I taught English as a foreign language in Eastern Europe. The first teaching job was in a high school in Prague. I was 23 and the kids weren’t that much younger than me. They were open minded and excited to meet an American. They were generally good students, and I felt terrible that I was completely unprepared to teach them, had no idea what I was doing, made mistakes in grammar and spelling constantly, blushed and trembled my way through every class.

I had graduated from college in 1991 with a BBA from a good school, got a good job in advertising right away. I was following the path of expectation, accomplishment and praise. I realized very quickly that I had a long time to wait before I could move up the ladder in business at that time. I was going to age behind office doors while my youth faded unless I made a change. I opened a world atlas, closed my eyes and put my finger down on Prague. I bought a one way ticket, sold my possession, gave up my DC apartment, and flew away from expectations.

Snow covered Prague charmed me immediately. A few days after arrival I walked into a busy Czech employment office on Václavské náměstí where no one spoke English. I handed my resume to someone and walked out. A few minutes later a woman came running down the street after me and pulled me back into the office and put me on the phone with Mr. Macek. “You can start tomorrow. You  can live at the teachers housing, and we will handle your employment papers when we see you. Here’s the address.” What’s happening? I think I got a job. Teaching? Teaching English? I said yes. I needed money and a place to stay. I went.

Being in Prague at that time was magical. I also worked as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant where tourists and locals came to be served this exotic food served by American waitresses and chat with the Chinese lady owner who also spoke Hebrew. I was young, had energy and was happy to hustle for cash and fun. My social life at that time revolved around Obecní dům where the restaurant and several other social establishments operated by day, and a night club erupted underground at night. Occasionally my Czech students would show up at the club or one of the bars.

At school during the day the staff were permissive about my lack of teaching skills. They just liked having a native English speaker on staff. It was like a status symbol for them. They didn’t care that I knew nothing about teaching. It made me nervous and panic stricken constantly. The kids didn’t take me seriously, and honestly, I didn’t take myself seriously either. I enjoyed hanging out with the kids as equals and felt uncomfortable with the power dynamic.

About a year later I ended up back in the US for medical reasons, and worked a series of odd jobs to get by while I tried to figure out how I could again fly away from America. I figured out that since I had the teaching experience under my belt I could apply for the Peace Corps, and if I got in that would be a ticket back to Eastern Europe. I did and it was.

Peace Corps sent me to Hungary. I still wasn’t taking any of it seriously. I just wanted to have fun and float through life.  Peace Corps offered actual teaching training as well as Hungarian language training. Many of my PCV friends were already established teachers with experience, skill and enthusiasm about the job ahead. I felt like I was a faking it, an imposter. I was happy to get the training, and enjoyed learning a new language.

I was sent to a small village in southern Hungary to teach at an all boys technical high school Most of these kids would never leave the region, and weren’t motivated to learn English. At the beginning I was a dedicated teacher, followed the text books, did some lesson planning, but I didn’t enjoy teaching English, and these kids were not interested at all. There were constant disruptions, and miscommunications. Word spread fast that I wasn’t disciplining my students. The school sent one of the teachers to my home to speak with me about my lack of discipline and the unacceptable nature of my teaching. The wanted me to use the dictation method of teaching. I hated that, but it’s what the kids were used to and what that system expected. I tried it, and the kids revolted. In one of my classes boys played catch with a full bottle of soda which exploded. Since I and several of the boys in that class had a bad reputation with the administration we tried to handle the situation without leaving the room. The boys convinced me that one of the large machines in the room functioned like a clothes dryer and they proceeded to take off their clothes and put them in the machine. This sort of chaos was the norm in my class room. At another point I told one of my afternoon classes that I would no longer hold class in the building and that if anyone was truly interested in speaking English they could meet me at the pub instead. A few took me up on it. At one point I tried to re-commit myself to the craft of teaching and put time into lesson planning and went back in with an open mind and positive attitude. The class was going well, I was starting to think, “wow, this lesson planning stuff really works, I might actually be able to do this.” And just as soon as I had that thought I started to smell smoke. I turned around to find a fire burning on a desktop, boys huddled around in laughter. All I could do was laugh. I could not discipline these kids! I also thought it was funny. I stopped trying after the fire incident and just showed up hoping someone would make it stop.

I would occasionally bring in newspapers, and the boys seemed interested in the advertisements for Nike shoes and Levi’s jeans. They would laugh at the prices. I came to realize that the American educational import these kids really needed was economics, not English. Their world had changed, and they didn’t have the tools to understand the world market or how to compete in it. I decided that it wasn’t up to me to decide if the capitalist system was right or wrong, but I did believe it was right to create access to education about all economic models. I stopped teaching English, and became a PC Business volunteer working to bring economics education curriculum into Hungary. This role felt great, and I experienced a lot of success on behalf of my Hungarian colleagues, schools and students across the country. We even took the model to Albania. It was such a relief to be off the teaching stage, and I promised to never do it again.

Flash forward 23 years to 2018. I find myself in a conversation one evening with a Czech dancer during the Movement Medicine Initiation workshop in England. I pull out a few funny phrases in Czech that I still remember, and shared the above stories with him. He then said something to the effect of, “so are you here to work through your resistance to teaching?” Ha! What a good deep belly laugh I had then. Maybe I am, maybe I am....

Later that evening I shared that moment with my teacher, and he took my hand and said something to the effect of so maybe you’ll see what everyone else can see about you....or something like that....I’m getting a headache just writing this now....

He said he’s here to support me and will continue to support my practice as long as he breathes. Wow, sounds like a long term commitment, the likes of which I am unfamiliar. I’ve now heard Ya’Acov and Susannah say multiple times that they are into long term commitments with their community and the Apprentices. I realize that is a statement that has stayed with me and held my attention. And so here I am, sitting with my many understudies that prevent me from teaching and simultaneously keep me in this movement community. Lump in my throat growing. Had to just lean back and stretch my arms, roll my neck back.

Here’s a quote from the School of Movement Medicine’s website description of an aspect of the Phoenix workshop:

As we develop, life provides us with the perfect challenges through which we can evolve. On the Phoenix Retreat, we work with what we call the ‘creation story’ you have inherited and lived from, whose characters we call ‘understudies’. In the theatre, an understudy is a person who learns another’s role in order to be able to act as a replacement. On the stage of life, these understudies often take to performing nearly all the time, while the real stars wait hidden in the wings. They shouldn’t be blamed for this; they came into being with the intention of protecting your essence. However, without your attention, they will continue their performances for your entire lifetime, even if it no longer serves your deeper interests.

In my Co-Active coaching work we use the word “saboteur”, which used to be known as “gremlin”. In Movement Medicine we talk about “understudies”. All of these words are merely frameworks for looking at the mental constructs that prevent growth, change, removal of obstacle, movement of stuckness, repetitive story, individuation.  Here are some of the understudies I may be taking into the first Movement Medicine elective, where we will dive deeper into the Insight Council practice and SEER process.

Understudies to examine:

I’m a shitty teacher

I don’t like being an authoritarian

I don’t like exerting power over anyone

I’m a reluctant public speaker

I can’t speak in front of people

I’m not an expert on anything

People shouldn’t listen to me

Footnote: I happen to be sitting in the Phoenix cafe at Findhorn writing this essay on Thanksgiving Thursday. Dorothy Maclean was brought in with her assistant and sat down beside me. She is wearing a red down coat, a rainbow knitted hat and gloves. They are currently chatting about favorite colors, coffee and maple syrup. She’s had her hot chocolate and is up on her walking sticks and heading back out into the cold. As I turn I see and confirm that the voice in the back of the cafe is that of Jonathan Caddy, son of Eileen Caddy. His presence also strongly felt everywhere here.    Aware of my quiet anonymous presence here. Grateful to be able to dip in, get what I need, give what I have and soon move on. What a gift it is to be held and received by this gentle community. So grateful.