Toward Embodied Consciousness

Paula Sager and Joan Webb will be offering an all day retreat on Saturday June 22, 2019.   In the following conversation with Steph Turner, Paula and Joan speak about the Discipline of Authentic Movement as a developmental and evolving practice.

ST – Who are you imagining may be interested in this day-long retreat?

JW – We definitely want people to have some experience with Authentic Movement, people that are used to moving with their eyes closed in the presence of a witness.  This retreat is an opportunity to go a little deeper into the movement with more time and spaciousness for experience to emerge.

ST – Can you say more about this process from the perspective of the mover?

JW – When you’re first moving, you’re learning to follow your inner impulses and that’s why the eyes are closed.  You’re following your inner impulses in the presence of a witness, so there’s already two relationships, there is relationship to self and your inner witness and there’s a relationship to the outer witness.  Part of what goes on is the outer witness is paying attention, but not judging and interpreting, which in turn helps you develop your inner witness which is learning to just be present. And then with other movers present, you start to become aware of other people and they may make sounds or be near, or you may come into contact, physically or energetically, so that’s more layers of relationship. The work is always about relationship.    

PS –  With eyes closed, challenges, intrigue, and opportunity can arise when we’re in the midst of following our own inner experience and then find ourselves aware of other movers. Can I stay in relationship to my own inner witness and let this be my guide as to how or whether to be in relationship with another? This relational work of movers with each other really helps develop the discernment practice of the inner witness, which in turn can support our capacity to make choices.

JW – One of the guidelines is that you’re always taking care of yourself.  So you’re not being polite, you’re not thinking well I think that person wants to be in contact with me…but instead you’re following your own impulses.  You’re navigating, just as we do in life—How do I take care of myself? How do I not lose track of myself in the relationship— in a marriage? as a parent?  All these nuances of relationship come up in the practice.

ST – It seems that in many ways this practice offers more freedom than we may have in everyday life because you create this container that gives people a much larger range of choices about how we relate to others. Some of the social strictures fall away. 

JW- And then you also become more aware of your choices out in everyday life because you’ve done this work.

PS – When Joan and I are teaching together, and in our role as witnesses, we’re intentionally holding the space with a lot of permission. It’s an open invitation to follow the impulse that is arising, and the freedom to choose to see where it goes, not knowing what will happen or where it will take you.  This offers something quite profound, a kind of intimacy with oneself.  A way of being that can feel like being home. And the shared guidelines, the distinction of roles, the elements of ritual and awareness of the circle formed by our presence, as well as the evolving nature of the discipline itself, create the safety and a sense of being held in something larger than our separate individual selves.  Being in relationship to the unknown, to each other, within the form and emptiness of the circle, amazing things start to happen, like synchronicities. 

JW – These small miracles and moments of grace are only possible because of each person’s commitment to deep listening and to staying present in the moment.

PS –Another developmental aspect of the discipline, growing out of lots of experience as a mover, is the role of silent witnessing, which we also plan to explore in the retreat. Joining the witness circle, without the responsibility of offering verbal witnessing to the movers, provides a marvelous opportunity to come into relationship with the processes of projection, judgment, interpretation and association.  Noticing what arises in our perception and mind while in the presence of others, we can begin to distinguish our own experience from that of the movers.

As the discipline has evolved, speaking and listening has developed into its own ritual form. The outer witness practices recognizing and containing experiences that don’t belong or meet what the mover shares in speaking. This creates space for movers to stay close to their own embodied experience within the realm of language as they discover and speak from the voice of their inner witness.

JW – The first time that Paula and I ever moved together, which was almost 30 years ago now if you can believe it—January of 1990, I had just come from the funeral of a teenager who was killed in a car crash and I was very upset. I remember my teacher said, you have to be where you are, you go with what’s true for you and that will be the best thing for the group.  Well that was a whole different idea for me. And I just… I cried during the movement and I cried more during the speaking time and I had permission to do that.   And it did bring the whole group deeper.  For me this was a new way of being with myself, which turns out to be better for the group.

PS – I remember this too. It was a deep experience on many levels. In my movement that day, my own grief was present but I didn’t know about the funeral until you spoke of it after the movement. Others spoke of how grief had been part of their moving and I remember feeling awed by the sense of a shared collective experience and how unconscious I had been of this while moving.

And now all these years later, the mystery remains. Now I wonder, how do we discern what is personal, psychological material, and what is transpersonal? How can we know what is a projection and what is intuitive knowing? The discipline holds the full span of this inquiry.

These days, I feel my longing to participate in more conscious collectives, a way of being fully myself amongst others who are being fully themselves while in a shared experience.  This feels so urgently needed in the world today, in our culture and our institutions where the individual voice can be lost or seen as irrelevant.

ST – …and yet somehow far too concerned with itself at the same time.  I see our culture operating in this way that encourages us to constantly focus back in ourselves, as opposed to gaining a sense of self through investment in the collective.

JW – Yes, there’s a false split. You can either focus on your self, or sacrifice and lose yourself in a group. In the discipline, we’re working toward wholeness, toward taking responsibility for the self and collective at the same time. >


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