The Woman's Art by Maré Hieronimus

Dance and movement, throughout time and history, have been a doorway into profound states of consciousness, other realms, and alternate realities. This is a secret that every dancer knows and feels deep inside of their bones. There is a reason why, in a culture that does not support the arts, and where dance in particular is at the very bottom of the totem pole in funding and support, that we, as dancers, continue to have the stamina and desire to do what we do. Those of us who have dedicated our lives in some way to the practice of dance and embodiment studies understand this secret.

There is an ecstasy that is freely available to everyone through the experience, and the sharing of that experience. And through the deeper practices, there is a cellular wisdom within the body that begins to awaken and reveal itself to us, through time. Through the revelation of this embodied knowledge, profound understandings can be accessed through visionary states of being. These visionary and trance states are available for everyone to experience. One needs only the curiosity, open heartedness, and sense of wonder to guide them into the liminal and intuitive space of the dreamer.

This is an ancient knowledge born out of the dawn of human kind. But much of this knowledge has been forgotten in the western world, or pushed underground for centuries and millennia. It is easy to understand why this is the case. For thousands of years most dominant religious traditions have told us that the body is dirty, a reflection of our earthly ties and desires, and that our engagement of it binds us to this earthly realm. In more extreme practices there are whole traditions of bodily denial and self-abuse born directly out of the philosophical ground that the body is tainted, un-spirited, dangerous, and should not be trusted.

But what if the body could actually be experienced as vehicle for self-transformation and transmutation? What if we treated the body truly in this sacred manner? What if within the center of ones earthly body lays a key to unlocking the experience of the majesty and mystery of the self, and the cosmos?

These are not new concepts. These ideas have been with us likely since the dawn of our time, when people gathered and circled around fires. The holders of this sacred knowledge have been the indigenous peoples of all nations. These peoples see the human body as interrelated to the earth, the elements, and the cosmos. There is a central focus on ritual, song, dance and trance within indigenous practices. Across cultures we see the role of the shaman or the medicine man or woman using both song and dance to transport themselves into other realms, bringing back information, healing, and wisdom to the community.

There are universal practices within shamanism that cross all cultural boundaries. This is because, above all, these are human practices that know no boundary. These are practices that are the birthright of every human being, that is to know the true nature of oneself, and to be revealed these truths through the journey and the course of a lifetime.

These shared practices contain the understanding that the world around us is imbued with spirit, and that there are alternate realties existing along side our own, at all times. These shared realities are now referred to in Core Shamanism as the lower, middle and upper worlds. Through dream and journeywork, these realms are readily available for all of us to access. In accessing these realms, we grow relationship to the deeper layers of the self and most importantly, to spirit. This is a direct line and path towards revelation.

This ancient human wisdom that has crossed all cultural boundaries and nations has been largely buried in the western world. Threads of it have existed within the mystic and esoteric traditions. And mystics throughout time have tapped into the understanding that the body can be a used as a vehicle towards self-understanding, profound healing, and transformation. Many of these understandings have innately been under the domain of the woman, the being whose very womb is the life creating force within our natural world. This is the woman’s art. 

But the dominant religions of our time, and of the last 2000 years, have violently treated those that would go their own way, and follow any direct path to spirit. We see this through the countless wars that have been waged in the name of religion and power, and the witch-hunts that have been carried out as a part of our western human history. And many of these concepts have been directly or indirectly tied to the subjugation of women.

The woman is the embodiment of the intuitive and creative force of the cosmos, the one who brings life into the world, the one who cycles in relationship to the mystery of the moon and the tides, the one whose body is intricately related to the forces of nature, and whose powers are tied to it as well. The woman is closer to death through the reality that she is the one who gives life. All life flows from her.

Because of a woman’s natural makeup and capacities, through many of the ancient wisdom traditions she is revered as the one who more naturally walks between the worlds, the one whose very body gives her access to unseen truths. According to all great wisdom traditions, each of us contains within us both forces of masculine and feminine, whether we are heterosexual, homosexual, or anything in between. Each of us contains this creative power, this deep, intuitive and generative force. And each of us can use the profound wisdom of the body to tap into this source of creation and to connect directly to spirit.

But this work is not just women's work. This work can be everyone’s work. This work asks us to let go the grip of the logical mind, which through all traditions is correlated to the masculine aspects of the self, and the waking alert state so prized by our western culture and world. To step into this work one must take a leap of faith into the unknown, into the abyss of the space between waking and dream, between conscious and unconscious, between matter and spirit. When we loosen the reigns that grip us so tightly to this single realm of existence, and we remain grounded in the earth of the body, other realms move forward into the sphere of our awareness and reveal themselves through our corporeal experience. The body becomes the terrain where we sense, feel, experience, see, hear, taste, the presence of spirit within us, and within our lives. In communing with spirit in this way, we have the opportunity to create new pathways of being and understanding, and work into the substrata of the mythology of our very lives. All of this, while we remain firmly rooted in the physical realm.  

So many of our practices have been about escaping the body; because it is not holy, because it is dirty, because it is tainted, because it is not elevated. Because it is impermanent. It is time to reclaim the body as our own, as a vehicle of spirit, sacred in this light. For the western mind to reclaim the body, we cannot move with the same separatist consciousness that has created this incredible body/mind/spirit schism that we face in the western world. We must shift our consciousness in relationship to it, so that we no longer see the body as something to divide and conquer, or to ignore and bury. This is a divided consciousness ruled by a false sense of ego and the potential tyranny of the intellectual mind. This is the old way.

The new way is the ancient way, guided by reclaiming the wisdom of the divine feminine and integrating it back into the whole. It is the holistic way. It is the way that sees oneself in relationship to all and everything, interconnected to the earth and to the stars and to the entire natural world. It is the way that was never lost by our many indigenous brothers and sisters, but the way that we largely lost in the western world as we cut ourselves off from our own intuitive wisdom, from the deep wisdom of the knowing body, and from the wisdom of our earth. And this way, this path, can be found right in the center of ourselves, in the beautiful and myriad somatic experiences, in the stories and the embodied truths that can be revealed to us, if we are willing to listen.

Somatic Practices and Visionary States by Maré Hieronimus

Over the course of the last several years, I have had many friends, women in particular, ask me to describe in greater detail what it is that I am doing and working with in my creative life. I’ve begun more and more to share some of the practices which help to generate the work. My desire has been to help facilitate an experience for others in relationship to the mystical journey of the self, in the land. Along side this experience is the use of ritual or ceremony as a gateway towards transforming the experience of life and attaching ourselves to the greater mythological stories that call to each of us.

Who are we truly, and what are we doing here?

What I have found, if anything valuable, I have found through the wisdom of my body. Before deepening into that truth and experience, these ideas remained just ideas, caught in the hurricane of my mind as seed thoughts and wishes that had no real reference in the physical world. The gateway to such experiences for me has been, in large part, somatic practice. These are practices of deep sensing and inner listening, tuning to the systems of the body and the cellular wisdom contained within each of us. I turned to these practices as a young dancer, and only out of physical suffering, which is usually the case with these things. I had to work with this physical pain, to move through it, to rewire, so that I might be able to continue to do what made me feel most free, most alive.

And so began my journey into the vast and exploratory realm of somatics: developmental movement, Feldenkrais, Alexander technique, Body Mind Centering, Skinner Releasing technique, Laban Movement Analysis. Through years of study and practicing these different forms, I began to rewire my nervous system, creating healthier inner pathways so that I no longer was dancing in pain.

But these practices miraculously opened many more doors for me, doors that were intricately connected to so many of my interests and so much of what has mystically propelled my life.  These practices became my greatest teacher and guide through the deeper terrain of my own self, and further into the world of magical thinking. These practices gently took me into the layers of experience held within the cellular memory of the body, the joy, the sorrow, the darkness and ignorance, and the beauty. All of it there, laid bare in the body for those who will experience it.

As I deepened into these movement practices of inner listening, other things began to happen. And I know that I am not alone in this. It has taken me years to begin to articulate these experiences well in language. Even now, I know I fumble and fall short. It is because these experiences are not language based, if anything, they are poetic experiences. Poetic experiences of the deeper strata of ones being, poetic experiences of the living mythology inside of the body, poetic experiences of the past, present, future, visionary and dream experiences of what has been and the possibilities of what could be.

These experiences became more and more profound. I began to feel the shape and colors of my life as visceral experiences held as energies within the body. I began to feel my movement patterning as reflections of these energies, and my own consciousness. I began to see imagery like waking dreams as stories washed through the terrain of my body. I began to feel the ancestral wounds that held me captive, determining the dance and the story of my life, and the spirit in me that wanted to be set free, as all beings want to be set free.

But each of us, each of us contains our own beautiful and unique stories written within the cells of the body, coded within our DNA. And if we listen quietly, truthfully, to the body in motion, then these stories, these mythologies, begin to unfurl and play themselves out in our own unique and tender ways.  For some people, they come as sensations attached to color or feeling, for others they come as imagery and visionary revelations. For others they move through the vibration and current of inner sound, singing like songs of the self through the bones and organs and fluids of the physical form. 

I began to see a relationship between these experiences and the awakening of the body on a cellular level as a greater re-awakening in our culture of an ancient body of knowledge, a body of knowledge which has always been with us, the gateway always here and now in the physical experience. It is the revelation that the body could be harnessed as an instrument of consciousness to access visionary states of being and deeper understandings.

This information is not new at all, but as ancient as our human race is ancient, and as true as our bodies are true. Shamanic cultures throughout time and history have used this wisdom to access these states and to enter into threshold spaces to bring back knowledge, truth, and healing, to the people.

These states are available to everyone. 

These states of being in the body have basis in scientific research. I don’t feel that I need this research to justify the experiences that I have had. Science is only recently catching up to this body and consciousness research and to these practices, which in some way or form have been experienced since the dawn of human kind. But for some who want to understand what is happening in these practices on a physiological level, there is information that sheds basic light upon it relating to the brain waves and patterns of the mind.

There are four very basic brain wave frequencies that induce different states of consciousness. Our basic active and alert waking state is Beta. We prize this state in western culture above all others as the state that propels us forward. This is the state associated with active concentration, with anxiety and worry. The Alpha state is a state of relaxation and daydreaming, and is the doorway into meditative states of being. The Theta state is deeper still, and lies just at the threshold between waking and dream, a liminal trance space where the realities begin to overlap and merge. The Theta state is associated with deeper states of meditation, peak experiences, and expanded states of consciousness.  The fourth basic state is the Delta brain wave state, associated with deep sleep. There are other states as well, but these we can consider common to all. 

Alpha and Theta states are extremely powerful states to enter into. This is the terrain of creation, generation and regeneration, healing and meditation. Artists know these states well, as the state that you enter when in an uninterrupted and inspired field of creation. Healers know this state as a place of healing.

To enter into the Alpha or Theta state and remain present to the experiences of the body is what somatic practice can offer. These are states that I have been working within, unknowingly, for years. Truly, any movement practice done with great attention, relaxation, ease and breath support has the potential of accessing these powerful states. But somatic practices offer the unique experience of wandering through the inner landscape of the body and connecting to the layers of it on a cellular level through the body systems, patterning, and makeup. In this way there lies the potential to unearth ones own body wisdom and awaken cellular intelligence.

As we move into this liminal space, the space between waking and dream, the unconscious, subconscious, and perhaps even collective unconscious begin to bubble it's way to the surface of our experience emotionally, mentally, energetically, spiritually. And if we stay connected to the physical body through practices such as these that cultivate inner sensing and embodiment, then these experiences express themselves very uniquely, and magically, through the physical form.

These experiences express themselves poetically, as sensations, inner sounds, colors, waking dreams and visions. The stories locked within the body, non linear, spiraling, mythic, archetypal, begin to reveal themselves to us through practice. This is the magical, alchemical land of somatics, where mind, body and spirit have the opportunity to unify, where buried narratives are revealed, where through the practice of intuition information can be gathered, assimilated and used for greater purposes: for creation, healing and integration. And these stories, these mythologies, then have the opportunity to be re-written, re-cast, redefined. In this way we can begin to re-create the living mythologies of our lives, to activate our use of free will, and begin to work closer to the very blueprint of ourselves.

These are the practices that are so much of the foundation of the work that I have been exploring both creatively, and through teaching. The self and the cosmos remain a great mystery. But I believe each being to be a magical creature with untapped and enormous potential. May we all have the continued courage to listen to the song, and engage the dance. 

Seeing with the Eyes of the Spirit by Maré Hieronimus

This past week I had the honor of being a part of The International Interdisciplinary Artist Consortium Residency created by Peter Sciscioli at Earthdance, in the mountains of western Massachusetts. We sat in many circles: singular, spiraling, concentric, while each of us shared practices around embodiment and the creation of interdisciplinary performance, art making, and living. There was dancing, song, drawing, wood walking, swimming, eating, living, bickering, laughing, healing. Each of the individual artists brought so much to share, from deep practices of voice and sounding in the body, to contemplative practices of meditation and drawing, to dance and somatic practices, and to the creation of ceremony in the lands that we walked within. And circles became the field of expression for our community and sharing.

We do not sit in enough circles in this culture. I feel we do not really know how to fully sit in circles together: to gently drop the masks, to be with our selves inside of community. To allow each of our spirits - that deeper essence of our nature and selves that exists beyond the small container of the personality - to move forward, so that what we are sharing is both our personal story, and also the larger mythology, essence, nature of our individual and collective spirit.

We were lucky in our time in the mountains to have with us Jack Gray and Dåkot-ta Alcantara-camacho, two artists deeply connected to spirit, to the land, to their ancestors and to their cultural heritage of the Pacific. Through ceremony, Jack and Dåkot-ta facilitated many experiences that brought each of us closer to the nature of our being, and to these essential truths.

One thing that came up over and over again for the group was the pervasive intellectualization of the western mind and culture. And this is how we relate to art making as well. And so here we were, creating these circles, speaking in circles around embodiment, and of what it means to have consciousness or mind in the body. And this is how in the west we operate. Everything is intellectualized. But we cannot intellectualize this experience. These embodied experiences are either had, or not, and no amount of talk will make it so. And even when speech might facilitate this connection, it is not through the intellectualization of these experiences, but through the power of voice, song, of poetic rhythms that are intimately connected to the breath and life force moving through each of us. It is through the cadence and the quality and the tone of the voice, the resonance of the voice in the body, and how that voice then moves out into space, and into our community and the land.

I feel we, as westerners, have forgotten how to fully sit in these circles because of the severing of body, heart, mind, and most importantly, spirit. I feel we have cut ourselves off from the basic river of life through the over-development of logic verses intuition, and this has played out in our world in devastating ways. From this disjointed perspective, it makes it easy to rationalize the subjugation of people, places, things. Everything becomes object. Within my own embodiment, art making, ritual, and teaching practices, this is much of the work that I’ve been exploring. How do we draw spirit and our essential life force into the body, here and now, fully and unabashedly? And so it was through this lens that I was moving and seeing. 

As a teacher I look at the spines of my students. I look at the overarching fractured patterning, of the inability for so many to connect to something as simple and clear and true as earth and sky through the instrument of the body. We can bring ourselves into alignment more and more, regardless of our physical circumstances. It is possible to feel the energy of earth/sky and all the great elements moving through us. It is an embodied practice. We have to begin to truly connect body, heart, mind, spirit, and all the elements that pulse through and around us. But these practices are not wide spread. They exist at the corners and fringes of our culture. Because the intellect still rules strong. These practices must be sought out. It is easy for us to talk about interconnection, to intellectualize it, but not to truly feel it, or to truly embody it.

The spine becomes a metaphor here for me for this deeper experience of the fractured nature of our western lives, of our inability to connect to the most simple and basic natural truths. Even if one rejects the notion of spirit, which many do in the western world, we can all agree that we live here and now on this earth in relationship to each other. It is all relationship. And that our bodies, ancient and new as they are, are the instruments for our feeling, for our experience, for our histories and energy, and for the creation of our futures.

And so with a lack of this embodied knowledge we move forward in the west, head leading, heart flailing, spirit buried, and we try and live out our lives. All this without feeling our connection to what is greater then our small selves: to the earth and to the sky and to our lineages. This is a great tragedy and a cultural illness I believe which needs to be cut through, which needs to be spoken to and transformed so that we might be able to come into wholeness, together.

We have severed so many connections that it is a wonder to me that we continue to move forward. So many of us have severed our connection to our ancestors, to our lineages, to the deeper stories that have created us, to the lands and the songs, the sorrows and the joys of where we come from, of our roots and histories that live in the genetic code of our bodies. Through a deep pathology of compartmentalization and over-intellectualization there is a profound pattern of cutting ourselves off from the very essence of life and living.

And so many of us come into these circles unknowingly broken, with an unconscious disconnect emotionally, physically, energetically, and spiritually. Most of us have been taught no other way. And so when we sit in these circles, we do not know how to bring our spirit forward fully, to bring our energy forward into the community. We don't even know what that means, what that might look like. We wear a mask and put forth our personality often at the expense of sharing the true nature of our selves. Because we are not used to nor are we taught how to sit, see, be and live from that space, from the perspective of spirit. And so, often, we weep, because to come into the realization of these deep and pervasive disconnections even if only for an instant is brutal and terrifying. The veil drops. That's the power of a good circle. You are not who you thought you were. But this is also a path towards freedom of spirit. Because when we see this disconnect, we are arriving at a truth, a truth that has been concealed through our language, through our compartmentalization, through our use of wit or reliance on irony and smartness of intellect to get through, and through the refusal to allow for a greater integration to take place. That integration wants to take place. To go beyond that disconnect, the wound needs to be set free and transformed, and larger mythologies, larger containers need to be brought forth. And this is where the Warrior Spirit comes in that was so eloquently embodied by Jack and Dåkot-ta.

Perhaps this seems vague. So I will share a personal experience I had in one of these circles. We were sitting, singing, sharing time, and so much was brewing inside of me and wanting to move. And then the tears came, of my own personal identity, of the stories pulsing through my body, and the buried stories that I have not yet come to terms with. And the tears were just softly streaming, like a waterfall. And I became confused as to what I was actually weeping about. Maybe I was only weeping for the longing I have to know myself, to connect truly to my own spirit, and to all the ancestors that support me who I do not know, who I have not honored. And then in that moment I wanted to leave. I felt I could not contain that movement. I felt the circle perhaps could not contain me. I had experienced a particular reality, a shade and a color of my self. I felt that I needed to go off into the woods. I needed to wander and be in the solace of nature. And sometimes, this is the medicine. But, not always.

The greater truth is that the experience I was having is not the only shade of myself. This is the experience of these wounds, personal, ancestral, all of it bubbling forth from the unconscious, needing light of day. I speak to my experience knowing, seeing that experience mirrored in the eyes of my friends and colleagues and loved ones over and over again. And then, as I felt myself receding and the woods calling me, an inner voice told me to just stay, just stay silently in the circle.

And so I did.

And then the drumming began. Pulsing through my body, pulsing through the foundations of the farmhouse we were chanting in, pulsing through the earth and into the cosmos, a great call back and forward in all directions, containing all of our many experiences and lives both lived and un-lived. And I felt my heart crack open wider, I felt my heart break as a sorrow moved forward, but the Warrior Spirit moved forward as well, through the stomping of the feet led by Jack and Dåkot-ta, through the echo of sound in my body. And slowly I felt my spirit rise up. That my spirit contained many colors. That the spirit can somehow exist, outside of the trappings of a fractured experience, of our fractured world. That if called upon, the spirit can contain all of our experience like the vast spaciousness of the sky. That the spirit does not know past, present, and future, that they are all one. All realities merging together into a greater spiral, a larger circle that contains everyone and everything.  

And within the circle, there was a healing for me, and for everyone I feel as they walked through their unique passages. I stepped forward more fully into the larger force of myself for at least that moment, into the invisible structures that support me, into my grandmother and to all of my ancestors who are unknown to me. But I felt them there. And I felt large. And in that moment, all was transformed through the practice of staying, through a fierce warrior love, through the ability to walk through that river of tears and stay so that I might reach the bank on the other side, inside of the great circle. On the bank of the river- on the other side- my sight expanded out in all directions as I felt the power of myself to look upon these passages not with the eyes of my smallness, but with the eyes of my spirit.

We all have these passages that we move through, and I have moved through many of them in different ways. But what was so unique about this experience to me was a deeper connection to this great Warrior Spirit that Jack and Dåkot-ta embodied and conjured up within each of us. It was this Warrior Spirit that brought me into alignment with the larger vision of myself, which lives everywhere, and in the center of my body within my very spine. Coming from this perspective, I could tap into the fierce and indomitable nature of my own spirit. I do not say this in a way that is meant to be flashy or egocentric. I say this to speak to the powerful nature of each of us when we drop that mask, drop that smallness, let go the tyranny of the mind and it's need to control the course of the river, and move into the larger force of ourselves. Because I want to see you, in all of your glory, in all of your power of spirit, stepping forward, body, heart, mind, all of it, together. 

And so when we have the opportunity to sit in these circles it is worth asking the question: Whom are you putting forward in that circle? Is it the smaller self, or is it the larger? What aspects of the self are you walking with in your life? From what space and place and perspective are you moving and operating from? The answer for me is a question, and has been and will continue to be this: How can I move with the fuller expression of my nature, all parts present and resonating in my body, all parts flowing through me, directed by the larger song of my spirit, interconnected to all and everything. 

This is a path, a journey for us westerners who have culturally and personally severed these ties. To quiet the intellect that wants so badly to take control and to divide, categorize, colonize, control, what is by its very nature impossible to intellectually understand and even conquer. And though they are important to feel for great healings to take place, the emotions will take over too, and may guide us into a labyrinth and let us rest in the smaller stories of our lives, forgetting the larger song, the larger mythology. I know enough to see that if we can bring these aspects of the self together, resonant in the body as shades of our one rainbow, guided by the wisdom of spirit, then we have a hope, and we have a way to create a world that is integrative, compassionate, relational, and whole.

And so I thank Jack and Dåkot-ta who shared their great knowledge so generously, and all of the incredible artists and participants brought together at Earthdance. May we understand, embody, and live our truths, and bring them forward into our own communities in all ways, every day.