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.