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.

Dance of Kriyas by Maré Hieronimus

Dance of Kriyas

One of the many reasons why I connect so deeply to the Yogic stream of wisdom is that it is the science of human awakening which crosses all cultural boundaries and experiences. It is a set of techniques and a journey-map to help us understand the experiences that happen to all human beings when consciousness begins to expand and awaken in the body, and this has no religion attached to it. It goes beyond names and forms within our limited cultural understanding and moves to the root of human experience as we transmute suffering into ecstasy, pain into bliss. As Swami Satchidananda said so beautifully, truth is one, paths are many.

These experiences then are not limited to only those people who have knowledge about what is happening to them when energy truly awakens in the body. From a yogic perspective, this is a natural evolutionary experience, and one can call it whatever they want. From a tantric perspective, ultimately the movement of this energy naturally prepares us for the sacred awakening of Kundalini Shakti as she begins her assent towards Shiva and their beloved communion in the physical form, which awaits everyone. This experience is also very much understood, honored, and spoken of as an embodied experience in Tantra, and this is why I connect deeply to this lineage. From this perspective, the movement of energy in the body creates experiences within the physical form that are inevitable. Though these experiences are said to be unique to each human being, and reflect their own life history, samskaras, karma, and journey, they also have their universal correlation. Transformation is an embodied action.

From a yogic perspective, prana or energy has innate intelligence. Prana moves where she needs to go. Where we get into trouble is that often we do not allow for that movement. We are not encouraged to allow for it, and as a result, we end up impeding or blocking ourselves, interrupting our own expansion.

As a dancer, I have been deeply committed for many years to the practice of dance improvisation. I believe in its transformative power both for witness and mover, though it is often seen as a lesser form and subjugated to choreography in our culture, or the controlled setting of particular movements in time and space that are more tightly knit. Choreography is often meant to elicit a particular experience or response in the witness, over and over again. Improvisation often blows that field of experience wide open, for better or worse. This can be extremely uncomfortable for many people.  

Improvisation is much more widely respected and understood within music, and especially within eastern forms of music.  It is understood as the unfoldment of energy, that there is a life force that moves within us that contains within it it’s own great mystery, wisdom and profound intelligence, and that all we need to do is get out of our own way to allow that energy to move. This is the dance of improvisation that I am so deeply invested in as a dance artist.

There is a term in yoga that can be applied to the natural enfoldment of this energy. This term we call kriya. Kriya in yoga has several different related definitions. The way in which I am using it here is in the sense of a movement of spontaneous energy, which is a purification. There are certain yogic techniques that we call kriyas, which are meant to cleanse the energy channels of the body (nadis) and burn out our toxins,  limiting belief systems, karmas, and negative samskaras (deep-seated impressions which can create habit and addiction). But kriyas also happen spontaneously.

I imagine that for those great beings who, ages ago, contributed to and created the set of techniques that we now call kriyas, that these movements were in fact spontaneous actions, as they felt the natural fluctuation of prana through the body and allowed for the purifications to take place, and the removal of darkness in all its forms. I imagine these spontaneous experiences of the movement of energy were then codified into a technique. This is most often how any technique is born: the experience happens, and then there is a reverse engineering process where we retrace the steps to understand what gave rise to that particular expression. These great beings allowed for the natural enfoldment of that process, which then gave birth to their own awakening. They were able to codify that process for the benefit of all, so that we might expedite the awakening that awaits each of us.

It dawned on me one day that I needed to connect my intellectual understanding of what I was experiencing on a somatic and energetic level while improvising, and the yogic concept of kriya. There are many different techniques in improvisation and I have immersed myself in knowing them: how we relate to time, space, weight, repetition, phrasing, feeling, sensing, thinking, intuiting. But for me, once those tools were fundamentally learned and I began to embody them, I felt the improvisation was left dry and stale unless I did one thing: let go and trust - ride the wave – to be the dance. 

I had this instinct to let go always. But I was eager to learn the practices, to know the ground that would hold me. Once I felt free enough, then all those techniques began to fall away in support of the dance, and the one great mystical experience of the movement of the innate intelligence of prana through the body. This became the improvisation.

And then, my dancing began to have deeper life as it expressed the movement of these root energies. The stories held within the body, the histories both lived and ancestral, the experiences that have marked me, the unfolding karmas, these naturally came and surfaced and presented themselves as unfurling mythologies whose constellations were in a beautiful and intricate fluctuation that my logical mind could have no complete grasp of.  And, as these stories and mythologies unfolded, my job as improviser and performer was to witness and honor their conscious arrival in the sky of my own awareness, and to hold them in a sacred light. In the fire of that light, all the suffering becomes ecstasy; all the pain dissolves itself into bliss. These are the buried seeds of our life and experience - all that holds us back and propels us forward. This is the natural experience of kriya, the spontaneous movement of energy expressing itself in the dance.

This spontaneous experience of kriya can also be felt within asana, or the physical postures of yoga. But within the western paradigm, we favor the form over the formless, choreography over improvisation, set posture over the spontaneous experience of embodied presence. The way posture is taught is extremely controlled and goal oriented, like a choreography itself. With such an emphasis on physical control of the body, it is nearly impossible to allow for the natural expression of kriya to unfold, in my experience. This I find so ironic, because the postures can be thought of as kriyas themselves. These postures are expressions of the movements of energy through the annamayakosha or physical form. They are ultimately meant to open up the nadi pathways and to allow the energy to flow more freely. 

This energy has it’s own intelligence. We can only physically, somatically, cultivate the ground in our own embodied consciousness for the movement to naturally occur towards expansion, rather then contraction. We can think about these practices as the code, but they are not the experience of the yoga itself. They are a road map towards union, and only that. And so, with our tight clamp on experience and the chiseled postures we so admire – we often lock down that energy, or redirect it unknowingly - and are lost to the experience of the rippling effects of the divine pulsing through us. That divine energy wants us to unfold it into bliss. And yet, we lock her down and rein her in. Perhaps we are deeply afraid of her. Perhaps we are afraid of the loss of control, and what that might mean for us within the rational order of our lives. And so we hold tight to our road map, to our techniques, to the look of it, often sacrificing the actual experience of bliss as these deeper energies begin to unfurl and rise up in waves.

I am not at all saying that these techniques should not be followed, that these roadmaps should not be studied. But, if we were to allow in our western minds for a little more freedom in all ways, more softness and suppleness in the body, more emphasis on feeling rather then look, more natural expression of these movements and these kriyas, if we were to let the reins go just a little bit more, then we might find that the experience of yoga happens to us. We are riding the wave, feeling the movement. We could experience it much like a dance improvisation, or even the dance of Shiva, where we sense, feel and become one with the energy rising up as we witness the creation and destruction of the worlds within worlds, and honor her enfoldment into truth, knowledge, and bliss.