The Nature of Embodiment by Maré Hieronimus

On and off, I have been writing a small practice book on embodiment, which seems years in the making. This little book will offer in written form some of the synthesis practices that I have been working with and teaching over the years. These practices draw from Yoga, Somatic and Integrated Movement, Embodiment, and Healing practices, particularly for women, or for those who want to connect more to deeply to the feminine aspects of their nature.

Here is a little excerpt to enjoy, based on my definition and understanding of embodiment.

The Nature of Embodiment

"Matter and the elements become sacred when they reflect the presence of the spirit or consciousness. This we observe in the natural world. Hence, matter has a certain neutrality and receptivity. We can energize it either with the sacred or the profane, knowledge or ignorance. " Dr. David Frawley

I have been thinking a great deal about the nature of embodiment lately, and what this actually is. I see the human body as a vehicle, a great cosmic instrument, to transmit the resonance of the forces that move through us. If we were truly able to experience the body as a conduit for the forces of energy, then we would have access to a whole other realm of experience. This realm is described as multi-layered, one where our cellular matter is vibrating and alive with the wave like undulations of energy that are ever moving through us like tiny rivers and streams. Through this experience one could sense and feel that we are a part of an intricate matrix of life, and that our human form carries and directs these forces through a subtle web of inner pathways that connect directly into the outer world, and infinitely out into space. Then we could truly begin to have an embodied experience of the reality of the universe as an ever pulsing, breathing, great and epic organism that we are delicately interconnected to.

There are probably as many definitions of embodiment as there are human beings in this world. Each person creates his or her own sense of it, and what it might be. Expanding upon my definition above from a less poetic point of view, I believe that the phenomena of embodiment is the experience of the fullness of the layers of the physical and subtle bodies as a unified entity or whole. And beyond this, I see the experience of embodiment as the opening up of these inner pathways through the subtle bodies so that the energy streaming through us moves more freely, and is less obstructed by the blocks of ones own body-mind. Because my practice is grounded in Yogic Philosophy and Cosmology, I would also state it in this way:  The phenomena of embodiment is the experience of the natural and unimpeded energy or Prana flowing through the Nadi channels, and the experience of the Five Body Sheaths or Koshas as an integrated sentient whole being, living in relationship to the external environment.

Most of us are living lives in which we are completely or partially disconnected from the experience of our physical bodies. Our bodies carry an enormous amount of cultural, religious and ancestral history and weight. Religions have often told us that the experience of our bodies is tainted, dirty, unholy or wildly profane. The experience of our bodies can be charged this way. But, the experience can also be one of sacredness, and a profound way of perceiving the movement of energy and spirit through the material world, and, the material world is the world that we live in. How do we experience the presence of energy and spirit fully within our earthly lives, if we are not fully within our bodies?

Because we are limited in our perceptions, we have a difficult time perceiving these subtler bodies, and perceiving the actuality of their presence. But, we know it when we feel it. We experience embodied awareness in the presence of a great spiritual teacher. We also can experience it through the work of a great healer, or in varying degrees, when witnessing a great performing artist (dance, theater, music, performance). The form and the formless become one, the visible and the invisible merge. A human being could walk into a room or on stage and stand, and while seemingly doing nothing, we could experience the innate power of their presence. Going back to, and expanding upon my definition, I would say it is because they have opened the pathways through their physical form, and allowed the energy surrounding us all, swimming through us all, to mix, mingle and nourish their own physical being. They have momentarily, or more permanently, allowed that energy to move freely. Surrendering and trusting the wisdom and flow of that movement, or the intrinsic intelligence of Prana, they become one with the matrix of life. Joseph Campbell would define this as a peak experience, an event where one is fully alive and awake in the body and experiencing the harmony, bliss, and expanse of their own being.

I see the experience of embodiment as also a claiming of ones own energetic strata and matrix, and a calling of that energy home into the physical form. It is a common belief by many shamanistic practitioners around the world that we as human beings can block, hide, or loose parts of our subtle energy body or self. This happens through the experience of emotional, physical or psychic trauma in ones life, which we all have gone through. There are many healing practices around bringing those lost or buried parts of the self back into the physical form to re-unite with the layers of one’s being. We do not have to be fully conscious that we have done this to have an experience with it. But in order to have an all embracing sense of oneself, it is necessary to claim all parts of the self in the physical form.

In order to cultivate such embodied experiences, we must also begin the process of unpacking the way that we fundamentally think about, and experience the human body, and our selves. This process opens up the deep layers of history and the shadow side of human nature, buried within our physicality. We must begin to shift the ground of reality and paradigm upon which we base the experience of human-ness and the physical form. We must begin to stop treating the body as an object or machine, and cease thinking about the body as something to conquer and dominate, much like the peoples and lands and countries that the western world has come to conquer and dominate. In transforming the foundations of our perceptions, we can begin to energize the body with the sacred rather then the profane, and begin the work of becoming deeply and profoundly sensitive.

We must become intimately familiar with the terrain of our inner body landscape, and cultivate the courage necessary to experience the energies that are locked, buried, and hidden within the tissues. In experiencing these energies, we can cultivate a deep well of empathy for ourselves, and others, and become well acquainted with the practice of kinesthetic sensitivity and an inner listening. In becoming more nuanced in our sensory experience, we can begin to separate out sensory and sensual experience from erotic or sexual experience. Though these experiences are related, they are not exclusive. We live in a culture where there is so much terror, repression, darkness and violence around the human body.  Sexuality has come to dominate the landscape of sensual experience, and has shut us down from perceiving much of the sensorial realm without its veil.  

We are not normally trained to do any of this, least of all to be sensitive, and to feel deeply. We are not usually trained as children to honor these qualities, and cultivate them within our bodily experience as tools towards greater perception and understanding. These qualities are not actually valued within our culture. They are often seen as weak, overly feminine, will-less, goal-less, and therefore ultimately not very useful. How does the cultivation of a deep sensitivity within translate to anything measurable in the physical world?

This is not surprising given the state of imbalance between men and women within our culture and world today. This imbalance speaks to an underlying root imbalance, which is now very widely referenced. In the Yogic cosmology, we refer to these energetic forces as Shiva (masculine, solar, seer, active, outer, left-brain, logical, linear), and Shakti (feminine, lunar, seeing, inner, flow, right-brain, intuitive, cyclical).

Shiva and Shakti are much more then just masculine and feminine. To understand them is to be one with the mystery of the universe itself, and so I fall woefully short in my explanation as my own understanding is limited, and any definitions that I might provide only point towards the reality of the experience of Shiva/Shakti. But we can think about these as pairs of opposites that are truly one, which exist along a continuum as the play of this world. The one becomes two, then the two become three, and the three become many. These are cosmic principles that express forces of nature and their intrinsic truths through an eternal dharma or order. In Yoga, Shiva and Shakti are one. Shakti is the creative power and movement behind all things, and Shiva is the awareness of that movement.  Shakti is the pulsating formlessness, Shiva is the form. Shakti is the great mother, Shiva is the divine father. The whole purpose and function of all Yoga is the unification of these prime forces within the body temple, and through their beloved communion, to experience the oneness behind all names and forms.

So it goes without saying that our bodies, and the way in which we inhabit the body, reflects this great divide and imbalance. Part of the goal of experiential, somatic, and embodiment movement practices is not to produce anything tangible, but to have an experience of being deeply alive, and to be inside of that experience. One could even describe these practices as the sensitization towards the experience of the flow of Shakti pulsing through the matrix of one's body. How can our culture, with its goal oriented, linear, left brain dominated logical thinking bias- possibly begin to reconcile the importance of these subtler and more intuitive experiential embodiment practices? It really cannot.

What differentiates these somatic and embodiment practices from more mainstream physical practices are its general focus on developing sensory awareness and sensitivity while widening ones range of perception. These practices are inclusive of explorations of the different systems and corresponding psychic states of the body, including the circulatory and fluid systems, the glandular system, as well as the more widely focused upon musculoskeletal system. I believe it is no mistake that there is such a focus particularly upon experiencing and developing the muscles of the body in western culture, as this system is intrinsically tied to ones sense of vitality, will, and form. Muscles have become tangible evidence of ones achievement, which is wonderful to behold. But this is also only one system and experience of the body, and it, not surprisingly, resides in the more solar or masculine realm.

What is it to experience the softness and fluidity of the inner body? What is it to experience the somatic state of surrender, rather then of willfulness? What is it to amplify ones sensory experience, and widen ones range, so that what we are experiencing somatically is more like a million colored rainbow, rather then shades of only black and white? What is it to let go, surrender, and yet stay awake and present to the flow of ones full range of kinesthetic and energetic experience?

Most people in this day and age, if given the opportunity to surrender, will go unconscious, and perhaps fall asleep. This can be an incredible experience, especially if one is working with lucid dream practices. Opening to the imaginal dream realm is a doorway into the other worlds, and this is the field and domain of healers and shamans. But what is it to experience surrender, to widen ones range of sensory phenomena, and to stay awake, in the earthly world?

These embodiment practices go further then to intrinsically link somatic experiences with the terrain of the mental, emotional and energetic bodies, widening the range of ones perceptual awareness into the subtler and invisible fields. This can happen through the use of imagery, dreams, the experience of poetic language, and sound. All of these non-linear, intuitive methods enhance and improve ones ability to be, practice, and live in a more embodied way.

If we want to cultivate the “experience of being alive”, we must be willing to go into that experience. And as we live here, on this planet, on this earth, we must go into these experiences with our bodies more fully awake, and resonating as the profound instruments that they are born to be. These beautiful bodies are a cosmic gift of nature, capable of perceiving phenomena well beyond what we commonly understand through the lens of the five senses. I believe what prevents us from experiencing such phenomena is in part the inability to allow ourselves to sense deeply inside of the body, resulting in a general experience of numbness and profound lack of sensitivity, which translates into our relationship to the outer world.

These somatic and embodiment practices can help us open into this deep feeling and sensitivity, and assist us to expand into the profound and mystical experience of embodied presence. These practices also ask us to expand upon the more archetypally feminine qualities of our nature. I am not saying that these practices are only feminine or lunar, but that what is lacking culturally in our bodily experiencing are these aspects of our nature and being. These practices ask us to cultivate receptivity, the art of deep listening, intuitive and right-brained thinking, and compassion, and to feel these as somatic states and realities within the body. These practices also ultimately ask us to be very courageous, as we open ourselves to the resonance of our own inner being, and the energies that move within. Unlocking this can be a process of deep release, and will involve some amount of emotional or psychological suffering, as any transformation does.  As we let go of our own personal as well as ancestral psychic holding patterns stored deep within the physical form, this is inevitable. But it is these holding patterns that keep us locked into particular ways of being, and our experience of the phenomenal world. Once we are willing to let go of some of our limited perceptions, and meet the experience of the physical form in a more expansive and gentler way, the experience of the body and the physical world that we live in will transform into love.  Using the instrument of the body as the tool for expanded perception and awareness, we can begin to have a fuller experience of embodied presence and the love that pulses through us, the power of human gentleness, and the profound beauty and nature of the mystery of life.

Reflections upon E|MERGE Artist Residency, February 2014 by Maré Hieronimus

In February, 2014 an incredible and diverse group of artists, scientists and activists gathered at EarthdanceCenter for Creative Living Residency and Retreat Center in Plainfield Massachusetts, and embarked upon a creative journey together, and within the community through the E|MERGE Interdisciplinary Artist Residency. I was blessed to be a part of it, and a collaborating artist on The Oracle Project, conceived by project leaders Cory Neale and Nicole Nigro, with Christos Galanis spear-heading the blazing of a lost trail from Earthdance to the West Cummington Church. The Oracle Project was a study of oracle within self, life, art making, and community, and a massive experiment in collaboration for all artists involved, which included: Cory Neale, Nicole Nigro, Christos Galanis, Alex Kramer, Adriana Segurado Mendez, and myself, Maré Hieronimus.

The Oracle Project collaboration was conceived as a four-hour performance event, which consisted of moving the audience through several experiences. This event was staged by the collaborators, with each of us playing an integral role in its creation, while simultaneously specializing in the areas most engaging to us as artists. After an “oracle ritual” in the Barn Studio of the Earthdance Center, audience members had the choice of taking part in the 1:30 hour, 1.5 mile walk on the lost trail that meandered over a small wooded mountain which was buried under frozen feet of snow. After the walking portion of the event, and guided by Christos Galanis, the audience members came upon a separate trapeze site installation in a nearby tree, by the Oracle Project resident trapeze artist, Adriana Segurado Mendez.

Blazing the Trail

Journeyers were then directed to the final site of the Performance, at The West Cummington Church, which included the outdoor surrounding area of the church building, as well as it’s indoor environment. Two separate site installations bookending the outside of the church were created, including my own installation, Field of Twigs, and a separate site installation by Nicole Nigro, consisting of a large square piece of blue fabric placed over the white, frozen snow, lit by candle light, upon which Nicole Nigro stood and moved.

The Oracle Project culminated inside the church itself, with a separate dance site work, co-created by Nicole Nigro, Adriana Segurado Mendez, and myself, with an original soundscore by Cory Neale, and original song composed and directed by Oracle Project collaborator and fiddler extraordinaire Alex Kramer, as well as additional ethereal music from the Church Choir.

The West Cummington Church, photo by Maré Hieronimus
The West Cummington Church, photo by Maré Hieronimus

For my site installation within The Oracle Project, Field of Twigs, I drew inspiration from my recent and ongoing solo rise, in which bundles of twigs and branches are used as imbued objects, becoming an extension of the body, and conductors of the dance. rise is also concerned with the notion of body as field or instrument through which forces of sound, light, thought, image, emotion, space and time are passing through.

For the construction of this site installation, I gathered fallen branches from the woods of the lost trail, and the Earthdance surrounding area. I also drew direct inspiration from Walter De Maria’s epic land art, The Lighting Field. This long-term installation in the plains of Western New Mexico consists of a field of 400 stainless steel lightning poles arranged in a grid like rectangle, 1 mile x 1 kilometer in scope. These poles become conductors of the forces of electricity, lighting up the sky and bringing bolts of light directly down to the earth. I am specifically philosophically and experientially interested in the notion of body as conduit, instrument and conductor of forces, much like the lightning poles in De Maria’s work. For my intimate homage to this large-scale piece, I planted the deadened, painted, fallen branches and twigs into the frozen feet of snow beside the West Cummington Church, allowing them to stick upward, simulating the lightning poles, and directing the eye towards the sky. Within the performance installation, the moving body was to act as the conductor of forces, rather than specifically the twigs themselves.

Field of Twigs is also the investigation of the notion of Oracle as state of being, or Oracle as state of consciousness within the self. I was, and have been for many years, interested in the shifting of consciousness through movement, and how it is that these windows of memories, images, premonitions or even visions can pass through the body-mind-consciousness, through the vehicle of dance. This can be witnessed most especially in shamanic dance practices, but I feel these experiences are also available to others who are not directly trained within these lineages, and that the field of somatic practice has radically shifted the way in which dancers now inhabit their bodies. I feel these practices potentially give rise to something akin to shamanic states of consciousness through movement. This has been an interesting continued experiment for me, and more research needs to be done before I can write fully about it (this is a larger body of research that I am just beginning to sink into).

By night, the Field of Twigs installation was lit through candle light, and a quiet dreamscape was created, haunting and remotely post-apocalyptic in feel. I inhabited this environment through dance on the frigid evening of the performance event, when the audience members arrived at the West Cummington Church, after walking the lost trail.

walking the lost trail
walking the lost trail

The whole experience was incredibly rich and diverse. Challenges were had, but the beauty of the collaboration truly began to sing when we were able to speak about the conflicts that surfaced, and find a space where each person was given voice at our table. Ultimately this experience was almost utopian for me: living and working together with 30 artists from all over the world who ranged widely in age, gender, and race, it was the unfolding of a fresh way of being in relationship to self, to fellow artist, and to community: non-hierarchical, community-driven, with each artist having a deep commitment to their own unique practice and vision, while simultaneously remaining overwhelmingly generous and open to new ideas and ways of engaging their particular art form, and the notion of oracle in life in general.

Forrest light
Forrest light

I have been left with many questions about The Oracle Project, and Field of Twigs, and my own continued dance/art practice. But I seem to have more questions about the place of art in our world today, questions that have gnawed at me my entire adult life as an artist. Living in such a utopian community, I could not help but wonder again about the separation of art and life, art and spirituality, art and everyday being. I have questions about the incredible function and power that art can have within our lives and culture, and wonder why these functions are not fully utilized because of lack of funding, lack of knowledge, lack of community and common vision. I have questions about why art, and dance art in particular (as it is my primary form), continue to struggle for place, space, understanding and audience; and I have questions about how we as artists can continue to do our work, together, within community, and bridge these gaps. This is work that I truly feel, no matter how many people see it, that it has impact, and that it does matter. And yet, I think it is also important that more people are able to see this kind of collaborative, multidisciplinary work, and experience its impact first hand, and within their lives. There is so much that can be received from the witnessing of such work, and so much that can be taken from these new models of collaboration and living that subvert age-old and tired notions of power and dominance, and celebrate multi-generationalism, multi-genderism, multi-racialism, all within a communal living situation.

Not everyone has the desire to live this way, and I am not really suggesting this. But there is a balance to be struck, and I feel there is a such a driving sense of isolationism that underlies our American culture, from the old world pioneers who pushed out west, to the self-made millionaires, then billionaires, there is a deep-seated sense if individualism that is essentially focused on self-preservation and self-motivation. This wild individualism celebrates the uniqueness of each of us, and in its highest form sings the "song of myself", as Walt Whitman put it. And yet, if taken too far, it separates us so deeply from one another, and can cause a self centered-ness, and a selfishness, that feels insanely destructive. We need each other, we need community, we need a feeling of togetherness as the world becomes increasingly complex and global, and we wonder, for example, why people living in NYC, one of the most densely populated places in the world, still feel so desperately alone and isolated. It is part of the experience.

How can art bring us together more, and gather us into community, and bring us into relationship to one another in healthier, fuller ways? From the first ritual dances and cave paintings and miniature figurines of ancient times, whatever their ultimate purposes were (as they remain mysterious), we do know that bringing people together in meaningfulness was at the very least one of the functions of art. We as human beings have always made things, dances, paintings, sculptures, songs,  to mark time and life and meaningful events through symbol, metaphor, or illustration. Life without marking these moments ceases to feel as meaningful. And life without the feeling of meaning is an empty and lonely place to live.

As artists, it is important for us to keep creating, however many people come to know what we do. I resonate with the quote by Joseph Campbell, that "I don't believe that people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive". This experience then creates a feeling of meaningfulness. And through the creation of these very particular spaces and places, the world for me is made more whole, new perceptions are given time to arise, new ways of thinking are given space to surface, and I feel what it is to be alive and living. These experiences, within this American culture, this time and place and space, are difficult to sustain. Lack of funding, lack of time and space, lack of understanding of the meaningfulness and purposefulness of art, and a decentralized community: These are the beautiful challenges that we face as artists living in our world today. I feel honored to have had the time to be able to reflect upon these larger issues, and to reflect upon a practice of non-hierarchical collaborative process and practice. These experiences become a catalyst for transformation, and with it comes the opportunity to bring these reflections (with all the questions that they bear) forward into my continued art/life.

The Church, and final destination
The Church, and final destination

Dance Matters by Maré Hieronimus


To culminate our experiences at CultivateDanceNH in August, 2013, photographer Arthur Fink asked each of the participating artists to write a paragraph on why we believe dance matters. Below is the paragraph I am sharing that will be coupled with a group of his images from the dance festival, which he hopes to publish and share in some form. I love the dance. It's quiet revolution and transformation, in all ways. This is why dance matters, to me...

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant, and has forgotten the gift." -Albert Einstein

There are many ways to know or experience meaning, and one of these ways is to allow the linear/logical mind to give way to the non-linear, intuitive and non-verbal realm of the dancing body, which can precipitate overwhelming experiences of timelessness and interconnectedness inside of a fleeting performative act. This body to body, human to human real-time exchange is the foundation for my interest in the creation of performance works. There is no way to fully commodify or sell this experience, which presents a problem in this culture of consumption. But dance still nevertheless matters, and perhaps it matters even more because of its ephemeral nature. Dance is a profound way of knowing, connecting, experiencing, processing, communicating and expressing. It's origins take us back to some of the earliest ways in which we as human beings experienced meaning through ritual and communion. It still serves that same function for those of us who participate within it, whether witnessing or moving. And through taking us out of the realm of the logical mind and into the intuitive, dance has the potential to help open an internal space that shifts ones attention away from the importance of "I", and into the importance of "we", and the earth community in which we live. I would say that this is exactly what this society, and earth, need now, as we sway further and further away from nature and swing towards technology, isolation, and total disconnection from the vehicle in which we live: the human body. Dance matters because it brings us back into that vehicle, and into the here and now, through which we can experience and celebrate the movement towards something that is holistic, integrating, communing, and healing. To me, at this time in human history, there is nothing more important then this. - Maré Hieronimus, Brooklyn, New York