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.


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