Breaking The Movement Taboo: Reclaiming The Body’s Power Through Dance

August 6, 2017 § 4 Comments

[Martha Graham]

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

~ Martha Graham

Several years ago, I attended an art opening. During the event, I noticed a woman in the crowd start to move in a way that caused her to stand out. Dressed in flowy black clothing, she slowly, with great poise, began to extend her arms, moving her fingers as though sculpting the air. Eyes slightly downcast, unfocused and internal.

People stopped looking at the art and began looking at the woman. What was happening? Was she drunk? Having a slow-motion meltdown? The air in the room became tense and thick.

We are born into bodies that are fluid and free...Rhythm, breath, music and movement become tools of seeing and then freeing the habits that hold us back. When we move our bodies then our hearts begin to open, when the body and the heart taste freedom the mind won't be far behind. ~Gabrielle Roth[image source]

Like underwater kelp, she allowed her body to gently sway back and forth, stepping forward to move ever-so-slowly across the room, all the while tenderly crafting the space around her with fluid fingertips. Her pace and reverence were reminiscent of Tai Chi, but more evocative. Each movement was graceful, flowing into the next.

And then . . . we understood.

She was a dancer, and part of her performance was to take us by surprise. One moment she was one of us, standing around, looking at the paintings on the walls—conforming to the confines of accepted physicality (sitting, standing, walking). The next, she was breaking the movement taboo. Neither sitting, standing, nor walking, but expressing, emoting through her body.

The movements themselves were simple enough, but they were affecting. They came from a deep, committed place within the dancer.

Martha Graham 1948.jpg[Martha Graham by Yousuf Karsh, 1948]

I was struck, not only by the performance itself, but also by that string of moments when people were taken aback by the simple act of a woman moving authentically. You could see in their faces that until they could categorize what was happening, they mistrusted it. Until she was officially “a dancer” in their minds, she was potentially a loose cannon for daring to step outside the confines of acceptable movement.

As we watched her perform, I noticed how sharply her physical fluidity and emotiveness contrasted our own uniform rigidity. It was then that I realized there exists an invisible tyranny over movement. An unspoken, shame-based restriction so pervasive, we don’t often think to question or challenge it.

[“Birthing The New God,” By Paul Bond]

Dance has been an important part of human ritual, healing and celebration since before the birth of the earliest civilizations. Archeologists have discovered paintings in Indian and Egyptian tombs depicting dancing figures from as far back as 3300 B.C.

While in tribal scenarios we once danced together—and still do in some parts of the world and small pockets of society—as culture has evolved, a distinct division has occurred between professional dancers, who are in effect “socially sanctioned” to move expressively, and regular folk who make jokes about having “two left feet.”

Break dancing is one notable exception, in that self-taught dancers are celebrated. But even in this scenario, it’s the most exceptional, skilled and practiced performers that are given audience. There are still parameters. Technique is required. One couldn’t simply improvise and make up for a lack of skill with feeling.

[image source]

Beyond perhaps shaking their hips at a dim, crowded club here and there, most people without a background in dance feel intimidated by the idea of engaging their body in expressive movement.

Most of us who are not professional dancers have at one time been shamed—or watched others be shamed—by peers when we step outside the box of acceptable movement. The shadow of social stigmatization looms large. We fear being a joke, Elaine, in the TV series Seinfeld, who famously loved to dance but moved with embarrassing seizure-like jerks, thumbs and knees akimbo, all the while thinking she was the life of the party.

This unspoken shame and fear surrounding expressive movement prevents most people from ever experiencing the immense therapeutic benefits of dance.

https://rachelneville.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/joymarie-thompson-black-history-exhibit-dance-photography.jpg?w=490&h=613[Photo by Rachel Neville]

Swedish researchers have shown dance to improve mood and increase mental health. It builds cardiovascular, bone and muscle strength. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing can decrease the onset of dementia, boosting immunity, memory and cognition. A Standford Study has found that movement to music creates new neural pathways by integrating several brain functions at once: kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional.

The depth of skill required to perform any kind of classical or structured dance is undeniably impressive. But many people don’t realize there exists a genre of dance which specifically celebrates the authentic movement that springs from the untrained body.

Postmodern dance emerged in the late ’60s as a reaction against the compositional constraints of modern dance. In the same way, modern dance itself once rebelled against the rigid formalism of classical ballet. The Judson Dance Theater, a collection of Greenwich Village artists, dancers and composers, rejected formalism in favor of fostering the purity of ordinary movement.

They saw beauty and value in the freshness of instinctive human self-expression, often using untrained dancers in their performances. Postmodern dance is typified by natural movement—versus learned form.

José Limón’s Influence On Modern Dance[José Lemón]

Around the turn of the last century, people like Isadora Duncan had developed a style they called “free dance”—a rejection of classical formality, which paved the way for a deepened expression of natural movement. Drawing on inspiration from classical Greek arts, folk dances, nature and natural forms, Duncan “followed [her] fantasy and improvised, teaching any pretty thing that came into [her] head.” (Barefoot Dancer: The Story of Isadora Duncan.)

Several years after my experience at the art opening, I found myself stretching on a studio floor with a dancer-friend of mine. A modern dance teacher, she had been kind enough to give me a crash course in movement. As we warmed our bodies up and felt into the space around us, she told me all about postmodern dance and the virtues of authentic movement. Hearing from a trained, professional performer that my natural, untrained physical impulses had value was nothing short of mind blowing to me.

"You were wild once. Don't let them tame you." - Isadora Duncan

[Isadora Duncan]

As she stretched her hamstrings, my friend explained that, just like any art, the main purpose of contemporary dance was to develop one’s “authentic voice.” As a writer, I recognized this phrase and understood it. Authentic voice highlights the value of personality and uniqueness in making effective art. It denotes the pleasure provided by idiosyncrasy, honesty and sincerity.

To cultivate authentic voice takes experimentation, risk and practice—it’s a meditation on the power of vulnerability. Applying this idea to dance was a game-changer for me. Ultimately, developing one’s true voice in dance is not about technique, it’s about having the confidence to go deep, and to be vulnerable, allowing authenticity to shine through.

[Photo by Javier Vallhonrat]

I started in my living room. I began to play with what my body wanted to do. My dancer-friend had mentioned Bartenieff Fundamentals, a method she had studied which begins with a focus on breath, and evolves into one of the body’s extremities taking the lead in expressing itself.

It could start with a hand, a shoulder, a toe, the spine…I learned that if I waited and listened, with music playing, some part of my body always volunteered for the job. And after that, another part inevitably followed.

The goal, my friend said, was simply to become comfortable with my own patterns of authentic movement. And then to eventually build and expand upon those patterns. Modern dance pioneer Martha Graham’s concept of Contraction & Release (a contracting movement with each in-breath, an expansive one with each outbreath) was also a helpful touchstone to begin.

In flamenco, there is a word called, duende, the spirit of the dance. Flamenco dancers wait to start moving until they feel the duende move them. They will wait, poised while the music plays, for as long as it takes.

NaBa Photography: Valeria - Flamenco Dancer, Red Dress[Photo by Naba Zabih]

My first time experiencing being moved by the duende of dance was life-changing. I felt a natural rhythm take hold of me, propelling me. I wasn’t thinking at all, which felt delicious. As a writer who spends most of my creative time in my head, it felt amazing to move my focus to the body, to learn this new visceral language and communicate beyond words. My body rejoiced in its newfound freedom, and it had a lot to say. Stored emotions surfaced, flowing through me, released. It felt good to move expressively. In fact, it felt essential. I wondered how I had ever lived without it.

I started my dance practice while snowed in during the month of January, while fighting an immense depression. Without exaggeration, dance lifted me out of an epic funk and into a new exciting space of possibility. I had broken through the movement taboo and it was deeply liberating. I dare anyone to throw themselves into dancing to the full length of a song they enjoy and not feel a marked sense of uplift by the end. It’s an endorphin rush, athleticism meets creative catharsis.

Isadora Duncan More[Isadora Duncan]

Dance is a vital resource of physical health and emotional wellbeing. You don’t need to take a class to do it. Dance is for everyone. With the exception of the completely paralyzed, someone in a wheelchair can move their upper body expressively to music—there are whole dance companies created by the differently abled.

Deep, expressive movement works as emotional therapy, a physical boost and a cardiovascular workout that you won’t even know you’re doing—until the song ends and you feel how fast your heart is pounding in your chest. Even a slow song, if you work on consistent pacing and fluidity, is a major core workout.

This is an invitation to shed the shame, break the taboo, and reclaim your body’s natural joy in movement. All it takes is 5 minutes, some space, some music, and your willingness to open up to what your body wants to say.

[Alexander Yakovlev]

 

*For some inspiration, follow my journey as an untrained dancer exploring free/postmodern dance & movement on Instagram, @taiwoodville. Special thanks to Alissa Hattman for her notes on this piece, and for Michele Ainza (my dancer-friend) for freely sharing her wisdom, knowledge and inspiration.  

 

 

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Neuroscience & The Next Level Of Consciousness

May 7, 2017 § 5 Comments

Bombshell[Javiera Estrada, “Pillars of Creation.”]

”When you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Neuroscientists at the University of Sussex have identified what they regard as evidence of higher consciousness.

“Consciousness is measured on a sliding scale by the diversity of the brain signals given out and ranges from wakefulness to a deep coma, normally. However, researchers have now found that when under the influence of certain drugs, that diversity range is well overstepped.” (Scientists Uncover A Higher State of Consciousness.)

By measuring magnetic fields in the brain, researchers observed a higher diversity of brain signals when on psychedelic drugs. Users of psychedelics would not be surprised at all.

Dancing in the Dark[Javiera Estrada, “Pillars of Creation.”]

Obvious though it may seem, the importance of this discovery can not be underestimated. This shows us that the spectrum of consciousness has a larger radius of possibility then previously measured.

The typical report of someone on psychedelics mirrors language of the saints & the mystics—a state in which the sacredness of life becomes self-evident. (See Parallax post: “Beyond Division: Studies in Bliss.) This bodes well for the future of humanity, since developing higher states of consciousness has pulled significant & mounting public interest. How else can we save our species from self-destruction but to awaken its higher centers, starting with our own.

Image result for meditation art

Meditation is the most consistent way to access higher consciousness through creating inner space. When we step back from the constant babbling stream of our thoughts, we feel our distinct being-ness outside of the mind’s relentless parade of emotions. According to sacred texts from Vedanta to the Tao, this inner witness is our essential nature, a source of power & peace.

“Mindfulness meditation has been shown to cause distinct changes in brain structure and brain function,” notes neuroscientist Yi-Yuan Tang.
Image result for inner peace art
Meditation measurably reduce anxiety—the plague of our modern era. Science writer Belle Beth Cooper explains why:

There’s a section of our brains that’s sometimes called the Me Center (it’s technically the medial prefrontal cortex). This is the part that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from the bodily sensation and fear centers of the brain to the Me Center are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong reaction in your Me Center, making you feel scared and under attack.

When we meditate, we weaken this neural connection. This means that we don’t react as strongly to sensations that might have once lit up our Me Centers. As we weaken this connection, we simultaneously strengthen the connection between what’s known as our Assessment Center (the part of our brains known for reasoning) and our bodily sensation and fear centers. So when we experience scary or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally.

Inspired
On that same thread, talking to ourselves in the third person has also been proven to reduce anxiety.

I’ve been listening to the Headspace App this month to get me back into a regular meditation routine. It’s first ten sessions are free & I invite you to just try one, because it’s meditation made easy and the benefits for me were immediate. Much easier than trying to dive right in on your own, a helpful guide.

oodNy14

And as Eckhart Tolle reminds us, every action can be a meditation on mindfulness:

“You can practice [witness consciousness] by taking any routine activity that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it becomes an end in itself.”

What are your favorite meditation practices?

What Is Consciousness?

May 1, 2017 § 6 Comments

“Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness. We form friendships so that we can feel certain emotions, like love, and avoid others, like loneliness. We eat specific foods to enjoy their fleeting presence on our tongues. We read for the pleasure of thinking another person’s thoughts.’‘ – Sam Harris

”The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.” Lao Tzu

“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.” Ram Dass

Consciousness is self-awareness of our own existence; the mind contemplating itself & its place in the world.

It gets a little trickier when we try to elaborate.

Article Image

”The human brain contains about one hundred billion interacting neurons,” relates science writer Michael S. Graziano. ”Neuroscientists know, at least in general, how that network of neurons can compute information. But how does a brain become aware of information? What is sentience itself?”

”What is the essence of awareness, the spark that makes us us? Something lovely apparently buried inside us is aware of ourselves and of our world. Without that awareness, zombie-like, we would presumably have no basis for curiosity, no realization that there is a world about which to be curious, no impetus to seek insight, whether emotional, artistic, religious, or scientific. Consciousness is the window through which we understand.” (‘What Is Consciousness? Neuroscience May Have Answer To The Big Questions.”)

Fajar P. Domingo[Fajar P. Domingo]

“Consider an analogy from physics,” adds psychologist Kristian Marlow, “knowing every equation predicting how mass and gravity interact does not tell us why they interact in the way they do. To understand why mass and gravity interact, we must appeal to highly esoteric explanations involving relativity, quantum mechanics or string theory. ”

Graziano offers a simpler metaphor: a child and his father watch as a magician saws a woman in half. “How do you think he does that?” asks the father. “Dad,” says the kid. “It’s obvious!” “Really?” asks the father, intrigued. “How?” The child replies: “The magician does it.”

Neuroscience, at this stage, Graziano asserts, is merely pointing at the magician; not explaining the trick.

how to become a magician[image source]

In philosophy, the study of consciousness is called phenomenology.

The mind–body problem examines the relationship between mind and matter, specifically the relationship between consciousness and the brain. The issue was addressed by René Descartes in the 17th century, resulting in Cartesian dualism. Descartes asserted that the the seat of intelligence & sentience was distinct from the brain, “a ghost in the machine.”

[ Fajar P. Domingo]

In the world of philosophy, physicalists maintain that consciousness is entirely physical,  while dualists think we are dealing with a two part system in which mental phenomena are, in some respect, non physical.

The philosopher Spinoza apposed Descartes’ theory of dualism, asserting that all matter was in fact made up of a single substance: an impersonal God with infinite attributes.

Spinoza’s theory represents a monist worldview, in which the distinctions we perceive are not ultimately indications of separation—a view which quantum physics appears to confirm & the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta established thousands of years ago.

How To Shoot Stellar Milky Way Double Exposure Portraits[image source]

Pioneering writer & philosopher Starhawk comments that the dualist way of thinking has created a culture of estrangement in modern life in which people feel “as strangers in the world,” disconnected from nature, each other & themselves.

Within this stock narrative of dualism in Western culture, Starhawk observes that “all qualities can be broken down into pairs of opposites—one is good, idealized, and the other is bad, devalued. Psychologists call this thought process “splitting”—the inability to see people or things as wholes containing both desired and undesired elements. In the split world, spirit wars with flesh, culture with nature, the sacred with the profane, the light with the dark.” (“Dreaming The Dark: Magic, Sex, Politics.”)

Forgive me folks if this post is something weird for you. What you read is totally my own. I respect your ideas about this.: [image source]

Starhawk observes that the split narrative becomes a metaphor for hierarchy. The fact that the “good guy versus bad guy” theme is the most dominant story line in Western culture is no accident, she asserts: it implants the message that in order for some to be good, others must be bad. A mental program that keeps us eternally divided, from each other & within ourselves.

Although we are technically all conscious as long as we are living, sometimes, although we are operating in the world, we may feel dull, uninspired, disconnected, apathetic. We encounter people who seem checked out as well.

This state has been dubbed in the parlance of modern spirituality “unconsciousness”: that trance-like state when you’re technically alive but don’t feel particularly vital or connected with your environment, yourself, a sense of purpose, etc—when, as Starhawk would say, we feel “as strangers in the world.”

Julian Pacaud:

[Julian Pacaud]

Contrast this with the experience we have all had at certain times of feeling intensely present, conscious & vital—in which we feel awakened to a sense of possibility & connection.

But words fail, because this “awakeness” is an extra, internal layer of awareness & alertness beyond the physical mechanism of simply not being asleep. This experience is universally typified by a sense of peace & uplift. Insights, which seem to recede into the background in “the trance, ” re-emerge as self-evident truths.

[Fajar P. Domingo]

Spiritual practice could be defined as the conscious cultivation of accessing this experience of “awakeness”—as one often seems to stumble into it and out of it. But tools like meditation, mindfulness & gratitude practices can help us access this feeling at will. This sense of deepened awakeness is often referred to as higher consciousness, and connecting with this state is the goal of spiritual practice.

We might define higher consciousness & its pursuit as: consciousness being conscious of itself as consciousness, and seeking to refine that awareness.

[Fajar P. Domingo]

What are your thoughts on consciousness? Which camp do you fall in (dualist or monist) & why? What is your experience of the awake/unconscious scenario?

*

If you enjoyed this post, try:

“Dreaming The Dark: Technologies of Immanence”

“Stardust Contemplating Stardust: Inner Space & The Science of Illumination.”

“The Human Soul & The Floating Man”

“Polarity & Paradox, Black & White Thinking In A Rainbow World.”

Dreaming The Dark: Technologies of Immanence

March 10, 2017 § 3 Comments

jefferson-muncy-visions[“Visions” by Jefferson Muncy]

“Magic is the technology/psychology of immanence, of understanding that everything is connected.”

~ Starhawk, “Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex & Politics.”

Before advertising stole our souls and scientific materialism denied its existence, dogmatic religious institutions held our souls hostage. The result has been a continually morphing and adapting form of systematic soul erasure in the Western world.

Author & activist Starhawk calls this “removing content.” She notes that it allows for power relationships in which human beings are exploited, and for a worldview that results in the exploitation of nature, because the inherent value of being has been denied.

Compartmentalized Sanity by KingaBritschgi[KingaBrit]

“I call this consciousness estrangement,” Starhawk details, “because its essence is that we do not see ourselves as part of the world. We are strangers to nature, to other human beings, to parts of ourselves. We see the world as made up of separate isolated nonliving parts that have no inherent value. Among things inherently separate and lifeless, the only power relationship possible is manipulation and domination.

“As we become separate, and are manipulated as objects, we lose our own sense of self worth, our belief in our own content, and acquiesce in our own exploitation.”(Dreaming the Dark.”)

In this worldview emptied of spirit, a tree becomes merely timber to be measured in feet, given value only by its profitability; not its being, its beauty, or its part in the larger ecosystem.

Considering that Western society sees virtually nothing as sacred, it’s easy to see why we are poised on the brink of collective self-destruction.

[Robin Wood]

And so an effectively soulless society is created, inhabited by shells who struggle to see their own value beyond doing & having. A sense of nonreality permeates our lives. As my dear poetry mentor, Barry Spacks, once phrased it: “Waiting to arrive, we’ve been here all along.”

“We live our lives feeling powerless & inauthentic—feeling that the real people are somewhere else, that the characters on the daytime soap operas or the conversations on late-night talk shows are more real than the people and conversations in our lives; believing that the movie stars, the celebrities, the rock stars, the People Magazine-people live out the real truth and drama of our times, while we exist as shadows, and our unique lives, our losses, our passions, which cannot be counted out or measured, which were not approved, or graded, or sold to us at a discount, are not the true value of this world.”

[“Blessed Art Thou” by Kate Kretz]

Starhawk notes that estrangement permeates our society so strongly that to us it seems to be consciousness itself. Even the language for other possibilities has disappeared or been deliberately twisted.

“Yet another form of consciousness is possible. Indeed, it has existed from earliest times,  underlies other cultures, and has survived even in the West in hidden streams,” Starhawk notes.

“This is the consciousness I call immanence—the awareness of the world and everything in it as alive, dynamic, interdependent, interacting and infused with moving energies: a living being, a weaving dance.”

img[Victor Tongdee]

“Magic is a word that makes people uncomfortable,” notes Starhawk, “so I use it deliberately, because the words we are comfortable with, the words that sound acceptable, rational, scientific, and intellectually sound, are comfortable precisely because they are the language of estrangement.”

She details that magic can be very prosaic—a leaflet, a lawsuit. Anything that changes consciousness at will. It can also be esoteric—inner work, interacting with the cosmos at large. At its heart, magic is moving energies.

“Ironically, as estranged science and technology advance, they have begun to bring us back to a consciousness of immanence. Modern physics no longer speaks of separate, discrete atoms of dead matter, but of waves of energy, probabilities, patterns that change as they are observed; it recognizes what shamans & witches have always known: that matter & energy are not separate forces, but different forms of the same thing.”

42-46209404.jpg__800x600_q85_crop

Starhawk defines: “To say something is sacred is to say that we respect, cherish and value it for its own being.”

In a world stripped of sacredness, it is a revolutionary act to see the innate beauty and value in being—one’s own and others’—to cherish & respect, to view life with reverence. When we remove the veil of Western materialism, the world comes alive again; and anything is possible.

This paradigm shift—from viewing reality as composed of separate, isolated, nonliving parts; from seeking power-over-–must be replaced by a worldview that acknowledges the living ecosystem of our dynamic inter-connectivity, to seeking power from within.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the survival of our species depends on it. And change starts within. Like seeds, we dream in the dark earth, but inside us we hold a blueprint for blooming.

So let us feel into our own aliveness today, let us expand our attention to include our own being; let’s look for it in others, in animals and plants. The world is shot through with immanence… for those who care to see.

ashes to snow, elephant, gregory colbert, empathy art[Gregory Colbert, “Ashes & Snow” series.]

If you liked this post, check out:

Beyond Division: Studies in Bliss”

“Unveiling The Mystery of The Higher Self”

Connectivity Through Form”

Carl Marx described man as being estranged from his Gattungswesen (“species-essence”). 

Surviving The Collective Exorcism

October 16, 2016 § 10 Comments

“Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

~ John Kenneth Galbraith

“We try to fix the outside so much, but our control of the outer world is limited, temporary, and often, illusory…achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill. It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness, and altruistic love.”

~ Matthieu Ricard

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

On top of an already fraught, fearful & divided world, the approaching presidential election of 2016 has ramped up feelings of rage, alienation & despair across America.

In part, because social issues—race relations & sexual politics—are at the forefront of the debates between Clinton & Trump, this election season has invoked a truly personal, emotional response in us.

black pain, african american tear, oppression art[Detail from K.A Williams (aka “WAK”) “The Worst Sight.”]

The advent of smartphones has given us the means to monitor our monitors, and footage of police abuse of power against black male bodies surfaces constantly, raising pleas for social justice to a fever pitch.

While many are listening to these raised voices of protest, large swaths of the conservative demographic are reacting with mistrust and shutting down. And so the #blacklivesmatter movement gives way to responses of #allivesmatter and #bluelives (meaning officers) matter.

us vs them, teams, war, chess

Yes. We all matter. That is the point of the “black lives matter” hashtag—a reminder that a swath of our “all” is struggling and needs attention.

As if this issue weren’t fraught enough, it has become politicized. The left, being the party of social progress, has taken up this and other causes, attempting to “explain it” to the right; which has largely been perceived by conservatives as a buzzword-fueled lecture and accusation.

Although it may be difficult to understand why anyone with such superior social power would deign to listen to the struggling underdog, this reaction itself is framed in a certain view with specific assumptions. The people who aren’t hearing the message behind #blacklivesmatter, for instance, aren’t filtering it through the same set of reference points. The right perceives itself as the underdog under attack.

The “us” vs. “them” mentality is in full effect, raging across America like a wild fire. We seem to be in a Chinese Finger Cuff situation—the harder we pull, the more stuck we become; if the goal is ultimately peace and human unity. Which, come on, if we are to survive as a nation and a species, it logically has to be.

political art(source.)

One important fact to remember is that the “us” vs. “them” mentality is literally hardwired into our neurology; the second we identify with a certain group, it has been proven in experiment after experiment that the brain begins filtering facts to skew the data towards the perceived “us.”

“Our tendency toward partisanship is likely the result of evolution—forming groups is how prehistoric humans survived,” remarks Brian Resnic (“How Politics Breaks Our Brains.”) “That’s helpful when trying to master an unforgiving environment with Stone Age technology. It’s less so when trying to foster a functional democracy.”

us vs them, we, unity

“Studies have shown,” adds Steven Handel, “that people tend to favor a group bias even when they are categorized on relatively meaningless distinctions, for example: eye color, what kind of paintings they like, or even the flip of a coin.

This tells us that we can potentially separate ourselves from a certain group of people on any random and arbitrary characteristic. Therefore, everyone is susceptible to be a perpetrator and/or victims of social prejudice and ostracism.” (“The Us Vs. Them Mentality.”)

us vs them, dr. seuss

Although it feels like things are getting worse, this very well may be a time of national exorcism; the rock we didn’t want to look under has been overturned and we are staring directly at its maggoty underside. At least now we are facing it directly; the dank hidden pocket of darkness is being aired. And we are looking at it, talking about it.

A hundred years ago, only white men could vote in America. Today we have a black president and a female candidate. We have progressed! But we are still healing from historically recent wounds. Sociological blindspots, unconscious prejudice, glass ceilings and abuse of power still remain as a result of that past. The specters of oppression can not be banished so easily or quickly.

anxiety_by_vera_chimera-d57e6fw[“Anxiety” by Vera Chimera] 

With emotions running high and so much dissonance in the air, empaths and highly sensitive people are particularly vulnerable to depression & anxiety—it is essential that we combat this by practicing steady, systematic, daily routines of self-care. We must stoke our own light in order to better illuminate this darkness.

As we all navigate these stormy times of controversy, misunderstanding, anger, alienation and above all the tendency to break off into warring factions, let us try to outsmart our biology.

When politics breaks our brains, let us turn to the heart. For our goal logically must be harmonious co-existence, and we are united by more than divides us.

rainbow hand

 

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Patterns & Portals: Exploring The Fabric of Reality

August 5, 2016 § 8 Comments

new_flower_of_life_by_capstoned-d4rhwsk

“Plato said God geometrizes continually.” ~ Plutarch 

Sacred geometry patterns have been associated with mystical schools of thought for time immemorial, from the medicine wheels of North American tribal cultures to the sand mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism. But why?

At the forefront of this question is the idea that, because we see mathematical formulas & recurring geometric patterns in nature, math must be the highest form of expression—as mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss said, echoing Plutarch & Plato before him: “God arithmetizes.”

golden ratio, sacred geomtery in nature, sunflower

But many of today’s meditation practitioners & psychonauts are discovering a far more intimate connection to these patterns: through developing third eye perception, or spiritual/energetic sight, we are, many of us, beginning to visually perceive these sacred geometry patterns emerging from reality itself. (See the comments section of  Parallax’s “The Art of Seeing: Third Eye Perception & The Mystical Gaze,” for a plethora of reported anecdotal experiences.)

Psychedelics, such as ayahuasca, magic mushrooms & LSD, are also popular portals into viewing these sacred designs—though they are only brief glimpses into states which meditation can achieve in a more sustainable manner.

The implications of so many people perceiving these patterns—not just reading about them, but experiencing them directly—are profound. In a recent visionary journey with a friend we both came to the conclusion that existence is a constantly recycling infinity, much like the shape known as a torus.

torus, giff Source

This insight was accompanied by a tremendous sense of safety and security, because there was no falling through the cracks in this model of reality: everything remained part of the moving whole, and energy was never destroyed—the endless cycle spoken about in ancient texts, particularly of Eastern origin.

Viewed from above, a torus becomes a mandala, which is particularly interesting when we contemplate how long mandalas have been around, and how the modeling of the three dimensional torus is a relatively new construct.

torus from above, yantra, mandala Source

To those of us seeing through the spiritual eye, it appears not only that we each have a personal vortex of this nature within our own skulls—the third eye—but also that the greater fabric of reality is composed of these patterns. The more we cultivate our third eye perception, the more we will see these patterns emerging. Staring at the sky on a clear night or during a day with no clouds can be a great place to begin seeing these patterns emerge.

Our culture doesn’t encourage skywatching, because it has forgotten the importance of cultivating Being—conspiracy theorists might say this is no coincidence. But that is where we seekers must pave our own paths and rekindle the ancient truth that stillness & contemplation are essential for understanding, and hence progress.

Meditation, of course, is a major gateway into starting to perceive this phenomena—particularly third eye based meditations. (Although not specifically third eye based, Headspace offers a fantastic free guided meditation app that will get you comfortable with the basics.)

third eye meditation visionary artSource

So how does it all come together? What does it mean? For one, it means we are living in an energetic matrix, that we ourselves are composed of these fine patterns, which suggests a larger coherence & beauty underpinning existence than might meet the physical eye.

It would appear that the sacred mandalas repeated throughout history are intended as portals to initiate awakening to this awareness.

As the veil begins to lift, we see that we are more beautiful than we had imagined, that life is more full of the potential for joy than we may have conceived. And that this beauty and joy is already ours in its potential. It is not something that we can buy. It is something that we are. All that we need to do is access this untapped state within.

self-love, roses blooming inside silhouette, double exposure, flowers“Jade Rose” By Sara K. Byrne

As we become more aligned with these patterns of existence, we begin to receive more personal revelations and connect more dots—find more pieces to the puzzle. Our instinct becomes sharper…and our anxiety begins to recede. Because the more we understand about the nature of existence, the more we see that, from an ontological standpoint, there is nothing to fear.

We see that, while there are many atrocities perpetuated by man, the universe itself is always waiting, within stillness, to lead us home back to ourselves, to a place of peace and eternal unfolding.

child painting a flower of life

When I experienced this state of satori recently on my vision quest, I was particularly aware of one thread running throughout all of my visions: a sense of deep sacredness & reverence for life, which permeated all of existence. A feeling of sublime love was central to the feeling, and I understood why so many great spiritual thinkers return to the idea that Love is at the center of everything.

The more aware we become of our own being, the more tenderness & compassion we develop towards ourselves. The more tenderness & compassion we develop for ourselves, the more kindness we are able cultivate towards others—the more rippling outward effects we create, which is ultimately the road to world peace.

SacredContract matrix visionary art“Sacred Contract” by Robby Donaghey

At the conclusion of our vision quest, my friend voiced that she would never feel purposeless again, because she had tasted this state of intoxicating unity & bliss within her own Being. “It’s simple,” she said. “The purpose is to attain this frequency as much as possible, and to cultivate it wherever & however possible.”

This was music to my ears, because I have come to exactly the same conclusion, and it has served me well.

This is the higher consciousness we have been striving to bring forth.

Robby Donaghey "awakening", sacred art, visionary art, stars, matrix, meditation, sacred geometry“Awakening,” by Robby Donaghey

“There is nothing to seek and find, for there is nothing lost. Relax and watch the ‘I am’. Reality is just behind it. Keep quiet, keep silent; it will emerge, or, rather, it will take you in.”

~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

See “Connectivity Through Form: Sacred Geometry & The Golden Mean,”

“Beyond Division: Studies in Bliss”

& “Inward Bound: Exploring The Fractal Matrix.”

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Less Agony, More Ecstasy

April 12, 2016 § 11 Comments

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

“The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

~ Carl Jung

Tolstoy famously opened Anna Karenina with the statement that all happy families are alike, while unhappy families are unhappy in their own unique way.

I have noticed the same thing about the highs and lows of my emotional life: my unhappy states all seem to have a wide array of causes, while my happy, high, in-the-flow states all seem to sing the same tune, as it were. The same insights flash back at me like familiar road signs. An invisible river of energy seems to flow through me, carrying treasures on its back in the form of ideas, inspirations and connections.

wave art

Apparently I’m not alone. Author, speaker, researcher & founder of the “new existentialism” movement, Colin Wilson shares related thoughts in a fascinating recorded talk at San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore: 

“I began by writing this book, The Outsider, which came out in 1956. My basic interest then was the problem of certain romantics of the 19th century who had experienced tremendous feelings of ecstasy & insight, and then wondered the next morning if the whole thing had been a total illusion, so that we got this tremendously high suicide rate among the romantics.”

site credit: www.trendhunter.com/trends/alex-stoddard

Wilson continues:

“I became preoccupied with this because I had had the same kind of feelings ever since I was a small boy. It wasn’t until I read Wordsworth—who talks about this time in childhood when everything seems wonderful and then how, as you get older, the shades of the prison house begin to close—that I began to see this is a problem that all human beings experience.

“What I wanted to know was: is there some fundamental gap between these moods of ecstasy and the ordinary reality of the physical world in which we live? Is it totally impossible to reconcile the two of them? In a sense, you see, I couldn’t really believe that it was so. Because whenever I experienced moods of intensity or of total relaxation I always had the same insight, as if I had gone to a kind of hilltop and seen precisely the same vision, exactly the same landscape below, which made me feel that it was, in a sense, objective. It must be solid or else it would be different every time.”

Bohumil Kröhn

“On the other hand, in what you might call ‘the worm’s eye view’ moods, things are bad in a different way every time. And you suddenly feel that it’s only the bird’s eye views that are true. It’s the big that’s true, not the small. Close-up-ness deprives us of meaning. I’ve always felt this is the basic truth of life. Somehow you’ve got to get that trick of pulling back & seeing things through a kind of wide angle lens. As soon as you do this, you go into this state of intense optimism.”

In Zen Buddhism, the high feeling-state of satori, which literally means “to understand,” is the goal of meditation practice. A brief but clear glimpse into the awakened state of satori is known as kenshō, which translates as “seeing into one’s true nature or essence.”

This is always how it feels to me when I am in the flow & feeling good: things feel like they are back on track, as they should be, aligned, harmonious. Like Wilson, I have often wondered which state is the more accurate reflection of the nature of things; both seem to negate the validity of the other.

Black_and_White_by_Kiraan“Black & White” By Kiraan

And I’ve come to the same conclusion as Wilson, that the low mood generally lies while the high mood informs. Although a low mood tries to paint our previous high states of awareness as the purely illusory fantasies of a fool—while portraying its own staunch negativism as the only reasonable, realistic assessment—there is another clear giveaway that hints at which of these two opposing states is more to be trusted:

a low mood feels very uncomfortable, while a high mood feels very right. In fact, it is characterized by a feeling of rightness. When we tell a lie, we feel our body contract. A sense of wrongness permeates our being to various degrees. When we say something that is keenly true, we feel that too. It’s a feeling of empowerment, harmoniousness, rightness.

The Pleasure Principal by Magritte “The Pleasure Principal,” by Magritte

In my study of this phenomenon, I have concluded that while the low mood may have something to tell me about myself or my life—revealing an uncomfortable truth that I must face in order to become who I truly want to be, (seeNavigating The Dark Night Of The Soul,”)-–there is no benefit to remaining in this place, because it becomes an energy-sapping, self-feeding loop of defeatist thinking.

Unfortunately, once we are out of step with the sensation of rightness, that high state can feel a world away. It’s helpful to remember that it is, actually, only a few flow-inducing thoughts away.

Christian SchloeChristian Schloe

Personally, I think these two states are better described as “connected” vs. “disconnected.” Connected to what? To yourself. But how can I be disconnected from something I am? The answer can be summed up in a verse from the East Indian sacred texts, the Upanishads:

“There are two birds, two sweet friends, who dwell on the self-same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree, and the other looks on in silence.”

two-birds, credit unknown

The bird who eats the fruit represents our worldly nature, our everyday “smaller” self. And the witnessing bird is our larger aspect (called the Atman in Vedanta, meaning soul self) which remains connected to Brahman (ultimate reality), even when the small self has lost sight of the bigger picture.

According to the Vedanta (the East Indian philosophy based on the Upanishad writings), Atman is the true self, beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual. In order to attain liberation, a human being must acquire self-knowledge, which is to realize that one’s true self (Atman) is identical with the transcendent self (Brahman). (Traditionally achieved through meditation, wherein the distinction between these two selves becomes increasingly evident.)

I’m not one to care about religious dogma or what some ancient text says—unless it puts a language to experiences I have had myself already, for which we have poor working vocabulary in English language & culture.

helping-hand

I do think the Vedanta framework establishes a helpful concept of what is going on when we feel low, which, by my way of thinking, is essentially a state of disconnection, when we are overly identified with the “small self.”

When we are connected to our essence or greater self (which is connected to the broader sweep of larger reality), it seems we receive intuition freely, we are in sync with the rhythm of life and other people. We receive inspiration more easily, which in turn lights us up and “turns us on,” fueling our sense of optimism, curiosity & movement.

Our world seems to expand. We notice subtle “shimmers”—little beautiful moments that add to the textured richness of being alive. When we are open to these nuances, we become more easily inspired and interested. Which creates a sense of possibility & engagement.

Gabriel Moreno,Gabriel Moreno

When we are disconnected, our world seems to shrink.  It is like we have run out of gas. We feel sluggish and everything takes a lot of effort to do. This induces a feeling of depression and futility, which feeds upon itself until we can feel quite locked away from that “Atman” self.

In this emotional state we seem to forget all of the insights which once gave us a sense of hope and possibility. We are entirely identified with the “bird who eats the fruits” of the world, and completely dissociated from the “sweet friend” who looks on, waiting patiently to be remembered & reclaimed.

reflection, hand touching hand, hand touching reflection

Colin Wilson dubbed this “small self” aspect of human personality “the robot.” He elaborates in the following interview:

“We have inside us what I call The Robot, a sort of mechanical valet or servant who does things for you. So, you learn something like talking French, or driving a car, or skiing—painfully & consciously, step by step. Then the Robot takes over and does it far more efficiently than you could do it consciously.

“The Robot does all these valuable things—like talking French & so on for us. The trouble is, he also does the things we do not want him to do. We listen to a piece of music, it moves us deeply the first time. We read a poem, we go for a country walk, and it moves us. But the second or third time you do it, the Robot is listening to the piece of music, or going for the country walk for you. I’ve even caught him making love to my wife! This is a real problem, that the Robot keeps taking us over and doing the things that we would rather do.”

giphyGiphy

“The secret is to keep your energy so high that [you avoid being taken over by] the robot, who’s a bit like the thermostat on the wall, which turns on quite automatically when your energies drop below a certain point, and then suddenly without even noticing it, you’re living mechanically, robotically, instead of as the real you. And the interesting thing is that it’s only a matter of one degree. Therefore if it’s just one degree to turn onto the Robot, it’s only one degree of effort to turn the Robot off.”

I have found that simply being aware of this dynamic initiates a ripple effect of more expansive feelings. Think of it as a thought experiment. I’m not advocating the removal of cynicism or discernment, only for the suspension of its mechanisms for long enough to collect the necessary data to really decide what’s what. If we decide something sounds too good to be true before launching a thorough investigation, we aren’t really giving ourselves all of the information necessary to make an assessment.

Christian SchloeChristian Schloe

Just imagine, what if it were true that our sense of an isolated small self is not the whole picture, and, when we feel into a larger, more expansive & connected being-hood we are actually more fully embodying who we are? What if that self did have wisdom beyond our acquired knowledge & access to universal perception?

And what if there was a force of energetic support available to us, waiting for us to tune into a more expanded sense of self? What if the darkness & pain of the world is simply the result of a widespread belief in the smaller, isolated self—a collective disconnection from the expanded essence?

soul_ascending_by_suiatsu-d7b6exu josh hutchison“Soul Ascending” by Josh Hutchison

The only way to know for sure…is to explore it.

Unless we investigate the possibilities within ourselves & our relationship to reality with an open mind, we may never experience ourselves as we might become.

presence, embodiment, energy, artistic nude

 

 

 

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