ESSAYS // On stillness and touch: biodynamic performance

Stillness: in biodynamic craniosacral therapy and improvisational performance

“Space and silence are two aspects of the same thing. The same no-thing. They are externalization of inner space and inner silence, which is stillness: the infinitely creative womb of all existence.” 

—Eckhart Tolle

“I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spent in the most profound activity. Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days.
In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.” 
― Rainer Maria RilkeLetters on Life

Stillness as the void: that which  existed before there was light and from which all creation arose.  A still, empty, infinite space that begets life somehow—the space in between.  I think of that place in myself, in my core, that witnesses internal movement.  It feels like a little chamber at the center of a compass.  I think of the eye of the storm—the center point around which the vortex is formed.  In embryological terms, this feels analogous to the center axis that is created in the conceptus when it spins counter-clockwise. I wonder at this fact. 

Stillness the listener.

Stillness as a meeting place: a quiet place where one can meet one’s self or another for a deeper, unqualified relationship.  Stillness releases us from conditionality and reactivity.  Healing happens here, as does that improvisational propeller—throwing me into action as response, without directives or intention to build.

Stillness as spontaneity: the buoyant nothingness from which organic movement and change can arise.  In performance, stillness with a partner is the opportunity to silently feel the overlap of existence, almost as if you step into a shared mind so that you are a part of the same improvisation, imagination, dimension of reality. 

Stillness as humility:  Taking time to shift into a different relationship with one’s surroundings catalyzes a huge change, especially in a healing context.  Rather than beginning with a false and often egoistic relationship to a situation that is based on the idea that I have control over what is happening and what will happen, if I take time to be still and quiet in myself, to release preconceived notions, I have the opportunity to look and to listen.  I begin to observe many things I would not have noticed at all, had I carried along in the same manner.  The world begins to take me by surprise and the subtler motions around and within present themselves to me. 

Stillness as paradox: we are never still.

Stillness became a haven for me when I was a child—I felt it in the hillsides surrounding my house, in clusters of trees and in the empty creek bed.  Of course the wind still blew and birds made their calls occasionally, but these nature sounds and ruffles felt eternal.  The peace and openness in these relatively still places nourished something in me.  I first began learning about the practice of stillness in Buddhist meditation.  Phrases like “stilling the mind” and “coming into the present moment” became mysterious but familiar friends.  I came to know these experiences as attuning to what is, rather than what we wish or fear, but it wasn’t until I was introduced to the idea of spaciousness within my mind and body experience that I really became aware of the stillness…  I wonder when that stillness goes from being the given state of being to being the desired state of being.  Somewhere in childhood, I presume, sometime when the future plan or past progression takes on more significance than present stillness.  At times I feel like a boulder rolling down a hill, hurtling through time and space, bouncing off other boulders occasionally or crushing the flowers.  And sometimes I don’t, sometimes I feel like a part of the hill.

Dr. Rollin Becker, a biodynamic craniosacral therapist, speaks on stillness as an element of change….“I get my hands under the given area of problem and I try to be aware of stillness.  Not a still point, but a stillness that is that individual.” In his practice, the stillness “motivates all that is and is the source of all energy for all body physiology.” and defines health as being “related to a return to the freedom of interchange between body physiology and stillness.”  This points to a relationship between stillness and our origin, whether that is pre-Big Bang or the day-long stillness that follows conception, before our embryonic cells begin multiplying.  As I explore stillness, I feel I am wandering around in it, feeling its rhythmic interchange with matter and movement.

Experiential notes from stillness:

To expand into a wide perceptual field is a delicious dissolving.  Stillness abounds, and spacial ease defines my experience.  Somehow I begin to feel held, like a great mother is giving me an energetic massage from hundreds of miles away, stretching my cosmic fascia.  I began to drift, to go into a subconscious state, losing track of my sensual and solid tether to the world.  The fluids take the reigns and pores widen. Time to check in with the environment…I hang out in this threshold for a while, feeling like I could go on for an eternity, other beings around me moving and going about their business, me in this dynamic spacious stillness.  I wonder what it would be like for someone to enter the room…they surely would feel it too. Would it be disorienting? Would they feel stoned too? Would we read each other without having to speak much? This feels like mystical state of being. I open myself to being way out there in the cosmic field and the room and in my body.  A buzzing emerges. Bringing my attention back into my direct environment feels compressive, like pulling myself into a contraction, claustrophobic around my head.  But my body still feels so easy.  As I write this, I am attempting to release the pulling feeling and just soften the cosmic field, like softening hands, to become more uniformly present in my direct environment.  Is it important for everybody to “come back into the room?” Or can those of us who are so comfortable and blissful out here function in our spaciousness?

This feels like an infinite plane…fluid dynamics, sensory perception come in and out of prevalence, like my body is working things out on the way to infinity as the wavs move up and down.  There is a cumulative feeling to it—that long tide grows in it’s infinity by unraveling within the fluid world. That diffuse, champagne feeling permeates my body, the boundaries of my body disappearing, and then a knot of potency shows up in the vicinity of some problematic area. The potency-feeling begins to grow in this area, as if it is leaking out of a cave or hollow or reservoir. At a certain point of leaking, there is a breathless edge of a cliff moment when my system reaches the unknown—my mind chirps in “what to do next?”—and then a massive discharge of sorts courses through my body in an instant, bringing me back to my body as structures reorganize.  I am made of stars, and I am the reflection of stars on water.

Feeling the soles of my feet against socks, shoes, floor, earth. Feeling the weight of my body supported by the chair, table, ground. The contact of my skin with surfaces below, above, around it. Feeling the connection between my head and tail—that my head is supported all the way down to the tail, then down to the soles of the feet. Listening to the sounds in the room, the sounds outside. Softly welcoming in my peripheral vision.

Turning my head and feeling the space between my head and shoulders. Back body present, under arms and cascading side bodies present. Chest as a cliffside, and pelvic bowl as a fountain of warm wellness. Appreciating something beautiful in the room, the state of the floor, the way the lighting falls on the objects in the room.

These are the sensations that come up as I ground, entering a quieter space of movement bubbling like a thick porridge.

Integrating:

I am beginning to understand my role in the studio and in the treatment room.  As I rest my hands on someone’s body, joined by the fulcrum of touch, I feel the pads of my fingers resting on the surface of water.  If I listen just right, an oceanic swell comes into my hands: a surge of aliveness, a swell of emotion, of intelligence in the physiology.  And I recognize this feeling is often followed very closely with a reaction of containing and clamping down on the swell. I realized how disruptive and dangerous those swells seem to be, and how often spontaneous authentic expression of aliveness is dampened or censored in order to remain within our referential social bounds.  So much is censored—the good, the bad, the simply unexpected—in society to protect a feeling of safety and cohesion among groups.  Or simply out of convenience (not time for sharing, getting into it, or falling apart) or shame.  I feel how physiological this censorship is, and feel the amount of energy that it takes to contain our responses to this experience of being alive, and the backlog of swells unexpressed.  The body, this person, is integrating experience and physiological response moment to moment to moment, with varying levels of success depending on their environment, predisposition, resources available, and held trauma. And I am offering an invitation for that integration to occur in whatever way it needs to happen, with the promise that their process does not scare me and does not need to be explained to me. Reality will not liquify as they liquify.  They do not need to hold the world together, thus holding themselves back from going soft to update their system. I am here to surf the wave, to hold them while they lower their guard and be witness to any expression or transformation that may take place.  To reify them as they leave their post of responsibilities and to be present as they come back.

In improvisation, I am there to ride the wave of the swell that happens in the room, in the collective by allowing it to move my body. To offer myself and my perceptions as liquifying, to give an example of trusting the laws of nature so that I can soften into a fully responsive sensory being. And to respond to the nuance that is happening in the room: to bring into view a fraction of the infinite unseeable.

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