Therapist, trainer, writer









Choice, surrender and transitions in Authentic Movement: Reflections on personal and teaching practice

by Linda Hartley

First published in Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices, Volume 7: Number 2. Intellect, 2015.

Keywords: Authentic Movement, Choice, Surrender, Therapeutic practice, Spiritual practice, Early trauma, Energetic phenomena, Direct experience    


I was first introduced to Authentic Movement in 1980, and since that time it has been central to my personal practice. I have integrated it into my training programme in Integrative Bodywork & Movement Therapy [1] since its inception in 1990, and began to teach the Discipline of Authentic Movement in 2000, inspired by my studies with Janet Adler. Authentic Movement has also profoundly informed my practice as a somatic movement therapist and transpersonal psychotherapist over a period of thirty years.

For the past nine years most of my Authentic Movement teaching has taken place in a studio by the North Norfolk (UK) coast where I now live. Walking the beaches and saltmarshes of this coast became a natural extension of studio work, bearing witness to the environment and my experience of, and resonance with it. In this reflection on my personal and teaching practice I include some writing from both studio work and my practice of walking by the sea. These offerings are given as creative examples of ideas I explore in the text: attempts to evoke something of the inner experiences and transformations that can arise when the inner witness comes into relationship with, and sometimes unites with, the sensing, feeling, moving self.

The themes of choice, surrender and transition were very present before and during my move to this part of the country, and continue to be so, both in my life and in my Authentic Movement practice and teaching. When I take a step, make a transition, begin something new, is it my will that is choosing, or do I surrender to what is? How am I guided towards this new territory? Has the way been prepared for me to enter into it? What determines each step? What enables me to choose and to surrender?

I will not propose answers to these questions, but hold them lightly as my enquiry circles around the transition between what I understand to be Authentic Movement as a practice that supports deepening to self in therapeutic and/or creative processes, and Authentic Movement as a practice that can open us towards the experience of spirit – that which takes us beyond the familiar sense of our personal self.

Root and branch

Janet Adler has likened Authentic Movement to a tree with one trunk and two main branches (Adler 2012). The ‘trunk’ represents the work originated by Mary Starks Whitehouse, the essence of the manifold approaches to Authentic Movement, rooted in the development of mover consciousness. One ‘branch’ engages with narrative and reflects the practice of Authentic Movement that Adler’s colleague Joan Chodorow and many others have developed and articulated (Chodorow 1991, 1999a: 301, Stromsted 2014: 35). Deeply influenced by Jungian psychology, therapeutically oriented, and rich in the images, personal stories and myths that may arise through movement practice, it can support a healing journey that may open the traveller to spiritual as well as creative resources. We might say that this orientation supports the work of soul-making (Hillman 1964, Hayes 2014: 61). Adler’s own ‘branch’ orients towards direct experience and what she names, through her own encounters with energetic phenomena, ‘mystical practice’ (Adler 1995). Embodied presence - knowing, through the body, the fullness of the moment - may open us to direct experience of the mysterious, the divine, the sacred – a naked engagement with spirit, without the mediation of image, myth or story. She names her approach the Discipline of Authentic Movement (Adler 2002, 2014).  

And of course each branch has, and will continue, to branch further, as individuals practise, discover, differentiate and define their own unique ways.

In my personal and teaching practice I experience moments of transition between these two approaches, and find myself drawn to them with curiosity and fascination. In my therapy practice I have witnessed the potential for such moments to transform suffering and evoke healing. As a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism for many years, I also know these places of transition within the meditation disciplines of this tradition. For example, the meditator may engage with a practice that involves complex and elaborate visualisations and recitation. The images and symbolic journeys map energetic transmutations, and are intended to cultivate within the practitioner the desired spiritual qualities through intense engagement with personifications of these qualities. At a specific moment in the practice, this internal activity ceases and the practitioner is invited to rest in pure awareness, in presence, without thought or image. This moment invites direct experience of spirit, source, pure consciousness (Hartley 2002); such an experience cannot be willed, but it has been prepared for, invited and cultivated by all that went before.

Similarly, in Authentic Movement practice the time spent embodying, witnessing and integrating personal images, stories and archetypal journeys is essential groundwork. Then there may come moments when a transition occurs spontaneously - when internal narrative and image-making ceases, and the mind rests in the moment, present to the fullness of all that is. In such a moment, we may have a direct experience of energy moving through and within the body, or feel an expansion, loosening or dissolving of bodily and psychological boundaries, a change in consciousness that evokes an experience that is transpersonal in nature (Wellings and Wilde McCormick 2000) [2]  – an awareness that opens us beyond the limited sense we have of ourselves.


Walking ...

I am stepping along the water’s edge. With each advancing wave my feet are washed over, taste the cold waters of the Arctic. My feet plough through the surf, then are released as each wave retreats. I am on the edge, a liminal space between land and sea. I pause, time suspended, then walk again.
Thoughts are running through my mind - a tangle of events that I must unravel, a knotty issue to be released. The rhythm of waves washing up, and my footsteps planting in the sand - left, right, left, right - form a background for my thinking. The rhythm helps me to churn through the tangled labyrinth of events, questions, possibilities. I walk, and I walk. The waves roll up and over.  
In a single moment, I stop, turn to face the sea, thoughts subside and I open my eyes to the world. I take a breath and open my hearing to the sounds around me. I feel the light touch of wind ripple over my skin and lift my hair back from my face. I taste the salted air and smell a trace of seaweed. Before me is a vast open space, an empty space, blue, all shades of blue and soft grey. Small white clouds hang in the sky. The colours of blue and white and the sand at my feet soothe my eyes and my heart. I hear the rhythm of the waves rushing in and curling back, a gull flies over and calls. Here I am. Now I am present.  
I turn to walk again, taking time to let each footstep meet the earth, yield its weight to feel the dance with gravity. With each step my body remembers it’s earthly origins – the mineral in the bones, the iron in the blood, the essence of air in lungs and cells, a fragment of the endless sky within me. I match my step to the waves, a waltz – one, two, three – one, two, three. I am present, senses open.  
My path is not linear. I curve around large stones and spreading seaweed. The bones of a fish skull, washed white and returned to a pristine state. Flesh has long since come away from bone. I follow the slight inclines where sand, swept by earlier tides, makes hills and valleys along the shore. Here there is form. Beyond is space, emptiness, infinite space. There is nothing between me and this open space.  
I stop again and stand with my back to the solid structures of the land – cliff face and grass and house - facing out into the emptiness. Form and emptiness. Here I feel in balance. I know both. My mind is clear, my heart open, my body at one with earth and space.   With the ground beneath me, and the structure of the land behind, I empty out into the space I have entered.    

Slowing down, fathoming the depths

In our modern culture, the slowing down that is needed in order to attend to soma – the subjectively felt, lived, known experience of the body – is not well supported. Inner focussed awareness is not often valued as a path towards knowledge, insight, growth and wisdom. So when, as beginning students, we first come to practise Authentic Movement, this turning inward of attention might awaken a body that has previously felt unconscious, dark, unknown and perhaps a frightening place to inhabit fully and consciously (Hartley 2004: 64). But it is this that the practice invites – a full and conscious inhabiting of the body - and on the path towards this we may encounter the dark and forbidden areas of our experience.  

Daniel Stern writes about the disavowed self – those parts of us that have not been accepted or welcomed in the past, in our early growing years, have not been given language and have therefore not come into full expression and relationship with others (Stern 1985: 226). These aspects of our experience are left in the shadows, often unknown even to ourselves. Unlived and unclaimed life beckons to be fathomed, embraced and related to. That which is unconscious in us seeks to be expressed and witnessed by our self and by another, so that we may become more fully conscious as embodied, relational beings.  

Authentic Movement is felt to be a gift by some who find themselves on this path, seeking to find wholeness through integrating that within which has not yet been felt, seen, known, expressed. When we become newly conscious of some aspect of ourselves, it no longer holds the power to unconsciously control us. We have choice, and choice brings greater freedom.  

In this, Authentic Movement has found a valued place within therapeutic practice, inviting the uncovering of material that is often pre-verbal and thus hard to access through cognitive channels alone. A beginning student of Authentic Movement may practise within the intimately held space of a therapeutic relationship, or within a led group that gathers to practise together in a regular and committed way so that safety can develop. However she [3] begins, she may spend many years inviting and exploring personal material: images and stories, associations, memories from childhood, infancy, birth and pre-birth may all arise into conscious awareness (Hartley 2014: 14); strong emotions as well as the subtlest traces of exquisite feeling, which deepen us to our humanity and our soul, are felt; sensations that deepen connection to self as an embodied being become known. All of these realms of experience may arise over long periods of time as the student is opened to more of the fullness of her inner self.

Slowly ...

I close my eyes and breathe. Slowly, I close my eyes, and as I close my eyes, I begin to see more clearly. I see more clearly as my eyes close and open to the life within me. I am slow. The world rests about me. Only a gull calls, and the wind blows through my hair, whispering.

Aging ...

I am aging with each moment. I know it from the constant dying and birthing of cells. Each birth I have celebrated – a new life. Each death I have mourned. Aging is part of me, in my cells, the way I go.    

I move ... I am moved. Choice. Surrencer.

The mover enters the space that is safely held by the witness, closes her eyes and turns her attention inwards. A breath, a gesture, a movement arises and: ‘you follow where it leads, like following a pathway that opens up before you as you step.’ (Whitehouse 1999a: 53). The mover’s first choice is held within her commitment to close her eyes and enter the practice. She will then make many more choices as she steps into her path, choosing to follow one impulse or another. At times she may feel that her conscious mind is no longer choosing – a path opens up, and she feels compelled to follow it. With surrender to the path comes a sense of inevitability, of the ‘rightness’ of a gesture: the hand must be placed just so, the little finger held just like this, the whole body arched in precisely this way, each limb finding its place. The dance between choice and surrender to the pathway that opens up is central to the experience of discovering authentic movement.

As Adler writes, the first stage in the practice of Authentic Movement is the discovery of a free and spontaneous flow of movement (Adler 1999a: 122). The beginning mover feels the support of her external witness as she learns to give herself permission to follow internal, somatically felt impulses, not the judgements, expectations, inhibitions and censorship of her mind. When she recognises that mind is interfering, she can choose to return attention to her body sensations and the movement that is arising, spontaneously, without conscious intention or purpose – an authentic expression of her inner self.  

Learning to stay present to the fullness of the experience of spontaneous movement, as it arises, is a foundation of Authentic Movement. If we are not conscious as we move, and if we cannot remember what we did or what we felt, the experience may fall back into unconsciousness, like a dream that is forgotten as we awake out of sleep, and cannot be integrated. We might know that we enjoyed the movement experience, but nothing of it remains; awareness does not reach consciousness and any experienced change is transitory and fleeting.  

I still remember specific moments of my own practice from years, even decades, ago where I was conscious within my movement and was also witnessed by another with great clarity and compassion. I remember the generous presence of my witness and her words, and the experience remains in me, a part of me. As I recall such moments now, I can feel again the warmth of connection to another, my witness, and the fullness of connection to myself. I feel gratitude.  

The mover learns to track her movement sequence, first as a general sketch of pools of movement, gesture and stillness, then gradually, with the help of her external witness, in more and more detail. The witness herself has previously gone through the same learning process, discovering how to follow her own flow of spontaneous movement whilst also staying present and being able, later, when she speaks with her witness, to track the sequence in detail. It is her years of personal practice that enable her now to be present to and remember the sequence of the movement of another. For some, it can take years to learn to do this; others seem to have an aptitude, are naturally oriented to conscious awareness of their movement, or have learnt this skill through the practice of other embodied disciplines.  

The presence of the external witness is essential, especially in the beginning. “The witness creates the safe container within which the mover can surrender to her unconscious process; her presence helps the mover to return to ordinary reality at the end of the movement session, and to bring the fruits of her journey of descent back into consciousness.” (Hartley 2004: 63) She not only helps the mover to remember her movement, but also imparts an attitude of non-judgmental acceptance and compassion. Through practice, the witness has learnt to own her projections, interpretations and judgments, and seeks to not impose these onto the mover’s experience through the cultivation of conscious speaking. By witnessing even the smallest detail, which might feel inconsequential to the mover, with care and respect, the witness communicates to the mover that every moment has significance, is of value to her, the witness. For a mover who has not experienced clear, accepting and compassionate witnessing when a child, this depth of care and unconditional regard can be profoundly healing. I have heard students describe it as an experience of pure love, and I know this from my own movement practice too, when I have felt fully received by a witness.  

The mover gradually internalises her experience of her external witness, and thus begins to cultivate an internal witness within herself, which has the qualities of non-judgmental acceptance, compassion and respect. In place of an inner judge or harsh critic, a healthy internal witness begins to grow – a place of clear and compassionate awareness, a capacity to be present, conscious in the moment to whatever arises within her. From here she can choose and she can surrender her will when called to. In moments of grace (Adler 2002: 6) an experience of union of the internal witness with the moving self might occur, a state beyond the duality of mind reflecting on experience, where mind, fully aware, is being experience – a conscious embodied awareness. Whitehouse writes of the experience of ‘I move’ giving way to ‘I am moved’, and then to moments where both experiences come together (Whitehouse 1999b: 82). She describes these as transcendent moments where something new, a higher level of integration, can occur (Chodorow 1999b: 236).[4] Such transitions may be deeply transformative and healing.  

Of course these are only words attempting to describe an experience that is by its very nature outside of the realm of words, but we do our best to articulate it – like the ‘finger pointing at the moon’, as the masters tell us. It must be experienced, not just indicated by the naming of it, but it is in the naming of experience that we clarify, bring into relationship, grow in consciousness, and develop our internal witness.  

Such moments do not occur all the time. Sometimes the impulse to move comes from a conscious ego position – ‘I enter, I raise my arm, I step into the circle with my right foot, I bow down to touch the floor’. I choose. But at times - and we hear it in the language the mover uses (Sager 2008: 70) – an impulse seems to come from beyond personal conscious choice – ‘I am moved to enter, my arm rises, my right foot is placed in the circle, I am bowed low’. I surrender. It may be an impulse from the personal unconscious, often recognised by the idiosyncratic nature of the gestures; or from the collective unconscious, where archetypal [5] embodiments (for example, of the Mother, the Healer, the Beloved) or cultural themes (such as the dance or the grieving ritual of a specific community) might be expressed; or from the transpersonal. In the latter, we may be moved by energy flowing through us that does not seem to have personal or collective associations, and connects us to a sense of something greater, more expansive, than personality, history or culture – something mysterious enters our conscious awareness. We might call this an experience of spirit [6], of the numinous [7], the transpersonal – or a moment of profound joy, peace, love, or grace. Each one’s framing and naming of the experience will be unique and highly personal.  

Tide turns ...

I witness the moment when the tide turns. The water’s edge has retreated far out over the sandy beach – a curve of white tossed waves.  
A river pours out into the sea, through the broad furrow it has forged through the sand. A wave advances, penetrates the flow, and surges up the channel. One force of water meets another, there is churning movement, until finally the river gives way and returns towards its source. Always the tide turns.  
Now there is one flow. The ocean is returned to source.    

I sense and feel

 The ability to stay present and track movement and sensation is essential when strong emotions, as well as experiences of energy or the transpersonal, arise. If the mover loses presence, is swept away by the force of the emotion and her internal witness goes unconscious, or is merged with the material, it is very hard to be with and integrate the experience. It can be unsafe for the mover, and may feel unsafe for the witness or other movers in the space too (if present), if emotion or unconscious material so overwhelms the mover that she loses awareness of her embodied presence, of where she is. As witness, I feel that I am no longer in relationship to the mover when this happens. When connection is lost – to self and to other – it needs to be restored. This might happen whilst speaking, after the moving time, when detailed tracking enables the mover to recover presence and integrate the powerful energies that led her to temporarily ‘leave her body’ – to dissociate, or lose herself in strong emotions, or become identified with material arising from the unconscious.  

Red Stone ...

In the hollow of my palm I hold an oval-shaped stone. The surface is both smooth and finely textured. It is warm. I hold history in my palm: a multitude of waves that have shaped it, tumbling through foam and over deep ocean floors in the darkness; a foreign land where rock crumbled, yielding its brave body to the sea, on to endless journeys round a circling world. To dangerous journeys and the battering of storms.  
Now it rests calmly in my hand. A nest, a haven. Holding it to my right cheek, I breathe in the smooth and textured surface, the warmth, the calmness and the wisdom that comes from ages of bold travelling through storms, from gleaning knowledge of the world.  
‘I have a smooth and textured surface, I am warm and calm. My journeys have brought me wisdom and knowledge of the world. I belong to the earth.’  
I bend down and place the red stone back on the sand. I return it to the earth.    

Choosing to Surrender

On the Marshes, Mud ...

A glistening surface, dark brown. Deeper, beneath the surface, black slithering mud. No chance of a foothold here.  

As we continue with our movement practice, we may begin to notice specific gestures or movement patterns that we recognise as repeated openings to a deepened state of consciousness. The first may be the moment we make the choice to be a mover, then look into the eyes of our witness before closing our own eyes. Then we begin to move, to enter the empty circle and follow the path that opens up. Familiar rituals and gestures recur as we descend more deeply, or enter new territory. In my teaching practice [8] I have likened these moments of transition to passage through the gates of the Kur (Wolkstein and Kramer 1983: 55), the gateways that goddess Inanna must pass through on her way to the underworld (Hartley 2001: 159, Perera 1981: 21).  

There is a moment when we could say ‘no, I choose not to enter this territory right now, in this way’. We could pull back, and sometimes it is wiser and safer to do so. But once we pass through the gateway we inevitably surrender to what we have been opened to.  

There are also gateways we pass through as we return, or ascend. Some may bring us back to the everyday world. Some may open us to the numinous. As we descend and ascend, we surrender to the path of ‘endarkenment’ and enlightenment (Hartley 2001: 275). This is what we commit to when we choose to enter the practice.    

Emotion and energetic phenomena

I remember a period in my personal practice when I could no longer make sense of my movements. I felt present during each moment, aware of each small shift, each gesture, each extended movement, and could recall the sequence in detail afterwards. The movements had clarity, precision, and seemingly stressful positions could be held with ease for long periods of time, but I could discover no meaning in them. There were no images to orient my understanding, no memories, no strong emotion or association. And yet they felt of significance, meaningful. This continued for many months.  

In the beginning I called the very specific forms my movement took hieroglyphics, for I felt I was witnessing a language but one that I had no knowledge of, no way to access. My mind needed to name my movement as ‘something’, so it chose this word - hieroglyph. My body simply did what felt essential to do, moment by moment. There was no choice. This was simply what had to be done, and I surrendered to the imperative of the moment, of the energy that was forming me, shaping my body into concept-less but meaningful experience.  

When I began to learn about energetic phenomena, and Authentic Movement as ‘mystical practice’ (Adler 2000), I felt relief. I did not have to make sense of my experiences in the way my mind was used to doing. My movement could be simply what it was. Energy could shape me into forms I had no conceptual association with. A transition to another way of being in relation to my moving self was occurring.  

With this allowing of my movement to be just as it was, there came a sense of joy, of clarity and renewal. My practice left me feeling centred, at peace, open and expanded in new and deepened ways, as I made a transition from Authentic Movement as soul-making practice to Authentic Movement as a discipline of embodied spiritual practice. My body moving became a prayer.  

At other times I have experienced a threshold where there seems to be a choice: it can be as simple as a turn of my head to the left, or to the right. Turning this way, I face my personal history and connect with memories and feelings that belong to the past but are still accessible to me now. There is darkness here. If I turn the other way, I feel totally present and experience a spaciousness that feels free and open. Here there is light.  

I hear students enter such moments, discover the same sense of awe that I have felt on realising that I can choose to surrender to this path, or to this one – I can open into personal process, or into the experience of energetic phenomena, sensed through the body, opening me to an expanded state of consciousness. I see students arrive in this place of transition: when there is genuine readiness, when enough unconscious material has been integrated into consciousness that attention to personal history can be easily surrendered, the student is able to stay fully present to the moment, just as it is, without concept, image, story or association. When we arrive in this place, choice gives way to surrender – there is inevitability, a sense of necessity about it. A narrow passage opens - it can only be this way.  

Of course there is never an end to personal process, and there will still be times when we must surrender to the path of personal and collective pain or suffering or confusion, in order to clarify more of the psychic material we carry within us. Yet there are also transitional steps that occur when we practice over time, which open us to new possibilities.  

Bliss or dislocation? Am I ready for this?

Adler has written of how gestures that once held traumatic material, may later open as gateways into the transpersonal dimension of practice (Adler 1999b: 185). Working through of the traumatic content allows energy that the gesture held to be released, expressed and integrated; the same gesture may then become a conduit for energetic phenomena, or expression of the numinous. And in reverse too: some of us need first to experience the transpersonal, feeling held within something larger than ourselves and expressing this through our movement practice, until we are ready to open consciously to the traumatic content held within the gesture. (Hartley 2001: 72-3)  

When we are not ready to safely and authentically open to energetic phenomena and the transpersonal in Authentic Movement, unbearable traumatic content may be the impulse behind a gesture or movement pattern, rather than surrender to the divine, the mysterious, to spirit.  

This ….. or this?

I am lying on my belly on the wood floor, face down. I make a small movement to turn my head to the left. I am an abandoned baby, distraught, frightened, lost. I want to cry out but I can’t.
I turn my head to the right. I am bathed with a feeling of bliss. The tangible boundaries of my body begin to dissolve. I am at peace. I surrender to the light.  

In turning to my right, how do I know that I am experiencing a genuine state of bliss, and not one of dissociation?  

Timing is important. Each of us needs to spend enough time working through the material of our personal history before we can fully and safely open to the transpersonal or mystical dimension. We need to be grounded in the root chakra through the work of somatic and psychic excavation and healing. As Marion Woodman writes: ‘[T]he grounding of the life force in the lowest chakra has to be secure, open to the energies of the earth, before the radiance of the spirit can take up residence’ (Woodman 1990: 40).  

We do this in Authentic Movement through the rigorous discipline of tracking movement, sensation and feeling, again and again, over years of practice, cultivating a strong internal witness. In this way we come to know ourselves more fully, to see ourselves with clarity and with compassion for our vulnerable parts. We learn about the places where we might project onto others, how we might judge them and ourselves, or feel the need to resort to interpretation when simply being present is enough.  

Until we are ready to consciously face difficult material, such as trauma in our early lives, the full content of those experiences might be held within habitual movement gestures, arising often in our practice. We patiently witness these moments, allowing them to gradually unfold and reveal insight over time. Here, the skill of tracking movement and sensation is most helpful. We learn to stay present, embodied, rather than dissociate when we come close to this material.  

I am lying on my belly on the wood floor, face down. I make a small movement to turn my head to the left. I am an abandoned baby, distraught, frightened, lost. I want to cry out but I can’t.  
I turn my head to the right. I am bathed with a feeling of bliss. The tangible boundaries of my body begin to dissolve and there is silence all around me. There are other movers in the space, but they feel far away. I long for contact but I have no way of reaching them. A feeling of aloneness and helplessness descends like a heavy weight pinning me to the ground. The feeling of bliss becomes leaden. I am numb.  

Contemporary approaches to trauma therapy acknowledge that trauma is held somatically as much as psychologically, and the body must play a central role in the healing process. For example, Merete Brantbjerg’s Resource Oriented Skill Training teaches somatically based skills that help a client, and therapist, to stay present when trauma has been triggered (Brantbjerg 2014). Methods developed by Levine (2005), Ogden (2006) and Rothschild (2000) all teach the careful tracking of body sensation, in order to keep therapy safe and process traumatic material. We cannot integrate arising content if we dissociate, if consciousness leaves the body, or if our nervous system becomes overwhelmed through hyper- or hypo-arousal.  

So the skills that are learnt in Authentic Movement may offer a way to be with and eventually integrate difficult unconscious material related to early trauma.  

As a witness/teacher, how can I know whether a mover is dissociating, or entering an expanded transpersonal state?  

A witness/teacher has learnt to be aware of and track her own experience in the presence of the one moving. She is aware of emotions and sensations arising in her, and through her own practice towards greater consciousness, she will have learnt how a dissociative state feels. Losing conscious embodied awareness is a sign: feeling dizzy, spaced out, tired or sleepy, absent, merged, disconnected or bored might be signs that the mover is dissociating. It is possible that the mover is not yet ready to face difficult material in full consciousness, so she, and her witness, may lose conscious awareness when it begins to surface. It is also possible that the witness is not ready to bear witness to this material, and must return to her own practice to strengthen her inner witness and explore her own history of trauma and dissociation.  

When the mover is present and is opening to energetic or transpersonal states, the attentive witness will feel present too. She may enter into a state of expanded consciousness with the mover: not separate, not merged, but deeply inter-connected. Moments of non-duality may be experienced between mover and witness.

I am lying on my belly on the wood floor, face down. I make a small movement to turn my head to the left. I am an abandoned baby. I know this place well – I don’t need to keep returning here.  
I turn my head to the right. I am bathed with a feeling of bliss. Energy ripples through me and the tangible boundaries of my body begin to dissolve. I am at peace. I surrender to the light that is both inside me and all around me.  

A witness learns to recognise the difference, so that she can support the mover’s integration of trauma, as well as energetic phenomena when they arise. Both need to be grounded through embodied awareness and careful tracking of movement, sensation and feeling. And both need to be witnessed in relationship with another for a full integration to occur.    

Moments of grace

In my own practice there came moments when it was not a question of ‘this way’ or ‘that way’, but this and that together. Being in relationship to both the human and very personal, and the transpersonal or spiritual simultaneously, I could experience the unity of these essential dimensions of human existence, both the human and divine:  

Touching ...

I am extended along the floor, energy coursing through me, sustaining my body in a long arc from head to toes with my fingertips reaching – my right fingers upwards, my left along the floor above my head. I am drawn out, supported by energy within and around me. I feel deeply connected.  
Another mover makes contact with my feet, softly, with care, with attention. I feel tickled, and could surrender to playfulness, but I choose not to. I know I must stay with the energy that is lengthening and sustaining me. My attention to this energy anchors me so that I can resist the impulse to move away from myself.  
I balance on this edge. Again, I could soften towards the touch, which feels full of human love, but I continue to surrender to the spacious and timeless flow I have entered. Her touch gently grounds me and supports me to stay with the energy that is moving through my body.  
In this way, each experience anchors the other. I stay with both the tender human connection, and the energy that weaves me into the greater web that we exist within – the personal and the spiritual simultaneously woven into each other. I enter a space that is clear, open, light.  

Another moment, another mover:  

Meeting ...

We stand facing each other, very close, so that I feel the warmth and movement of her breath.  Her hands gently embrace my shoulders. My palms lightly hold her elbows. Our foreheads press together, press deeply. The contact is strong but gentle, soft but firm, pressing into each other, forehead to forehead. The boundary between us is dissolving. I feel energy fill my body, flow into my pelvis – full and fluid, vital and with substance.  
The bell rings. I know I will have to leave her, but I want to stay here forever. Our connection feels timeless. I am in contact with the source of Love, and in the same moment I feel the sorrow of knowing separation from this.  

And later, another retreat:  

Loving ...

I am standing. A hand touches my left foot. I know this hand, holding my foot. She stays. I sense her kneeling before me as both hands now touch my two feet. My palm cradles the top of her head. We are both blessed and blessing. I feel the presence of the sacred in this tender human contact. Space opens up.  
I am drawn down to kneel with her. We touch hands. She is holding my right hand between hers; I hold her right hand in mine - four hands praying and held in a prayer. I feel exquisitely met, a human sister who reflects me back to myself.  
I hold and am held within the presence of the Divine. We are Love, my sister and I.    


We express ourselves through movement, gesture, sound and stillness; as we do, we experience sensations, feelings and emotions, some of which are easily identified and others which are subtle, unfamiliar and hard to name. Authentic Movement invites us to take the time to bring what is unknown and unnamed within us into form, into language and into relationship. Our inner psychological lives, our uniquely creative psyches, and our individual ways of encountering the sacred as well as the mundane in life may all find a place in this practice and discipline.  

This article has explored some of the choices and moments of surrender within Authentic Movement practice, and indicated some pivotal transition points where the practice as therapeutic process and/or creative resource may transform into a spiritual discipline: here, as mover and witness become present to direct experience, the arising of image, metaphor and narrative ceases, and a pure engagement with spirit, with what is sacred to us, may be experienced.


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[1] The Integrative Bodywork & Movement Therapy training programme integrates principles and practice of Body-Mind Centering®, Authentic Movement and Somatic Psychology into a holistic approach to somatic movement therapy and education. IBMT is an ISMETA-Approved training programme, and the IBMT Institute is a BMCA-Allied organisation: Back to text

[2] Wellings and Wilde McCormick (2000: 2) write: “ ‘Transpersonal’ has become an umbrella term for naming those experiences where consciousness extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal. These experiences are filtered through the individual person, hence the word trans-personal rather than post-personal or non-personal.” In the preface to their book, Prof. David Fontana writes: “[Transpersonal experiences] can prove life-changing, exerting a profound and enduring effect upon subsequent behavior, belief systems, self-understanding and life goals. They can also prove disturbing, presenting individuals with experiences that challenge their existing understanding and that may provoke crises of personal identity.” (Wellings and Wilde McCormick 2000: ix) Back to text

[3] I use the female gender here for convenience only. Men as well as women practise and teach Authentic Movement. Back to text

[4] I have written elsewhere about the integration of polarities as the dance at the very heart of the creation of life itself (Hartley 2014: 9). Back to text

[5] Jung, who was the first psychologist to name and explore the archetypes, has described them as: “[T]ypical attitudes, modes of action – thought processes and impulses which must be regarded as constituting the instinctive behavior typical of the human species. The term  … “archetype”. therefore coincides with the biological concept of the “pattern of behavior”  … inherited instinctive impulses and forms that can be observed in all living creatures.” (Jung 1960: 261-2) Back to text

[6] C.G. Jung gives an interesting definition of ‘spirit’: “[S]pirit is the living body seen from within, and the body the outer manifestation of the living spirit – the two being really one.” (Jung 1933/1984: 253) Back to text

[7] Definition: “Numinous /ˈnjuːmɨnəs/ is an English adjective, taken from the Latin numen, used by some to describe the power or presence or realisation of a divinity.” Accessed 17 June 2015. Back to text

[8] In Authentic Movement teaching, and in Inanna-Ereshkigal, one of the Woman, Body, Earth & Spirit series of workshops that I offer: Back to text