Therapist, trainer, writer









Embodying Consciousness: Dialogue between the Conscious and Unconscious  

Excerpt from Somatic Psychology: Body, Mind and Meaning, chapter 3

by Linda Hartley

In the practice of somatic therapy, we consciously explore specific movement, energetic, and postural patterns by directing our awareness to particular tissues in the body, and touching or moving the body with the intention to effect change in those tissues. This may open us to feelings, images, memories, and sensations which we were not conscious of before. Past experiences which we have been unable to integrate, or which have been forgotten or repressed, are stored in the body tissues and fluids as bound energy; they are also stored in the unconscious psyche as images. Somatic work touches upon and awakens the unconscious store of memories, feelings, images, and knowledge held in the body, as the body softens and opens, allowing the life force beneath our habitual patterns of movement and behaviour to be contacted.

Somatic therapy and education engages the conscious mind in developing awareness of specific movement expressions, and directing or repatterning those expressions with conscious intent. The conscious mind penetrates unconscious and unexpressed areas of the body, awakening awareness in the body and integrating body and mind into a coherent whole. The dialogue between the conscious and unconscious mind is central to this work. However, if we only relate to the body with conscious intent, this may lead to an overly self-conscious or controlled way of being; in this we are expressing ourselves primarily through the nervous system, which can lead to disturbances. Consciously directed movement needs to be balanced by surrender to unconscious process, to the flow of the fluids within the body, and the free and spontaneous expression of the inner feeling self. The relationship between will and surrender is the issue here.

 As a balance to the focus on conscious awareness and direction of movement patterning, which is so central to many somatic practices, the practice of Dance Therapy invites the unconscious to speak through the language of expressive movement. Dance therapy bridges the fields of somatic movement therapy and body psychotherapy, in its attention to the subtle expressions of the inner psyche through creative body movement. It seeks to integrate body, emotions, mind, and spirit in the dance of dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious. Expressive dance movement enables the psychological and spiritual dimensions of our experience to be embodied, made visible, and witnessed clearly by another. In my own practice and teaching, I use the form of Authentic Movement, a development within the field of dance therapy, to deepen, explore, and integrate the unconscious meaning of the feelings, sensations, images, and movement experiences evoked by focussed somatic work.

The form of authentic movement offers a vehicle through which personal meaning can be integrated into consciousness. Where psychology and psychotherapeutic practice have developed complex integrations of different philosophical views, psychological techniques, and theories evolving from decades of clinical practice and intellectual endeavour, authentic movement offers a simple but powerful form within which the depths of the inner psychic world can speak directly through the body. It offers a holding space, a feminine container, and a practice of embodied awareness which goes beyond therapy, towards spiritual practice and embodied collective consciousness.

Dance Therapy: Personal and Transpersonal Dimensions

Dance therapy developed in the USA during the 1940's, as pioneering dancers such as Marian Chace, Mary Whitehouse, and Liljan Espenak began to apply their skills in teaching dance in the community, to working with patients in psychiatric settings. Originally it was practised as group therapy, adjunctive to treatment by a team of professionals under the supervision of a psychiatrist, and it was found to be very effective. [1] The early pioneers began to research into psychological theories which would help orientate, and also validate, their intuitive ways of working, and various theoretical approaches evolved. [2] Siegel describes an approach to psychoanalytic dance therapy, or dancetherapeutic psychoanalysis, which was greatly influenced by Freudian theories. [3] Espenak was more directly influenced by Adlerian theory, and Mary Whitehouse was the first of the dance therapists to be influenced by Jung in her approach. The system of movement analysis originated by Rudolf Laban, and further developed by Irmgard Bartenieff, was and still is a major underpinning of dance therapy theory and practice. [4]

Dance therapy is based on the perception that body posture and movement intimately reflect emotional and psychological processes. The creative use of dance movement allows the expression and integration of forgotten or repressed, pre-verbal, or inexpressible feelings and memories. As the client moves, the therapist witnesses her movement and then reflects back to her what has been expressed; she may use movement to empathise with or mirror back her client's movement, or she may use words, imagery, music or other methods. Unconscious material can gradually be reintegrated into consciousness, and a fuller sense of self developed. The healing of personal history may take, as in psychoanalysis, the form of a re-parenting of the client, enabling a healthier developmental process to evolve. Joan Chodorow, a dance therapist influenced by Mary Whitehouse's approach, writes of this process:

'When therapist and patient can see and be seen by each other, the process re-institutes the mirroring that is so fundamental to the parent-infant relationship. Expressive movement is the most direct way to reach back to our early experiences. By attending to the world of bodily felt sensations, the mover re-creates a situation that is in many ways similar to that of an infant who swims in a sensory-motor world. The presence of the therapist enables re-enactment and re-integration of the earliest pre-verbal relationship. Over time, the quality of the therapeutic relationship may be internalised by the mover; it is as if a compassionate inner witness is constellated. In the end it is our ability to mirror empathically the expressive reactions of our patients which is fundamental to the success of dance therapy.' [5]

Chodorow describes how dance therapy can take one of two basic directions, and it is important that the therapist understands which of these is appropriate to a particular client at a specific time. There is, however, a constant flow back and forth between the two directions in most cases. Movement can activate both conscious and unconscious processes: it can help to strengthen the ego-position by clarifying body boundaries and spatial orientation, creating a strong bodymind container through specific muscular activity; movement can also open us to the inner world of the unconscious psyche, a process of giving over to the unconscious, and allowing it to speak through our movement, to 'move us':

'The first approach emphasizes conscious, everyday reality, especially regarding time and space limitations, and it works to strengthen ego boundaries. The psychotic person usually derives great benefit from such work. Here, the dance therapist attempts to evoke specific movement responses which will help the person cope more effectively with the external world. For example, use of structured rhythms, working within clearly organized spatial patterns, intentional use of weight, etc., will help the person develop a more realistic body image and strengthen his or her conscious viewpoint.

The second approach concentrates on using movement as a means of opening to the unconscious and will most likely involve some dissolution of ego boundaries. Here, the movement may be based on more internally generated rhythms, spatial patterns may be more diffuse, and the person's eyes may be closed or have an inward focus. Awareness of and attending to aspects of inner reality becomes a central focus. As the brain receives an ongoing but diminished flow of sensory input, it may begin to create its own internal experience through increasingly vivid imagery and, at times, body image distortion. Such navigation through the nonrational world of the unconscious can facilitate profoundly important insights and new levels of integration for people who have already developed a strong ego position.' 6

Exploration of these two approaches has opened dance therapy into the area of transpersonal experience and growth, reconnecting us to the roots of dance in ancient healing rituals. Since the earliest times, dance has provided a vehicle for individual and collective healing. Ancient cultures practised dance to unite the community in a common feeling and purpose, to facilitate healing, to evoke the gods of fertility or hunting, and to induce altered states of consciousness which enabled the individual and the collective to experience connection with the spiritual source of life. Lewis writes:

'We are not just intellects or even feeling intellects, we are embodied creatures. Every cell of our bodies relates and connects to each other. We are also filled with UR — the life force that interconnects everything. Thus if we are to be healed, our whole being, along with our relationship to the Source, must be engaged in the process.

Dance has been a vehicle for this coniunctio of mind, body and soul with the eternal throughout time. The amelioration of suffering, the facilitation of life stages through rites of passage and the numinous connection to the spiritual have all come about through dance.' 7

Chodorow also writes of this function of dance, and the need today to connect to its potential for transpersonal as well as personal healing:

'From the dawn of human history, dance has been a sacred language — a way of realizing our connection to the cosmos. Wherever we humans have withdrawn from a direct experience of our relationship to the universe, there too has the power of dance diminished.

In our present time, there is increasing energy and attention turned toward transpersonal values. In a sense, human survival now depends on developing a conscious relationship to the vast, collective inner reality we all share. We must learn to come to terms with opposite positions, whether they be within the individual, between two or more persons, or between nations.

To develop most fully the potential of that sacred dialogue which serves to unite the opposites, dance/movement must reclaim its original power. It may then take its place as our most powerful tool in facilitating the transcendent function.' 8

The psychology of Jung strongly influenced the work of Mary Whitehouse, who developed the practice of authentic movement as an embodied form of Jung's process of active imagination. Whitehouse was the first dance therapist to differentiate movement originating in the conscious from that originating in the unconscious. She spoke about movement that is intentional and ego-directed, movement that is unintentional and has its source in the unconscious, and movement that comes from the Self. The difference between intentional and unintentional movement she described as the sense of 'I am moving', and 'I am being moved'; movement from the Self embodies both experiences.9

Joan Chodorow has evolved an integrated theory of Jungian based dance therapy.10 She discusses 'the mysterious interface that mediates between body and psyche':

'Jung calls this the psychoid level. He describes it as a transformative function in the depths of the unconscious that mediates between the realms of body and psyche, instinct and image. It seems obvious that the emotions are the stuff of that interface. An emotion, by definition, is at once somatic and psychic. The somatic aspect is made up of bodily innervations and expressive physical action. The psychic aspect is made up of images and ideas. In psychopathology, the two realms tend to split. By contrast, a naturally felt emotion involves a dialectical relationship — a union of body and psyche.' 11

She goes on to say that working with the imagination — whether verbally through free association, or creatively through artwork, movement, or writing — takes us right to the emotional core of our complexes. Dance therapy may use all of these methods, with dance movement as the central focus, in order to re-integrate the somatic and psychic realms, and open a creative dialogue between conscious and unconscious processes. The ability not only to access and release, but also to contain and express symbolically our deepest emotions, inner conflicts, and also our innate qualities and wisdom, enables us to develop and grow. Dance therapy is concerned with the expression and transformation of emotions and feeling states which emerge from the unconscious, expressed as posture, gesture, and movement, into conscious awareness.

Janet Adler, another of Whitehouse's foremost followers, further differentiated movement from the unconscious which has its source in personal history, and that which has a transpersonal source. 12 As an example of a movement process which moved between personal and transpersonal impulses, I would like to include here a personal movement story which evolved during an authentic movement retreat led by Adler:

'We are in Tuscany again. We sit for the first time in the circle, the surface of the wooden floor gleaming in the sun like a wide and empty pool of light. I was suddenly acutely aware of having no idea what would unfold this week; the unknown seemed to sit in the centre of the space like a large and tangible presence. For a moment it all felt too much. Janet reminds us that some of us may work at the personal level, some at the transpersonal or collective level; she added that we might also do nothing at all. I felt relieved. I needed permission for nothing at all to happen.

So I was surprised when in the first movement session I came quickly into something which felt like a universal and timeless experience. Following the subtle movements of breath, I was led to a posture with head and shoulders hanging. I was a prisoner of war. My hands were tied together in front of me and I was being dragged by a chain or rope across a barren wilderness landscape. It was dark — late evening or night — and very cold; but we, for I knew there were many others with me, tied together by the long chains that bound us, had to keep on walking. We were beaten back onto our feet if we dropped exhausted to the ground. It felt like an endless, slow march. We had no choice but to keep going. The image of the prisoner returned several times during the week.

We are in Italy, and so nearby a terrible war is going on. Just over the hills and water the people of Bosnia are driven to consciousness by the fighting and killing, in stark contrast to the protected place we enjoy here. The same sun shines on both sides of the water. Military planes fly overhead now and then, to remind us that the war is going on, and I hope that they are carrying aid, not bombs. I feel my movement like a prayer.

Each session was taking me deeper, as personal and collective images came together. I was a mother grieving the death of her son, kneeling in the centre of a circle of women, together making slow, strong, swaying movement and song, a mourning ritual. It was wonderful to feel part of a collective of women grieving together, to feel the power and grief rise up through our bodies and begin to transform into a powerful but contained rage. My fists were clenched as my body circled and swayed slowly between earth and sky. Here was a grief that could grow into rage that would cry out against the wars and violence. In my movement there was also personal loss. I have never had, and have longed so much for the opportunity to be supported through my own grieving with such rituals. I have longed so much for this. I was grateful for that moment, and grateful for the exquisite witnessing of it by my partner.

A few sessions later, a small movement coming from my heart connected me to a deep feeling of loss and abandonment and utter aloneness. I chose to surrender to the feeling. I was a child abandoned by her mother, longing for the only one who could give comfort, the one who could not be replaced by another. My movement took me to that place where there is no comfort to be found. Then with a slow gesture of my hand and arm I found myself saying goodbye to the boyfriend who died many years ago. Now I am really acccepting that he has gone, letting him go, accepting it, feeling the aloneness, accepting it, feeling it, being with it. A sense of surrender, close to resignation, but not quite. As I dropped my arm I was giving up all hope, false hope, falling into stillness. But in that moment the stirring of new movement came with the need to take a deep breath, and life goes on. I moved to the wall to feel support, and the image of the prisoner came again. This time, out of the loss and suffering the deep will to go on was awakening, and the prisoner was transforming into a pilgrim. Somehow this way was chosen, for some sacred purpose.

Later, I was making sinewy, twisting movements across the floor, muscles tensed, complex convoluted shapes. It was a slow, slow birth. No pain and angst this time, just the knowledge in my cells of the movement pathways I took as I twisted and pushed and clawed my way out. Then I lay very still. I had been born and was lying on my back, my body arched slightly so that my heart was opened wide. I felt vulnerable and so very alone. The other movers seemed to have retreated to the other side of the circle. They felt very distant. No-one came to me, and I couldn't move, so I lay very still, barely breathing. I felt empty, and was aware of a choice to surrender into a bliss-like vacancy, or to remember that I was rejected by my mother when I was born. I went numb.

I was carrying tears that lay so deep they weren't yet ready to be shed, and needed a soft embrace to let go into. Instead there was violence in the circle. One witness saw a mother lion about to kill her cubs. I needed a smaller circle to contain my grief and my small emerging self.

At the end of the retreat I was given this more intimate container, and completed my movement process. Out came a sigh, a breath, soft at first, then a cry, then a roar, a scream that said not 'I am afraid', but 'I AM'. My essential call to being. Then I was able to find my ground, to push up against the floor, against the wall, on my feet again. I found my shawl which I had used before as protection, and made a whip out of it, striding around the space whipping against the air and the walls of the room. Now I was the soldier who beat and bullied the prisoners. This too.'  

Active Imagination in Movement: The Practice of Authentic Movement

The form of active imagination in movement, or authentic movement, was developed by Mary Whitehouse, and further evolved by Chodorow, Adler and others, as a container for the exploration and integration of the many levels of movement process. The ground form of authentic movement practice involves a mover and a witness. The witness creates and holds a safe space into which the mover enters and begins to move, usually with eyes closed, following her own internal impulses. Both mover and witness attend to their own experiences as the mover's process unfolds.

By working with her eyes closed, or the vision inwardly focussed, the mover is enabled to give full attention to her inner sensory and imaginal processes, with minimal distraction from outside. External influences, such as sounds or contact with other movers, may acquire meaning significant to her unfolding inner story when visual information and the perspective of objective reality are not present; unexpected disturbances often provide important impulses for new experience and awareness, or a catalyst for the discovery of insight. We live in a visually oriented culture, and our dominant visual sense is closely connected to our ego position and our hold on the world — many people use their vision more than is physiologically necessary to literally hold themselves in balance, to the detriment of the other somatically based senses. Letting go of this holding to our habitual orientation allows for other experiences, as we surrender ego to the unknown hidden worlds within.

Approaching the unconscious through attending to the body, we gain access to a great range and depth of sensory and emotional experience. We begin by listening inwardly to the flow of sensations, images, feelings, sounds, memories, and movement impulses which emerge into awareness:

'The unconscious manifests itself through an ongoing stream of body sensation and mental imagery. Its relatively formless products may include inner throbbings, pulsings, tinglings, pressures, surges, waves of differentiated and undifferentiated energies, inner voices, sounds, words, fantasies, feelings, moods, memories and impulses'. 13

The mover then begins to give form to these inner sensations and impulses. Mary Whitehouse described active imagination in movement as '... following the inner sensation, allowing the impulse to take the form of physical action...' 14 During this phase of the process the mover attends fully to the movement itself; images may arise or not in conjunction with the movement. Sometimes an image may provide the impulse to move, and she follows her internal imaging process, giving expression to this in movement. The movement session usually ends when the witness gives a signal, such as the ringing of a bell, after a mutually agreed period of time. The time frame provided by the witness is a boundary which helps to create safety for the mover, who can enter her process for a circumscribed period knowing that she will be recalled by her witness; thus she can release the ego-function of time-keeping for a while, and more readily enter the timeless world of the unconscious.

After each movement session it is important to anchor the experience in consciousness; this can be done by recording it through artwork or writing. In authentic movement practice the witness offers feedback to the mover after moving; her presence and witnessing help to bring unconscious material into conscious awareness, and help to prevent the experience from slipping back into unconsciousness again. The integration of unconscious material into conscious awareness is the ultimate goal, so that we may grow into an ever deepening and embracing sense of being.

During active imagination in movement we enter into our unfolding inner process, interacting with, responding to, and embodying in movement our inner figures. Ego reactions to the content emerging from the unconscious can be more readily understood and integrated when fully embodied in movement. Chodorow writes:

'Jung describes the ego as a complex datum which is constituted primarily of a general awareness of the body. (CW #18, para 18.).....

Although the impulse to move may spring from a source in the unconscious, the body, which allows the impulse to manifest itself, remains firmly rooted in the fact of its own existence. The actual act of moving creates proprioceptive and kinesthetic feedback which serves to confront the unconscious with the body ego's reality. As the unconscious impulse and the body ego encounter each other's different realities, an intense and fully mutual education is likely to occur.' 15

In the final stage of active imagination, Jung emphasised the importance of putting into practice the understanding and insight gained from the work. When a genuine inner change has taken place, integration will occur without the great effort and resistance encountered when we try, through will power alone, to make changes in our life, or act upon the ethical considerations which have arisen through the work. As Chodorow affirms, the actual physical and energetic embodiment of new levels of consciousness and integration, which occurs in the dance movement process itself, greatly facilitates the expression and integration of new energies and insights into everyday life.

The Witness

Essential to the authentic movement process is the presence of the witness. 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. The witness sits at the edge of the space whilst the mover, usually with her eyes closed, enters the empty space and attends to the stirrings of her inner sensory and imaginal world. The witness does not generally intervene, unless she feels the mover's safety is at risk; her presence is non-intrusive, non-judgemental, and compassionate towards both the mover and herself. Whitehouse realised that it was the depths to which she had travelled in her own analysis which enabled her clients to work in depth. The witness embodies her own process of encounter with the unconscious and the depth of experience she has accessed, and this facilitates the in-depth movement work of the other.

To enter into the unconscious through an exploration of the body, whether through dance movement or bodywork, can be difficult and for some quite frightening, especially at the beginning, or when traumatic material is surfacing. The body interior can feel like a dark and threatening world in which it is easy to lose one's way. Resistance to the encounter may express in an inability to work with the eyes closed, a tendency to dissociate from body sensation or from feelings when moving, or to lose touch with the sensory and imaginal process and become lost in thoughts and disembodied day-dreaming. Resistance is respected in this practice, but an important function of the witness is to support the mover, in her own time, to be able to enter her inner world in a way that is safe and creative. The encounter is made easier in the presence of another who provides structure and containment, and is willing to enter into the unconscious world together with the mover, and to meet the mover there. The witness' containing presence gradually de-toxifies the mover's unbearable anxiety and fear, rage and grief, so that she is enabled more and more to contain her negative feelings herself. Non-judgmental, empathic, and compassionate witnessing by another is crucial to the process of fully integrating depth material into relationships and everyday life.

Over a period of time, the experience of being witnessed by another, with empathy, compassion, and clarity, enables the mover to internalise the presence of the external witness. She begins to develop her own internal witness, free of the concepts, judgements, and self-critiscisms that so often cloud our clear perception of ourselves. Adler has explored in depth, and finely articulated, the important function of the witness. She writes:

'The ground of the discipline of Authentic Movement is the relationship between a mover and a witness. The heart of the practice is about the longing, as well as the fear, to see ourselves clearly. We repeatedly discover that such an experience of clarity is deeply and inextricably related to the gift of being seen clearly by another and, just as importantly, related to the gift of seeing another clearly.' 16

I look upon the art of witnessing as a form of meditation; indeed Adler has beautifully articulated the relationship between the practice of authentic movement and mystical practice.17 The witness pays attention to the feelings, images, sensations, memories, and movement impulses that arise in her, evoked by the presence of the person moving. She owns these as her own experience, rather than projecting them onto the mover; she does not attempt to interpret or analyse the mover's experience in terms of her own judgements and fantasies, but owns these for what they are — her own direct experience, evoked by the presence and activity of the mover. In a similar way, in meditation practice the internal witness notices the impulses that arise as thoughts, feelings, images, sensations, and so on; but rather than interpret or judge or project them onto others, the meditator seeks to experience them directly, without attachment or aversion, thus allowing them to transform. In such a way, the witness enters into the mover's experience, whilst simultaneously maintaining awareness of her own; in this special moment of relatedness, both can see and be seen, and both may experience healing and transformation of consciousness. Adler writes:

'The witness practices the art of seeing. Seeing clearly is not about knowing what the mover needs or must do. The witness does not ''look at'' the mover, but instead, as she internalizes the mover, she attends to her own experience of judgement, interpretation, and projection, in response to the mover as catalyst. As she acknowledges ownership of her experiences, the density of her personal history empties, enabling the witness at times to feel that she can see the mover clearly, and more importantly, that she can see herself clearly. Sometimes ... it is grace ... the witness embodies a clear presence.' 18

After moving and witnessing, both people speak of their own experiences; the mover speaks first, and the witness responds by sharing some of her own experience, choosing what it is appropriate to say, and what must be contained for the moment. In this way she provides the container which holds the mover's unconscious process, as well as her internal witness. The mover may feel clearly seen and accepted by the other, and her own experience can be enriched and deepened by sensitive and compassionate witnessing. She sees and accepts herself more fully, and can begin to own back that which she has projected onto the witness. Gradually, the mover is enabled to consciously integrate her unconscious material and her own internal witness. Through the presence of the external witness she learns to:  

'... internalise the reflective function of the witness, ie. to yield to the unconscious stream of bodily felt sensations and images, while at the same time bringing the experience into conscious awareness.' 19

The art of witnessing has a wide range of applications, both in professional and personal relationships. In my own teaching and practice I use it in a number of ways. At times I use the form of moving and witnessing as a practice in itself, as described; or I may use it to explore, deepen, and integrate material arising form somatic work. When working with touch at the cellular level, I also focus on the art of witnessing the body through touch, applying the principles of non-judgmental and compassionate witnessing, and owning what I experience as I touch another; this gives the client space to accept or reject my perceptions, and thus helps her to connect to her own reality more clearly, as well as allowing her to feel met exactly where she is. I also endeavour to use the principles of clear witnessing in responding to a client's or student's verbal sharing, or artwork, and encourage group members to respond to each other in this way. This can have a powerful effect on the bonding process of a group, as each member is given space to express herself, in her own way, and is supported and accepted in this. The practice of witnessing can be viewed as an embracing attitude, a meta-skill (Mindell) underlying all technique and practice, which both guides and contains the work.

In her paper 'Who is The Witness?', Adler discusses the relationship between psychoanalysis and authentic movement.20 In both instances the client/mover does not see the analyst/witness, and surrenders to the process of free association, through words in the first instance, and movement in the second. As both approaches evoke regression, long term work is usually required, and the witness, like the analyst, may take on a nurturing, empathic, protective, and parental function. The verbal sharing after moving enables the psychodynamic and transference/counter-transference issues to be clarified and integrated. This form is particularly suited to the in-depth exploration of experiences related to pre-verbal life, the unconscious memories of which are held in the body. Through movement we re-member our past as it is revealed through the body, piece by piece, gesture by gesture, in order to re-establish the sense of wholeness and authentic self-hood.

Dance therapist and authentic movement teacher, Tina Stromsted, in an article entitled 'Re-Inhabiting the Female Body', discusses the ways in which a woman may dissociate from her body as a result of traumatic and abusive experiences in early life; she describes how the practice of authentic movement can provide a safe space in which to reclaim the sensation, expressiveness, and power of the body that has been lost. 21 Her description is of course applicable to anyone who has lost touch with the full feeling and expressiveness of the bodymind and authentic self, because of hurt, violation, deprivation, or abandonment, which can cause numbing of feeling, and dissociation from the body. The importance of being witnessed in our moments of deep encounter with ourselves, our moments of transformation as we return home to the body and reclaim our full aliveness and expressiveness, is understood and honoured in this practice. Without the meeting which occurs in this personal relationship, depth and transpersonal experiences may not be fully integrated into everyday life.

The Collective Body

Sometimes in group movement processes, magical things occur which show us without doubt that we are in some mysterious way all connected to each other, and to the world in which we live — that our personal stories, unfolding through movement and sound, interact and evolve in ways that support each person's developing consciousness and healing, whilst also embodying a greater story in which we all play a special part. The interweaving of personal stories in a spontaneous and synchronistic embodiment creates a larger story, when each mover honestly and courageously expresses her own direct and embodied experience of the moment.

As movers in a group learn to witness each other and themselves, the power of the witness circles grows; it becomes strong enough to contain the energy of transpersonal and collective processes, as well as material from the personal unconscious. Consciousness of the collective body is the next evolutionary step which emerges, as each member of the group develops her conscious internal witness. Membership of a collective body becomes a possibility as personal stories are embodied and witnessed by the group.

Adler talks about the great longing that exists within each of us to belong. During the last century, the quest to individuate has been dominant; we have quite rightly sought to liberate ourselves from the constraints and limitations on personal freedom, choice, and consciousness, which group ideology, mass psychology, and religious dogma have imposed upon us. We have sought to develop personal consciousness, but a tragic result of this has been loss of the sense of belonging, loss of the embodied experience of belonging to a tribalbody, and to the earthbody itself. Adler writes:

'Over emphasis on individual development encouraged outside of a sacred circle has contributed significantly to the creation of unbearable rage, isolation, and despair. In response, the desire to return to one's unquestioned place in the circle can be awakened. But we can easily romanticize possible membership in the collective without fully understanding the shadow aspects of belonging, why the circle has become absent ... Accepting one's place in the circle can threaten (the) process of the development of the self. If membership is unconscious, the loss of individual freedom results.' 22

Unconscious membership can thwart the process of individuation, and limit our choices and our capacity to take responsibility for our actions in the world. But when individual ego development and individualism is not in right relationship to the whole, conscious membership in the collective can also be threatened. Jung claimed that the way to participate responsibly as a conscious member of the collective is through rediscovery of soul. Our evolutionary task now is 'to bring the gifts of individuation into conscious membership in the whole, to find a way to be uniquely ourselves inside a sacred conscious circle.' 23

Adler states that this change in consciousness must be an embodied change:

'It is in our bodies where the phenomenon of life energy, a physical reality, is directly experienced. One by one, knowing, (and knowing implies consciousness), knowing in our bodies that we belong, creates a collective body in which life energy is shared. I imagine the collective body as the energetic consciousness of the earthbody, which includes all living beings. It is the body-felt connectedness among people, profoundly related to the source of our humanity.

Becoming conscious of our part in the whole through direct experience of membership allows exploration of the relationship between the personal body and the collective body. When our individual bodies have been wounded because of our suffering, we often are opened toward embodied personal consciousness. Our earthbody is wounded. Can we, because of personal consciousness, become opened toward consciousness of the collective body? Can we create a sacred conscious circle that evolves organically from the knowing body of each member, from the direct experience of each member?' 24

The practice of authentic movement offers a form which can contain and support this evolution of embodied collective consciousness. Here, within the presence of the witness circle, the multi-layered expressions of conscious and unconscious, personal, transpersonal, and collective experience is embodied, made visible, seen, heard, felt, and acknowledged. We come to feel and know ourselves as both individual members of the group, and as unique expressions of the collective body.

I would like to finish with a story of the collective body. This story is the creation of Janet Adler, in response to witnessing a 'long circle' 25 of authentic movement. Each mover's process is witnessed and responded to as her personal story, but the witness may also experience the creation of a collective story, in which each individual member plays a part. This long circle took place during a five-day authentic movement retreat in Italy, where 25 women from different countries gathered together to study and practice the form with Adler; I was privileged to be a member of this group. Adler has named this story 'The Call':

'Each time a voice called out, a particular archetypal aspect of the human psyche was acknowledged, accepted. In this story I saw how new energy repeatedly, cyclically accrues from life, how it is gathered, contained, dispersed back into the collective through one body, then another, then another. I saw an embodiment of my experience of our present state on this planet .....

'I see a senior woman standing on the edge of the circle, facing out, her arms folded in front of her: a gatekeeper on the edge of the earth. At her feet, I see a woman wrapped in a blanket: a baby, new. I see innocence.
A woman walks to the centre of the circle, her arms slowly lifting, calling.
I see a woman pounding, yelling, pulling her hair: destruction, despair, hatred, pain. I see suffering.
A woman suddenly stands, reaching her arms straight out to her side, calling.
I see three movers on the other side of the circle laughing, playing, tumbling: joy, beauty, love. I see freedom.
A woman begins turning, calling, a long steady call.
I see a woman standing, holding her hands in front of her as if she holds a thick tube reaching from the floor to the ceiling. She moves very little but tension visibly builds in her body, her focus steady and strong: energy accruing in one body. She releases the tension, pounding her heel into the floor: a body as vessel shattering, birthing new agony, which is sent into the earth through her heel. I see transformation.
A woman lies flat on the floor, calling into the earth.
Women clap and sing in rhythm with the pounding heel, and come to their feet, one by one, stomping and chanting: new energy is dispersed, flowing into many bodies.
I see one woman, crouched at the feet of the dancers, hiding her face: the one not ready.
A woman suddenly moves backward to the wall, screaming: fear of the unknown manifest as the new energy escalates.
Another woman, acknowledging fear, meets the screaming woman until the terror evaporates: fear of the unknown shared and thus contained. These two women — who is leading, who is following? — slowly re-enter the circle. Now a third woman walks with them. They walk so slowly.
The second woman continues, out the other side of the circle, arriving at the open window, calling out into the hills: a call to the gods for help.
A woman calls out from the other open window on the other side of the room: in response, in support, calling the gods for help.
I see a woman lying near the edge of the circle, silent, unmoving: the one who does not know what to do.
A woman sits on the floor with her legs open, breathing harder and harder: labor before a birth.
A woman wraps her legs from behind around the birthing woman. She pushes her pelvis forward, into the back of the birthing woman. Now she reaches up, out of her efforts and calls, a call for new life.
A woman is weaving shapes in the air with intense focus, directly in front of the woman who sits with her legs open: the cosmic midwife.
I see a woman moving around the entire outside of the circle, stepping into long deep strides, droning: the cosmic shaman, containing it all.
Again and again, I see a woman sitting on the floor with her legs open, breathing harder and harder: labor before a birth. Will new life occur? This birth is not about an individual who will save our earth. This is the birth of the collective body.
Now I see a woman sitting in a corner, raging: anger, frustration, violence, hopelessness.
A woman crawls towards her, waiting, listening at her feet. I see compassion.'
The clock tells me to lift the bell and let it ring. It is time to rest. It is not time for the birth. How is readiness to be determined? For now, like children, we are in the process of remembering something we once knew long ago, and simultaneously, we are glimpsing our potential for discovering something completely new, something we have never before experienced. In the meantime, we are loving the best we can.' 26


1. Siegel, Elaine V., 'Psychoanalytic Dancetherapy: Bridge between Psyche  and Soma.' Paper presented at the First International Clinical Conference in Berlin on Dance/Movement Therapy at the Nervenklinik Spandau: 'The Language of Movement: Application of Dance/Movement Therapy in Psychiatric Settings'. 1994. Page 72.

2. Lewis, Penny, 'Theoretical Approaches in Dance-Movement Therapy'. Kendall/Hunt, Dubuque. Vol.I, revised, 1986: Vol. 2, 1988.

3. Siegel, Elaine, V., 'Dance Therapy: Mirror of our Selves'. Human Sciences Press, New York. 1984.

4. Laban, Rudolf, 'The Language of Movement'. Plays Inc., Boston. 1974.

5. Chodorow, Joan. 'Body, Psyche, and the Emotions'. Paper presented at First International Clinical Conference In Berlin on Dance-Movement Therapy.' 1994. Page 34.

6. Chodorow, Joan, 'Dance Therapy and the Transcendent Function'. Paper presented at First Regional Congress of the International Association for Social Psychiatry, Santa Barbara, CA. 1977; and First International Conference of the American Dance Therapy Association, Toronto, Canada. 1977. Pages 20–3.

7. Lewis, Penny, 'Depth Psychotherapy in Dance-Movement Therapy'. Paper presented at First International Clinical Conference in Berlin on Dance/Movement Therapy'. 1994. Page 41.

8. Chodorow, 'Dance Therapy and the Transcendent Function. Pages 13–14.

9. Whitehouse, Mary, 'The Tao of the Body'. Paper presented at the Analytical Psychology Club of Los Angeles. 1958.

10. Chodorow, 'Dance Therapy and Depth Psychology — The Moving Imagination'. Routledge, London and New York. 1991.

11. Ibid. Page 3.

12. Adler, Janet, 'Who is the Witness?' Contact Quarterly, Northampton, MA. Winter 1987. Pages 20–29.

13. Chodorow. 'Dance Therapy and the Transcendent Function'. Page 6.

14. Whitehouse, Mary. 'Physical Movement and Personality'. Paper presented  to the Analytical Psychology Club of Los Angeles. 1963. Quoted in Chodorow, 1977.

15. Chodorow. 'Dance Therapy and the Transcendent Function'. Page 10.

16. Adler, Janet, 'The Collective Body'. Paper presented at the First International Clinical Conference in Berlin on Dance/Movement Therapy'. 1994. Page 6.

17. Adler, Janet, 'Body and Soul'. Paper presented at The American Dance Therapy Association 26th Annual Conference. 1991. And 'Who is The Witness?' Pages 9 –10.

18. Adler. 'The Collective Body'. Page 6.

19. Chodorow. 'Dance Therapy and Depth Psychology'. Page 113.

20. Adler. 'Who is The Witness?' Pages 6–7.

21. Stromsted, Tina, 'Re-Inhabiting the Female Body'. Somatics, Fall/Winter 1994–95. Pages 18–27.

22. Adler, 'The Collective Body'. Page 4.

23. Ibid. Page 4.

24. Ibid. Pages 4–5.

25. A 'long circle' is the name given to a form used in Authentic Movement, where each group member can move or witness, according to her own wish, need, or impulse. Members go in and out of the movement space as they choose, with a minimum number always maintaining the witness circle. These circles continue for extended periods of time, allowing a depth of work to emerge.

26. Adler, 'The Collective Body'. Pages 11–12.