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  • Mari Joyce

Authentic Movement & the Longing for Wholeness




Authentic Movement is a contemplative movement practice originated by Mary Starks Whitehouse and further developed by Janet Adler and Linda Hartley. The ground form of this work is the dyad structure of mover and witness. The witness holds a safe space through clarity of presence and embodiment, allowing depth of material to be processed and integrated. Speaking of the importance of the role of the witness: “In human development it is only when one does feel seen by another that one can see oneself... The intrapersonal work concerns the forming of the inner witness. The presence of the outer witness can become a compassionate model for the aspect of the mover that is becoming conscious of her own experience.”( Janet Adler, 2002)


The compassionate holding field of the witness allows the mover to attend to her own experience. Movement patterns often repeat until able to be integrated into mover consciousness. We know ourselves through our movement and gradually over time begin to internalise witness consciousness. Within the practice of Authentic Movement we may experience a deep longing to be seen, to be received by a compassionate witness, echoing our early needs for a 'good enough' holding in our early development. It is said that one of the greatest needs of little ones is their need to be fully seen, and received as they. “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.” (Janet Adler, 2002)


Mary Starks Whitehouse (Pallaro, 1999) describes that when we are held by a compassionate witness we are able to drop into a depth of contact with ourselves, in which we wait and allow ourselves to be moved by an impulse. “[T]he open waiting, which is also a kind of listening to the body, an emptiness in which something can happen. You wait until you feel a change – the body sinks or begins to tip, the head slowly lowers or rolls to one side. As you feel it begin, you follow where it leads, like following a pathway that opens up before you as you step.”


As we learn to see ourselves more clearly, we are able to more fully take in another. And gradually the work opens out to include a connection to the collective. As we take a place in the collective, we arrive “at a depth of conscious awareness of self and other as being both separate and profoundly interconnected.” Encountering the collective body we discover new potential for wholeness as we move out beyond experiencing an isolated sense of self. In witnessing an other as she is, without additional layers of judgement or preconception, we may experience a moment of grace, seeing also ourselves with greater clarity. “Seeing another as she is – Loving her – enables me to see myself as I am.” (Adler in Palero: 1999: 154)


The wholeness of the collective echoes wholeness at both micro and macro cosmic levels. We begin to see the earth in the body, the collective in the unity and wholeness of the cell. Each within us hold the very human need to be to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Maldoma Somé - from the Dagara tribe, writes of this in his experiences of being part of his tribe: “I understood that what makes a village a vi llage is the underlying presence of the unfathomable joy in being connected to everyone and everything” (Malidome Some, 1995).


The longing for wholeness can only be fully expressed through the collective body. This could be the collective systems within our body, our sense of friendship, family and community, even the ecosystems making up the planet. When we connect to a sense of the collective, in whatever form that may be, we open out beyond the confines of our selves, and allow ourselves to be touched and transformed by others and the world around us. Such desire connects to the Buddhist vision of the Bodicitta, Shantideva’s vision of cultivating a sameness of self and other: “Those desiring speedily to be a refuge for themselves and others should make the interchange of "I" and "other," and thus embrace a sacred mystery.” (2006) This underpins the foundation of the Buddhist meditation practice of the 'Metta Bhavana', or 'The Cultivation of Loving Kindness', in which we allow ourselves to open out to connect with others.


I am deeply grateful for this practice, for my teacher Linda Hartley, and for the fellow movement practitioners with whom I practice the Discipline of Authentic Movement. This discipline underpins so much of how I work, drawing on the tools of embodied relational presence, compassionate witnessing, and trust in the unfolding of the body's process, as it reveals new possibilities to us in each moment. Every breath, an arrival. Every step upon the earth, a home coming.

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