I'm just back from a trip to the states. It was my third research trip there. I always come back from that country with pockets bulging with useful finds.
There's a booming 'healing' industry in the US, particularly in California. A lot of the fun things I've been to have been in this category.
I hate the notion of healing. It implies that we are wounded, broken. Imperfect, sub-optimal, bad, needing Work to make ourselves acceptable, normal, good, perfect.
Perhaps acceptable is the key word there.
I spent four days at a Zen Buddhist Monastary in the mountains of New York State, fighting with Buddhist monks who were trying to force me to wake up at 4.30am every morning (1.30am on the San Francisco time my body was on) and meditate for 2 hours, and not do any yoga. I had a good old fight with them and I think we both won in the end.
But acceptance is Buddhism 101. From acceptance grows love, or at least, acceptance makes love possible.
The US has a stronger culture of perfection than we do in the UK. Whether it's about Hollywood or a purer form of Capitalism ('you're not quite perfect - buy more stuff and you will be!') I'm not sure. Ask an American how they are and they'll typically say, "Great!" Aks a Brit and you might get "not too bad." In other words, "I'm bad of course, we all are, but I'm not too bad, not bad enough to stop working functionally, don't worry, carry on."
For all the perfection presented to us on screens and pages of all sorts, the human reality is one of far, far less perfection. "Take a look around this room," I said to an American friend in a conversation on the topic. "Ain't nobody (humm I do sometimes take a little of the vernacular when I'm over there...) in this room that looks, speaks, thinks, feels and acts perfectly all the time." We looked around at the overweight, pasty, pockmarked, motley crew in our diner and that seemed very clear.
In the UK we don't seem to have such a culture of perfection, or - perhaps as a result - of 'healing.' We seem instead to have a culture of 'love the grit' and 'Personal Development.'
I like this. I like the idea that we are where we are, and we accept that. Any effort that we put into the quality of our own beings might be called personal development - developing onwards from where we are now, even though where we are now is perfectly acceptable.
Acceptable - and so loveable.
But - but - yesterday I started to feel that there is perhaps something in this healing notion.
I arrived back at Heathrow on monday feeling like a different person.
I've had a back to back series of full on, great fun, and sometimes profound experiences. I've cried about ten times, shouted loud in anger (very unusual for me - I blame the raging fire I was instructed to shout into, with two more big fires on either side of me), laughed a lot, felt joyous, confused, and honestly, in love with quite a few people and groups in quite a few different ways.
Day 1 (I won't go through all the days) started with a Bodytales session with Olivia Carson. I was in a pair with a beautiful French Californian woman. "Name a body part, and a sensation," instructed Oliva, "and then improvise with sound and movement from there." My partner went first. She stretched forward thoughtfully on the floor where we were lounging, and then said seductively: "Yoni... Vibrating."
My British ass was shocked to the wall and it took all my energy not to raise my eyebrows and stretch my eyes open like golfballs as she proceded into a tender and beautiful sound and movement improvisation spattered with words about pleasure, pain, safety, protection, childhood, risk, and courage.
Next it was my turn. I started far more safely with the piece of skin between my eyebrows, and tension. Whilst playing with the wall and doing handstands and stuff, my small voice in my tummy seemed to gain direct access to my mouth and started to talk about creature and casing. Creature being the tender singing soul in your tummy that loves; Casing being the protective business woman that keeps the creature away from harm, faces the world boldly and Gets Stuff Done.
It became a theme of my trip. The possibility of living in your creature seemed to arise. Here we get tender and I get cautious about writing more.
What is the casing, I thought as I wandered into Waitrose on monday dazed, jetlagged and undefended to restock my fridge - what is casing but a bunch of scar tissue that has come up to protect the tender creature?
That was the only perspective from which this popular American notion of 'healing' seemed to make sense.
If it is possible to live primarily in your creature rather than hiding in your casing... If healing is about mending the wounds and scar tissue that cover your creature up...
I get uncomfortable with these ideas now I'm reacclimatising to British culture. A barrage of protestations and anxiety about the development of a culture where people are endlessly talking at length about their own shit comes up.
But I'll tell you this.
In three weeks of full-time playing-for-a-living, with four days off for a bit of goatherding in the hills above Big Sur (Amazing - I've found my calling...) - my casing thinned and my creature strengthened. And I seemed to develop all these amazing connections with people; was told frequently how much people liked "my energy" and my presence; I faced a bunch of ugly issues in myself and they all came out of a deep pocket in my heart like a troupe of scraggy teenagers who'd been caught and lined up and presented themselves to me and explained what they were all about and we talked and they gradually seemed to dissolve or shower or move on or something, and I found myself loving as much or in some ways perhaps more than I have ever done in my life.
"Play makes love," I wrote in an email to the team one delicate morning. "...play is beautiful. Play is magical. Play is potent. Between couples, friends, families and strangers, play makes love."
Maybe it's the way that it thins the casing and brings the creature to the fore, or quietens the ego and amplifies the soul, or repositions the truth lines so they're wider apart and lots of truth that was in the hidden peripheries now comes into the sharable territory between the two lines, or repositions the lines of acceptable self-expression so that you can do more before a person than sit and speak in order to communicate - you can do a handstand, climb up the windows, wiggle and shake, scream and jump, shout and cry.
Writing this from well-behaved London it sounds scary and weird and hippy and dangerous and threatening.
But experiencing it as a free traveller in the states, it felt that way sometimes too to be honest - but the challenging rumble into the strong concrete of my casing did something to me.
Our work continues.
Ok my favourite bits were:
Theatre Games with the wonderful Paula Shaw
Ecstatic Dance in Oakland
the incredible Jejune Institute on 580 California Street, San Francisco. Don't google it, just go if you're ever there, sometime Tuesday - Saturday before about 2.30pm, go to the 16th floor and say you're there for "the induction"...
Dance Jam in Berkeley
Vocal Playgroup with Aharon Wheels Bolsta
the Water Ritual with Malidoma Some
Being a goatherd
Hanging out on Charlie's off-grid farm with No Motors or Electricity
and little bits of everything else.
Hurrah for California :)
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