by Theresa Curtis-Diggs
Attention or conscious concentration on almost any part of the body produces some deep physical effect on it. - Charles Darwin
In my studies of ancestral wisdom concerning the primordial symbolism defining the Divine Vulva (but it could be any ancient image) I have often wondered about, and asked other women, how they connect with the goddesses of old.
These friends provide me with a variety of ideas which are probably controversial and mostly personal, and I appreciate them opening up to share. It is a difficult subject to broach, not one to bring up at the bus stop (at least not yet!) and I have decided I would like to investigate different ways of knowing in order to provide a general roadmap for those of us involved in doing divine research. I welcome any criticisms or alternative ideas on this topic, as it is the truth we are all trying to get at, and no one of us owns all the truth as all of us own some of the truth.
I have decided to focus on a technique called "Authentic Movement" in order to actively dialogue with anima mundi (the soul of the world) and in an effort to better perceive some shadowy female images that have been attempting to emerge from the mists, inviting me forward ever so slowly. I chose this method because it is the most foreign to me, and as such, may have the most to offer. In other words, I haven't already over-worked it into the dirt, and it may help me to pull my current understandings forward.
Authentic Movement simply involves lying very still until an urge from the unconscious propels one's body to respond through a physical motion. Lying still welcomes the ego to calm down and lie dormant for a while, giving Goddess an opportunity to have her say. In defining the goals of my journey to hear and know the voice behind Vulva on a more archetypal level, and after much meditation and dreamwork, I feel compelled to wonder about the expatriation of women's bodies through pornography and medical science, in particularly the vulva. Such a wondering opens the door to a room full of questions: What/who are our metaphoric bodies and births? Have they been culturally co-opted? How are they contained within and without us, collectively and individually? Can the physicality of motion provide a voice in which to dialogue? Can using Carl Jung's active imagination in the form of Authentic Movement inform consciousness about the state of women's imaginal bodies in the collective unconscious? Could Vulva be the archetypal transcendent center/middle of things or even the literal point of quantum contact between individuality and connection? The place where divinity and matter meet? A portal into a uterine universe that holds the Godlike power to create life? Who is this Archetypal Vulva anyway?
While pondering these questions before my Authentic Movement practice, I rambled onto a petroglyph sight in deserts of Nevada that was swirling with vulva images. It was a potent experience that has been difficult to define; the physical rocks seemed to engage me in a non-physical phenomenon and we fell into a kinship of sorts. I have since been adopted by several interesting "Grandmothers" (one in particular) from the essences emerging off the images blooming from these Neolithic walls. They visit on their own clocks to inform this investigation with new ideas and hints. These "women" have become my safety as I travel into the fuzzy places past day-time. As I continue to incorporate new active imagination methods, delving into Authentic Movement to provide a medium for psyche (spirit) to guide soma (body) in translating its images, I welcome these friends to accompany me. I want to introduce them here, as they fancied a visit into my Authentic Movement endeavor, and to note that it was in response to their promptings (they are women with a certain humor, and don't mind being blamed) that things took a turn toward the strange.
So, with a sense of safety firmly rooted I settled into the brown of the big soft couch in my living room. Even with the woodstove going, it was too cold to hunker down on the floor and it seemed important to be comfortable enough to maintain focus. I had met Marion Woodman several times and participated in her ways of authentic movement involving music and dance, where we moved with the safe presence of a guiding witness that helped us through the deep movement designed to help unblock clogged energies that had become obstructed through trauma. Marion had initially created it alone with her guides, to assist her ailing feminine spirit that had fallen into disease through anorexia.
One night she responded to a dream image that had informed her to take itself and place it within her soma, upon the injured area in her body. Marion relaxed and prepared a space for the image to enter and heal, thus beginning her journey into movement through intuitive attentiveness. Marion continues to teach us how to envision psyche, and sees body work as soul work. She believes that "Imagination is the bridge between body and soul."
I began with relaxation and breathing, an explanation of the exercise to my Ancestors, the Grandmothers, and then fell into meditation. Several times my clumsy ego "I" wanted to visit to direct the show, but allowing space for the subtle emergence of dialogue from the collective unconscious seemed imperative. It was a challenging endeavor to mix meditation, which for me involves a complete relaxation of the senses, with Authentic Movement, which invites the senses to interact with Psyche and the great void. After some time a directive to unclench my fists and rest them palm down was able to come through my ego defenses and a distinct openness descended upon me.
After a while the grandmothers seemed to visit. They were imaginally bent over their business of fussing, or preparing my body for a ceremony. Then they began to jingle dance, they must have had bells on their dresses. I lay a long time with no somatic urgings. In retrospect, it seemed that the watchword in this moment was "trust," trust that something would eventually emerge, or if it failed to emerge, trust that this would be how things were meant to play out.
At any rate, after a very long stretch of blank effort, one finger finally started to wince, or pulsate on its own. Tiny independent jerks pulled the hand on which the finger lives, and then the arm. The motion it made felt like ocean waves, and it eventually invited the other hand to join in. The continued motion began to change the way that it presented itself; it began to feel like an infinity sign, the sideways figure 8. At the visual end of things, in the meditation portal, a sort of very pallid shark-like toothed face appeared for a moment, smooth and primordial, and resonated with profound grief.
Both hands continued in the same motion but the motion's identity again changed, this time to dolphins swimming the waves, up and down, balanced, again in rhythm. I have long felt a kinship to Native American ways of knowing, and appreciate the totem animals they provide from which to learn. An association formed toward the Inverted Dolphin medicine card, suffocating and without that instinctual pulsating rhythm of diving over and under the waves. It also reflected the rhythm of the drums of the grandmothers I had heard when I was walking down from a Buddhist temple toward the beach, when the sea opened up a terrific imaginal scene: the grandmothers were standing on the ocean between Catalina Island and the California coast…giant, large legged, colorfully dressed grandmothers lined up and pounding drums in perfect synchronicity.
Then the shark face visited another instant, but with more clarity. I felt (for just a moment) like I was tiny and floating on the ocean, like I was a speck on the water, an ocean vulva. Then the fuzzy shark image appeared again and its open mouth began to look like a pale circle lined with cilia. I continued to meditate, seeing a tremendous eye that blinked and the lashes turned into a bird. Both the shark and eye reflected emerging vulval images to me. When this thought captured my ego attention, I was no longer able to swim in the imagination, and felt the meditation complete itself.
Reflection and Contemplation
Although this was not a traditional practice of Authentic Movement, it provided in a powerful way the nourishment I needed for my journey. In Authentic Movement images are brought from the collective unconscious into body awareness, while consciousness dips down into the unknown. It was intriguing to see the image of the shark that blinked on and off several times during the exercise. In an effort to create shape in the "land of consciousness" it seemed to be struggling itself into an archaic image; an image that didn't quite fit. It was as if the image wanted to be present, but didn't know how, so kept trying on different wardrobes until something began to match. After it was appropriately dressed it was able to enter the field in a more viable manner.
Also, in this practice of Authentic Movement where psyche and soma interact I felt both assisted and hampered by my past preconditioned meditation practice. On the one hand it made opening up to new experiences less threatening, and on the other hand, meditation frequently shuts down the sense organs. I was easily relaxed, but unable to physically move in a way that I could trust was originating from an emergent source that originated both outside and within my self. It was humbling when one lonely Finger was finally able to wiggle through this shield with a tiny, almost imperceptible motion that I nearly explained away, but instead it was able to join in and open up my limited field of experience; one that in the past had only allowed the autonomic nervous system to participate in active imagination. It was as if the rest of the body saw what the finger could do and decided it was okay for everyone to play. Conversely, I was also surprised that the more visual meditation aspect that was following through the exercise could continue on a parallel current. It was able to flow with my body moving.
James Hillman teaches us that with the dream images and characters that visit us in active imagination, respect is more important than logical understanding. These images, if welcomed, might reveal themselves more, but only as they see fit. My job in this ritual was to honor them, whether or not they would disclose anything was up to them. I did my job by mindfully holding the images just as they were for several days, until I felt a sense of their voice. During this time I let the images settle, and then moved toward amplification of my authentic movement experience.
Amplification and Expansion
When I allowed for amplification in this Authentic Movement exercise, the dolphin image solidly emerged in my imagination, breathing steadily as it maneuvered its way through water and air. I went to my Native American medicine cards (Sams & Carson, 1988) and re-read Dolphin as the Keeper of the Sacred Breath of Life. Here are a few excerpts: Dolphin speaks to us of the breath of life….In changing the rate or rhythmic texture of our breath, we can tap into any other life form or creature. This is a very easy way to connect with divine energy coming from Great Spirit…it breaks the limits and dimensions of physical reality so that we may enter the Dreamtime.
The story tells of Grandmother Moon asking Dolphin to "learn her rhythms so that he could open his female side to her silvery light." Dolphin learns to breathe in a new way and is able to enter Dreamtime. Dolphin eventually learns that: all communication was pattern and rhythm, and that the new aspect of communication was sound….Dolphin returned to the ocean of the Great Mother (where he learned) to be a messenger to the Dreamtime dwellers anytime he feels the rhythm and uses the breath.
Today, we can no longer easily "hear" the lessons of our ancestors and are now reduced to reading symbols and pictographs to understand their language. Through the millenniums of cultural upheaval these symbols are becoming more course and untranslatable. To accurately translate original hieroglyphics one would have to travel back at least 10,000 years.
However, in the realm of the collective unconscious, images are timeless. This is electrifying to me as a lover of petroglyphs and ancient Native American ways of knowing. As a feminist I can't help but get excited by the figure of Dolphin opening to the anima of the moon, which may symbolize a way that the above-mentioned communication can be accessed through breathing patterns and rhythms. And as I experiment with incorporating this into day-time life with help from my timeless image guides, I send gratitude back to the Grandmothers.
There are many new questions now to be added to my original stewpot of questions. I feel called to research the birth opening on a women's body, the key word being "opening." I am wondering many new things: if the feminine is esoteric, and communication no longer directly flows from the gods and goddesses because we "breathe" differently (as per Henri Corbin), if the collective is timeless (as per Carl Jung), if Dolphin medicine brings forth new breathing because of an opening that was filled with the light of Grandmother Moon (Native American Medicine Cards), and if women have an opening that was considered by the ancient goddess cultures to be divine (even though today it is defiled and profaned against) there may yet be a link to a sacred and direct way of knowing that is trying to crack through from the dark abyss of the collective into consciousness. And this is delicious food for thought as I listen for my next directive on this journey of understanding.