by Janet Adler
Curving along the arc of the spiral, somehow all the way around now into the wholeness of a mandala, I know a way of work emerging through time, shaped by a longing for clear seeing. This way for me--the Discipline of Authentic Movement--is a path not chosen but gratefully followed, and cultivated in reverence.
In the discipline, a voyage inward always begins inside relationship, always begins with moving in the presence of an outer witness. This sacred gift invites the utterly mysterious and lifesaving experience of growing a loving enough inner witness. An inner witness maturing becomes one way of understanding a core vibration of the evolution of embodied consciousness.
Compassionate witnessing of oneself and another--our luminosity, our wounds--is a loving act, healing, often redemptive. Sustained focus on a body moving, a body not moving, that very place within which we humans dwell, grounds a process of self-emptying as density dissolves. Refined through committed practice, such concentration becomes devotion. As both the rigor and the elegance of ritual practice deepen, the intimate and direct experience of clear seeing can manifest as an indwelling god, still silent awareness, a knowing of unitive consciousness.
This book of collected essays, reflections of my experience in studio practice for the past fifty years, marks thresholds appearing in response to emerging questions. It is being offered because of Bonnie Morrissey and Paula Sager. With ineffable gratitude to each of them, I recognize their gift of presence, their trust in not knowing, and their remarkable capacity for joy. Each woman, a uniquely gifted elder of this way of work, brings great sensitivity and insight in connecting the essays, generously lifting up shapes made of moments, making more visible the web, its strength and its delicacy, now resonating within this contemporary mystical practice.
The Discipline of Authentic Movement continues to teach me that individual consciousness is not enough. But such consciousness is a requisite for individuals who are ready to participate in embodied collective consciousness. Each person, one by one, risking in the presence of an inner and outer witness, turns when they are ready toward what is true, making whole our collective journey within the mystery of an inherent order.
—that transparent bloom
in the white
of the soul—
How will it find us?
without the devastation
Suffering: A Personal Inquiry
by Bonnie Morrissey
In 1980, while Janet Adler was founding her teaching practice in Northampton, Massachusetts, prior to the impending throes of her experience of initiation, I was in graduate school nearby at Antioch University in New Hampshire studying dance/movement therapy. Janet and her colleague Joan Chodorow came to Antioch to offer a daylong retreat in a developing approach to embodiment called authentic movement.1 We met for the first time, and I was literally at Janet’s feet, on the welcoming warmth of the studio floor with my eyes closed, while she and Joan sat with eyes open, holding the space with a quality I experienced as meditative care for our group moving. My first taste of this way of work was vivid, startling, and ultimately life changing. Then and there I recognized the promise of a way of coming to know myself, so directly centered in the authority of what the body holds and knows, so clearly honoring of kinesthetic, emotional, and intuitive phenomena. Right away I felt met: what I could see and know with my eyes closed was regarded with as much respect and dignity as what I could see and know with my eyes open. I felt acutely seen, both inwardly by an awakening sense of self, and outwardly by these two fascinating teachers.
Janet was at that moment (1980) on the cusp of developing a new practice, based on her own desire to study “not only the experience of the mover but of the witness and of the developing relationship between the mover and the witness” (see “Who Is the Witness?” later in the book). She named this relational inquiry Authentic Movement, capitalizing the already existent phrase describing a process--an approach to movement she learned from Mary Whitehouse--in order to honor the formalizing of a dynamic practice. Over the next four decades, through Janet’s inquiry--her teaching and study--this new practice continued to develop, evolving into what, in the 1990s, she began to call the discipline of Authentic Movement (deepening practice including transpersonal experience), and eventually (in the 20s) the Discipline of Authentic Movement, or simply the discipline, a full-fledged contemporary mystical practice.
This evolving practice became a home for my personal and professional development. Over the course of the next four decades I studied with Janet alongside her other students, learning to be present with and articulate all that arises through the body. As we practiced the art of listening internally, we received the gifts of a silence that is the antithesis of being silenced and a stillness that is the antithesis of being bound: a silence and a stillness that equate with freedom. Many of us acquired a profound trust in this practice that asserts an honoring of that which is experienced as true within each individual body, every step of the way. Our shared trust in the discipline has become a light-filled prism; it accurately reflects the integrity with which Janet taught and the quality of her presence.
The Discipline of Authentic Movement is Janet’s unique contribution to the field of consciousness studies. Her work helps to return the fullness of form that is body to its rightful place within both secular and sacred realms of human inquiry. Her offerings allow us to reunite body and soul, psyche and soma, without merging them. Her inquiry serves to bring a new dimension of human potential into view, which is a result of a radically deep and intricate investigation of spirit as consciousness manifesting through flesh.
Janet’s study of embodied consciousness is radical primarily because it dives beneath the narrative content of human experience into the pre-symbolic world of direct experience. The immediate knowing through the body of the touch of energetic phenomena, such as vibration and light, may be experienced unmediated as direct experience, before meaning is made and before language is formed. Perhaps Janet would not have charted this territory if not for her unanticipated experience of initiation, wherein these experiences were received with such intensity directly in and through her body. Her inquiry might not have occurred without her prior immersion in the study of movement, preparing her to track her embodied experience of initiation with such rigor. And her life’s inquiry might not have offered a mystical practice that others can enter had it not been for the qualities of precision, impeccability, and devotion that she brought to her teaching and her creative work, leading to the discovery of a developmental arc of embodied consciousness, revealing itself within the crucible of intimate relationship.
Janet’s investigation brings a new dimension of human potential into view because it concerns not just the development of the individual but also the development of embodied consciousness within groups. Her passionate insistence on the sovereignty of the individual voice--and her equally passionate insistence that the individual voice alone does not suffice--led to innovative explorations of emergent qualities that may manifest when enough individual consciousness is brought to and integrated within collective bodies. The importance of this study to our times is enormous, as our continued survival as a humane species, interconnected with all other species, is dependent upon the evolution of conscious collaboration.
One of the great puzzles of human consciousness is the discernment of one’s place in community. Each student who chooses to commit to the Discipline of Authentic Movement is invited, through their ongoing awareness practice, toward full recognition of their own inherent worth, potential, and relationship to the whole. I remember the exact day, within a large group of students in Western Massachusetts, when I first realized viscerally, all in one moment, the full impact of my individual presence within the group. Your voice, your presence is necessary, Janet might say. Flabbergasted in such moments of embodied realization, through this practice we may comprehend something essential about the interdependence of individual gestures and voices within the wholeness of the larger body of the group.
The recognition of the true but not inflated significance of the individual in relation to the whole has yet to become generally conscious in human evolution, though perhaps we are on the verge of greater understanding. One by one, as students mature toward the unique expression of their own embodiment, their voices weave toward conscious participation, cooperation, and cohesion. I sometimes experience this phenomenon as a murmuration, the intricately coordinated pattern of a flock of birds, or a school of fish, a herd of elk, as they move in flawless synchrony, with a seemingly united mind. Conscious-enough collective bodies may cohere and evolve, as we realize on a cellular level that the voice of the individual, though it may at times seem inaudible, or bring discomfort, must be welcomed and honored within and by the whole. Room must be made, gestures received, a diversity of voices heard, or any group becomes vulnerable to tyranny. We are utterly dependent on one another to know our way forward.
As a clinical psychologist, I have had the privilege of accompanying hundreds of individuals as they bring their questions and their suffering to the open space of intimacy between us. My intention always is the practice of the I, the witness who is consciously holding the role of therapist, so that my client may surrender to the experience of thou, to all that can transpire through concentrated and compassionate attention on their experience.2 A sacred and invisible relational vessel shines bright and central between us. Within this vessel, the intuitive guidance of the client may be found if it is lost and cultivated if it requires nourishment. Whether within the therapist-client relationship or within the teacher-student relationship when I teach students of the discipline, the emanation of this inner voice is the thread we follow.
As a writer of poems, I treasure the possibility of an evolution of language that can arise directly from embodied experience. Poetry that includes mystical experience is an attempt at expression of that which is ineffable. Within the Discipline of Authentic Movement, as students of a contemporary mystical practice, we are poets of the invisible searching for words on the doorstep of the unknown. In an eternally imperfect effort to articulate experience that is made up of light, sound--vibrations experienced directly in and through the body--we find ourselves stringing words together, one by one, giving voice to that which is ultimately nameless. Sometimes an invitation to awareness is offered simply through eye contact, through silence. The silence between our words, like the space between our cells, may create a charged space of potency, a generative space that encourages the appearance of something new. Can our words eventually arise more directly from the well of silence from which all language is born? Can our words and our consciously contained silence be of service to others and to the world? A practice of consciously embodied speech is one more significant contribution of the Discipline of Authentic Movement, a practice we may strive to carry from the protected space of our studios to the commonwealth of the world.