Sunday, December 15, 2013

Eden Lani Castro's article about Body Tales

"Compassion for my own experience emerged as my body moved and made sounds with a life and purpose of her own"

Ever since I could understand language, stories have mesmerized me. I become exquisitely drawn in to the characters. Reading their most intimate thoughts and desires, I can’t help but love them wholly. As a child I used to wish that others could know me in this way — that they could read me like I read the characters in books. I was sure that if they could understand my inner experience, they wouldn’t be able to help loving me. I also wished I could know others in this way; I craved to witness them as intimately as I witnessed storybook characters, though this hardly ever seemed possible. But I felt this possibility blossom when my mother, Lysa Castro, took me to a Body Tales class performance during the summer after my sophomore year of college. She had been a core teacher of Body Tales, working alongside founder, Olivia Corson, since I was five. But I had never wanted to participate in a class and I hadn’t even been to a performance in years. At this performance I felt myself seeing Body Tales with new eyes. As I watched I was drawn in, like I always had been to a good novel. The performers told true stories from their lives, improvising with their whole bodies to convey memories and emotions. It was a type of literature that I’d never known before — a raw autobiography, written as much with movement and sound as with words. My own legs felt the impact as they jumped, my lips stretched and parted as they smiled and my eyes welled up when they sobbed. I was witnessing the inner experience of real humans in the way that I had wished to since childhood, and I felt a deep longing to be witnessed in this way too. As we left the performance I told my mom that I wanted to attend the next Body Tales retreat. Two weeks later I joined her, Olivia and 12 other participants for a weekend of Body Tales in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We didn’t begin with the improvisational storytelling that had so inspired me at the performance. First Olivia welcomed us to spend some time focusing in with our own bodies. I chose a place on the smooth wood floor and soon felt myself sinking into her invitation to feel myself just as I was at that moment. I breathed deeply and gratefully as she reminded us of the ancient connection between our breath and the breath of the trees. I felt a new sense of groundedness as she called us to feel the earth holding us to her surface. My thoughts stilled and slowed as my awareness awakened to my sensations in the moment. I started to dance and my mind found itself witnessing, rather than directing, the sweeping movements of my arms and the slide of my feet along the floor. Judgment, embarrassment and nervousness relaxed. Compassion for my own experience emerged as my body moved and made sounds with a life and purpose of her own. As I experienced a new sense of ease in my body, I began to feel ready for the first Body Tales “pieces” of the weekend, which would involve both movement and storytelling. I paired with a long-time participant who I didn’t know well. We greeted each other as Olivia explained that we would take turns being mover and witness; one of us would move, speak and sound as the other offered her silent support. I began as the witness, giving full attention to my partner, while practicing staying present with my own sensations and emotions. She jumped right in, exploring and sharing some of the deepest struggles and joys in her life. It was quite different from watching a performance; I was her sole witness and I felt honored by her trust in my ability to receive her story. When Olivia signaled that the time for the first piece was over, my partner found a pause and we thanked each other. We spent a few moments remembering her piece by recalling her movements and words just as they had been, rather than trying to explain their meaning. Then during some guided blessing and healing time she had the opportunity to ask for what she wanted and needed — to have her head gently cradled in my lap. As I stroked her hair I felt grateful to be able to offer her the tenderness that had awoken in me during her piece, without wondering if I was offering the right thing. Then, before transitioning to my piece, we were encouraged to open our voices and thoroughly ground, as I became the mover and she the witness. When I stood up I felt shy and embarrassed. It was difficult to find the ease I had felt moving alone; I wanted her to like me, to be entertained and impressed by my story. But I remembered the judgment-free empathy that I had felt for myself during the solo movement time and for my partner during her piece. Sensing her calm presence, I thought she must be feeling that same way towards me. And I felt myself sink in. My body began to move with authentic grace — easefully discerning her own needs — and I found myself speaking in time with her rhythm. The words rose up as spontaneously as the movement did, and I discovered thoughts, feelings and memories that I hadn’t realized I was holding — my daddy’s big scratchy beard casting a shadow over a sweet patch of sunlight on our dusty wood floor and a half listened to argument between grown-ups, while I carefully drew a little woman whose hair became the sea. As my piece came to a close I was left with a sense that I it had revealed something sweet and genuine to both my partner and myself. I’ve continued to dive deeply into Body Tales over the past couple of years. Sometime I still experience the embarrassment and anxiety I felt on that first day. But most of the time, I find myself dropping in — feeling wonderfully free to express whatever is true for me. In spite of some shyness, my relationships with my mother and Olivia have strengthened during this time; not only have I come to feel more deeply known by them, I also understand them and their work in a new way. This practice has helped me feel more comfortable being authentic and creative in my daily life. I find myself relaxing and opening up expressively to my friends, family, professors and classmates. I ask for hugs when I want them and laugh or cry more freely than I used to. My ideas burst forth with an easeful confidence that has grown over the past couple of years and this is helping me discover passions that I hadn’t noticed in myself before. I am engaging deeply in my coursework and pursuing academic projects that I wouldn’t have imagined a couple of years ago. Body Tales is an exquisitely whole art form that integrates storytelling, dance, theater, and healing, summoning up a powerfully authentic form of creativity. I am called to this practice because I crave that raw completeness.