Movement Is the Medicine
Encounter: The Shaman in the Modern World
’Consciousness is only possible through change;
change is only possible through movement.’
In a shamanic context, ’medicine’ means the uniquely creative and healing power and essence of being that is within us all. Discovering, claiming and making best use of your medicine is your Inner Shaman’s raison d’être. Doing this involves the reclamation of your physical body, your emotions and your imagination. The potentiality of this relationship between your terra firma, your heart and the imaginative power of your soul is the basis of the shamanic practice I’m going to share with you now. A friendly relationship with your body will give you physical presence. It is also the key to accessing the kinaesthetic intelligence it holds — intelligence that has evolved over nearly 14 billion years. Once you are present in your body, you also gain access to the emotional intelligence of your heart. Together, they are the fertile land in which the ever-evolving story of your soul can evolve.
Your body holds all your memories. If you want to know how, Dr Bessel Van der Kolk has written an excellent book entitled The Body Keeps the Score. And if you want to understand the importance of releasing traumatic memories from your body, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The Inner Shaman has two ways of working with this. The first is what is traditionally known as soul retrieval. This is the healing of past events that affect us strongly in the present. It involves bringing our present resources to past situations in order to transform our relationship with them and the meaning we have ascribed to them. Traditionally, this is a process that has been carried out by shamans working on behalf of their patients. In this book, I am going to show you, step by step, how to do that work safely and effectively for yourself.
The second is what I call soul emergence. Soul emergence is the natural developmental process of the unique blend of body, heart and mind that makes up your soul. In essence, it is the process through which you discover yourself and your purpose in this world. Through the chapters of this book, it is my intention to help you to get to know what your Inner Shaman already knows. This will help you to emerge more fully as who you are — empowered, responsible and able to harvest what you came into this world to create.
You don’t need to go and buy a whole bunch of shamanic paraphernalia to begin. Your body, heart and mind, a little curiosity and a nugget of courage are all you need to go on a very deep shamanic journey. You already have the most powerful shamanic tool right inside you: the bright intelligence that is the dancer who lives in your muscles and bones. This intelligence is movement and rhythm itself. It is the rhythm of life, the very drumbeat of your heart.
From a shamanic perspective, the central wound of the industrial world is that we rely almost solely on the brilliant but limited intelligence of the mind. If the mind is disconnected from the innate wisdom of the body and the emotional intelligence of the heart, its undoubted virtuosity can lead us away from our own ground and disconnect us from the life under our own feet. And if we are disembodied, we don’t experience life directly. Since religious creed made God into an unreachable, untouchable and dogmatic idea and turned the body into a vessel of sin that had to be subdued at all costs, we have imposed an idea of separateness on our body and heart and the physical world around us. It is easy to see how this world-view has landed us in our current situation. Whether that situation becomes an ever-escalating crisis or motivation for change remains to be seen.
I have a profound predilection for the ongoing evolution of our human species as part of the ongoing evolution of life itself. And I know that if we are to play a part in the future of life on Earth, quite simply we need to update our priorities and create a new story. And we need to do it fast.
What is the role of the Inner Shaman in this? The Inner Shaman stands at the doorway between the physical world of manifest reality and the imaginal world of what we dream. They can help us to create a new dream for ourselves, for our loved ones and for the community of life itself. The Inner Shaman knows that the intelligence of the body-heart-mind working together is the vessel through which divine intelligence in human form can evolve through us all. And the best way I know of engaging that possibility and committing ourselves to it is shamanic dance.
Shamanic dance doesn’t mean learning somebody else’s steps or following pre-formed patterns. It comes from our capacity to listen deeply and allow the power of life that is movement to move us, ground us and, when necessary, shake us to the core. It means remembering what we are made from and breaking the chains of self-consciousness and the outdated stories about who we are and who we are allowed to be. It means reclaiming the birthright of free movement and ecstatic states that the dancer in our bones remembers. That dancer has the quickest access I know to the Inner Shaman.
If dance isn’t your thing, worry not. It wasn’t mine either. However, over the past 30 years of practice and teaching, I’ve come to respect our natural ability to give our body and heart to the rhythm. We all have this ability. I’ve worked with people of all ages across a vast array of cultures and experiences, and though self-consciousness is inevitable at times, it really doesn’t take much to quieten the mind and allow the intelligence that animates the body to show the way.
Gabrielle Roth, to whom I was apprenticed for 18 wild years from the age of 24 to 42, taught me that shamanism is indigenous to its own culture. What that means is that though we can learn a lot from shamans from other cultures, to make full use of whatever we learn, we have to translate it into the everyday language and experience of our own lives and culture. All shamanic practice is rooted in the healing journey that shamans must take for themselves. Once they know the terrain of their own healing through their direct experience, they can then lead others on that journey.
As we begin, it’s important that we are standing on the solid ground of shared intention. So, to be clear, in this book I am not training you to lead others in the practices I will share with you. To hold space for others, you have to go through an intense series of initiations. My intention here is to introduce you to your Inner Shaman so that you can take your own healing journey deeper and use what the Inner Shaman brings you to bring your spirit and what you dream to this Earth in service of life.
Gabrielle taught shamanic practice through the body and through free movement. So do I. Movement Medicine is a fusion of everything Susannah and I learned from Gabrielle and everything we have learned from the many other shamans around the world we have been blessed to be apprenticed to and work with. It embraces neuroscience and contemporary understanding about how we can transform the past into wisdom in order to live more consciously in the present and create a future of which we can proud.
The edgy, catalytic artistry of the Shaman in you already knows that everything you encounter in life is nothing more than life’s invitation to give your body to the beat until all that is left is the dance itself. Gabrielle taught me that the false split between body and spirit was causing the very greatest part of our suffering. Her teaching was a silky river of soulful poetry inciting the true self inside each of us to rebel, take back the territory of the body and the heart and then to dance to heaven and hell and back again, if we had to, to break through the fixed patterns of the ego and gain access to the unlimited imagination of the soul.
That was a revolution as shocking for me as being struck by lightning. I hated dancing, or at least I thought I did. Gabrielle taught me that what I actually hated was feeling self-conscious, awkward and disembodied. She taught me how to shift my attention from what I was thinking about to what was happening in my body and my heart. She taught me to give my body to the beat so that the dancer in me was awake and available to help me let go of absolutely everything. She loved the empty space that is the result of giving ourselves to the dance. She called it the Silver Desert, and I was astonished to discover that dance was the most direct method available to take me there too.
I danced with Gabrielle for the first time in a workshop in London in 1988. I was certain, with that extraordinary ability I had to make everything about me, that as I danced, people would stop to laugh at me or tell me I was in the wrong place, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Within 20 minutes, the dancer in me had been unleashed, and not only did I break out of my tight little box, I realized that the box was of my own making. Very soon, I’m going to show you, too, how to shift your attention from thinking about what’s happening to embracing what’s happening as the doorway into your own dance. Whatever you may think now, that will be possible for you. In all my years of teaching, I am yet to meet anyone who is unable to do this once they’ve made the choice to give it a go.
Before we begin, though, it may be helpful to recognize that a common challenge we face when beginning something new is our history with learning. I hear stories all the time from adults whose childhood was defined by an education system that encouraged them to be more like parrots than creative individuals. No offence to parrots intended. But ’good’ students were those who could regurgitate what they’d been told on command. Making mistakes was frowned on. But the willingness to make mistakes is a prerequisite to learning, just as being uncomfortable is an inevitable aspect of stepping into unknown territory. And a little shamanic tinkering with the curriculum through the power of free movement would create more of what our world needs now — embodied, open-minded, emotionally intelligent adults who know they have something of value to give. After all, that is the only genuine road to fulfilment and contentment I know.
PRACTICE: AWAKENING THE DANCER
Since this practice is the foundation of everything else I will invite you to participate in, I’ve made two simple recordings to support you with it. The first includes my guidance and the second is an instrumental-only version. You can download them both for free at: www.darlingkhan.com/shaman
You will need a minimum of 15 minutes for this, but feel free to take longer.
· Wear loose and comfortable clothes. Don’t wear socks.
· Clear a small space in which you can move freely. You don’t need much room. Many of our students have told us that they do this practice in the toilet cubicle at work when they need to reconnect to their body and heart and clear their mind before an important meeting or just to survive a difficult day!
· Invoke the Unbroken intelligence of life that is animating your body, making your heart beat, your blood circulate and your cells replace themselves. That intelligence is the movement of life itself. It is the dance, and the way it moves through you is your dance. Visualize this intelligence running through your body, from the top of your head to your toes, and from your toes to the tips of your fingers. Imagine your whole body is free to move and to let go. Good. Let’s begin.
· If you have access to the recording I’ve made for you, just press ’play’ and off you go. If not, find a piece of music that is repetitive, rhythmic and free from any distracting lyrics.
· If beginning feels awkward, don’t worry. I remember how I felt in that first workshop with Gabrielle. Self-consciousness may be present. It’s in your head. So I’m going to ask you to forget what’s in your head. Forget about doing a ’good’ dance or the ’right’ dance and focus on your feet, as far away from your head as you can get. Imagine that your feet have just been waiting for this opportunity to show you what they can do. Imagine they are a gift that you’re really excited to discover. Breathe a little more deeply and let your feet begin to play with the rhythm. Then let your body follow. Remember, there is no right or wrong here. So simply give your feet to the beat and follow them. Forget about being fascinating and let yourself be fascinated. Keep going for a minute or two. Don’t hold back, but do make clear that your intention is not to push your body further than it can go.
· Great. Now keep your feet moving and shift your attention to your lower legs and knees. Mobilize your joints and let your knees lead. Really let them play. Your dance may not look like any dance you’ve ever seen. Good! Keep going. Feel the physical connection between your feet and your knees and follow the rhythm for a minute or two. It’s absolutely fine to slow down or to speed up, but if your thinking ever takes over, move a little more quickly and refocus on your lower legs and knees. Repetition is good. Free movement is good too. You don’t have to try to be creative. The dancer in you already is.
· Now expand your awareness to include your feet, knees, hips and pelvis. As you invite your hips to show you what they’ve got, feel free to welcome your sexual energy into the dance. Not for anyone else, simply because your sexual energy is a wonderful force of creativity and healing.
· And as you release your hips and let the rhythm move them, relax your jaw. Follow what comes and keep on moving. Energy naturally moves in waves. Follow it. Spend anything from 90 seconds to two minutes on each part of your body, but if you’re engaged, feel free to go on for longer. If you get tired at any point, don’t stop, just move more slowly until your energy picks up again. It will. Finding the breath that supports your movement is key. The more strongly you move, the more breath you need. Don’t be afraid to make an effort. Some days, the dance and the breath come easily. Other days, you have to work your body back into movement. Don’t think of this as a dance unless it helps. Keep inviting the dancer inside you to lead the way.
· This practice is teaching you the power of focusing your attention. And energy follows attention. So shift it now into your backbone, the very core of your body. Imagine that your backbone is listening to the rhythm and let it respond in movement. Pay attention to your lower back, middle back and upper back. Discover what your backbone can do. Turn, bend, twist gently.
· Connect your backbone, hips, legs and feet. Feel how your awareness is expanding as you focus on more and more of your body. Some parts may move more freely than others. Notice that, but don’t push those that don’t move as much.
· Give yourself permission to feel pleasure in your body. You are reclaiming your body and it’s totally cool to enjoy it. Don’t worry if other feelings arise too.
· Okay, expand your awareness to include your shoulders. Isolate them first as you bring your focused attention to them. Feel the sensations in them. Are they warm or cool? Free or stiff? Just notice how they feel and go on moving.
· Now let your shoulders lead. The dance is different when we allow different parts of our body to lead. Have you noticed that? The more freedom you give to the dancer, the more movement vocabulary you will discover. This translates into more potential creativity and freedom of expression on the dance floor called life.
· Your shoulders now invite your elbows into the dance. Elbows can be sharp. They can cut through space and define that space more clearly. Invite your elbows to lead now and let the rest of your body follow.
· Your elbows go on moving and invite your hands into the dance. Your hands are connected to your heart and to your emotional intelligence. Give them permission to welcome your heart into the dance. Welcome in how you feel right now. Let your hands lead. Go on breathing and play with tempo and opening your body and closing it. Both are good. Feel how your hands and feet are connected through your body. Let them be partners in the dance for a while.
· Well done. So far, so good. Any time you feel self-conscious or self-critical, just come back to the simplicity of what you’re doing and make the choice to be more fascinated by the sensations in your body, your breath and the rhythm. As you gain more and more ground in the dance, you can let go more. Try opening your body and expanding into the space. Try the opposite too: close down your body and focus on what’s happening inside. Say yes to the dancer in you. Say it out loud. Go on, give yourself some encouragement.
· Okay, now that your whole body is moving to the rhythm, you can include your head. Invite your head to move with your backbone, as if it’s just an extension of it. Be gentle with it. Let it move, but don’t throw it around. Move slowly. Then more quickly. Expand. Contract. Learn new movement vocabulary.
· It’s quite common when you give your body and heart permission to speak that they will. If emotion comes, treat it like weather. We need the rain to water the deserts inside us. We need the sunshine. We need the dark of the night. Whatever arises, notice it and give it to the dancer inside you. You can say it loud: ’Dear dancer, please show me how this experience moves.’ You are free to move with it. You are free.
· You may lose concentration. This is natural. When you do, smile to yourself and bring your attention back to a place in your body where you can feel energy. Let that part lead. And from there, reconnect to your whole body and follow where the dancer leads. Slow is good. Fast is good. Small is good. Big is good. Just follow for a while. It’s a wonderful liberation to sense that there is an intelligence in your body that can lead when you let it. Sometimes, your body may need to shake. Sometimes sound comes. This is all completely fine. It’s not necessary to understand what’s happening with your mind. Simply be present and let the dancer in you embrace it.
· It’s likely that some parts of your body will be more accessible to you than others. At this stage, just be aware of this. You don’t need to do anything about it. Later on, as you gain confidence in the intelligence of life that is movement, you will be able to go more deeply into those areas and the Inner Shaman will help you take back full ownership of your own land.
· Keep going with this for a minimum of five minutes, but feel free to go on for longer if the dancer has more to show you right now.
· When it’s time to close, slow your movement down. Come to a still place. Let gravity take the weight of your body, feelings and thoughts. Spend some time just standing or sitting still, feeling the life inside you. Thank your body and thank the dancer in you for showing you a little of what they’ve got.
· Once you feel you have come to the end of the experience, drink a glass of water and then make a few notes about the essence of what has happened.
Congratulations. You have awakened the dancer in you. Well done! Really well done!
I never get bored of this practice. I’ve done it thousands of times, but every time is different. Whenever I begin a ritual, I start here. The intelligence of the dancer within is the ground for all that follows. You will discover this for yourself as we continue.
As we end this first chapter, I want to acknowledge that life is unpredictable and change seems to be the only constant. It is often a sudden and unexpected change that lights the spark of transformation in us. Somebody dies. We get sick. We lose a job. A relationship breaks down. Pain in life is inevitable. How we dance with it isn’t. The dancer within is as free and spacious as the Wind, as powerful and transforming as Fire, as grounded and stable as Earth, and as deep and mutable as Water. So let’s move on. Now that you’ve met the dancer, let’s turn our attention to setting up ritual space.