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Initiations - End of Lab :: Personal Notes // part 2

In which I continue writing down my experience of participating in Antero Alli's paratheatrical lab "Initiations", and I talk about how each and every lab session is opened. Here, I try to describe in detail my experience with the processes that are used to prepare the space and the participant for the ritual: prayer circle, sanctification, and the all-important warm-up cycle.

After the preliminary process to enter body time as described in part 1, every lab session began with a process of sanctification of the space. This basically boiled down to designating a section of the space as a "praying ground", usually by lighting that section while leaving the rest of the space in the dark. Starting from No-Form with our backs to the wall, we would move through the darkness and reach the praying ground. There, we would strive to make connection with our own source of life or anything else worth praying to; where "praying" is intended chiefly as a means to the end of sanctifying/preparing the space for ritual work.

No-Form (which could briefly be described as a form of standing "zazen" meditation), arguably the most important element in the entire lab, for me has been one of the most challenging. The challenge is to just stand there and do nothing, and eventually be nothing.
Perhaps needless to say, I found this extremely frustrating; a sensation of diffused muscular tension throughout my body kept intruding into my consciousness, and of course the mind was being its usually chattering self, etc. However, at times I managed to induce a little silence. Those attempts that were successful usually involved extending my attention over my entire body; that is being present physically rather than trying to attain a sort of inner peace as consciousness-separated-from-the-body.

By becoming present within my body and getting a sense of it, I sense its tensions, its "attachments", and can let them go, just by relaxing. Works best if I don't feel like I'm trying to modify anything: when the sensation is more that of "just relaxing", it is more conducive to simply letting go.

So while I reached a proper No-Form state only occasionally during all my attempts, it still felt like an invaluable effort toward supporting a sort of inner "flexibility"... the ability to allow the body to be carried by its connection with whatever source it is connected to, rather than trying to control its movement. The urge to control is so compulsive that most of the time it requires no voluntary decision... I definitely have to rely on my willpower, however, when trying to relax that same urge.

With whatever depth of No-Form I could get under my belt, I left the outer edge of the room, moving through the darkness that separated me from the praying ground. Once there, I usually fell on the ground, letting my body go and abandoning myself to whatever connection I could make to some deep place within me. I tried to connect to the place where the deep inner quiet, the nothingness of No-Form first mutates into my unique existence as this body, this form. The place where I come out of the void, my source.

At first, it often felt as if nothing was going on.
No source was available, and/or my movements felt fake, forced.
In such cases I could usually achieve at least a small degree of connection by waiting and relaxing my expectations and a feeling I had of lust for result -- any result. I would feel empty and exposed for a while, then eventually some animating meaning would slowly start to pour in and fill me. To that, my body would respond by finding movements induced by such meaning, and that seemed to serve it and express it. Occasionally, when I felt like it, I would resonate a vocal sound to match the quality of the state I was experiencing. At times this sound became a song, that seemed to easily and spontaneously burst out of me.

Once, I was really surprised by the unusual timbre that my voice had: suddenly it seemed to possess an eerie quality, a quality that is very hard to describe even in retrospect. The words that come up are: an ancient stability, a feeling of grounded certainty in my own voice that clashed notably with my inner feeling of hesitation and vague anxiety. The song would also blend with the other sounds around me, produced by the other participants. Occasionally this gave rise to beautiful harmonic resonances, but I never intentionally strove to attain them.

As this collective ritual of sanctification naturally exhausted itself, each individual found his or her own way into a personal area. Candidate for a personal area is any space that seems - for whatever reason - to support one's well being, and that seems suitable to dwell in for the entire duration of the warm-up cycle (about half an hour).

Once a suitable spot was found, the personal area had to be defined by being "claimed". I experienced this as a simple form of banishing: the objective is taking possession of a space by banishing from it any perceived outside influences, so that I can feel alone and safe inside it.
I found myself making noises and moving my body in ways that at the same time would enclose/encircle the space, and also signal to any outside observers that no intrusion in it would be tolerated. I would repeat parts of this process every time my concentration seemed to be disturbed by an impression coming from outside my personal area: the look of another participant, his or her movements or a sound he or she made. This seemed to work fine, and I was able to induce in myself a state of self-contained isolation from my surroundings, in which I would feel safe enough to allow my body to move in whatever way would help it achieve the 4 objectives of the warm-up cycle:

1. STILLNESS: to be also taken as an opportunity to enter No-Form. My favorite of the 4 objectives, because it allowed me time to "gear up" for the more demanding next three; and start sensing my body gently, while in a resting position. As I attempted to remain perfectly still, my body would occasionally make its presence known through tension or a feeling of discomfort. All these sensations became opportunities to feel the body deeply, a central objective of the entire warm-up process.

2. FLEXING THE SPINE: not exactly easy for me, because of limited awareness of my own physical center. Each time I would have to first find my spine. Once basic awareness was regained, I would start looking for ways to massage my own spine into more flexibility. Subtle movements, the ones that brought to sensing and gradually relaxing the tensions around my spine, seemed to work better than wide, pumping motions.

3. STRETCHING THE MUSCLES was a very useful way to address those tensions and numbnesses in my body that ended up obstructing my being fully present. I was glad to realize that it's usually possible to stretch and/or breathe into those areas to gently return them to a state of relaxed sensibility. The small surprises one receives while getting in touch with one's own body...

4. GENERATING HEAT: the most intense and demanding of the 4 objectives. I had about 7 minutes to generate enough heat in my own body to break a sweat. For me this generally meant running very fast on the spot, while placing my awareness steadily on my body and striving to keep it there. Being present helped me to minimize or eliminate any movements that seemed to disperse heat instead of helping accumulate it. The first few sessions (back when I was even less in shape than now) this process strained my legs enough to give me pains for the three or four days to follow. Slowly I found my own pace.
Interesting was the feeling that would come over me when just about to reach the point of breaking a sweat: there was a definite sense of some kind of "critical mass" being reached, and all of a sudden I would get a sense of all that heat accumulated inside me exclusively as a result of my own actions. It felt powerful and inebriating, and the body would begin to move (and sometimes to emit sounds) much more spontaneously, almost in spite of my will to control it.

[end of part 2 // go to: part 3]