Initiations - End of Lab :: Personal Notes // part 4 and conclusion
In which I delve into a detailed description of two of the most powerful group rituals that emerged out of our autonomous (yet coordinated) efforts as ritualists, during the course of the "Initiations" paratheatrical lab. I will also summarize the major insights gained throughout this experience, and attempt a working assessment of this medium, in terms of its usefulness to my personal work (which might even - who knows? - be useful to other individuals, similar to me in type or in conditions at this time).
:: Safety/Danger and Sobriety/Intoxication ::
Maybe the single most intense ritual for me was one based on an interesting pair of polarities: Safety/Danger and Sobriety/Intoxication, along with - of course! - the powerful tensions generated by their interplay. That's right. Very, very interesting stuff.
After going through the usual preparation/warm-up cycle (common to every session), we entered a process aimed at developing safety in our personal area. Once again, this meant autonomously finding whatever movements seemed to accomplish this (success is your proof, always).
I found myself engaging in a series of decidedly outgoing gestures, that tended to saturate the space around me, and were very obvious and "showy" in nature. That's quite unusual for me; my movements being as a matter of course quite moderate and simple, rarely commanding the attention of the casual observer. But these were not "matter of course" movements. These were intentional, symbolic gestures aimed at "owning" my space, and I found that, the more expansive they became, the safer I felt. This makes some objective sense, too: potential "intruders" (at least the not-so-determined ones) would feel much less inclined to cross a boundary that is claimed with such intensity and energy.
I should say that we were positioned in a circular fashion, all around the room. Each individual in their little circle of Safety, all the little circles disposed to form a circle as large as the room itself. The Safety zone was also the Sobriety zone. We knew that at some point we would be stepping out into the space described by the circle of all our personal zones... a space defined as that of Danger and Intoxication. We didn't know what would be happening in that space, only that in it the presence of Danger and Intoxication would be felt. Or missed.
We knew that at any time we could return to our Safety (and Sobriety) zones. It was clear the main and first objective was to generate enough safety to gain the ability to take some real risks. Connection to vertical sources has had for me a few peculiar side-effects throughout the lab: one of them was definitely being able to claim my own emotions back, to feel that I was more "in charge" of them than usual, that outside events couldn't affect me as easily. So after enough gestures of the kind described above, I felt safe enough to decide it was time to step into Dangerous territory and see what I could see.
Inside the circle, people were running around and embodying varying degrees of Danger or Intoxication, allowing those archetypes to motivate their movement. This often translated into assaults of various kinds; being grabbed, pulled, attacked (mostly playfully, although a back-and-forth of reactions might occasionally escalate into a small confrontation), confronted, played with (without being asked for permission!), tickled, and other random forms of uninvited interaction. General chaos reigned within the circle.
Needless to say, it was fun, while not without a bit of real fear, or at least uneasiness. My attempts at embodying Danger were mostly about playfulness and spontaneous contact with other people, two areas that are often charged with a sense of danger for me. It felt like falling into a quiet clearing inside my own mind, or at least quieter: if not exactly the eye of the hurricane, at least closer to it. From there I could look at the self-restricting aspects of my personality as a series of habits, offshoot of the archetype of Habit itself...
I could feel the presence of those habits as an actual force operating inside me, like a sort of gravity, with its blind tendency to compel me always in a particular direction - towards avoidance of Danger. In those moments I was intentionally not listening to the voice of Habit, and passively tolerating its presence without kowtowing or reacting to it, just observing its unpleasant tug as a form of mechanical self-conditioning. And, meanwhile, allowing myself to cross the boundaries of safety a bit. Yeah. Refreshing.
Very occasionally, the level of danger would reach a point in which it seemed advisable to return to the Safety zone, but mostly I was able to glide back and forth around the edge of the "red zone".
I also had to try Intoxication at least once, fond as I am of its presence, and re-entered the space to embody some energies of the utterly drunken, disorderly, Dyonisian, Discordian, etc kind. That was fun too. I found it an interesting way of being, one which allowed me to stumble incoherently around, get in the way of people, bump into them, giggle stupidly at them, laugh maniacally as I crawled on the floor, and other nice things that usually entail strong doses of alcohol and nastier types of danger to accomplish. In this case they became ways to work on myself instead, and the energies they liberated even got to intermingle with other people's in a conscious way (as opposed to "mostly unconscious"). Ah, Intoxication of a myriad faces and forms! Will you ever cease to amaze me?
:: Core and Surface ::
Anyway. Another, quite powerful ritual revolved around the polarity of core self and surface self. For this one, after a preliminary group polarity session done in a No-Form corridor, we stood in a No-Form circle around the room. From there we would make our way through the room in large spiral motions, to arrive at the center. The center was defined as Core, the rest of the room as Surface. We also knew that, somewhere along the way, some Points of Initiation were present. We were not told where they would be, just alerted to their presence. At those points, passage and change would erupt on the Surface, ideally in spontaneous outbreaks, while we - ever so slowly - spiraled our way towards Core.
The walk through Surface for me was all about social masks; acting their roles, the tension of maintaining them, and their function of as filters and mediators of my experience. My way of walking felt unnatural, self-conscious; in all interaction with others I only connected through codified expressions, always while shielded by a social mask to conceal whatever feelings I might really be experiencing. I did my best to observe this process, and noted the amount of energy that maintaining those masks required. This maintenance process faltered at times; maybe the very effort to maintain it caused it to collapse occasionally, when energy ran out... in those moments, I stood there in the middle of Surface, temporarily stripped of its trappings. Such were the cues by which I recognized my Points of Initiation.
As more and more of us approached Core, the space was changing palpably. I sensed my social masks falling off and a more direct perception emerging. I detected no urgency to reverse this process, therefore I spontaneously relaxed into the new mode of operation. Others around me seemed to be in a similar space as well... people were effortlessly finding their place around Core (marked by a pillow placed at the center of the floor). While the spiral movement across Surface saw each of us going at his or her own pace, each quite alone in our own processes, as we approached Core some sort of harmony seemed to build up.
Four of us (me included) found themselves sitting cross-legged around the Core pillow, moving our hands around and above it, like a strange form of worship; a caressing of invisible energy fields. Soon our hands were touching, forming a circle of contact around Core.
Other circles were forming around us, as more people came. I am not exactly sure what was going on in the outer circles, as I was quite focused on the wave-like hand motions and contact between myself and the other three in the inner circle. By this time we had started producing sounds, which were articulating and weaving themselves into effortless, hypnotic harmonies. The others around us seemed to be magnetically drawn towards Core. Some people were stretching their arms to touch the pillow through our circle of hands. Eventually one of them, Paradox (who is a cool guy, incidentally), crawled inside the circle and sat directly on the Core/pillow.
At that point the situation seemed to transform into some kind of spontaneous healing ritual for Paradox (for lack of better words), as people around Core directly responded to the presence of someone within the circle. Paradox became the recipient of the energies that we had been stirring up. The voice harmonics were in crescendo, and occasionally evolved into beautiful, brief bits of song. We went through what felt like a complete cycle of this, and slowly the formation around Core dissolved, with people returning individually to their No-Form spots at the edges of the room.
:: Conclusion ::
These rituals (and a couple of others) in particular, and all of them to at least some extent, left me some very deep impressions. I had participated to some other things also called "rituals" before, and read/heard/imagined a whole lot of them, but never have I been aware of the existence of such a thing. And yet, many of their principles make total sense; and yes, I have seen similar dynamics and objectives at work before. But, as others have pointed out elsewhere, not much goes on here of what people commonly imagine "rituals" to be about.
However, that's exactly what we do: rituals.
Through intentional acts, we cause change in conformity with our will to contact archetypes and surrender to them, becoming vehicles for their expression. Out of this we gain the experience of both extremes of opposing archetypal polarities, which increases (when repeated, shook and mixed regularly) elasticity in the ego, our main means of functioning "horizontally". This in turn decreases resistance to change and helps develop an ability that isn't taught anywhere (anywhere ordinary, at least) and in a sense cannot really be "taught". This ability I would call shapeshifting, if that term hadn't become quite so inextricably associated with all sorts of pop, new-agey "shamanism".
But if you look at personality as a "form" that our consciousness adopts, and recognize that this seemingly static form often changes by its own accord or because it is forced to, then you can think about shapeshifting as the art of consciously allowing and orchestrating these changes rather than suffering them passively. This allows the ego to flex and mutate much more easily, reducing the abrupt shocks of passage between forms. Note that this has nothing to do with curbing the ego or much less - Goddess forbid! - taking it out of the picture. Quite the contrary: it enables the ego to flower into its manifold aspects, curbing only its tendency to attach itself to a particular one and resist the natural fluidity of change that the Essence loves.
We strive to get beyond ourselves, but we intend our bodies and psyches to be with us when we get there.
That, incidentally, is one important reason why I found this work useful, and why I think it can be useful to others: its focus is quite objective and grounded in physical reality. Even though we talk about sources, archetypes, deities and so on, none of it is made up, or existing only in the realm of the mind. Intellectually-oriented (or "-lopsided"!) individuals such as myself obviously benefit enormously from such an approach, because it demands we develop sides of our self that have typically been left somewhat behind. But it remains a sound method of working for just about anyone, especially when doing work that aims at evoking/invoking "energies" not usually tapped into. For some of us, it's easy to either follow the concept of such energies into an airy-fairy world made of nothing but ideas; or else lack the stability and grounding to properly manage what is invoked.
Moreover, I found this work's emphasis on personal autonomy - before any proper "group work" is engaged - simply invaluable. Here's another skill that just isn't taught, its development being actually often thwarted and undermined at an early age. In this work we re-learn how to rely on our own connection with the archetypal sources of all consciousness, meaning and action before mingling with others. It is hard to overstate how important this is, and how easy to forget how to do it. What Antero calls a "rare area" (a space containing the qualities necessary for such a ritual to take place) affords us the very opportunity to interact with other beings from a standpoint of commitment to our personal integrity, and the ability to expect everyone else to be doing the same. Unconscious child/parent trips are banished from the space right away, and kept out. Rare, indeed.
Paratheatrical work also forces us to do something of paramount importance to anybody interested in any kind of harmonious development of being: through it we feel our body deeply. This may sound like not much, but once it is done, its more profound implications become evident. By answering this key need of our body, that of having our consciousness imbue, accompany and penetrate it, we have an opportunity to honor the alchemical marriage between Psyche and Essence. Which is, by the way, one of those covenants that really can't be escaped - until death doth you part, anyway. One of those that, the more we keep ignoring them, the more often we end up in Chapel Perilous for yet another educational, grueling stay; to be repeated again and again, until Hell freezes over.
Last but not least, this approach is not only about individual and group experience, and personal work. It contains, already built-in, very straightforward ways to feed directly into the performing arts and creative work of other kind. As I write this, Antero has just resumed paratheatrical meetings with a large part of the group of people with whom I shared the lab experience, to synthesize, distill and refine the lab's work into a theatrical performance, Orphans of Delirium. Building performances that are at the same time theater (entertainment) and objective ritual workings becomes possible by using this medium. Granted, it is not the only medium that allows this, but it is a very pure, practical and adaptable one.
Paratheatrical lab work can come in a wide variety of themes. This one's was Initiations, and that's the spirit with which I approached it. The whole process - a demanding, rewarding and rich one - did in the end unveil its initiatory face for me. I am left feeling that a significant evolutionary effort has been made, and that some important doors in the hallways of self-completion have been opened, even if briefly. Such an experience can be recommended to anyone seriously committed to putting the good old "gnoti seauthon" meme into practice, with a special recommendation to dancers, actors and other performers.
That's all for now in regard to Paratheatrical ReSearch. I am looking forward to working more with this medium, attending the Orphans of Delirium performances, and (hopefully sometime within the next few weeks) doing some more Paratheatrical-related writing. Watch Corridor of Madness for any updates.
Over, and out.
[end of Initiations - End of Lab :: Personal Notes]