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January 27, 2004

Initiations - End of Lab :: Personal Notes // part 3

In which I give an account of the experiences I had with personal polarizations in the paratheatrical rituals that comprised this lab. Here, I share insights received while working with conscious projection, talk about the unusual experience of trying to stretch my movement vocabulary; and introduce group polarities, the complex collective rituals that aim at facilitating "miraculous interactions of self-governing bodies".

The warm-up cycle (described in part 2), always both a demanding and rewarding exercise, was what propelled us every time into the thick of the paratheatrical medium, through the personal polarity that followed.

After a brief transitional jog around the room (often used throughout the lab, to mark transitions, give us extra opportunities to raise our body heat, and "check in" with our vertical sources), we would return to the personal area estabilished before the warm-up, to work with our personal polarities.

A personal polarity is basically a pair of opposites (negative and positive -- e.g., good/bad, freedom/slavery, etc.), selected by each participant to work with. Ideally the polarity selected had to have some personal emotional charge attached to it, thus increasing the authenticity of the material we would be working with.

It didn't take me very long to start appreciating the feeling of intimacy with myself that accompanied the act of re-entering my own personal area. Eventually, I came to realize that the feeling had in a certain sense remained within the borders of my personal area - borders made only of my intention, as expressed through physical gesture - and I was simply returning to it. I had generated that mood and put it there, by engaging in the warm-up cycle within that space. I had taken care to define my area's borders and never cross them as I was warming up; thus I contained/accumulated my invoked presence inside the personal area.

What was happening is that I had been exercising the human faculty of projection, initially without being aware of it. My first initiation towards a truly conscious projection came in small steps, momentary lapses of awareness suggesting that this phenomenon might be an actual transfer of energy, rather than just an interesting idea.

Personal polarities rely on conscious projection as their very foundation.
Once chosen which polarity I would be working with, I had to assign each half of the polarity to one of the two sides of my personal area. Standing in the center of my area, in No-Form, I closed my eyes and did my best to infuse the space at my left and right with the appropriate qualities... I tried to feel them tangibly enough that, once I stepped to the left or right side, I would actually tap into the authentic energies within my body that those dualities referred to, rather than acting out intellectual constructs.

If all this doesn't sound too easy, it's because it wasn't. Still, I found that having just been through the warm-up process (and especially having raised my body heat) allowed me to maintain enough flexibility to break through into several episodes of authentic connection to my sources. Such rare and precious experiences were truly moving. It was like finally regaining touch with parts of myself (or maybe - if you will - other selves) that had been long ignored or suppressed, and yet felt familiar, as if they had been there all along.

The polarities I worked with mostly revolved around dualities of strength and weakness: potence/impotence, success/failure, confidence/fear, and so on. It was truly satisfying to be able to express both sides of each polarity, which allowed me to experience the aspects that I had been denying myself, and also express my feelings about those that I had experienced all too often. To top it all off, I got to transcend both aspects of each duality in the end, by returning to No-Form and discharging my attachment to either one. Every time, I experienced as a result a profound grounding effect over my entire sense of self.

At one point during personal polarity work, I found myself being distracted by someone else's manifestations, the sound and sight of which were coming to me from outside the boundaries of my personal area. It was then that I had one of my most important introductions to conscious projection: as my mind registered the break of concentration caused by the other person's manifestation, my body registered a definite sensation of energy abandoning me, localized around my solar plexus. It literally felt as if some intangible force was leaking out of me through my solar plexus. I was mildly shocked by the unusual nature of the experience, and it took me a while to realize that I had witnessed an example of projection, that from unconscious/involuntary had for an instant become conscious. I realized that whatever meaning that distracting manifestation seemed to possess, that justified becoming mesmerized by it, it was me projecting it... I was projecting significance over an experience that was, in itself, completely neutral; and by so doing I was creating a whole specific reality "out there" for myself to experience.
As I realized this, the feeling of energy leakage stopped, and again I felt alone, isolated and protected within my own personal area, and my polarity work could resume. I made a mental note of the experience and resolved to keep this insight alive in my memory, and try to apply its lesson in everyday settings.

In some occasions, after we were done working with our personal polarities but before moving into group polarization, we went through a process designed to stretch the boundaries of our movement vocabulary. This consisted in dividing the whole floor in three parts, each one to be "charged" through conscious projection with one of three sources for movement.
Some triads we worked with:
- vertical, horizontal and floor movement;
- mind, heart and gut;
- nervous, skeletal and muscular system.

During each pass through the floor, we surrendered to these sources and allowed them to animate our movement. My experiences with this process were quite enjoyable and fruitful. I found that my body would repeat the same habitual movement patterns ad nauseam unless enough efforts were made to develop commitment to new, unknown and often daring movements. Taking the risk to manifest in a new, spontaneous way (and therefore unpredictable, even to myself) was key. Whenever I managed in doing that, I found that not only my movement vocabulary seemed indeed to expand, but also a particular inner state was reached, which seemed to be unavailable while moving habitually. Its most active qualities were a sort of neutrality and increased presence. It was as if my habitual movements were a surface from which I had fallen off, finding myself in a deeper layer of Self.

After working with our personal polarities (with the occasional foray into movement vocabulary stretching) came the time of group polarities.
This was the "peak" of each lab session, the ritual everything else worked up to. During each session, Antero would lead us into a group ritual involving polarizations, and with No-Form as its crux. There are numerous rituals to choose from, which were developed within the context of this paratheatrical medium through the course of many years, and who knows how many more could still be developed.

A format we used several times was as follows:
Starting in a No-Form chorus, or corridor (ways of referring to different formations or clusters of bodies engaged in No-Form within the same space), we would explore once a ritual format based around a group of sources (examples: air, water, fire, earth, ether - victim, persecutor, savior - mind, heart, gut; etc.). During this exploration we all had a chance to get to know and surrender to each source in the group.

Then we would have a second pass through the same format, this time splitting into groups: each individual was directed to go back to that source that seemed most charged for him/her during the first pass, and those who chose the same source formed a family. Each individual in a family would first of all estabilish their own connection to the chosen source, then develop some cohesion with the other family members, and eventually the family would start moving as one toward the center of the room, to interact with the other sources.

Alternatively, we would repeat what we had done during the first pass, but this time everyone at once, moving uniformly through the ritual grounds, hence experiencing the whole process together as a whole.

In part 4 of this account, I will describe in detail some experiences I had during the most intense of these group polarities. Stay tuned.

[end of part 3 // go to: part 4 and conclusion]

January 23, 2004

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]

January 22, 2004

Initiations - End of Lab :: Personal Notes // part 1

Antero Alli's paratheatrical lab, "Initiations", is now over (last session: Tuesday January 20th, 2004).
As a participant in the lab, I decided to start blogging all the various thoughts, notes and impressions relating to and generated by it. Hopefully, at the very least, it will be a way for me to process the experience and extract some directions for future and further work.

The rest of you are more than welcome to stick around, read and comment in any way.
That's why it's all on the web!

By the way, if you are indeed reading this and it sounds in any way interesting, but don't know what paratheatrical work even is, you might want to familiarize yourself with it. Antero Alli has posted some extensive excerpts from his book on the subject, Toward an Archeology of the Soul, on his website Paratheatrical ReSearch.
There is also a wealth of other information there, and many pointers to what paratheatrical work is all about.

Basically, Alli has developed - in the course of about 26 years - a system of ritual work; a ritual technology to be more precise. It is a sequence of objectives that a human machine can set for itself, and reach according to its unique style, fashioning its own results out of whatever personal psychic/emotional material is actually there.

It all begins by getting into the body.

A space is ready and waiting for the bodies to enter it. My body enters the space, but before I can experience anything directly, I will need to enter my body. Finding my own process to enter body-time is the first ordeal. Consciousness is scattered at the four corners of the imaginary universe which makes up the mind's domain and playground. Therefore, efforts must be made to find ways of moving that help consciousness anchor itself steadily to the body, and merge with it.

How to do that? No instruction is provided, which means there is no way to satisfy one's eventual urge to do the "right thing" as indicated by an outside authority figure, such as the lab facilitator. And there is absolutely no way to "go through the motions". There are no "motions", only the movements I can come up with in order to fulfill the objective. Success is my only proof and only I can validate my own experience. This forces me to stick to a certain form of inner honesty: I must be responsible for my own creative states.

Once body-time is entered, a certain kind of awakening becomes the active state: I realize that if my attention is absorbed by the task of sorting through the contents of the mind, I am not really in the space, because I am not in the body. In body-time, on the other hand, I am really here, and there is no way to ignore what's happening; I must participate. After a brief period of adaptation, this becomes interesting, then enjoyable: the increased level of perceptual detail is (at first) a "high" of sorts. Soon, the reverberations of discomfort wear off, like the friction that a body in outer space encounters when penetrating a breathable atmosphere.

Antero's instructions, when first introducting this way of being present in the space, have been to relate to the space as a value in itself. This means that, as I enter the space while intensely present inside my own body, I must find ways of moving that express my relationship with the space itself. Not with the other people in the space, not with objects in the space or even parts of the space. Just with the space itself. So I move inside of the ritual area, and as much as possible I allow my body to freely express whatever relationship it is experiencing with the empty space around it.

Occasionally, I feel a mild urge to look at the other people moving around me or otherwise interact with them, an urge to somehow be social. I know that I am under no obligation to surrender to such an impulse in this space. The purpose and intent of this space is asocial in nature, which is part of the reason why we start each session by relating to the space in and for itself, and not (necessarily) to the bodies or objects inside it.

Later, in the course of the lab, we will reach ways of interacting with each other, while at the same time remaining true to our personal connection to vertical sources: those "invisible sources of energy innate to soul, ancestral karma, dreambody, archetypes, planetary consciousness", in the words of Antero Alli.

[end of part 1 // go to: part 2]