School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: September 2012
A Long Apprenticeship

by Rob Porteous

I want to explore some of my feelings about the long dance and being an apprentice, in the context of what I am learning about myself. Ya’acov once said to me, ‘I never forget a dance.’

 Over the past 16 years I have come to recognise my dance. (Before that, I would have said, ‘I can’t dance.’) Habitually, I move towards the other, and away, towards and away. Two steps towards, a turn, and then away. I feel most comfortable travelling backwards into empty space. Looking at the other, but moving away. As well as this horizontal movement back and forth, I have learnt more about the vertical axis of my body’s movement. In the beginning, I danced with my shoulders. The energy rose into my upper body, as if I was trying to get away from contact with the earth. At the same time, something pulled me back down and forwards into a stoop. I focused on the ground beneath me rather than on the way ahead. I’m aware of a conflict between the energy that rises up from my gut into my throat, and the block that pushes it back down. It has been an on-going practice to let go of the tension in my jaw and shoulders, allow my weight to drop, and put my intelligence in my feet, so that my upper body is relaxed and free to follow. I used to call it ‘sitting in my bum.’

 The conflict of wanting at the same time to move towards the other, and away; to rise above the experience and to hide within it, comes, I think, from my early experience of the world, that left me with a profound ambivalence towards making a commitment to my life and myself. This in turn, I think, mirrors my parents’ experiences.

My father was a young man of 19 at the outbreak of the first world war. He was a pacifist, a conscientious objector, and spent, I believe, 4 years in prison. In 1938 my mother, who came from a Jewish family in southern Hungary, was finishing five years of study in Vienna to become a doctor. She gained her degree in May 1938, two months after the Anschluss that united Germany and Austria. Both of them, I imagine, experienced huge conflicts. The external demand on my dad conflicted with his internal sense of the man he wanted to be. In my mum’s mind she knew she had to stay in Vienna to get her degree, while I imagine her gut feeling was of a huge need to get away.

 Bonding as a baby with a mother who is traumatised means the desire to get close to the other brings up the trauma of that contact, and therefore the need to push the other away. This ambivalence, this pull towards and away from the other, is mirrored in my desire to be both a part of, and apart from, the apprenticeship community.

 During the long dance, if I am honest, which I want to be, I hated the two nights when we were going through the movement medicine mandala. I wanted to know what difference this ceremony would make. How would dancing with the great mother, or the elements, or past, present and future change the way I, or we, behave when we get back home? What would be different as a result of this practice? What would I do differently?

My fury is fuelled by the fact that throughout my life men and women have gone on abusing each other and the planet. Each time there is a new victim and a new perpetrator. But the underlying assumptions and reactive behaviours persist. I am very grateful to Caroline Carey for encouraging me to dance my anger, and to Cyrille, Sven, Silvana and Sally for meeting me and engaging with me in that place. The gift that came from going into that energy was that I feel able to stand more openly and uprightly in my own ground, letting my weight drop down to the ground, with the freedom to move as I choose in relation to you, the other.

 As I said to Ya’acov, ‘All I can offer you is my refusal to be someone other than I am.’ It’s an intention I don’t want to lose. And I find that it’s hard work really making a commitment to myself. But that is the difference I can make.

I am aware of the double negative in my statement.

 The first movement is a refusal, a blocking of the demand I anticipate from the other to be someone I am not. The feeling that I should have been ‘someone else’- other than I am- is still strong; therefore it’s difficult to find value in the man I have been. So the first step in making a commitment to myself is to make a boundary- that I think my parents were unable to make- against the invasion of the other into my circle.

 The next step is to acknowledge the effect that my early experience has had on me. Not being welcomed into this world helped to create the ambivalence of my early attachment, and has made it difficult for me to welcome myself. I found I couldn’t just be the husband I dreamed of being, with a wife and two kids and a dog and a modest house. There was something I had to work out about life first.

 Earlier this year I gave a talk on Oedipus. A speech he makes at the turning point of Sophocles’ play King Oedipus has fascinated me for a long time:

 ‘…I am the child of fortune;

The giver of good, and I will not be shamed.

She is my mother; my sisters are the seasons

My rising and my falling march with theirs.

Born thus, I ask to be no other man

Than that I am, and will know who I am.’

 Oedipus’ earliest experience is of abandonment- being exposed on a hillside to die, because of the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Everything that the characters do to try to prevent this happening, helps to make it happen. It’s only when Oedipus faces and acknowledges who in fact he is that the process of healing can begin, which leads to his death many years later in a sacred grove at Colonus. ‘My strength has been in suffering, not doing,’ he tells the citizens there. Letting go of the conscious desire to be the hero enables him to let go of his unconscious attachment to the experience of exile; to heal the split between his heroic aspect and his sense of alienation:  (If you want a transcript of the talk and contact me on, I will send you one.)

So, accepting the man I am is an important (and difficult) step. Part of my commitment to myself is to develop compassion for who I am and how I have lived. I have to deal not only with my anger at the abuse perpetrated in the world outside, but also my fierce anger with myself for not being the man I was supposed to be. Then, maybe, I can begin to move more freely and consciously as a dancer in the centre of my own circle and really embrace the life I have.

 I have had several ‘apprenticeships’ in my life. I spent 28 years being an English teacher in secondary schools. I was married for 15 years. My training to be a counsellor took 7 years. What have I learned from these experiences?

From my teaching I learned the value of turning up, day after day, to face a difficulty. I also learned the importance of distinguishing what I do for you from what I am really doing for myself. When I discovered I wanted to ‘be there’ for the children I taught in the way I wished someone had been there for me as a child, I could stop teaching. From my counselling training I learned the value of witnessing. Being with myself and the other, rather than the hero who solves the problem. And the importance of not taking sides, or thinking I know best. My marriage highlighted my difficulty in making a commitment to the other. The apprenticeship now highlights my difficulty in making a commitment to myself.

 I want to keep making a commitment to the man I am. This involves letting go of the man I imagined I would be. It also involves challenging my ambivalence about making- and keeping- this commitment. I want to play with my story, so the energy in it can move and change. I don’t want to define myself always in terms of my early, traumatic experiences. But that means really going into the experience that I carry within me, letting myself feel it and own it, physically, not just as an idea, so that I can let it go.

 In 1999 I wrote a poem about this coming home to myself that still says something to me.

 The Return

 Beyond the wall, beyond the farthest dwelling,

Out on the heath where mist and wind conspire

To make an emptiness, begins the telling

Of what still burns within the sacred fire.

Once I set out, a proud, hopeful explorer,

To conquer lands and capture riches there.

Now I return, more like a humble beggar

Who does not beg, but waits and listens here.

After the tears, the anger, and the laughter,

The shame, the fear, and the long journey done,

Oh what will come in the black night hereafter

As I approach the entrance to my home?

What unknown shape will show me who I am

When I get back to where the tale began?

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.