I am caught between two worlds. I am a qualified Occupational Therapist (OT) since 1998, and I trained for six years in total to be a Psychodynamic Therapist before deciding 30-clinical-hours shy of registering with UKCP that I was not meant to ‘be’ a Psychotherapist. Something about sitting in the clinical/medical world has always been uncomfortable for me. Taking the role of ‘expert’ and holding back my own working class family dysfunction made me feel a fraud. Contorting myself to fit into various professional personas and the professional socialisation and language that comes alongside this made me feel incongruent, dishonest, and I became fragmented in my quest to try to be genuine and authentic. To be INTEGRATED. Yet I have worked in the caring profession since 1991, when I was just 19 years old, and it is as much a part of my identity as any other part of me.
I am also a Reiki Master-Teacher, and an Ecstatic Awakening Dance (EAD) teacher. I’m a deeply spiritual woman who loves ritual as a residual leftover of a Roman Catholic childhood. Even though I am not religious in any way now, one would expect therefore that my dilemmas and discomfort would be eased by practicing in this more spiritual world?
When I was training in very ‘pure’ psychotherapy – I felt that my spirituality needed to remain private; that my belief in signs, omens, nature, cycles and co-incidences, in a greater-good, in seeing a meaning to everything would be called ‘magical or supernatural thinking’; that my inexplicable visions and experiences when doing Reiki with people in a way that transcended language would mean that I was seen as a heretic. Of course now I know more. There are so many different means and methods for people to train in counselling/therapy without this ‘pure’ idea of how that should be done. The Karuna Institute, Psychosynthesis, Jungian, transcendent, integrative, transpersonal, body work, wild therapy – the list goes on. As we evolve and change, so do the means and models of offering support to people who are living in emotional turmoil and navigating intensely difficult personal and existential crises.
It is usually, in my experience, people who have navigated a certain amount of distress themselves who are called to reach out and offer support to other people in pain. Thus it is common practice in ALL psychotherapeutic trainings to expect the trainee to engage in their own therapy to be aware of, and skilled in managing, the boundaries and potential transferences and projections between analysee and analysand.
In the neo-spirituality world of shamans, energy and light-workers, healers and ‘alternative’ practices there is less uniformity and regulation. Being an eternal cynic, I have witnessed a fair amount of what I would call Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome. I have seen leaders with significantly untreated mental health needs. I have idealised leaders myself in the need to believe in an ‘answer’ outside of myself. I have seen untrained facilitators struggle to manage boundaries safely or effectively. I have been tangled in hellish group dynamics on retreats, and seen and heard, questioned and participated in the thin veil between myth, hysteria, vision-like experiences, epiphany, breakthrough, transformation, sisterhood, grief, loss, joy and all manner of very deep, very personal, very painful moments and transitions. But then, I have seen and experienced this in the Psychotherapy world too. In the sensitivity/experiential groups so integral to many trainings. In ‘facilitated’ team meetings within mental health services. In the world of the psyche – who knows what ‘truth’ is? There in the shadows and the light? Who knows what is good and what is bad?
And so entangled in this Klienian split, I find myself time after time asking which ‘me’ is the real, integrated, mature and steady person/practitioner? Am I one of those practitioners with a wonky-base? A past that still comes back and takes me by surprise? Untreated mental health needs? Idealised by others in a bad case of Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome? Wildly projecting all over the place unable to hold steady in messy group dynamics?
Or am I a wise woman embracing with relief leaving my twenties and thirties behind me? Is the reason that I have found it so hard to allow all these parts of me to integrate because I have still believed that there is a right way, and a wrong way? Is my own eclectic style and honesty about my own brokenness and ongoing ‘seeking’ NOT a lack of boundaries or professional poise as I once thought, but my TRUTH in offering my support to other people in pain and distress in a GENUINE and AUTHENTIC way? Does a spiritual/alternative therapy permit this transparency more than a medicalised or clinical qualification where I have been lost in my efforts towards neutrality, science, method, evidence, and cure?
It has been one year since I completed my dance training in an active meditation process called Ecstatic Awakening Dance (EAD).
EAD is an energy experience using rhythm, movement, breath and music to:-
- Release stress and energize the body;
- Free from emotional baggage by moving stuck energy;
- Transcend the chatter of small mind and bring us into the Presence of Now;
- Awaken to self-acceptance and self-love;
- Connect to the Divine Oneness of our true nature and All That Is. (School of Ecstatic Movement)
EAD follows a five stage process;
- Preparation – The warm-up
- Awakening Life force – The ‘shake’
- Let-Go – Breath of fire dance
- Grounding – Heaven and earth meditation
It’s been a struggle starting a new business. With an already demanding job, a long commute and a five-year-old, my plans to spend one day a week on my new business ‘Big Beats Dance’ have often gone awry. As is to be expected, in my first year – I made a loss.
Two phrases have been going round in my head… “You’ve got to speculate to accumulate” and “Build it and they will come” and being immersed in the world of ne0-pagan spirituality, quantum physics, and the social-media-enabled insurgence of our collective consciousness – there is a certain pressure to visualise well. More than this actually…to ATTRACT, MANIFEST and any failure to do so is a personal blight – a blockage, non-purity in thought or intention. So in the Psychotherapy days, I had to watch out for this magical or superstitious thinking. I had NOT to be afraid of my own negative thoughts, doubts and questions because they were just that…thoughts…doubts….questions…and I was encouraged to use judgement, and critical thought; certainly to study effectively; to be discerning. Now every life coach going wants to tell me how to unblock my thoughts and manifest money, customers, premises, land – all manner of things can be conjured or destroyed – just by the power of my own ability to embrace gratitude, be positive and think big. Well do you know? That just PISSES ME OFF… Perhaps because I haven’t yet learned how to do this with ease, with grace, and without trying too hard, or letting my ‘ego’ drive my thoughts – but sometimes, it feels like this in itself is another pressure – or way to stop ourselves processing the shadow side…Just. Think. Positive. Tell that to anyone with anxiety, or depression – just another personal failure of thought or deed or intention if you can’t – Just. Think. Positive. My inner ‘doubting Thomas‘ is my guide just as much as my inner Pollyanna, it means I KNOW when the Emporer’s New Clothes are not in fact real. Just a group of people scared to NOT be able to see something. Scared of being stupid, or left out. Scared to say ‘I CAN’T SEE’! or ‘I’m NOT FEELIN’ IT’.
The socialisation in this world is different. But the issues are the same. For me at least, this is a continuation of a journey towards health, well-being and integration. A desire to help others to heal their pain and reach their full potential by sharing my learning and my skills. I will not have the government and health service tell me how to do that. I will not have motivational speakers and would-be Gurus tell me how to do that anymore because since 1991, I have been trying to be the ‘right’ kind of OT, or Psychotherapist, or Reiki practitioner, or Dance teacher according to different doctrines, dogmas and sometimes, just plain old strong personalities. But it doesn’t mean that I am not appreciative of how much happier my life is when I DO see that the glass is more than half full, that I am blessed in so many ways. I look at other people who have similar stories, but whose paths took them to even darker, sadder places than mine – and I am grateful to have been scooped up by good friends, and shaped by my professions. It does not mean that I do not think big. I DO have a vision, and a passion and a belief. But I do doubt and question it too.
The Dance practice that I have learned is a deep and profound process. It takes many people by surprise at what comes up when we give permission to ourselves to express through the body with our eyes closed and using no words. Using NO WORDS and NO THOUGHTS. Oh my life, what a breath of fresh air that is given ALL the above.
I really do believe inherent in all of us is wisdom. I do believe the Rogerian view of self-actualisation and that the right conditions enable us to ‘become’ whole. If we can just steady the fear and create some space and safety to let ourselves express freely, without ‘conditions’, we can find it ALL. Maybe those conditions are enabled internally simply by engaging in The Dance? Who knew? Well, lots of people so it would seem. Across all cultures, religions and ages forever there has been dancing. The recognition of this inseparable connection is not new either – in either medical or spiritual terms, body-mind-soul; bio-psycho-social.
I’m sure that in another five years, I will be able to write eloquently and knowledgeably about Dance. However, I am keen to capture my sweet ignorance in THIS moment, whilst it is all fresh for me. It seems that since the 1960’s the power of The Dance has been merging our spiritual, healthcare and psychological therapy systems, body and soul; 5rhythmns, Ecstatic Awakening Dance, Nia technique, biodanza, dancemeditation, spiral dance, kundalini work, trance dance, movement medicine, dance for Parkinson’s and and and – we know that The Dance connects us to a place deep within.
So when I signed up to train in EAD it was an ‘accident’. I didn’t quite know what I was about to integrate. I didn’t know about all these dance practices. The classic wounded healer, I have had an eating disorder since I was about 12. It has morphed over the years – but the main presenting problem physically now that I am in my forties is morbid obesity. I was definitely having a relapse in my ability to cope; more than just a little chink in my armour. As a ‘patient’ now, I was facing some serious challenges to my physical and emotional health. I knew I was going to need to get my body moving, but looking at the ‘exercise on prescription’ routes, and Green Gyms and other initiatives, brilliant as they are, just filled me with dread. Pilates, yoga, Gym membership, Zumba – just sucked my life-force and made me feel sad, and fat and inadequate and immobile due to a chronic long-term back problem. I knew that whatever health choice I made, I would only be able to make a commitment and stick to it if I was RUNNING it. So again, I found myself entering through the doorway of another ‘training’. This time though, it felt as though I was coming out! When I launched bigbeats.org I was slightly terrified of people knowing me and seeing me. I am flawed. I am imperfect. I am self-disclosing in a big way. Big Beats is a movement Movement. My voice, my story and my late entry into the game of being present for myself in my life without apologising for not being ‘enough’, or for being ‘too much’. Without hiding in a professional persona.
During the 10 day retreat of the teacher training, I saw the best of myself, and the worst of myself. I revisited the depths of my losses and traumas. I connected to my unique, brave, amazing body both with compassion and grief. It was one of the first times that I had engaged with dancing since my twenties outside of clubs and festivals where usually there would be alcohol involved. Every day I met myself in The Dance and witnessed other people in the same deeply profound process. Through those 5 stages practised regularly – I began to reclaim all these fragmented parts of myself. Simply through breathing and moving to repetitive polyrhythmic music, all my buried emotions began to surface. Instead of having to process and talk and work in direct relationship with someone through this, I simply began to learn to let it be. To greet it all without deciding what was an acceptable and what was an unacceptable feeling. Just to be kind to whatever came up, and to dance it. Dance through it, dance it out.
My back pain began to reduce as I allowed myself to stop fighting my feelings. My self-image began to improve as I got used to connecting with my hips and shaking my body. My anxiety floored me less as I began to speak more kindly to those fearful thoughts, and I lost weight as my muscles grew stronger. Yes, it needs a skillful facilitator. Yes it needs someone who can hold a group space well. But it does not need an expert. It is neither right, nor wrong. It is personal and private, yet shared in parallel with other people diving deep and returning with their own pearls, at their own pace in their own way.
I decided not to be a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor because maybe I was just trying to make people ‘better’ to feel better myself. I didn’t want to be blank and neutral to enable transference. I didn’t want to be the ‘bad guy’ in everyone’s story. It felt murky, and dishonest and uncomfortable. I felt like a hypocrite.
So now I have TS-Elliot-style, entered through the same gate again, as if for the first time, but this time I have my awareness, compassion and intentions more centred. Of COURSE I am trying to make it better for myself. Of COURSE being part of other peoples’ healing journeys is bolstering the point of my own existence. YES, I want to feel less self-loathing and more self-love, and to enable others to do the same, because otherwise, how do we reach our full potential?
Standing in my room to run my dance class on a Monday evening, I feel honest. Big Beats Dance is about offering a totally truthful me in service to the world. It’s clever too. A total integration of ALL my skills and ALL my training and ALL of my experiences to date. Just little old imperfect me offering a safe inclusive space, and inviting you to dance.
And guess what? The only room free for me to run my class on a Monday night in Oxford was a church…and I do love a ritual 😉