This past weekend, I went to my first herbal conference, though hopefully not my last because it was a ton of fun. While I was there I decided to attend a class about working with plant allies. I’d developed an unusual bond with catnip over the last year, and I wanted to see if I could find a way to understand what made it particularly special to me.
I didn’t pay attention to the class title until I got there: “Authentic movement.”
For those who are equally unfamiliar with this type of movement, the best way I can describe it is movement meditation that involves going into a trance-like state in order to listen to your body’s urges (hence the “authentic part”…you only move when your body wants to). Since this class was focused on plant allies, it started with inviting the plant of your choice to accompany you on this mental journey.
I’m definitely not opposed to meditation or trances, and I’ve had my fair share of “visions” and revelations during meditation. But when I heard what was about to happen, my first thought was, “Oh hell no!”
I couldn’t imagine doing that in front of people, not just because it sounded potentially embarrassing but also because my experience with spiritual vulnerability has taught me to never let my guard down around others. When it came to spiritual groups, I lived by the motto: Never let anyone get you into a state of anything less than guarded.
However, I allowed myself to linger when the teacher explained that we’d all have our eyes closed during the exercise (no one would know I looked like a fool) and that her job was to create and hold safe space for us in our process.
I was still thinking I wouldn’t be comfortable doing anything, but at the very least, I figured I could learn what it was about and take it home with me if I really needed to be alone to feel safe.
To my utter surprise, I didn’t sit in the grass, hugging my knees to my chest the whole time. Not too long after she rang the meditation bells signaling the start of the exercise, I found myself releasing into my traditional meditative safe space. Part of me prowled the perimeter of my mind like a tiger, ready to pounce if I felt even the slightest hint of invasion or danger, but I slowly surrendered the rest of me to the movement.
Since visions are intensely personal, I won’t share what came to light in my soul here. However, I did want to talk about some of the secondary lessons I learned from participating in this class and stepping out of my comfort zone.
The first, and perhaps most obvious lesson, was the importance of listening to my body. As awkward as the idea of authentic movement sounded when I started, I realized later that it was nothing more than an exercise in intuition.
There will always be a cognitive, logical side to decision-making, and we hear about how to strengthen that aspect of our mind all the time. But there is also an intuitive side to decision making that we rarely talk about as a society. How do you know that you just applied for the right job? How do you know that this particular car or house is the one for you? How do you determine when it’s time to re-enter school? Or when it’s time to leave?
Sometimes, the logical side and the intuitive side coincide well, and the decision is easy. Other times, they clash, and what might seem like the best move to outsiders feels like the wrong move to you. Do you listen to your mind or your heart at those times?
Can you even tell the difference between your heart and your mind during those times?
Intuition was distrusted in the IFB. I was taught to fear and suppress it, yet I often found it to be my most accurate guide. Looking back with the awareness that comes not only with time but also with healing and distance from the brainwashing, I can see how my intuition protected me and led me, first in the small ways that informed me when people couldn’t be trusted with my truth, then in bigger ways when it led me out of the IFB even before I fully realized the magnitude of what I had left. Right now, I’m just beginning to grasp the depth of my intuition in protecting myself from my own truth until I could handle it.
However, my skill in listening and recognizing my intuition has been sketchy. I don’t always understand the subtle cues or hear the early warning signs. I can talk myself out of my feelings or deliberately ignore them in the effort to follow another’s expectations.
But the authentic movement showed me what it could be like to practice actually listening to myself. Rather than following someone else’s guided meditation or sitting still trying to empty my mind of useless thoughts, I can block out the outside world and go deep, deep into myself until my own impulse is all I can hear, see, feel, and understand.
The implications of this for my personal practice and life are exciting, to say the least, but I can’t help but also think about the implications for healing within a psychological setting. For anyone who has ever had their autonomy violated or their personhood crushed, I see tremendous possibilities for empowerment and reclamation through authentic movement.
Of course, in order for authentic movement to work, safe space is absolutely essential, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until next week for that part of my revelation. My body is telling me it needs to repay the sleep debt it acquired over this magical weekend!