This section describes some of the BMC processes that Alice Cummins used to help me access experience differently. Alice, as trained by Bainbridge Cohen, used touch to invite a re-patterning process that involved what Bainbridge Cohen calls a “dialogue between movement and touch” (2012, p.117). This dialogue is about stimulating “tactile receptivity”, and is based on the claim that lived experience requires “feedback from itself and from its environment” (p. 118) for coordinated, full-bodied and aligned movement in much the same way that the foetus receives immediate tactile feedback when in utero. Bainbrigde Cohen claims that:
Learning is the opening of ourselves to the experience of life. The opening is a motor act; the experience is interaction between sensory and motor happenings. When the experience of movement is integrated into our education, our perception of ourselves and the world changes. (2012, p. 118)
This conception of learning has resonances with Merleau-Ponty’s ontological project. Bainbridge Cohen and Merleau-Ponty share a commitment to immersive experience that is situated in a world and activated by the tactile. They also share a commitment to finding language, often through sensory metaphor, that eschews binary concepts and more fully expresses lived experience. In Chapter Five, I elaborate on how Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological description of hands touching one another forms the basis of his absolute intertwining life-world system. Here, the focus is on how Bainbridge Cohen makes meaning of lived experience through an extensive system of experiential anatomy and physiology that involves balancing the “various tissues within the body” by drawing on knowledges from Western medicine as well as philosophies of the East (2012, p. 1). Bainbridge Cohen purports to be developing a new kind of “study” that is coming “out of this time of East and West merging” (p.2). She claims to be working with the idea of “dualities blending, rather than sets of opposites conflicting”, the focus being on how “opposite qualities modulate each other” (p. 2). For Bainbridge Cohen, the “qualities of any movement are a manifestation of how mind is expressing through the body at that moment” hence the term “body-mind” (p. 1).
Discovery Workshops with Alice
I have found the principles and techniques of BMC instrumental in building my attunement capacity. This has, in part, been experientially achieved through one-to-one sessions, group improvisation classes, and professional development workshops with Alice Cummins. In my first session with Alice I lay on the floor. She placed her hand just above my navel and said, “meet your breath”. I recorded this experience immediately after in my journal as follows:
Journal Entry 10th October 2014
Alice makes suggestion about connection between navel and mouth. Begin to feel this. Alice places her hand on my sacrum inviting me to allow the full weight of my sacrum to be on her hand. This is intimate and nurturing. Alice’s arm, tail-like, extends from my sacrum and feels umbilical, thick and strong. Alice now makes suggestion of connection between mouth, navel and anus. Am sensing a big stone disk in my throat, want to move neck. Invited to move with the cascading motion of the central limb without losing the head to anus connection. Relief comes, am invited to move with reptilian like capacity. Difficult to maintain sense of connection between mouth, navel, anus whilst moving – have glimpses of this.
This session is focused on stimulating the mouth to anus, head to tail connection. In an email exchange, Alice explains to me that, from a BMC perspective, this connection is important because it “supports the developmental evolution of central movement” … “as adults we also get support centrally but we move more peripherally – centre to periphery” (email exchange, 7th November, 2016). The importance of central movement comes from the work Bainbridge Cohen has done on the different systems of the body, in particular the organ system of the body. Bainbridge Cohen claims that organs “provide us with our sense of volume and full-bodiedness, and the inner vitality and support for our skeletal alignment” (2012, p. 29). The mouth to anus connection underlies and precedes the head to tail connection. In this session, I experienced the volume of the organs that felt like it directly affected my sounding in a way that made sounding more easeful and full-bodied. Alice verified this experiences by noting that my “voice came with fullness and weight” (email exchange, 7th November 2016).
Alice built upon this work in our next session. Questions arose about my perception of the location of the navel: what is it attached to? What actually is the navel? I realised I had only a vague knowledge of this region of the body. Alice encouraged me to work with a small exercise ball and led me through a process that helped to more precisely locate and viscerally experience the navel. I recorded this session in my journal as follows:
Journal Entry 11th November 2014
Lying across the ball from the navel. Uncomfortable. Attention goes to organs. Organs feel very hard and do not yield at first. Couldn’t stay there for long had to move. Worked with sensation of being a starfish. Could imagine and sense a mouth at my navel, searching, searching out food. Sense this long tubular connection to my mouth, can sense evolutionary connection between mouth and navel. It is such a non-verbal, embryonic experience that I find it hard to explain. Wrapped body around the ball, was surprised by how much further legs could fold in. Alice continues to reinforce the head to tail connection verbally and with her hands. Worked with floating as if in the sea. Came to resting on my side.
This session is focused on what is known in BMC as the “navel radiation pattern”. Bainbridge Cohen suggests that coordinated movement is initiated from the navel; it “is a circular pattern, radically symmetrical, as in a starfish” (2012, p. 101). To work with this pattern, Bainbridge Cohen uses a sensory metaphor of a starfish to encourage an embryonic experience explaining that:
…the head is no more important than any of the other extremities; the six extremities are equal – head, two hands, two feet, and tail with the control centre in the middle of the body. (2012, p. 101)
During the three years of my PhD project, I worked extensively with this sensory metaphor for the navel radiation pattern. It is now integrated into my everyday life but I still need to bring an attentive awareness to the pattern. As a result, I have found myself being more observant of the movement patterns of animals. For example, observations of my dog Bella have been extremely useful in helping me to further integrate knowledge about navel radiation. I noticed that Bella’s movement is initiated from a central place. This can be clearly observed in the following short video (Moving Image 3).
Moving Image 3: Bella & Central Movement
Bella’s movement in this footage is a typical canine pattern. The movement is clearly initiated from the centre and moves to the periphery. Using a central impulse, Bella’s entire organism is engaged from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail, and to all four paws. She is immersed in the forces of gravity that keep her grounded. Her activated movement is in relationship with gravity as the energetic movement patterns that she displays push upward against gravitational forces to keep her animated. The movement captured in this footage is vital, and physically coordinated. It seems pleasurable for her, and so I argue that it has the libidinal qualities of wild Being that I have already discussed in relation to creativity. By observing this vital, full-bodied movement in an animal such as Bella, I learn how coordinated movement is organised and enacted from the centre of the organism. Observations make it more possible to translate this knowledge into my own experience.
So, why is an engagement with navel radiation so important? In my experience this pattern has helped me to find a more precise and practical understanding of the relationship between lived experience and artistic creativity. In March 2015, I spent five days immersed in BMC professional development workshops. This work began by lying prone on the floor with an intention to allow as much of the body as possible to be in contact with the earth. On the fourth day, I had an experience that felt embryonic and pre-verbal as recorded in this journal entry:
Journal Entry 19th March 2015
Invitation to move from navel radiation – spent a lot of time staying in prone. Eventually had a movement where I looked up and noticed there were other creature-like things in the room that looked a bit like me. Notice there were all sorts of shapes in the room – some were on their backs. Thought “wow – didn’t know you could do that!” Gathered that information into myself. Started to try and experiment to see if I could move like that but found I couldn’t – it was too soon – needed to stay prone for longer. I have a strong sense that this is an evolutionary process; that the purpose of sensory perception is to galvanise the entity into creative action. I sense that this cannot be hurried; needs its own time.
In this experience, I gained some cognitive insight into the workings of corporeal intelligence. In discussions with the group afterwards, I shared my experience and described my insight into the evolutionary purpose of sensory perception and the experience of receiving this insight. It became clear to me that creative evolutionary development is dependent on sensory perception, in this case visual perception. For example, I used vision here to gather information about the world. I was not even identifying as human because as I noted there were other “creature-like things” in close proximity. I noticed they were “like me” which propelled me into action and the desire for experimentation to see if I could do what they were doing. Sensing became purposeful and guided my action. I noted there was a conscious awareness that was different to ordinary awareness.
One of my fellow participants, Kuniko Yamamoto, concurred with my interpretation of this being a different kind of awareness. In her experience of working between two languages, translating Japanese and English, she suggested my experience was in-between language and action. She discovered this when learning English. Kuniko suggested that there is an experience where meaning is made, where something profound is being grasped, something essential to living that for her was neither in the language of English or Japanese, but was something that she grasped fundamentally. For her, it was about experiencing meaning before she could communicate this in either language. This idea resonated with how I experienced the event described above. It was fluid, interstitial, and seemed focused on the experience itself rather than on communicating that experience. I recognised that when experience is in an active state, it does not yet have worldly symbols, such as words, attached to the things it discovers. There is no codification in place to pin it down or give it a boundary. This event affirms for me that attuning-to experience differently can provide pathways into artistically creative material.
These formative BMC experiences became core to building my attunement capacity. They created a full-bodied experience that felt more expansive than ordinary experience because more sensory and perceptual information was consciously included in my awareness. First, I learnt how to attune-to a heightened state of awareness that felt more connected, integrated, immersed, and fully embodied. Second, I found visceral entry points into my creative material that were activated as a result of attuning-to a corporeal intelligence that I experienced as a constant feature of lived experience. The following section describes how a particular vignette was initiated and subsequently developed for performance after I had spent time working intensively on developmental movement patterns with Alice.
During the BMC professional development week in March 2015, I wrote a passage that was triggered by some of my experiences of the mouth to anus connection that I had during workshops as well as by the windy conditions that were present at the time. I used these experiences to draft the following:
Journal Entry 19th March 2015
Sometimes my anus is hungry for air…not the usual exploding sulphurous kind no, no, no! My anus hankers after fresh, rich, sumptuous air. You heard me. My anus is so wet with salivary desire that like a puffed up alpha male he injects every drop of oxygen in the air. My anus wants to slurp atmosphere deep inside his colonic oesophagus. When the feisty north wind rolls in, my anus, so amorous for air, goes to the neck of the valley, mouth agape, gulps it in.
I wrote this piece at 3am whilst unable to sleep because of the wind rattling down the valley where I was staying. It was written in a kind of frenzy. The sexual overtones are very heightened but this piece awakens a kind of energy that I think is worth capturing in my performance. The words and the sensations I felt have an amorous, greedy, and gluttonous quality that for me captures the qualities of a self-critical dynamic that can at times gleefully and greedily sabotage, ingest, and quash creative activity.
Sometimes (hence the title of the vignette) this self-critical dynamic is loud, harsh, and judgemental, and sometimes it manifests as insecure voices of doubt. Cameron refers to this phenomenon as a “creative virus” that can eventually be neutralised once it is recognised as such (1995, p. 42). This aspect of the creative process is widely experienced by artists.
In discovery workshops, I experimented with this self-critical dynamic by using the mouth to anus connection. For me, attuning-to the mouth-anus central structure helped to access a self-critical dynamic. Using imagination, by taking attention to the central movement of the organism, I allowed anus to lead and initiate movement through a series of improvisations. I first discovered an insect-like walk, with hands on the floor. Later it became upright but maintained close proximity to the ground (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Mouth-Anus Connection
Figure 5: Working with downward force of gravity
I also experimented with attuning-to a strong downward gravitational force. By maintaining a sense that the anus was leading I was able to sustain a performance of this self-critical dynamic (Figure 5). I shifted from this viscerally heavy dynamic into a sequence that attempted to fuse the somatic experience and the semantic meaning of a series of common self-critical phrases. The script is as follows:
Oh for Fuck’s sake! Tsk
Get to the point. Tsk
I fragmented these words to somatically find the affective semantic meaning of each phrase. This approach to performance cannot disassociate, as Machon says, “semantic sense from somatic sense” (2009, p. 20). With the help of Kirsten, my director, I began by deconstructing the syllables of each word. For example, I experimented with the tone of vowels in the word “really”. The more I exaggerated the “eee” sound the more I was able to identify a visceral sensation that was like a squealing pig. This led me to think about how the self-critical dynamic can snort or squeal disapproval, pig-like at a creative idea. My intention then became about finding a harsh pig-like sound that could somatically communicate this idea through voice and movement. The word “really” then encompassed a pig’s squeal. This process allowed me to somatically embody the sematic intention of the phrase (Figure 6).
This approach resonated with one audience member who noted, “on the whole I connected more to the pieces of movement and sound without words (or just fragments of words) than the more ‘familiar to the ear’ pieces of structured song” (audience reflection 17th April, 2016). This sequence (Moving Image 4) was a section within the following excerpt from the recorded video of the live performance event:
Moving Image 4: Performance Vignette – Sometimes
Figure 6: Performing semantic meaning of words
The Sometimes vignette created a disturbance within the structure of the whole performance. It was a challenging piece to perform and, for some, it was a challenging piece to witness. For Machon the “(syn)aesthetic style” of performance consciously augments sensory perception and therefore has capacity to affect the performer and the spectator at a visceral level (2011, p. 4). As the following audience members note:
Audience Reflection, April 17, 2016
There was a piece when you gallumped around the floor, leering at the audience in a grotesque fashion, speaking. I found it funny and off-putting all at once, and felt myself pulling back from it, relieved when you were on the other side of the room and glad when that piece had finished
Audience Reflection, April 16, 2016
It was a challenging piece in that it provoked a response in me where I was in the uncomfortable space of recognising and remembering my own times of self-doubt.
I note that this vignette triggered a sense of heaviness in my nervous system and my organs that I needed to consciously shift so that I could transition into the next piece. I used the word “nothing” to signify that this section was over and to allow time for my nervous system and organs to settle. I also used a sensory metaphor to imagine the vast earth beneath and sense into the support that the earth gives to every cell (Figure 7).
Figure 7: Transitions Between
This performance vignette allowed me to explore how attuning-to central movement can help to more consciously embody the semantic meaning of a text. I recognised that as Bainbridge Cohen says:
it is through our senses that we receive information from our internal environment (ourselves) and the external environment (others and the world). How we filter, modify, distort, accept, reject, and use that information is part of the act of perceiving. (2012, p. 5)
This is a process of attuning-to a corporeal intelligence that is a constant structural feature of lived experience. For me, consciously attuning-to the mouth-anus connection, the navel centre of the organism, and the omnidirectional experience of the unified senses profoundly shifts lived experience. It brings a greater sense of alignment, and coordination in performance. It does this through the use of imaginative sensory metaphors and directed attention to central movement. This corporeal practice also provides visceral entry points into my creative material and helps to sustain this practice in performance.
The extent to which my performative intentions are received is not the point of this particular research. The research is focused on first-person experience, and how the use of touch has enabled me to more consciously attune-to experience differently and support my creative activity.