"The most effective paths to soul are nature-based. Nature - the outer nature we call 'the wild'- has always been the essential element and the primary setting of the journey to the soul. The soul after-all, is our inner wilderness." Bill Plotkin
After 15 months of daily dancing and filming, and then spending a week doing my dance practice in a bag, I realized in that time of reflection the importance of acknowledging where I have come from and those monumental experiences and people that have brought me to where I am today. I look forward to posting my current daily dance practices soon :~)
In 2008 I spent 5 weekends with Jade Sherer (Earths Echo) as part of a women's circle entitled "Nature Moving Women." We spent weekends in communion with one-another, with nature, writing, council sharing, dancing, sharing food - all soul fulfilling. On the last weekend together I was moved by a prayer stick Jade had made with a quote on it by Joan Halifax - "May my body be a prayer stick for the world." I wasn't sure exactly what it meant, but the words resonated deeply for me. We also had an had an opportunity to embody our shadow side. After my offering, one of the women there asked if I had heard of butoh - to which I replied that I hadn't. All she said was, "I think you would love it."
On returning to Seattle I google searched for butoh classes, and came across the butoh website. Shortly after joining, the facilitator Momo sent out an invitation to attend a butoh dance offering honoring the life and death cycles of the salmon on 11 11 at 11:11AM. I was called to go as were several others. Not knowing why the call was so loud, I knew I had to be there. The week prior to 11 11 there had been torrential rain, a landslide had closed the highway close to where our dance location was, and the morning of the dance was also wet and stormy. Many other dancers did not come because of the obstacles, but, Momo, Evan, (Al, who photographed) and myself managed to make it against all odds.
Like the salmon who return to their spawning grounds against incredible hardships, we too had made it to the river. I had never met Momo before, and I thought perhaps I would just be witnessing, but instead I was honored to have her don my face with white makeup (which is classically worn in butoh) upon our first introduction. After setting an intention for the dance we began and soon I was swept up in an unforgettable journey of soul expression. The photos are more than I can put into words to describe my inner state of awe...
I had also been reading two very influential books at the time, "Women who Run with the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and "Soulcraft" by Bill Plotkin. Being a part of this dance for the salmon felt like I was embodying with dance what I had been so desperately longing for. Momo shared recently that meeting her sensei Kazuo Ohno felt like the seed within her, the one that was already there, began to germinate, and that is what this felt like meeting Momo, as well.
To dance in the wilds of the woods along the river honoring the salmon felt like the wild woman within myself had an opportunity to express itself, as inspired by Momo's ability to express her soul so authentically. I was literally blown away to be in the presence of a woman who was, and is, such an embodiment of the wild soul.
"Wildlife and the Wild Woman are both endangered species... It is not by accident that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as the understanding of our own inner wild natures fades... No matter by what culture a woman is influenced, she understands the words wild and woman, intuitively... in our bones we know her, we know she belongs to us and we to her... she is the female soul... the light, the night, the dark and the daybreak... the one who thunders after injustice... she lives in the green poking through snow, she lives in the rustling stalks of dying autumn corn, she lives where the dead come to be kissed and the living send their prayers... she is the moment just before inspiration bursts upon us. To find her it is necessary for women to return to their instinctual lives, their deepest knowing. So, let us push on now, and remember ourselves back to the wild soul." Clarissa Pinkola Estes
It felt like the seed of my desire to express all aspects of my self freely had been germinated. Within the dance of the salmon, we embodied the darkness of the death of the salmon and the disintegration of the physical body, but also, we danced the joy of the new life being born from the process of dying. We were dancing all of what it is to be alive as a human being - the light and the dark...
Since the time I was a child, the yogic path has enabled me to embrace all that which is light-filled, but, practicing butoh has also allowed the opportunity to embrace and embody the shadow side of being human - "toward the dark center of our individual selves and into the fruitful mysteries of nature..." where we can "fall toward the center of our longing." Bill Plotkin
And so, I was bitten by the butoh bug which represents the potential of fulfilling so many longings for me - to connect to and embody the light and the dark of my innermost being with dance expression, to connect more deeply with mama earth and celebrate and honor her magnificence, and to connect more deeply with the idea of my body as being a prayer stick for the world with dance as a form of social and eco activism.
I have always loved the Sanskrit mantra I share in my yoga classes - "May all beings everywhere be happy and free from suffering and may our thoughts and actions contribute to that happiness and freedom from suffering for all beings..." I hope that my dances may in some way contribute to that intention...
When the last shadow
of the forest vanishes
under the broad wings
of the last river falcon,
I will be alone again.
All the rain forests,
the endangered species and
flora and fauna
bearing testimony found
in hydrocarbons in stone...
going, going, gone.
Thus all our good intentions
are moving along -
their going is our going,
each bound together by
There's nothing that's not Nature.
And yet we are moved
almost to tears by the thought
of the last salmon or whale,
last wolf in the wild...
How much grief can one
... praise for our suffering,
which ennobles all our joys...
Feeling grateful to Jade and all the women (above) who held the space so exquisitely for me to embody my dark-side during our many weekends together delving into the mystery.
Gratitude to Momo for mentoring me on this journey of dance expression... it is an honor to know her and receive her teachings... I look forward to the continuing journey into the mystery...
I created the following film from photos by Al and Susan who witnessed our dance... heartfelt thank you!
Visit Momo's inspiring blog here: Maureen 'Momo' Freehill