c. 1300, receiven, “take into one’s possession, accept possession of,” also in reference to the sacrament, from Old North French receivre (Old French recoivre) “seize, take hold of, pick up; welcome, accept,” from Latin recipere – regain, take back, bring back, carry back, recover, take to oneself, take in, admit.
We are in dialogue with the world around us in each moment. We are receptive and relational creatures. When healthy and well, our senses speak to us of the world in a language that is nuanced, intricate and wild. When unwell we numb out, unable to feel the world and often ourselves in it.
The compass goes off. We lose our way.
The action of a litany, which originated in the church, deriving from a greek word (litanos) originally referred to as a call and response prayer. I feel dancing to be a kind of litany, a calling into and through the body and a responding, both arise from dancing, often simultaneously.
Dancing, in some way, has the subtext of searching. It always has, whether that’s known to me, or not, I am searching for myself in my own dancing. In a way its a strange paradox in that, I really don’t know what I am searching for when I am dancing, but searching is essential, and in the act of dancing I am reminded of how I extend, out to the world, and the world reaches back.
I am grateful for that.
I know in some way each dance is a dancing myself home.
It has always been a kind of medicine. Many years ago when I was in hospital for a long period of time, there was one day, I remember it well, after many months the thought of dancing returned again.
It was a good day. A simple day. Early November. A bright sun-filled morning.
I shuffled my way to the day room with a little stereo from the nurses’ station, turned it on and waited. I waited for something from the inside of me, a message to move me, an impulse or a breath that would open the door to myself.
Like a poet with a blank page and pen in hand, there is a willingness to wait for something to come through you. A kind of faith in the creative act. A willingness to wait in the presence of a blank page or an empty space. On the brink of uncertainty a new voice can often emerge.
I curl my fingers to the air, throw up my arms, turn, then wait.
A bird flies past the window.
Follow that feeling.
Both arms unfold like wings.
This was the litany, the prayer – in a way. It was not that nuanced at the beginning, a bit like visiting a shipwreck, a familiar form, hidden to itself.
But slowly as each gesture emerged, as I received the messages of the body’s voice.
I came up to the surface of myself. Slowly being raised, my form, at first unrecognisable, then slowly with a kind of awe, I emerge to myself with a delight and shock that I was underneath the weight of the sea.
All that time.
I see this in the hospital work again and again. People lay in bed, in a ghostly kind vapour of themselves, translucent somehow, slowly melting into their bedsheets. Then, that Lazarus moment when their eyes fire, and a hand reaches in the air, their breath opens, and they arrive into some shape of themselves they recognise. So often surprised, in some way that they too were there all along, and, through a gesture, they arrive with a delight and shock of a newborn arriving, that they had been hidden for so long from themselves.
Movement has this way of allowing us to meet ourselves in this wordless realm. There, the language is feeling. Our first language.
Searching for oneself is subtle. We don’t always know which parts of us are underwater, or what to do to recover ourselves. Dancing, for me, has in some way always been the doorway through the self, towards a larger Self, a revolving door of sorts.
The arts and the poetic portals they offer are one way to recover what may have been lost, the senses can lead us back to ourselves. What the arts do well is show us ourselves from a different viewpoint. They grant us this momentary view from above, like an eagle circling the mountain, we see the whole. Just a glimpse, and that’s the catalyst, that glimpse is enough to begin a process of reconnection and remembering.
We can see and feel the complexity of how we we are still forming, all of our life, a kind of perpetual becoming with no end in sight. The arts offer us a view of ourselves which is beyond our small self. In a way, the arts ask us to see ourselves fuller. Like mountains, we probably won’t walk the whole lot in one lifetime, there will always be great undiscovered places, and in that, there is an awe-like quality that asks of us not to see ourselves too small.
The litany is one of mystery. To call out to oneself and receive something back which is far larger than you imagined when you called out. This is what dancing can do. This is what the arts can do.
The echo is always bigger when is comes back to you, from when you yelled your name into the vast space.
When I am dancing there is this moment when I can feel the sense of something like the ‘real’ galloping over the horizon to meet me.
It’s always the most wonderful re-union with what’s real and true.
It’s brief. Momentary relief, and there can be something painful in waiting for the real to arrive. But there is no way to short cut creativity. It has its own beautiful intelligence, and beautiful timing, which after many years I’m slowly learning to trust.
Yesterday I was drawing. Sometimes this is another portal. I found myself repeating a figure.
Dark body, becoming light, or light body becoming dark.
I was sat there, following my hand, following what I call ‘the next right thing’. Then what emerges slowly greets me. I see a long line of miners, a light from a head torch, underground. Waiting.
I have a flash of memory, walking on a miners strike in the 80s, in my hand the feel of a large wooden button of my duffel coat, and in my other hand, the hand of another.
A flash of memory.
I look at the picture and make a line of yellow, a searchlight. As I make that mark, slowly at first, then pressing the deep yellow into the paper, I begin to feel the real arrive. I cant tell you how, I wouldn’t dare. But the feeling is like entering a clearing in a forest.
I turn my head for a moment to look into the garden and see the rain falling, I get up and gather a small container that my eyes glimpsed a few minutes before. It’s been outside for a while – it’s full of rain water and some rusty nails.
I bring it back in and begin to add the rusty dark rain to the image. Brush stroke by brush stroke
The offering from the sky folds back into the this tiny little canvas. In that moment, the rhythm of this creative time makes complete sense to me, and that gesture is the one that draws the image to a close.
Somehow I am changed by the encounter. I feel more myself.
There are these movements that come though us, the ones way beyond reason. The hunches, the diversions, the being ‘lost’. These hunches are forms of deliverance.
I learn to trust them as a forms of listening that have their own reason and their own deep intelligence.
Something is listening through me and despite me.
There is the litany. Getting lost on purpose, so that one can be found by something that isn’t the familiar, something larger calling your name.
The creative intelligence I like to imagine as a divine figure. A crazy kind of god i find myself faithful to.
A Slightly eccentric, romantic, off-kilter god, unbalanced, kind, sometimes annoying, obsessive and nonchalant, an unpredictable god, näive, relentless and a constant companion.
A sanctuary for the troubled and untroubled time in life.
The arts draw us to the call and response of life. The receiving. The breathing in and out. The very mystery of it all.
The arts are there to remind me of my own multiplicity. Whenever I get too cornered in to a small self with small concerns. Dancing allows something to work itself out. It can’t answer everything. But it invites me to a larger mind, a wild mind. A flying eagle state of being where I can see, or at least attempt to. Where the creative gods – and there are many – send messages and images that can steer our life – if we are open to receive them.
The natural tendency of the ego is to find order, in some way to name and objectify things, or to get stuck in a binary mind of this is good, and this is not so good.
The creative mind in its most innocent state doesn’t really deal in forms of measurement, those transactions of thought are too small for something so unfathomable and so mysterious.
We are a multiple of voices, that make up the sum of us. All parts of us need to sing themselves here. So when embraced by the creative impulse we must, in some way, give ourselves over to that larger force, to what that unpredictable and unbalanced god wants of us.
Whether that’s dancing, cooking a meal for our kids, writing a symphony, or staring a conversation with someone on a park bench.
Our busy lives are often too busy to spend time day dreaming. The modern technological advancement has created many good things but it has also created a not-so-subtle addictive vortex where our attention is sucked towards the visible surface of things, a perpetual whirlpool that goes……
…kind of nowhere.
Our ’productive’ society values less what the child values: the way the rain falls like an endless tear on the window, the way that cloud is shaped like a hand reaching to hold you, the endless searching antennae of a snail. We forget that our beings have a wider reach that we can ever imagine.
As I write this, a child gets up from her seat on the train and waves at the train that just passes us.
I join her. Without thinking, invited out of reason and into that dis-inhibition. We wave to the passing strangers and I learn from her again how delight is possible.
Hidden within these images and moments, below the surface of them is a message.
The world is speaking to us. All the time in a kind of prose.
The world, I think, wants us to speak back to her, with the same beauty and complexity she speaks to us.
The healing, in some way, of ourselves in the world and the world in ourselves is to listen,
But more simply than that… to learn how to simply receive
Before it’s too late.