By Aileen Crow
Authentic Movement has many different ways of being understood and practiced. To me, the spontaneous movement of Authentic Movement leads us to our inner wisdom and creativity. And of course, there are many other practices using various sensory modes that also take us there. Some of them are Mindell’s Process Work, Jung’s active imagination, sounding or music, art-making and Focusing. These practices and others, such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming, meditation and Ericksonian Hypnotherapy can lead us to our inner resources.
One inner resource is our natural or learned ability to witness ourselves and reframe projections. My interest lies in finding how to use these practices to uncover and resolve trauma. Though I use many others, here I will present my work using Authentic Movement with Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing, Arnold Mindell’s Process Work, DePalo Gyrontonic®, Shirley Turcotte’s Trauma Therapy, Virginia Satir’s Parts Parties and art.
I realize what I’m presenting here is far from simply Authentic Movement as I learned it—and as some of you may practice it. But I’ve had a long time to learn many systems and practices, and I’ve enjoyed comparing them and putting them together for myself. (For more about that, see A Moving Journal Summer 2001.) This is my way. I trust you are finding your own way.
Working with Trauma
I believe our “whole self” contains the inner wisdom, creativity, and natural vitality that survive—often even thrive—in spite of trauma. It contains our talents and resources, as well as parts of us that have been damaged by trauma. Traumatic events can result in aberrant movement patterns which reveal emotionally disturbed behaviors and beliefs.
We all have many different personality parts or aspects of ourselves. I’ve made forty small sculptures of my own various parts. Some are benign and some are trauma-derived. All the parts in this article are parts of myself, discovered through spontaneous movement exploration.
Following are explorations of trauma-related parts of me. They are my right shoulder and her interfering behavior, a twisting theme, and another part who is addicted to chocolate mint. First, let me tell you about my right shoulder.
My Right Shoulder
Fabric Collage by Aileen
My right shoulder has a mind of its own. For the last year or so it has been obstreperous, interfering with the Gyrotonic® movements my movement coach, and former leading Graham dancer, Jennifer DePalo teaches me to do. For instance, when she’d try to get me to do an arch of my spine, my right shoulder would want to dominate the action—I’d use it more than necessary in doing the movement. Inappropriately, it seemed to come bossily forward. I was annoyed, but curious. Since I couldn’t inhibit this, I decided to “go into it”. I allowed it to move spontaneously like in Authentic Movement, while on the verbal channel, I allowed it to “talk” as I moved.
What developed was that I played both my Right Shoulder and my Witness/Listener. I moved as each one as they dialogued.
Witness/listener:(Curious) So, what do you want? What’s this all about?
Right Shoulder:(Blaming) You’re trying to get rid of me. I’m feeling unloved, unwanted and unappreciated. I feel I’m being kicked out, after all these years of faithful service—like a workhorse slaughtered for glue—no retirement, no pension, reward, or praise. I’m hurt.
Witness/Listener:(Softening) You certainly deserve recognition for what you’ve done. You’re sensing that you may be losing your job. What do you need as a reward for your service? What would satisfy you?
Right Shoulder: Praise. Soft, loving massage. My portrait painted as the main protector of a cowering crew, taking care of them, keeping them from getting hit. Like the three of us huddling at the foot of the stairs in the basement with Daddy raging drunk upstairs.
Kids Huddling in the Basement
Witness/Listener: This is clearly bringing up a traumatic memory.
Right Shoulder: Yes. What I want is for you to say to me, admiringly, “You poor thing!”
Witness/Listener: You want to hear, “You poor thing,” said to you admiringly, not with pity or solicitude. You poor thing!
Right Shoulder: Right.
Witness/Listener: You were all terrorized by your father with no one there to protect you.
Right Shoulder: Except ME!
Protective Right Shoulder
Authentic Movement and Solo Focusing
One practice I’ve been developing for myself to work with trauma combines Authentic Movement with Solo Focusing. When we explore some troubling issue, often trauma-derived, by personifying it—acting it out in Authentic Movement, Focusing, making art of it, or some other practice—we gain information necessary to our lives. Focusing adds a complementary verbal-sensory mode to the mostly non-verbal Authentic Movement. In Focusing, we wait for the most significant words to arise.
In Authentic Movement there is a “mover” who follows inner sensation into spontaneous movement, and there is an “external witness”, who—with experience—develops into a trusted “internal witness”. This “inner witness“ has physical and emotional empathy with the mover. As Eileen Kelly, Authentic Movement group leader says, “There is a mover within the witness, and a witness within the mover.”
In Focusing, we also start with a couple: a focuser and a listener. The focuser consults her inner “felt sense” to get to the root of whatever issue seems to be troubling her. The listener reflects the focuser’s words back to her, as though to say, “ There is something more about that, right?” Or to ask, “Are you sensing more about the whole situation?” When the duet between two persons becomes a dialogue between two parts of one person, this is Solo Focusing.
In this work about my right shoulder, I am combining my Authentic Movement inner witness with my Focusing-Listener, to form a “Witness/Listener”. I’m combining my Authentic Movement mover with my focuser of Solo Focusing, to form a “Mover/Focuser”.
As my Mover/Focuser follows her spontaneous impulses into movement, she speaks aloud about whatever is happening inside her present experience. Speaking in words as one moves is atypical of usual Authentic Movement practice.
The Witness/Listener moves and speaks as well. The Witness/Listener interacts verbally with the Mover/Focuser as she moves. The Witness/Listener does not instruct, advise, teach, interpret, judge or elicit explanations. She only reflects back to the Mover/Focuser, the Witness/Listener’s understanding of the Mover/Focuser’s words, in order to encourage further inner revelation. This is from Focusing. In Authentic Movement there is no verbal interaction while the mover moves.
While the roles of the witness and the listener are similar in both practices, after the mover speaks in Authentic Movement, the witness might speak about herself, her experience, and her projections. In Focusing, the listener does not talk about herself. She only responds to what the person has said or done to elicit more inner information.
Personifying Troubled Parts
The Witness/Listener speaks with trauma-derived parts as though they are potentially helpful personality parts. When some troubling issue comes up I can choose whether or not I want to “go into it,” to “be” it. I learned from Arnold Mindell’s Process Work that one can personify and “be” anything—a lampshade, a bug, a noise, or an emotion. Also one can exaggerate any sensory element—coughing for example, and still stay true to its nature.
If I choose to personify a troubling issue, I repeatedly change roles between the troubled part and my Witness/Listener. I play both parts, acting them out physically, aloud, and often with eyes open. As I change roles, their different body attitudes help me avoid getting stuck in traumatic emotions. It’s important to keep the parts distinct; to track who has got hold of my identity. I often ask myself, “Who do I think I am?” or, “Who thinks they’re me?” It helps to delineate the roles by having different parts change chairs, or move to separate rugs.
Experience has taught me to trust that I won’t get overwhelmed, and that something of value will come from going into it. In case of doubt, I ask, “What is my body telling me?”
Finding A Bigger Frame
In another interaction, my Right Shoulder had this to say to Aileen and to the world!
Right Shoulder: You can’t do without me! You’re a victim! A baby! No one to protect you but me! I am your armoring against abusers! I want a statue erected in my honor! A medal of honor and a trophy awarded, like an academy award. And a big gold epaulette with gold fringe to wear on my shoulder! Or not wear it necessarily, but carry it, since my chest will be wide open with pride. Pride in my accomplishment!
Receiving an Award
In this scene, my Witness/Listener watches my Right Shoulder, impressed. Here my Right Shoulder is, standing on stage, smiling and proud, chest high and wide, accepting a trophy in recognition of her prowess as a protector.
My Right Shoulder demands glory, but seems willing to allow her defensive body attitude to be subsumed within one of Glorious Pride. How’s that for a reframe? I wonder, is that what it takes to resolve trauma—to find something bigger and better?
We’ll see. For now, given praise, my Right Shoulder gave up her insistence on getting recognition for her defensive style and joined a more pleasurable body attitude, one with a bigger frame: Pride!
Twisting and Expanding
As I continue my Gyrotonic® sessions with Jennifer DePalo, my Right Shoulder continues to try to dominate every move. I decide to “go into it” via Authentic Movement—pay attention to what my Right Shoulder is doing—not change anything, but follow my Shoulder wherever it wants to go. When I do, my Right Shoulder curves around down to my left, leading my torso down into a closing twist.
Here is my scoliosis—the habitual body shape my torso has held for as long as I remember! It seems “unnatural” to twist to the other side. In this position my right shoulder and arm are also raised protectively to my head, as though to ward off a blow.
I wait here, letting associations come. I do not want to make up a story about what it means. Some questions come to me. What does this remind me of? When did I first feel this way? How old am I? Who else is here?
Well, Daddy. Daddy, with his angry, “Shut up!” and baby-me in fear. I did shut up.
Aileen in Closing Twist
I continue the movement I began, now twisting down as far as I can go. What’s going to happen? Am I going to go so far I die? After I follow my closing twist to its extreme, I wait.
Spontaneously, my body starts to open! The twist unfurls into a big, expanding, encircling arc with my chest lifting and my arms raised overhead. The movement of my arms continues up around my head, then back down to where it started, but now with the feeling of something having been resolved.
From this experience I think, “You let your self die, and then what happens? You come out of it!” It seems like a spontaneous reflex. It’s like when you get to the end of an exhalation and deliberately don’t do anything to inhale—but something in you inhales. Life wants to live.
I went back through the cycle repeatedly, and it was different every time, as Authentic Movement is. On one trip around, I “saw” my father up there behind me, threatening, and my right arm gave him a big punch as it passed by.
Repeating the sequence of closing fully and then opening all the way has become a movement motif I do like a healing ritual. It is so satisfying to go into the place where I’d been stuck for so long, then to experience the relief and release of my body doing what it couldn’t do then—didn’t even know was possible then.
The expanding part of the sequence might never have happened if Jennifer DePalo and Gyrotonic® hadn’t led me to the ecstatic experience of having my chest high, wide, open and active. Gyrotonic® is an exercise program that features patterns of torso spirals and diagonals that twist, arch, curl and undulate the spine. An opening and expanding arching is often part of the movement sequences I do in my sessions with Jen. If I hadn’t had the specific experience of having my chest open and moving, my body wouldn’t have known it was possible to get out of the closing twist in which it had been stuck.
I believe that specific remedial movement is an essential element in undoing trauma—not just general movements, like pushing, etc. I needed to move in particular ways that had been unavailable before, due to my trauma-derived limitations. The happiness I feel when I’m up there—with my chest expanded—is a great motivator.
Though at the time I didn’t see the connection, for the past few years in Authentic Movement sessions, my body has been involved in a repetitive pattern of spontaneous twistings. First my arms twisted, then my legs, then my torso, then all of them together, in many different ways, always completely spontaneous, compelling and quite strenuous. I had no idea what the twisting was all about, but I was fascinated. Many partial meanings came and went. One was that a fixed body attitude went with fixed opinions. Both can be undone.
My twistings seemed to be demanding I move spontaneously. One time, when an inner critic was bugging me, saying, “Well, what’s that supposed to mean?” my twisting arm and hand hit the critic (me) in the nose.
Twisting Sculpture, by Aileen
More and more when something unusual happens in my Authentic Movement, a sudden twist will come. I laugh with delight when that happens. It’s as though the twisting is bringing encouragement from my creative unconscious, assuring me, “You’re on the right track, Aileen.”
The spontaneous twisting in Authentic Movement, along with the Gyrotonic® mobilizing of my spine and ribcage has definitely loosened my scoliosis. My spine had been fixed in that twist. Mobilization is happening in my eighties!
The Double Spiral
The twisting now seems to me to be my body’s attempt to restore the natural elasticity of a basic double spiral pattern of movement, which is built into the structure of the body. The spiral pattern can be accessed as simply as by rotating my hand inward or outward, then letting my body follow its twisting path sequentially and carefully. All the way up, down and around, the twisting can be like a healing ritual of Space Harmony à la Laban.
Twisting within Double Spirals
With the understanding that the twists are part of an elemental double spiral pattern, many different approaches to bodywork seem to fall into place for me. Symptoms can be seen as fixations or interruptions in the mobility of a spiraling elastic framework. This includes the seemingly fixed bodily distortions caused by trauma as seen in my right shoulder’s fixation in an inward rotation that twisted my torso for all these years. I can now understand better where all that spontaneous twisting and untwisting happening in my Authentic Movement for years was taking me.
The wonderful part is all our history is in our bodies—available anytime for mobilization. It’s as though the body wisdom is just waiting for a chance to complete some stuck developmental process.
Jennifer DePalo and Aileen
The Bag Lady’s Body-Sack
Here is another scene with a different example of the process I’m developing to deal with trauma. I play all the parts as I access them through felt-experience, and let them speak. I change where I stand, or move from chair to chair as I change roles, to keep “who is who” clear when they change roles unexpectedly.
Bag Lady with Hungry Ghosts
(Please note: When you see “. . .?” it’s not a question. The words prior to it are meant to encourage further self-searching.)
The scene opens with my Witness/Listener talking with Aileen’s Bag Lady part. She carries in her body-sack all the “hungry ghosts” from the Inner Trauma Division: Unfinished Projects, Task-Master, Priorities, Ineptitude, Diarrhea, Oddballs, Punctuation, Too Much Stuff, Shopping for More Stuff, Praise, Contempt, Chocolate, Booze & Butter, Sister Jealousy. They are rioting, each wanting to get out and take the stage—to be seen and heard. The Bag Lady is bulging at the seams. A rip in the seam is developing, and they’re spilling out.
Bag Lady: Help!
Witness/Listener: OK, who’s first?
All: Me! Me! Me!
(Chocolate mint appears.)
Chocolate Mint: (Seductively) Take me! You know you love me the best.
Witness/Listener: Yes. Okay, take the stage.
(An objector shouts): The judge is biased!
Witness/Listener: (To objector): Don’t worry. We’re going to get the whole story here. (Friendly, to Chocolate Mint) What’s your claim to fame?
Chocolate Mint: Sensuality. (She undulates pleasurably) How can you argue with that? What could be wrong with that?
Witness/Listener: What could be wrong with that …..?
Objector: Fat! Fat! Fat! Tooth decay! Diabetes!
Witness/Listener: You will both get your turns. First, Chocolate Mint. She’s not finished. (To Chocolate Mint) What do you love most about yourself?
Chocolate Mint: (Undulating) I am self-sensual. Yummy.
Objector: (Interrupts rudely) Yer not the real thing! Yer a substitute gratification!
Chocolate Mint: (Blasé, unfazed) Better that than nuthin.
Witness/Listener: Something about better than nuthin …..?
Chocolate Mint: (looks away, annoyed) Don’t want to go there.
Witness/Listener: You just changed …..? Something sad …..? (Patiently, as though to a child) How old are you?
Child: (Chocolate Mint’s identity has changed) Four.
Witness/Listener: (waits for her to say more) Who else is there?
Witness/Listener: Someone is shaming you . . . ?
Child: Bad girl.
Witness/Listener: Someone was shaming her for being a bad girl . . . ?
Child: I’ll be a good girl and then they will love me.
Witness/Listener: She decided to be a good girl . . .?
Witness/Listener: There was no one there to tell her she wasn’t a bad girl . . . ?
Child: (Dejected) No. Bad girl.
Witness/Listener: So sorry for that little girl.
(Four-year-old child cries.)
Witness/Listener: (After a time, the Witness/Listener speaks to the child slowly and purposely as if to an adult, to bring her back to present time, and out of being the victim from the past.) If you look at that little girl you were then, from the point of view of the woman you are now, how could you help her?
(Chocolate Mint is gone, the child is gone. The adult is now here.)
Adult: (Jokes) I’d give her a chocolate mint.
(Witness/Listener and adult laugh.)
Witness/Listener: Yeah, that’s what happened. You know so much more now than she did then . . . ?
Witness/Listener: And you still have your self-sensuality, with or without Chocolate Mint . . . ?
Witness/Listener: Enjoy it!
But today, I bought four chocolate mint bars! A part of me is planning ahead for a time when she will be without. The mints are still in a bag, now put away in a closet. She has her fix in case she needs it; so she should never be without. From that action and those words, I already sense this is a flashback—which I see as a big opening into dealing with trauma about catastrophic expectations.
I recently had the good fortune to participate in a Focusing and Complex Trauma training with Shirley Turcotte, a Canadian trauma therapist. She has the extraordinary ability to have a humorous and positive attitude about trauma. She would never abet people in staying identified with, as though addicted to, their past suffering (as in, I’m a “recovering victim.”)
I’ve come to see my catastrophic expectations as “vicarious trauma.” They were part of the unquestioned atmosphere my family lived in during the Great Depression. My parents were young, uneducated and poor, with three kids and a loser mentality: “something terrible happened, something terrible is happening, and something terrible is going to happen.”
My original trauma story began when my as yet unmarried mother was in panic when she found she was pregnant. As soon as she knew, she started to try to abort me. I felt like a piece of shit she was trying to get rid of. I re-experienced this years ago during an intensive dance therapy session with Luly Santangelo. When it was time for me to be born, my mother was ambivalent: wanting me to get out, but not wanting me to live. She was drugged—so was I—both of us were stuck. I felt like I was stuck endlessly then, and I’ve felt stuck in the same way many times since. At the time of my birth, unable to help myself, I was finally pulled out by forceps. I still have an indentation in my scalp. I have re-experienced being stuck many times during recent trauma self-therapy sessions, often accompanied by my fellow trauma explorer Lucy Mahler.
These traumatic beginnings have led me to feel unwanted, unloved, and unappreciated, and that “I can’t”, for a lot of my life. It has been a great relief to me to realize that it was my mother’s tragic emotion that I was feeling, since I was a part of her. There wasn’t something basically wrong with me. I am ardently Pro Choice; I believe every child should be a wanted child.
And in another scene in which I play all the parts:
Witness/Listener: (To adult) You’re understanding the situation as it was then. How can that help you now?
Adult: (Gloomily) The Great Depression is here again. It’s happening now.
Witness/Listener: Something in you wants you to identify with its catastrophic expectations …..?
Adult: (Physically sinking) Oh, yes.
Witness/Listener: Something in you still feels like a victim of the Great Depression, expecting the worst . . . ?
Adult: It’s still reality for lots of people. As my mother used to say, “You’re laughing now, but you’ll be crying in a minute.”
(Harpo dances by. Harpo is one of Aileen’s favorite personality parts, a fun-lover.)
Harpo: How about, “you’re laughing now, and you’ll be both laughing and crying at the same time in a minute.” What fun that would be!
(Adult laughs, but stays sad.)
Witness/Listener: (to adult): You grew up bonded with your mother in her traumatic outlook…?
Witness/Listener: What’s this all about? What comes when you sense into what you’re feeling?
Adult: What comes to me is the fear I lived in as a kid. Daddy’s threatening, “the Boogey Man is gonna get you”! “Don’t make waves”. “What will people think”! ‘Fun’ bus rides when my mother pretended we were lost to scare us. My father’s threat of force to get me to swallow inedible food. My mother’s worried, “Always wear clean underpants in case you get hit by a car”.
Witness/Listener: Something in you is still in fear . . . ?
Adult: Yeah. Some part of me still is. That atmosphere of fear is so familiar—habitual. But another part of me is like Harpo. Can I just choose to be Harpo instead of living in fear like my parents? Can I be my long-time, fun-loving part, Harpo? I’m pro-choice, so I choose to be Harpo.
Figurine by Aileen of her Harpo Part
Witness/Listener: You can choose to be Harpo …..?
Adult: I’ve changed my identity before. I haven’t always identified myself as an artist as I do now. I was a “born again” Christian when I was twelve. I’ve been a chick who wore high-heeled pointed-toed shoes to work in nightclubs. Oh, yeah, let me be Harpo! We’ll see whether it’s with or without Chocolate Mint.
And I know that changing one’s body attitude can change one’s sense of identity. My Harpo is high and light, my Victim is cringing away from being hit. As F.M. Alexander said back in the twenties, “Belief is a matter of bodily tensions”!
Aileen’s 1985 Drawing of her Family’s Parts Party
I trust myself to “go into” these episodes because I have years of experience at role playing, beginning with Gestalt therapy, and continuing through Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Ericksonian hypnotherapy, Luly Santangelo’s dance therapy, Laban Movement Analysis, Virginia Satir’s Parts Parties and Arnold Mindell’s Process Work. I’ve been an actress since I was twenty-five and studied acting with Mira Rostova for ten years. My Authentic Movement mover also has years of experience at letting dream figures come through me to be acted out authentically.
I realize I’m not presenting Authentic Movement in the usual—even traditional—way. I like making connections to other practices. I’m not a purist. I like surprises. My Harpo self delights in oddity, and makes fun of dogma. It seems a natural development to go into Authentic Movement with the intention of exploring an issue. One can take on the role of any dream figure who appears, and still follow the inner wisdom that Authentic Movement brings. If you can stay in Authentic Movement with eyes open, speaking and relating to others, why not? It’s worth trying. Fine actors like Meryl Streep do this.
Working This Way
Anything less than joy is “something” that wants your attention. It has something important to teach you. You can try to get rid of it, or you can go into it to get all the good out of it. If you’d like some practice in changing roles and playing all the parts yourself, try this exercise.
With your hands up in front of your chest, choose a minor conflict to start with. Assign sides to your hands: one hand “pro”, the other “con.” The rest of your self is your benign, wise, understanding Witness/Listener, who watches their interaction and interacts with them. The Witness/Listener does not take sides, and makes sure both sides get their full share of attention, as they take stage and reveal their fears and desires.
In the Chocolate Mint scene, there were two parts, the Chocolate Mint and the Witness/Listener. In this exercise, there are three roles: Pro, Con and the Witness/Listener. Having opposing concerns and two different points of view, Pro and Con might come to an impasse. Here the Witness/Listener can intervene, impartially asking both the Pro and Con questions such as, “What are you afraid will happen?” and/or “What do you want to happen?”
To keep role-playing authentic, it’s crucial to stay sensory-grounded. Fresh body sensations, movement impulses and their emotions must remain primary motivators and sources of information. It’s necessary to speak from inside the experience, not talk about it or explain it from outside.
Many repetitive movement patterns emerge from the creative unconscious in Authentic Movement. They sometimes continue to repeat until their purpose is satisfied. The latest I heard from my Right Shoulder was that she likes being part of a new organization led by her happy open chest. She holds the memory of the traumatic experiences of my life. She says she won’t be satisfied until I stop pathologizing her, and not only praise her, but treasure her! She wants me to look at my life as trauma lived, understood and treasured.
However, I do feel the need to warn you: don’t go into a potentially traumatic issue unless you have your own inner Witness/Listener present and interacting with you. Trauma patterns appear melodramatic and are loaded emotionally. “Going into” an upsetting issue could trigger a traumatic flashback. It’s important not to get stuck in reenacting a past trauma by identifying with the victim, especially if your past includes a traumatic event in which you’ve gotten stuck, such as birth. Many births are traumatic, as mine was.
Hold onto your identification with your present whole self by maintaining an ongoing active interaction with your inner Witness/Listener, even if you do have an external witness with you. When I do an exchange with a colleague, I still play all the parts. My colleague is then an involved, but inactive, audience. She doesn’t comment without permission.
I don’t think the trauma patterns ever go away completely, but given kind and generous attention over time, their power can diminish. Take it slowly and gently. Find your own way to post-traumatic growth and joy!
Aileen’s Harpo, Photo by Lucy Mahler
Authentic Movement to Me
The most important resource in my life is that I live in love with my husband of fifty years, Bill Crow. And Authentic Movement has helped me become an artist—my own way. I particularly value Authentic Movement because it hasn’t become a certifiable practice with only one right way.
Lying semi-asleep in bed, curled up on my side, a sudden strong twitch starts a big expansive arch of my chest and arms, circling my torso over to the other side. The opening of my chest is extremely pleasurable. From side to side, back and forth, my body arches happily. This is Authentic Movement to me.
In my waking life, I’m engaged in unwinding trauma-derived movement patterns. When these big, spontaneous and joyful movements come unbidden, they show me that my inner health is reasserting itself. This also, is Authentic Movement to me.
All artwork by Aileen Crow © 2011
In addition to her private practice as a Creativity Counselor in New York City, and in New City, NY, Aileen Crow is presently engaged in making calligraphic fabric collages and gardening.