England versus California: Remembering embodiment in the damp and grey

This month’s guest blog is by Leela Wendy Fisk who teaches Soul Motion in Totnes, Bristol, London and internationally.

Somehow, along the path of shooting for liberation, I departed the shackles of self as London state school teacher and instead found myself living and breathing a typical Californian life; leading conscious embodiment dance classes to every day folk who just sometimes gathered naked in hot springs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The pioneering Esalen Institute that birthed the world’s most innovative mind and body teachers. I can’t say I’d look back.

Seeing myself in the London classroom ten years ago, I would be standing, hovering over piles of exercise books to be marked according to the definition of the outer system. Often forgetting to sit because the infinite tasks remained in all directions of the room. I had no recognition of the feet, the hips, the spine, and I was probably holding my breath. I heard no encouragement to align with the needs of the child in the moment; attainment levels were calling and that was the compromising nature of the job.  I wonder if the miniscule chance that I would be leading not groups of children through academia, but vibrantly professional and creative adults through free-form dance, was only possible for stepping into California – the land of YES we can. A land where the vista is wide. Somehow by a leap of faith I found myself there.

We only need to imagine what it required to become Californian, to recognise the steely determination that understands anything is possible. For a start, a significant sector of the base line of the population left the UK and Irish shores and journeyed over an ocean, and through desert land, not stopping at settlements on the East Coast but willed to go further and again further into dreams on the promise of horizon.

When I left California and returned to England to live in the progressive transition town of Totnes last summer, I was advised to question whether to use the word ‘conscious’ in any of my marketing material to be cast further afield. As though the Brits may wonder why I would need to state we’d not be sleeping or drugged. It became clear to me that in London and Totnes where I launched classes, I was assumed to be targeting the alternative population – those who wear creatively tie-died outfits and whiff of vegan food, those across the divide from the office workers of middle Britain. I can assure you in California this is not the case. The West Coast dance floors mix Harvard-trained doctors, Google workers, therapists, writers, musicians, multi-tasking mothers and those who bridge the mainstream to pioneer the conscious in and through the world. We all agreed on one thing, dancing feels good, and conscious dancing magnifies what’s happening in ourselves and offers space to explore it. Community collaborations extend beyond the dance-floor into multigenerational picnics and potlucks.  And I tell you another thing, Californians have no reservations to touch, hug and remember their bodies in daily life. When was the last time an English stranger gave you a back rub in a grocery queue because you looked like you needed it?

I must admit I’m persuading myself out of any counter-argument while I write. A Spanish film-maker friend whose projects enable leaders to share sustainable energy awareness confessed that five years living under Devonshire skies has shrunk his once-devoted yoga practice. Is it a natural physical response to expand and release in under the grey that invites us in and down? And what for those of us who want to pioneer new projects; how to find the ‘Yes!’ around us rather than ten reasons it won’t work over a cup of tea?

Herein lies the English quality of embodiment that should not be overlooked; the rich and fertile ground, the wisdom of ancient civilisations, the land which invites us to listen, to plant seeds and watch, with commitment. Californians flying by the seat of their pants would have a thing or two to learn from the feminine resting and gestational energy in this land. You may have to look to the ‘alternative’ scene to find the conscious dancing communities here, but when you find them you’ll see the anchors were placed down long ago and have rooted strong. One city banker turned awareness coach friend told me to offer my dance classes as charity fundraisers as the topic of meditational movement would not draw interest otherwise. I am still learning for myself how to engage with this country as a leader, and a learner. Those who have subscribed to the crouched computer existence in London may toy with conscious dance in their spare hours but it seems to me they desire the kind of dance that allows great release, maybe only to build up again the following day. Maybe that’s what an embodied leader needs to recognise there. That’s not the gist of the practice I teach and I’m finding in cities like Bristol and Exeter there are groups of curious minds willing to live a balanced life infused with presence to what is moving through them. Everyone recognises the power of stillness and this moment’s sensation when they are invited, it’s just a question of whether they choose to make that a part of their lives. Here in the UK it’s the subtlety of growth of my projects and classes surprises me at every turn.

I will admit the more I contemplated embodied leadership on this under-the-weather Devonshire day, the more frantically I began scrabbling for an understanding of how a leader could authentically show up to share embodiment in this damp culture. At the very point I surrendered like any willing leader by saying, ‘I do not know’, the sun appeared and during a furiously hilly cycle ride I established an action plan to support me while I experiment. Beyond building a sauna in the garden, and painting the ceilings blue I suggest the following to the intentional embodied leader in the damp climes of England:

  • Regular cardiovascular exercise to keep the blood moving and inspiration flowing
  • A daily stillness practice
  • Moments of creative expression – singing/dancing/writing
  • Take the rain as invitation to drop inwards and listen to recordings of wise embodied teachers like David Whyte – an invaluable poet in your pocket.
  • Build a fire in your house, watch it, feel it in your belly and light others with your spark.
  • Above all breathe deeply.

That’s enough to stop me taking the first flight to California and giving these green and fertile lands a chance. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, ‘No mud, no lotus.’

To connect with Leela: https://www.facebook.com/leeladance or leeladance@gmail.com

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