• Using the 5 Rhythms to generate contemporary rites of passage.

    For the last two years we have worked with groups of young women in the UK to run a 5 Rhythms based contemporary “rites of passage” to mark their transition into adulthood.

    We explore the big questions of coming of age and also asked how dance can get us to be more mindful of what matters most? How can it teach us to step in, in service? How can it help us learn to live our lives deeply centred in our own core -and still allow us to in listen to the wisdom of something larger than us?

    Dance is an ideal modality for working with young people in this way.

    We create a tribe of mindful movers; ready and willing to witness each other, to see and celebrate what is so for each individual. There is a unity to be found in bodies moving in unison in the beat that meets that human need for connection, collaboration, co creation.

    In traditional societies a Rite of Passage marked a state change – acknowledging the movement from one life stage to another; in this case the transition into adulthood. Ideally this is witnessed by the local community who acknowledges and appreciated the growing skills and abilities that the young person has to offer. In these times of (often fragmented) city-separate communities this rarely happens and low levels of confidence and some serious self doubt can occur accordingly.

    So what can we do? Can we attempt to give our young people something that we may have never have had ourselves? Is it idiotic to even try and run some form of relevant rite in a basically uninitiated society?

    Maybe so, and yet I personally knew that hard hunger for meaning, connection and caring community only too well from my own youth and those questions that had come through me thick and fast:

    “What is this adulthood thing? Is this it? Separate solo living and learning to supress our sense of self? Aiming to get ahead in the endless world of work, in order to seek some future based outer security? Harden up and hide your deep feeling-heart way down behind busyness and getting by? Seriously, this is it......? “

    Some two decades and a great deal of learning later, I saw that there was something within the 5 Rhythms that might well satisfy and serve the next generation of women coming of age and sow some seeds of living and empowered and inspired adulthood early on.

    We can create meaning by putting markers in our own journey.

    We can cultivate our own response-ability to move in the direction of our dreams.

    When we get clear on our choices then our lives do change, things do get better.

    There felt an imperative to attempt it.

    I set the programme up in 2014, with the help of co-facilitators, mentors and other much-valued support. The UK version was inspired by Melissa Micheal’s dance based youth leadership work in the USA.

    In the intensive 3 month closed group we use “ silent disco headsets” to take the young women out to dance the 5 rhythms out in the woods and wilds. We also offer art based coaching to define values and move towards key goals; non denominational ceremony to honour key moments of transitions; plus a variety of communication, leadership and life skills to support the women in setting up their own initiatives within their own communities.

    We met for 3 hours a week and for one long weekend a month over a three month period.

    We spend a month look at our past; seeing what we can harvest from it.

    We take a month on tools to really get present; to be here, now, in our bodies. Only then, do we take a month move mindfully towards our future.

    We have a wide spectrum of young women whom join us from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, we regularly see moving and memorable results of their participation in the programme.

    
“I’ve loved dancing weekly, the life coaching and leadership skills, pushing my comfort zone... There have been enjoyable moments, tricky questions....all so useful in opening myself to the questions I need to ask. Setting the big goals, taking the little steps to get there..”

    The dance is a container that can challenge us (let’s face it -it feels mighty good to have our ego beaten into submission by a badass bassline!)The dance also allows a space to “freak freely” in substance free environment, offering safe ways to “shake it off” and question the status quo. The dance floor is place where we can discover what really does matter to them as we move into and through adulthood.

    The 5 Rhythms lets individuals to move at their own rate and temp, to honour the needs of their own body whilst still being part of a moving whole.

    Somatic awareness skills gained through dance are invaluable source of awareness we transition into adulthood. Young people are presented with what can feel a pantheon of choices as the direction that they want to take going forwards. To develop the ability to listen to our internal somatic signals is paramount in making health decisions about intimacy and in cultivating good choices in relation to relationship, substances, life situations and the myriad of other options that emerge as we transition into adulthood.

    The dance also teaches us how to manage our physiological arousal, this somatic self awareness is invaluable in developing emotional intelligence and especially valuable whilst working with those undergoing the sometimes turbulent transition through adolescence.

    There is something about embodied learning that is imperative here. For a Rites of Passage to really mark a transition the individual undertaking it have to be fully present, there is no better way than being with the beat, breath and bodily sensations to call us back to the present time.

    We can look at the map of the 5 Rhythms and see how individuals of any age can learn specific somatic skills for self awareness through the process of mindful movement.

    The first rhythm: flow helps us find our feet. It teaches us to check in with ourselves internally, to receive what is really so for ourselves- thus support our growing self awareness and self knowledge as we ripen through adulthood.

    The second rhythm: staccato teaches us how to express ourselves in relation to others and the wider world. It’s movement vocabulary is liner, clear, concise. How can we learn to act and interact cleanly, clearly and concisely; stating our needs simply and with self responsibility?

    The third Rhythm: chaos we work with what the dance can teach us about ways of being with the unexpected. How we can stay with our sure-footed feet in times of great tempo when the waves of the change arise? How we can return to our breathing as a refuge as we move through whatever life is presenting us with?

    In the fourth rhythm: lyrical we look at assimilating what we have learned in the earlier stages. The body is warmed up, responsive, really able to move well through the world. We find repeating patterns on the dance floor, feel at home in our place there. This correlates with the life stage of adulthood- of moving into our work in the world, mindful of what matters most.

    In the fifth rhythm: stillness the tempo slow right down and we move with what is left in the body, hearing the authentic impulses to move. Both being mindful in motion and pausing for moments of sweet stillness to see how far we have come- both in the dance and in life....

    The work has been kindly supported by 5 Rhythms Reach Out and Arts Council England so that it is accessible to all and any young women who are interested, whatever their income levels and backgrounds are.

    “I was left with trust and belief that I am capable of a lot”

    Regularly we have adults asking us can we offer something similar for them, so 2017 will see a long weekend version offered for adults both in the UK and in the western USA.

    For more information please see www.creative-journey.com

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  • Daring to dream: the rewards of risk

    I want to write on risk. The choices we make that keep us moving forward. The path of heading out further beyond what we believe is possible is not a fearless one at all. Sometimes it’s full of those tingles of terror, served up with double helping of doubt. Yet to move past being afraid and into action brings some of the most life affirming and life expanding experiences I know. Risk brings real rewards.

    In order to move towards what matters most, we have to hold those fears in heart- to let them have their say, listen, reflect, respond and then maybe move onwards anyway, diverting our attention back to action that takes us in the direction of our desires. Action is actually where it’s all at. Dreaming is one thing, daring to do is quite another.

    We have to choose to take chance, sure- sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Develop the resources to reassure ourselves through those uncomfortable periods of uncertainty.

    Some sort of supportive structure around us often helps, folks who will mirror our dreams back to us when we have a moment of fearful forgetting. They can tell us why we risked it, reassure us that it really will be OK in the end. Caring connections are invaluable in those moments when we are invariably humbled by our own humanity in the form of doubts, delays and life not showing up quite how we wanted it to. Sometimes we have to tenderly hold our own hearts when things don’t go as planned. But most often we bounce, learning something that is valuable in our lives along the way.

    It’s ok to make a mistake, to stumble, to seek guidance and support when we need it. It’s more than ok- it’s where we meet each other, egg each other on; there is a beauty in being in our vulnerability, a blessing that comes with being willing to be seen in our softness, to let ourselves be supported and to support.

    Fear will arise, it’s part of life (and if it isn’t then there’s likely some kind of bravado bravery there that doesn’t let us feel the very breadth and depth of life anyway). Yet we are robust, we can build resilience.

    It’s ok to be scared- hold your own heart carefully, talk it through. Be kind and compassionate as you take those next steps forward. Walking was impossible at one point for all of us- now look how far we’ve come.

    It’s just a question of gently and graciously challenging ourselves to do that one next thing. Step after step- our lives most often change by day to day drift. It would sweetly serve us to be mindful of what matters most and hear the call to head that way directly and with diligence.

    "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anais Nin

    The risks we take don’t have to be the big and blatant kind. Sometimes the biggest bravery is just to really stay present with what is: the sadness, the strong sensations, the emptiness, the ego’s mindless meddling. To choose to not numb out on drugs, sex or food-to stay present and stare this thing in the eyes. Choosing to stay sitting still, regarding not reacting, is undoubtedly a warrior’s path. So too is wandering off, taking a new direction, daring to be a beginner again –perhaps at something new, somewhere else, maybe with someone inspiring we’ve just met.

    There’s no failure in failing, there is however deathly defeat in the denial of our own wishes and wants.

    Even if we play it safe, life will still happen to us anyway. There is no refuge from reality. Old age, sickness and death are inevitable for all of us. Realistically it’s riskier to not risk anything at all and to remove much of the richness from life. Risking more allows for the possibility of real rewards.

    Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. - Robert F. Kennedy

    I’m not advocating for recklessness- just for reappraising reality as a place of powerful possibility, not as a curve towards catastrophe. Our inner-tuition will often inform us which choice to make if we let ourselves listen to it.

    I’ve never lost anything that I haven’t immensely gained from somehow by living through that loss. Sometimes heartbreak brings a fruitful harvest. Let life in, breath through it- sometimes it breaks us down- allows us to open to being with the beauty of just what is, however that is looking right now. There is a sweetness in surrender. It calls us to be more compassioned to self and others, to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. We can’t take anything with us when we go- only what we learned and the love that we lived.

    "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

    -Steve Jobs

    We do only have one wild and precious life, time is ticking, this moment does matter.

    So go out and risk something that substantially scares you, let yourself be alive, feel that fear, move on through and find out if you can let the grand and great adventure of it all bring you what you most long for. Let yourself live and love a little (or even a lot) more. Make a move today towards that which matters most to you....

    -Tess Howell 2014

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  • Looking at the links between art and embodiment. Why does creativity matter? Why would being centered in our core make a difference?

    In this article I’m using “art” to mean the act of creating, whatever that creative outpouring looks like to us- perhaps painting, practicing the piano or playing with clay; maybe making a beautiful home space or building a bench- there is some kind of self expression that comes through. We can distinguish between art therapy, art based coaching and art for arts sake- all three will show up here.

    When I speak of embodiment I’m talking about a physical activity that consciously cultivates an aspect of the way that we move through the world. Intrinsic in the world cultivates is an awareness of how it currently is and an aspiration of how it could be.

    Aren’t these both just middle class luxuries – some sort of happy hobby of artistic expression or a self improvement drive related to the body beautiful? For me, no both are critical to living an awake and aware life. At the very minimum this means harm minimization: living with some notion of self-care, concern for others and an awareness of the wider world. Our lives do matter, however peculiar and puzzling they may seem to us. We do have the chance to make an impact. At its very best being embodied, self expressed and present in our lives means we have some possibility of cultivating our passions and living our potential.

    It sounds somewhat clichéd- but our lives are our canvas- the way we move is who we are, it is our way of working in the world; our lives are our own design, whether we are conscious of it or not. This is an area where creativity and embodiment strongly intersect- we do literally create a life for ourselves and a specific stance on life- according to our field of focus and what we choose to cultivate.

    In both modalities there can be a distinction between the polarities of working with cultivation and catharsis.

    When we look at cultivation we can consider both embodiment practices and art based coaching. Art based coaching works with the “rehearsal of the possible”, to try things out in the relative safety of the blank page and see how they feel, before we try them out in the outside world. Basic embodiment work sets us up to with a similar enquiry- how would it be to move through life in a different way? perhaps a little softer; or perhaps with a little more fierce focus.

    The techniques in art based coaching work don’t tend to actively go “digging in the depths” in the way that conventional therapy does. We are not looking to work with our story. What happened, by whom and when may not be the most empowering question we can ask. Certainly self knowledge is important. Yet also asking what want to do about it, now we know that that is how it is, may be a question that will serve us substantially more. Art based coaching work with those unconscious blocks, questioning what stops us from being where we want to be and how can we make better choices.

    Embodiment links to leadership in the in this question of how do we lead change effectively. Time and time again it seems to be not just about what we are doing- it’s who we are being. With this knowledge we can choose to cultivate what we embody. There are a thousand ways of being embodied- any physical practice can be utilised as a technique for increased embodiment to cultivate a particular quality of being – it’s just a case of being clear in advance what that aspect is. Knowledge really is power and self awareness is important.

    Embodiment practices allow us to be informed by all our sense modalities-

    When we are centered in our body we are open to the sensory input from our surroundings. We are not blocking life. We are receptive to what is really going on a round us, minimizing denial, defiance and defense. We could be described as available to others, to ourselves, to life. It also helps us sustain our pace, body listening certainly helps us avoid burnout. Being embodied let’s us show up more and more, in a sustainable way, for whatever work we are doing in the world.

    Then there is the catharsis end of the spectrum- please note that I use the term very loosely here- to look at letting go of what doesn’t serve us: of those habitual held tendencies that hinder us. Within art therapy the art work acts as a container, for all those things that could be felt or spoken as we are reclaiming some part of ourselves. A supportive space to let us re-member- in the literal sense of the word- to let life back in our limbs - where we may have become stifled or shut down.

    In terms of pure physiology we build up stress and then discharge. Trauma can be held in the body- there are a variety of physical practices that can help with that release process. Our movement habits build momentum: after 20 or 30 years of stooping forwards over a keyboard it can then really take something significant to wake us up and make us uncurl - stretch out towards the sky.

    Art therapy works with the same principles- creating images on a page to express an aspect of the inner world that may not be available to memory or easy to articulate. People often come to therapy as something isn’t working in an area of their lives- a space on the blank page is an excellent place to start the listening process as to what that might be.

    For many the creative urge to “work things through” via art can be viewed as an imperative. Let’s face it for most folks it’s a thoroughly inefficient way to earn a living; yet this urge to self express and to communicate the intricacies of our inner worlds though a creative outlet has been cranking through us for centuries.

    It is often useful to consider balance in seeking to consciously make a shift in a particular area of ones personal or professional lives. In both modalities there needs to be a balance of active and receptive.

    If we are excessively driven by action, a perpetual desire to be doing more, ever minute of every day- then there is little space to hear that next creative impulse or bit of body listening arrive.

    In both modalities we are looking to listen to something else alongside the mind. Being receptive to a new idea or inspiration coming in when we need it most. Ever tried dancing, running stretching for twenty minutes and then getting to the page/canvas/keyboard? Trust me- the “muse” is appreciatively more audible after we have allowed ourselves some time to listen in within these limbs.

    What is the embodiment of creativity? It’s a combination of being skilled in enough in particular medium that we have develop some aptitude at expressing something through it (i.e. a level of expertise) - and it also requires receptivity- to an idea, to the progression of a project.

    Many of the great creatives report that their work seems to flow through them. Yet some serious study and a substantial knowledge base is important here-

    A great deal of muscle memory is involved in mastery. In those early years when we are thinking about our learning, it uses up so much more mental capacity than when we can just embody an artform such as piano playing or painting. It is paradoxically when we stop concentrating intense effort on “learning it” and relax into really “being with it” - then there is then another space - for that still small voice of intuition to come in. This intersection of intuition plus informed experience is important in both awesome artwork and in effective and inspired embodied action.

    Intuition should be given sufficient space of it’s own here too- embodiment teaches us to “trust our gut” those physiological pathways that guide us as we interact with others. The tightening of jaw or tension in the shoulders when we think of particular course of action in our professional or personal lives, may well guide us to look at our choices carefully. As may that angry squiggle and the underlined words pressed through the page when we jot down our feelings about two different courses of action. We would be well advised to notice these signals- they will likely serve us well.

    We are not looking to bypass thorough thought, just to strengthen the links between the body and the brain, the information system between our intellect and our intuition.

    Ultimately both modalities can be used to cultivate choice. Instead of moving through life on autopilot- how would it be to really know and notice what we are doing, the energy it takes and the effect it has.

    We are after all social creatures; life on this plenty-filled but stilly fully finite planet goes a whole lot better when we show up and serve each other, rather than getting lost in the tense shoulders, tight belly, tiny field of vision that accompanies the small seeing mind’s mantra of more for me, more for me....

    Really we are looking at increasing response-ability, the ability to respond to a situation, not just react in ways driven by our habitual tendencies and patterns. To be cultivating enough behavioral range, plus access to our own awareness, that we can make a consistently conscious choice.

    I can help but conclude that link we are looking for is presence. Both working with the body and being in our creative process are potent ways the land us right in the present moment, into that felt sense of flow.

    We can see what we want to shift, how we might move differently and what kind of culture we want to be creating around us.

    Ultimately we are looking at practices that provide us with effective ways of being mindful of what really matters most. Being body based, self expressed and showing up; letting us move towards more moments of a life that we love.

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  • Reflections on utilising 5 Rhythms Dance as a Rite of Passage

    In traditional societies a Rite of Passage marks a state change – from one life stage to another. This was generally witnessed by the local community who acknowledges and appreciated the growing skills and abilities that the young person has to offer back. In these times of often fragmented city based communities this often does not happen and low levels of confidence, plus self doubt in relation to having anything to offer can occur.

    The dancefloor is ideal for building a temporary community, a tribe of mindful movers; ready and willing to witness each other, to see and celebrate what is so for each individual..

    There is a unity to be found in bodies moving in unison in the beat that meets that human need for connection, collaboration, co creation...

    There is something about embodied learning that is imperative here. For a Rites of Passage to mark a transition the individual undertaking it have to be fully present, there is no better way than being with breath and bodily sensations to call us back to the present time.

    Dance is an ideal modality for working with young people in this way. The dance is a container that can challenge them and also allow them a space to “freak freely” in substance free environment as they find safe ways to question the status quo and discover what really does matter to them as they move towards adulthood.

    We can look at the map of the 5 Rhythms and how individuals can learn specific somatic skills for self awareness through that process of mindful movement:

    The 5 rhythms is a dance practice that encourages mindfulness through movement. The first rhythm: flow helps us find our feet on the dancefloor. It is circular, weighty, powerful. It teaches us to check in with ourselves internally, to receive what is really so for ourselves- thus support our growing self awareness and self knowledge.

    The second rhythm: staccato teaches us how to express ourselves in relation to others and the wider world. Its movement vocabulary is liner, clear, concise. How can we learn to act and interact cleanly, clearly and concisely; stating our needs simply and with self responsibility?

    The third Rhythm: chaos we work with what the dance can teach us about ways of being with the unexpected. How we can stay with our sure-footed feet in times of great tempo when the waves of the change arise? How we can return to our breathing as a refuge as we move through whatever life is presenting us with?

    In the fourth rhythm: lyrical we look at assimilating what we have learned in the earlier stages. The body is warmed up, responsive, really able to move well through the world. We find repeating patterns on the dance floor, feel at home in our place there. This correlates with the life stage of adulthood- of moving into our work in the world, mindful of what matters most.

    In the fifth rhythm: stillness the tempo slow right down and we move with what is left in the body, hearing the authentic impulses to move. Both being mindful in motion and pausing for moments of sweet stillness to see how far we have come- both in the dance and in life.

    The 5 Rhythms allows individuals to move at their own rate and temp, to honour the needs of their own body whilst still being part of a moving whole.

    Somatic awareness skills gained through dance are invaluable source of awareness we transition into adulthood. Young people are presented with what can feel a pantheon of choices as the direction that they want to take going forwards. To develop the ability to listen to our internal somatic signals is paramount in making health decisions about intimacy and in cultivating good choices in relation to relationship, substances, life situations and the myriad of other options that emerge as we transition into adulthood.

    The dance also teaches us how to manage our physiological arousal, this somatic self awareness is invaluable in developing emotional intelligence and especially valuable whilst working with those undergoing the sometimes turbulent transition through adolescence.

    The next UK dance based Rites of Passage starts in November 2015.

    For more info please see http://www.creative-journey.com

    Submitted by Tess Howell. September 2015

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