Monday, October 29, 2012

To Live Side by Side

     Oh dear. I would apologize and repent for my prolonged blog-silence if I could guarantee it would not happen again. Alas, I can make no such promise and only do my best to retrieve the metaphorical ball, which has been dropped innumerable times before. I can assure you that I have been gainfully employed by other significant undertakings, such as applying to and beginning grad school. At the moment, I am nestled in shoebox-size Cambridge apartment, waiting for Hurricane Sandy to go along her merry way. Hasn't anyone delivered the news of her demotion to tropical storm? Our current state of lock-down on the East Coast has afforded me the opportunity for great productivity... and consequentially, great procrastination. Appropriately, this post is a bit of both.
     As most of you know, I am in a Master's program for Expressive Therapies (technically, Expressive Therapies: Dance/Movement Therapy with a Specialization in Mental Health Counseling, but that is quite a mouthful). Though I wish sincerely I could offer you a clear, concise explanation, I am still piecing that together for myself day by day. In lieu of a neatly packaged definition, I invite you to take this journey with me, as I explore the nature of people, particularly how we move and are moved.
     The following excerpt is from a journal entry for my Theories & Practices of Dance/Movement Therapy class. For those who do not know, Norma Canner (whose article I discuss in this section) was a gifted dance/movement therapist and a founder of the Expressive Therapies program at Lesley University in 1974. She died in February of this year and I was able to attend the Norma Canner remembrance night at Lesley this fall.
     The theme that seems to be bubbling into my consciousness most this week is the tension between fragmentation and wholeness. As human beings, we experience fragmentation and disconnection on many levels, I believe: from those around us (both loved ones and unknown neighbors), amongst different (sometimes conflicting) expressions or "versions" of ourselves, and the various activities of our lives (e.g. work, play, worship, school). In many cases, the prospect of integrating all these aspects can be challenging, at best, and potentially destructive or traumatic, at worst. However undesirable its effects, dissociation sometimes serves as the brain's only option to protect itself from irreparable harm. For all of the DSM-IV Dissociative Disorders, etiology is nearly always linked to a chronic or acute stressor, particularly clinically traumatic events such as sexual abuse. In extreme cases, dissociation becomes the least of two evils. However, persistent dissociative behavior can become a maladaptive and dangerous coping mechanism.
     The reading this week, particularly Norma Canner's article, deals with fragmentation and the threats to wholeness. At first glance these issues might not seem as extreme as Dissociative Identity Disorder, where an individual cognitively creates discrete alters, but they are pervasive and often go unnamed and unnoticed. Canner speaks about two significant disconnects that we experience, especially in an industrialized, post-modern society. First, Canner states, "We are unable to live side by side with the rivers, the sea, the air, the forest, and the animals. We are destroying these life-giving resources of the earth" (p. 126). Indeed we are disconnected from much of what sustains us -- the trees and plants that fill our lungs; the plants and animals that feed us; the water that quenches our thirst, but also sustains everything, which in turn sustains us. In this age of technical advancement, we have become so detached from everything but our own immediate needs and desires. In fact, we are encouraged to be so because we think our "worth is judged by [our] possessions and achievements" (p. 126). I believe this detachment, materialism, and individualism affects us both as individuals and as a community, becoming part of what Mary Atkins (as quoted by Canner) called the "cultural unconscious."
     The second form of disconnection Canner points out is this: "We are unable to live side by side with each other. We long for a sense of community, but lack the tools to create it" (p. 126). The danger (well, one of them) of living in the United States, where independence is esteemed not only as a right but also as a virtue, is that we downplay and even reject the importance of community. Obviously a certain degree of autonomy is crucial to human development and survival, but to presume that we, as individuals or as nations, can exist as isolated, discrete bodies is not only sad but also unfounded and slightly delusional. Thus, the challenge for all of us, but especially dance/movement therapists, is to find productive, healing ways to integrate the fragments of our selves and our world. I do not agree with Canner that we don't possess the tools to create community. They are within us already, waiting to be realized.

1 comment:

  1. I think the excerpt from your textbook is quite an interesting one. The periods that I have felt the most connected to those around me and the natural elements have been camping. It says a powerful message when camping has stood the test of time for thousands of years, in an age of endless technology, people still naturally want to be outside and to connect with those around them. I believe practices such as this as well as the popularity of concerts support the authors criticism of Canner. It may be that we all do have the tools for integration built within us, the challenge is simply realization. I do wonder, how Canner's conceptualization of integration and separation may be applied to a broader society such as our 21st technologically driven one. While people may have an inner need and drive to connect, early teachings drive us away from our natural ways. We've long known about society pushing us away from our natural tendencies. It is no stretch to apply these principles to food markets, business models, and social tendencies. How does a being who wants to connect to internally, to the world, and to others survive in a world when the others do not want to connect with them?