Think with me, from your own body

Where is the middle? I ask from a place of duration. Or suspension. Researching how to distribute weight, how to hold form, how to talk to lungs. Because there is also this skin, my skin, which is only so deep, and asks for something of a road map or a trail guide or an SPF level appropriate for whatever journey lies ahead- the length and nature of which we do not know. And so I set out to breathe kindness into organs overworking their roundness into something of a prune, something I’ve been told to look out at vistas for. Livers love vistas. And balance.

Headlines offer a lot of bizarity, but I can only pretend I’m in a Fellini movie for so long. My favorite as of late was “Trump becomes first president in U.S. history convicted of felony crimes – but we’ll let the votes decide.” My mind cuts to a face of someone laughing before he cries, speaking of a tragic realism whereby everyone is an unreliable narrator and the conditions keep changing before we can treat the fungus. And so if this is the suspension, the context, I ask again – where is the middle? The middle of my body, the middle of transition, the middle of choice, of how to simply be in a sometimes unlivable world. I can’t locate distal points before defining my own center.

Sitting in meditation a few weeks back, a duet of words emerged in my mind and stood defiantly until I paid them any attention. Indifferent Systems. I thought it over. Sort of an irony. To be indifferent but reliant on many composite parts. A metaphor. A soft bone for a teething puppy. An American tragedy in a couplet to illuminate our own disembodiment – on a personal, cellular level, all the way up to the circuits and machines that organize us. Wouldn’t indifference of parts suggest a failure of the whole? Does a digestive system work independently of a nervous system? Does democracy function without impassioned involvement? Is it even democracy? And is it more of a fantasy to imagine that we might be able to reset our own relationship to body, to space, to community, to Earth, to Cosmos, before the middle moves toward the end? I don’t mean to be morose, I mean to be practical. And swift. Like, what can be different today than yesterday, as I am one day older and closer to some great recycling that I may or may not have any say in.

When I was very young my parents planted a small dwarf fir tree outside our home. I named it Fluffy and it became my friend/pet/confidante. Beyond just having that very precocious, childlike, unsocialized brain, I must have recognized myself in Fluffy the tree – small, sturdy, chubby kid cheeks, dancing in the wind – and I related to him in a nonverbal, unspoken way. When my parents sold the house years down the line, I remember thinking about Fluffy first and asking them if we could transplant him. We didn’t. It was a sort of grief.

Last month I was at the Field Center for a program called Land Dance, facilitated by artists and ecologists Tyler Rai and Lisa Nevada. In one of our sessions, we were brought outside and asked to commune with a plant being. My eyes scanned the land before affixing to a tree I could only liken to a young adult Fluffy. Still round and defiant, spiraling with the breeze, blushing beneath the sun. The score went something like this:

  1. Observe the land around you.
  2. Let your eyes arrive on a being that you feel curious about, drawn or attracted to.
  3. Ask the being for permission to enter its orbit and to observe it. If it declines, return to step 1.
  4. Observe first from afar, taking in the being with the surrounding landscape. Learning it through the lens of a larger system. Who is nearby?
  5. If given consent from the being, walk closer. Observe it with more proximity to its details. Textures, smells, sounds. Learn it by its base and its top.
  6. Now imagine its root system, what exists that you cannot see with the naked eye. Through the information you have collected, how do you visualize the movement of its roots? The movement of water and nutrients up its trunk?
  7. Visualize energy radiating out from this being as it fed and nourished. Feel your own body in its orbit of collective care and vitality.

Less than an hour into this tree listening score and I felt my parasympathetic nervous system reset. I felt the length of my own legs. Suddenly sensitive to to the forget-me-nots crushed under the weight of my feet. In deep listening with the tick crawling up my pant leg in search of some flesh to engorge itself in. The sun warming my scalp where my hair parts and falls. The smell of manure from a nearby farm. Connected to the needs of the people and plants around me. It was lunchtime. I was awake. Connected. Slow.

I believe this to be the middle. The turning point. Vertex of the parabola. A softball flying through the air in descent toward someone’s mitt. A drawn out moment of duration, pattern recognition, subtle change to maybe even dramatically alter a destination. Few things are linear. Plants curl. We slump. The middle is the moment that longs for integration. What was that and why? What now and how?

On a separate but related note, I am immensely fascinated (and often disheartened) by pop culture and what it says about our larger ecosystem and community at large. The middle of our collective reaction. Mean, median, mode. The music artist Charli XCX recently released a delightful album called BRAT that is gleaning praise for its unpretentious and vulnerable youthfulness. Lyrical content aside, it is an unruly, infectious dance album. I think that the most significant works of pop culture become just that when they are able to land as both universal and uniquely personal. And when they arrive in divine timing – in exactly the cultural moment where we, collectively, need them. They fill a void. Activate a space. Meet us in the middle. For better or for worse. And the world out there is devastating. Twisted and torn. It makes sense that we might relish in decidedly youthful dance music that begs us to don mini skirts and torn tights and dance at the club until dawn, just trying to remember (or forget) what we’re doing on this planet.

In the very center of my being there exists my vitality. A clear need for nourishment, connection, purpose, growth. Shadow and light. The system of the human body is neither different nor indifferent to its other. Humans are nature. Chaos is natural, mess, too. And existence is dependent on the health of a system. In the middle – of the moment, the dance, the hike, the week – there is a possibility for intermission. And if we’re lucky, we get to consider how to recalibrate. How to live in interconnected aliveness. Interdependency. How to listen. How to ask trees for consent. Eat lunch. Walk the dogs. Take naps. In the middle, perhaps we discover what is most humane and livable. So yes, I’ll be sitting here wishing a silent death to our individualism and trying my very best to tune into the vertex.

Movement Offering

  1. Place your body somewhere you can move your body freely.
  2. When you arrive there, arrive. Acclimate. Notice what you notice.
  3. Close your eyes and begin a body scan until you arrive on a particular sensation in your body that demands attention. Pain or pleasure or otherwise.
  4. Begin to move with that region or sensation, exploring it’s language and signals. Allow your movement to radiate outward into your whole body, finding its own dance.
  5. Somewhere into your movement exploration, pause. Find perceived stillness.
  6. Take another body scan and notice what is alive in you. In your mind, in your body, elsewhere.
  7. Attribute images, colors, memories, questions – anything to scribe your state.
  8. Fall back into movement, letting your body learn and digest the pause.
  9. When you feel done moving, come back to stillness. Whether it is lying down on the floor, seated, or standing. Quietly integrate. Remembering your journey and it’s vertex, how it moved you and how you moved it.

Charlotte Stickles is an interdisciplinary movement artist, performer, and educator with an inquiry around how dance lives beyond its more traditional western settings. She is curious about reimagining the boundaries of access and engagement with dance – specifically as a means to integrate the ecologies of our bodies / spaces. www.charlottestickles.com / @lunarlot