One of the interesting parts of the Halprin Method/Motional Processing/Life Art Process, a movement based creative arts modality, is the use of the environment as a resource. The environment can be seen as a metaphor for who we are or where we are in life at the moment. (Rutkowski, 1984) It can also be used as a symbol of themes that are being explored in a workshop. Even when I am helping/co-facilitating a workshop, I often write and draw in regards to my own themes/issues, when I have a spare moment. As a witness to everyone else’s process, I make connections in my own life that demand an expression that goes beyond feedback.
One time during my 15 year apprenticing in the process, we had a ten-day residential workshop at a small facility outside of Philadelphia. On the eighth day of this week-long process, participants were instructed to find a place in the environment that speaks to where they were in their processes. They had three hours to find a spot, do some movement exploration, draw a picture and write about their spot and how it spoke to them. I decided to join in and chose a spot by the creek. There was a high-cut bank on the east side, a vein of rock across the creek, on the other side, a wide reserve of river rock. This creek was in a wide ravine and showed some signs of environmental degradation by the amount of silt covering the creek bed.
For this creek spot, which I named “Rock Gate,” I wrote two different explorations: the first, a poem called “Rock Gate” and the second, a more objective piece called, “Why here.”
The space says rest, gather, shelter, prepare, cry, focus, take a breath, notice everything.
Foot gently on each rock …
…… caressing her with my feet I slowly step…
she sings into my mouth with her rushing waters …
…slowly… I go down onto my belly placing my ear on her- listening to the rhythm heartbeat
Blood from the field drips from my hands its salty taste stains my teeth.
I left my horse on the plain
and red tail waits for me to finish this business
little leopard so tired sleeps in the sun
wolf thinks he’s a coyote and lurks just out of sight
I am all alone – here in these high walls and rushing waters
everyone else died in the field – their ghosts long since dropped the sword and shield and now wonder aimlessly … sentries now of the past – guarding the way back
I hear their bones rattle on the ground
The wounds that I have taken in battle weep their red tears
waiting to be bound up by the light of the Goddess moon and the touch of the sun God.
Alas- only she touches me with her shadows … long ones … short ones …
tease me … I lift my head expecting to see the night and day as one
like dusk or maybe dawn … its been so long… I can’t remember
This space speaks to my life. I am walled from the outside, while the hurt and pain of divorce, of love lost meanders slowly through my insides. The sound of water, with its consistency reassures me. Its rhythm calls me to focus and see everything. I sit in this space and meditate; visions of past hurts come floating by. Shafts of sun light pierce the leaves above and warm haft of my body. I close my eyes and I can still see the sunlight. The walls of stone and rock across the creek remind me of a gate. Can I make this a gate of change, to leave the old and to move forward?
In the life art process, creating art is a way of working on/with an issue in one’s life. (Halprin, D.,2003) In the red series poems, you can see the interplay of the poem using metaphor and acknowledgement of the part of me that is wise. In “Rock Gate” again the metaphor expresses the different aspects of me and my situation. The horse is left on the plain of the battle of divorce. Red-tail hawk is the aspect of my spirit that waits for the worldly/mundane to be processed. The Leopard is the sexual self, basking in the sun, and also waiting for me to come up out of process. The Wolf represents my mature self who is masquerading as a Coyote and hiding.
The poems, like my drawings, occur for the most part, spontaneously. Like most poets there is much reflection and some revision in its creation. Having used animals as a metaphor for aspects of the self in the past, including them in Rock Gate could be considered carrying on the myth or tradition of my own story. Thus, the meanings of the symbols go much deeper than just this poem.
In 1990 I again jumped in for an environmental process within a ten day residency group. This group’s instruction was a little more defined, in that participants were asked to go out and find a tree that spoke to where they were in the process. The tree I chose was an oak that was quite massive and spoke of solidness and tradition with deep roots. The writing that came from this experience is rather short so I include the image for your viewing (Figure10).
The words I hear come from
The voice of De Danna
The wings of the Red Tail
In procession we walk/ side by side-proud like horses
The rows sway with each hoof beat
Together our voices raise the cry
A sweet song of ancient harmonies
Which dance on our
We are the tribe that carries the talking feather
Come let us bless this tree
And weave a circle round
And celebrate the birth of a new spring.
This poem speaks about the ancient feelings that I had around this tree. According to my journal the theme for me was accepting the blessings that have been bestowed on me. I believe, at its core, this theme is of general self-acceptance, which is a lifelong journey I am on. In the life art process, the symbols that one creates in art contain valuable messages which speak to the circumstances of life. (Halprin, D.,2003) One, of course, can see meaning in any object which can make that object a symbol. The tree, for me, was a symbol of strength, endurance and family: the strength of roots and the endurance to change under pressure while maintaining itself, and family, as a great uncle or perhaps a grandfather. Trees in my life have been friends and companions when I had none. They have been a place to hide and to cry and to play. Trees have provided food, shade, color and scent.
Halprin, A. (1995). Moving toward life: Decades of transformational dance. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.
Halprin,D. (2003). The expressive body in life, art, therapy. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingley.
Rutkowski, A. (1984). Thesis: Development, definition and demonstration of the Halprin Life/Art Process in Dance Education. Unpublished doctorial dissertation, John F. Kennedy University.
Reprinted from my unpublished manuscript: Renewal and Rediscovery of the Self in the Life Art Process: 20 years as participant, assistant and facilitator. By Richard Brunner R-DMT. Copy write 2006.