Monday, September 28, 2009

Breath, Love, Know, & Relate

August 26, 2009 by Malia Burkhart

In this performance, four women walk to the edge of their curiosity, hold hands, and jump. As they fall, they tell stories of their past and present ties to place and family. The stories spin a cord, which winds back and connects them to the great web, which catches and cradles the air behind them as a giant parachute. They fall until the falling begins to seem like just another way of being. Finally the end seems to be drifting closer… and coming into view, they see that at the bottom of their curiosity is a great ocean. It swells and surges with immense power… The four sisters work quickly, to reweave their stories into the shape of a boat.

The vessel carries them, provides a sail for speed and lines with which to navigate their course.

They are seeking new land.

The days on the ocean stretch on and on. The gentle rise and sway of every wave. The sky is looking out for them—providing gentle rains for fresh water and keeping its storms at bay. The sea is also friendly to their mission, and sends schools of fish into their newly-spun nets.

There are hours to each day to fill, and they are very happy to spend the time singing, weaving, dreaming, and dancing.

One day one of them gives voice to a doubt that was growing inside her… a fear that there was no “new” land to be discovered here, in this world of only water.

“We have been sailing for years, now,” she said. “I think it is because of us—there is something we are not doing, to bring the land forth.” She said.

“What else can we possibly do?” asked one of the other sisters. “We have stayed the course, following the stars in a direct line east toward the horizon…”

“But why East?” said another sister. “We could have just as easily chosen West to lead us.”

“Or South,” mumbled the fourth sister, her mouth full of fresh sashimi.

“Yes, North too would have been an option as good as any” said the first sister. “But I don’t think it really matters. I think this world has no land in it at all, or if there is, it lies down. Down under all this water.”

“There you go again with your muskrat and turtle stories…” said the second sister. “We have creation stories about water, too, you know. We should send out a dove to get us an olive branch.”

“Or get a big frog to drink all the water dry” said the third.

“Look,” said the first sister. “I have an idea. We have so many different stories: I don’t think it’s a bad idea to try weaving all these stories together into one rope. We can harness our expectations, cast them forth with this woven story-rope, and see what we can pull up. Maybe, if we catch something, it can offer us some advice about what to do.”

The other three sisters thought this idea sounded interesting, and they agreed to give it a try.

The next morning they created an elaborate ritual of sorting through all their expectations; carefully selecting a few precious ones and letting the rest drift away in the ocean-water. The expectations, the intentions they were keeping they packed tightly together and bound it up in a bundle of story-cloth. They then carefully braided the sinew of their individual truths into one strong rope—a rope stronger than any one strand would have been on its own. It took all four of them to hoist this massive weight over the side of their vessel, nearly tipping over the boat in the process. They kept their feet clear of the rope as it whistled past them and plunged down into the unseen depths beneath the ocean.

The sky became very still, and so did the water—as though they, too, were holding their breath.

“Well,” said the first sister. “I think we have to just let it go. Our expectations are now deep below us, baiting some unknown sea creature or catching some mysterious current. So… let’s keep going and forget that the line is even there.”

“Which way should we sail this time?” asked the fourth sister, as she began unwinding the ropes for the sails.

“I think we should drift,” said the first sister. “Since one direction is as good as any, why not let the sky and sea decide for us, where we should go?”

“I think you are crazy,” said the second sister. “We’re all going to die old ladies out here, and get absolutely nothing done.”

“We’re surviving okay, aren’t we?” said the first sister. “Look, we don’t have to drift forever. Let’s give it a timeline, say, 2 months. If by the end of the 2 months nothing has happened, we can try something else.”


The names of the four sisters are Breath, Love, Know, and Relate. Long ago, in the world before this one, they had each gone on a sacred journey—each in a separate direction. They went away to study the secrets of the elements; to learn from their ways, so that they could return and share with each other the wisdom they had gained.

Breath, she took guardianship of the air. With an easeful curiosity, she took up this task, gathering the wind in her cloak and and her hair. She decided to travel high up to the mountaintops, far to the south. She wanted time to be alone, with herself, with the precious gift of air. Her skin, being closer to the sun, turned tinted yellow, as though she’d been dusted with pollen. The air was thin, up there in the mountains, and the challenge of filling her lungs fully helped her focus on Air’s essence.

Love, she was all about the water. Right away she knew, “The ways of water is what I need.” She was always so passionate. Love always took her time going about her business, and she moved her body in the way of someone who knows it exactly. She took that vessel of water, perched it atop her gorgeous head and went west, swaying solidly and gently with a slow, even step. In this land, it was very dry. Water was easily sacred there. She learned from the lions and the elephants how to be strong, how to be tough, how to tap in to the secrets of her own power. She learned to be fluid; how to move her life in ways according to her heart—constantly shifting and changing so she could become more like herself. Her skin and eyes grew dark like the night sky. Her smile flashed as brilliant white as the crescent moon.

Know was an interesting woman, fast and quick. She was a talker and a thinker. Her mind was an echo of her body, rarely sitting still. Curious as a cat, if something strange or unusual happened she would prod and poke at it until she figured out why, or had invented an explanation based on her previous observations. Bold and experimental, she was quick to challenge the same old way of doing things— she was an inventor, a creator, an artist. She moved north, where she could have plenty of time in the winters, to sit and think, write and read, study and tinker with the ways of things. Over time, Know’s skin turned white, like the snows that covered the land.

Relate was rarely alone. She was friend to plant, to animal, and easily made friends with people of all ages. Her weathered and tanned skin made her eyes look like they were smiling all the time. She had a reassuring and steady presence, able to walk into any situation and calm it down. She naturally took guardianship of the earth, to learn of its ways and share them with her people. Her skin became red like the clay, her eyes brown like the rich dark soil. Relate stayed where she was, in the east, and told the other three sisters that she would keep the fire burning for them, waiting until they returned.


In the world before this one, they had split up, thinking that they could gather information four times as fast in their study, through each one’s specialization. Though the four elements were always present and intermingled, they thought they could separate them, enough to gain the wisdom from listening to one element’s voice over all the others.

Breath, Love, Know, and Relate had agreed that, upon meeting again, they would present a special secret handshake. This way, they would know that they still recognized each other for their true sister selves, and could begin to exchange the information they had gone off to gather.

Generations passed.

Breath, in the thin air of the mountaintops, trained in the ways of disciplining the mind and body, to gain greater access to spirit. Teachers had students, and a lineage of wisdom was born—of the essence of Air.

Love spread into vast, intricate tribes—she and her people learned to dance with fervent joy, to sing and to drum. They were fierce and loyal, protecting their families and honoring the ways of their elders. They grew tough and lean, taking each day as it came; walking in trust and tradition.

Relate, her people were very much like Love’s—They learned the wisdom that sits in places. They related to the plants and animals around them like brothers and sisters. They studied their medicine, they cultivated relationship and community with their surroundings, so the earth would help them when there was a need. They fought to defend the land of their ancestors, and lived with each generation as a continuation from the one before. Unbroken.

Know, on the other hand, had gotten herself into quite a terrible predicament. Her people, in the cold, harsh North, had taken to terrible warfare in order to secure land and resources from neighboring tribes. Kings and Queens had begun unlocking the terrible secrets of fire in warfare, and they also used the fear of the people to turn them toward religion. This made them easier to control, and made it easier to extract resources from the poor. Warfare and Religion were seriously getting in the way of Know’s original intentions in studying the ways of fire. They were burning women and men as witches and heritics, harnessing people’s fear to control their thoughts.

Eventually, Know forgot why she had gone to the north at all. She forgot who she was. She began to wander, thinking that her goal was to create war, get more land, and spread her religion to the rest of the world.

Know went to Love, and enslaved her to do her bidding. She used her fire-war weapons and missionaries to beat down Love’s spirit and passion, chaining her children and leading them away. Love became an object, in the eyes of Know and her people. She existed only to be controlled, and to labor under the harsh whip of Fire.

Know went to Breath, in the mountains, but was more interested in her material treasures and jewels than in her spiritual revelations. Know began a massive trading route, across deserts and mountains, to gain more of this stuff, which impressed the Kings and Queens of the north.

The Kings and Queens were so interested in finding another way to the treasures of Breath’s mountains, that they sent a few boats out west, to see if they would come out the other side. Instead of reaching the mountains with their spices and their jewels, they landed in the place of Relate.

By this time, Know had so thoroughly forgotten herself, that when she strode across the landscape to finally meet Relate, and Relate stretched out her hand for the sacred handshake, Know did not recognize it. She saw an outstretched hand, assumed she was begging, and gave her a trinket.

What began as terrible began to get worse. Know’s people went out and with their warfare and religion very nearly took over the entire planet. Entire tribes began forgetting who they were, and their children began running into the fire. More and more peoples became their slaves, and the Kings and Queens became richer and more powerful.

There was a renaissance of knowing, which bloomed, finally, after the influence of religion began to back away. The Kings and Queens allowed Knowledge and Study to proliferate once more, but made rules about it: “Only this kind of Study is Real, and to gain it you must go through our system, and of course, pay.”

But the knowing was a terrible knowing. They were mainly interested in “Useful” Knowing—that is, Knowing that would help the Kings or Queens keep their power and control. They would sometimes use it for war. The Kings and Queens created ways of becoming richer and more powerful by tearing away great patches of earth, chewing it up, and spitting out toxic substances. The toxins seeped into the ground, poisoned the water, and eventually fell as rain, even on top of the heads of the Kings and Queens. In response, they simply moved to the next clearest patch, and told the poor to live in the most poisoned areas.

With so much fire, of course the world began to heat up.

It was in this strange scene that the four sisters found themselves. See, while the Kings and Queens were distracting themselves with War and Religion, Knowledge and Profit, four young women crept beneath their notice and began talking.

It was their talking that led to their curiosity.

They took the leap, and…


Now, where were we?

Breath, Love, Know, & Relate had braided a cord. They had fallen out of the sky, landed in a boat, and had just taken Breath’s suggestion, to drift without expectation onboard, and see what they would find.

One end twined to their hearts
The other, let go down far into the sea
Letting their expectations trail down
Into the great unknowingness
To search for guidance
To seek an answer.

“Where shall we end?” is what they wanted to know.

They were living on the ocean, you see, and while bountifully provided for by sea and sky,
They were still dissatisfied.

They wanted LAND…
Something upon which to cling their roots
And plant
And grow

This is what they were seeking.


So they drifted. For weeks, they drifted.

Know complained. She was exceedingly bored.
Love began experiments in tantric sexuality with Breath.
Relate was just fine—talking daily to the clouds, the rain, the waves, the stars. They spoke to her, but it was an inside conversation—not an easy one to follow along. Know kept pestering Relate to tell her what they were saying, but Relate was tired of continually interpreting them for her.
“Why don’t you learn to speak to them for yourself!” she would say, exasperated.

One day, Know saw a tiny green fish swim up next to the boat. Finally! Something new! She immediately begain looking in her fish-books to identify the species when suddenly – Whoop!—the cord, with her drifting expectations, suddenly pulled her over the side of the boat and deep into the water, without warning.

The other three sisters got up in alarm and peered over the side of the boat—where had Know gone? Should they swim after her? Would she come back up again? Was she drowning?

They had no way of going after her, without one of them perishing as well—So when Know did not resurface, they waited and wondered, prayed and then, … grieved? Believed she would come back somehow?

“I don’t know,” said Breath, “It’s possible that there’s another world down there, one with air we can breathe.”

“Well, all I can say is at least it was Know who went and not one of you.” Said Love. “I hate to speak like that in case she’s—you know—crossed over— but honestly, she was starting to get on my nerves.”

“To say the least,” said Relate.

“To be fair,” said Breath. “She wasn’t always that bad—she just—gets out of control sometimes. It’s as much our doing as anybody’s that she got so out of hand.”

“What could WE have done?” demanded Love.

“Yes, by the time she got to each of our homes she was pretty much gone. No amount of talking to would have reminded her who she was.” Said Relate.

Breath thought about it, and said, after a pause, “Yes, yes. I see. I really don’t know. I wonder if we could have done more to resist her, more to help her remember herself. But… I suppose everything unfolded the way it was meant to. I just wonder why we had to go through all that.”

Love spoke up – “Well, Know IS gone, and there’s not much we can really do to help her get back, so … Yes. I say let’s go on, as we were doing. Although if I go next I hope you all will say anything you want to say about the way that I am to my face, while I’m still here, and not after I’m under the waves.”

“Hey, you said it first, that you’re glad that she’s gone!” said Relate.

“Why wouldn’t I be,” said Love. “Haven’t I suffered enough?”

“No doubt…” said Relate. “My work will certainly be easier.”

“As will mine,” said Breath.

So Breath, Love, and Relate went on their way. Some part of them knew that Know was still around, though. That her spirit hadn’t quite left them.

See, their heart-strings were still braided together, beneath the ocean… Twined together, and the essence of KNOW went right in to the hearts of Love, Breath, and Relate. She let go of the form of KNOWing that she had been, and began a different kind of journey—one within her sisters’ hearts—to study the ways of Loving, of Breathing, and of Relating.

This is where our story begins.

*Note 1: This story is based upon the Hopi Prophecy
*Note 2: These characters are meant to represent archetypes of the experience of being human, with full acknowledgement that it is not possible to summarize or categorize an entire continent of people. The words “Love, Breath, Know, Relate” are meant to reflect the general experience of being human. We carry each of these four within ourselves. So, in a way, it is less a story about trying to summarize our global situation, as it is a story to guide and inspire an inner conversation.
*Note 3: I have no attachment to whether this Creation Story will be part of this performance, or not. It may serve only as a place to begin, as a background inspiration, or it may be greatly revised and reworked, as part of our creative process, to become a story which all of us can get behind / live in for the duration of this project.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Video from Solstice, and other updates...

The "Culture Pages" project continues, and I was happy to hear an astrologer-friend of mine confirm: "Right now, the conjunction of certain planets means that everything is going to take longer than it seems it should..."

Locating and assembling a cast together, to work on this, is proving much more difficult and time-consuming than it seems it should! I do, however, still believe that all is unfolding exactly as it is meant, and trust that the "right" people for this project are on their way-- it is just taking awhile for them to connect.

One connection I made today, much to my relief, is a venue: Dreamland Arts. It's a small performing arts venue, that has everything we need and a little more, run by a trusted acquaintance (Zarawaar Mistry), and at an affordable price! Knowing where, and having the dates nailed down at a particular place, takes a huge weight from my shoulders and makes this all seem a little more possible.

I can do this!

One thought I'm having, as a unified "cast" to collaborate with continues to elude my grasp, is that I need to solidify my intentions about who I want, and what we will do together.

I'm due to leave for Blacklock Nature Sanctuary in a couple weeks, for a luxurious 2 weeks away from everything else in my life, to connect with the land there, and do some serious vision-questing about the project. (August 15 - Sept 1)

I trust all will unfold, exactly as it is meant, with whom I am meant to work, play, and create.

That's all for now. Mark your calendars... the show is opening Feb 5, and runs Friday-Sunday
Feb 5-7 and 12-14, 7:30pm. At Dreamland Arts: 677 Hamline Ave. N, St. Paul MN 55104 (Just north and east of Snelling & University Ave in St Paul)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Solstice, 2009

(writings… on watching the video of my dance, remembering, having new thoughts. A new practice: To dance, improvise, follow and listen with the movements of my body, further into this journey. As I watch back on the footage of what I have done, I remember the experience, my intentions, the messages I have captured by doing this. I type as I watch, and remember. I improvise a poem. And transform the story to add specific meaning to the movement. Because it means something very specific to me. In this way, I can re-create an experience, and give more exactly of what I am sharing.)

Summer Solstice, 2009. Danced at Earthdance, Northampton Massachussetts, in the “quarry”.

on the other side of perception is a pond filled with tadpoles
and birdsong
here in the hills the rain falls soft
and the forest is forgiving
here, she has no sharp stings, no thorns
only soft quilt brown leaves
the sole of each footstep
meets the earth with the trust of a child
here I gaze at the upside down forest
I am wearing black dress, white scarf
On my head
This day, a day of balance
Hanging, a suspension
A perfect time for prayer.

The morning before, spent dancing
This small dance, with my center
Of gravity, standing
In line with the weight of her
Pulling me home
It takes no effort for me to stand like this
We humans, our form is telling, of why we are here.
A signature.
We alone have pulled ourselves
So far away from her
But still, even though we fly
In round metal boxes with wings
So far above her
Even though our capsules of survival
Have sent our earthly bodies hurling into space,
We must always return

Here I shake
The tree
I cannot be seen,
But my influence ripples outward
In the body of this tree
It knows I have used
Its slender smooth woodcelled body
For balance, for holding

We pretend we are not here
We pretend we cannot see
The rippling effect
We have on reality
We pretend we can disappear
Into the crowd
Into the vastness
And the waterdrop of my life
Enters seamlessly into
This pool

The surface of the water
Is always changing
Never the same
as one molecule slides
Beneath the other,
As I reach through
This permeable, breathing,
Cellular skin
This dimension from that

And yet there is even a line
That separates this water
From that water, underneath the water—
There are oceans and lakes beneath the ocean.
There are so many worlds
Contained in this one
We meet, we touch, and we are transformed
Through the touching

Because I have been here, my life will not be the same
Because I have been here
The molecules moved by my breath
And the air that would have been
Where my body is now standing
Have had to move
Someplace else
And even that small a change
Has an influence, a movement
Extending outward in ways
I can never understand.

The molecule of oxygen
Tumbled into my lung,
Has floated within the membranes
Of my cells
And has left part of itself
To join the union of me
And participate in the mission
Of my body’s life

We humans are aware of our experiences
As we are having them
Other creatures seem to dwell
Quite contentedly
In every moment
As it presents itself.

We alone
Have expectations,
And disappointment,
And from these we suffer.

We suffer, but in us, we remember
We know
Deeply in our cells
What it means
To simply be
To accept
To be at peace
With our changing reality.

Because I can only see
This moment, and how it has affected
The next moment.

I can see the train of moments, rippling toward me from my own past. I can guess where
My actions now
May lead.

We have a strange way of being,
Our culture.

We purposefully forget our past
Because there are wounds there
We want to leave behind us
We pretend
We are not now suffering, still,
From the effects of these actions

We are afraid
To open our eyes and see
Our own,
Or anyone else’s

This is a crisis of spirit,
As much as it is a crisis of the planet.

The only way, for healing, is to reconnect.

Wangari Maathi
The only way to save the land of her country
Was to go through its people
Was for them to fully understand
The connection
Between themselves, their own health,
And the health of their environment.

There is physical health, which is a motivation,
And there is spiritual health, which our traditions have drifted away from

So many stranded souls,

Wounded, and so

You hurt,
So you cause hurt
You wish to hurt me
Then blame me
For the reflection
Of the effect you had on me.

Here on this rock
I dance.

I dance and I pray
For a new weaving.

The surface of the pond
Is constantly regenerating.
Every drop
Which falls from the sky
Spreads across the surface
And its impulse causes
Every molecule to spin
Turn over
Turn around.

Surely my life
Is capable
As Wangari Maathi’s was capable,

Of falling into this moment
with a positive
to turn this reality
to a different future

A future of healing
Of all who are called to heal
To honor the work
To drop the distractions
And release my fears,
To understand, finally, that the only way to be
Truly happy
Is to understand and accept
The call
Of my own soul

Here I am turtle
Crawled out from my shell

Here I am salamander,
Naked on this rock
Breathing through my skin.

Here I am still.

Here I am listening.

Here I am
With nothing
But myself
With no defense
But my reflexes,
My trust

My ability to move
As I know I must move.

Here I am spider, spinning,
A web of intention
I am spider, harvesting
The gathered winged messages
I have, without hesitation,
Spun my listening strand
Around each mobile body
Ensnared it with story, alive
...saving it
To later savor its meaning,
To suck it dry.

Take what comes without pause

Give it the honor

Of wasting no part

So that all of it

May now become a part of you

There are times of plenty,

Times of scarceness

Times when my web of intention

Catches more flies than I can deal with

And other times

It blows dry in the wind

But the spider

Never stops weaving

Never stops ingesting meaning

Always enough

Always enough

So here I am weaving a web, following her movements: reach upward, to the last strand which was laid, so that the spacing matches
The size of my body
I spin a me-sized web
I measure, I stretch
To earth, to sky. I reach as far as I am able,
To pull toward myself and tie
With clarity
Exactly what I seek to know.

This solstice,
I spin a web

A web of becoming

This cycle, my intent
Is to harvest
Messages about my self,
About my true nature

To accept with open eyes
Even that which I have
A hard time loving
Because knowing myself,
I will know what I am made for.

My form, my life has a message
About my ability to heal:
A well-placed medicine
Will do more good
than one applied without listening;

This solstice,
I cast a web
To better understand
My own medicine-magic,
What I am created to do.
To listen for
The broken place
Which is crying for my touch
Which is waiting for my stitch
To pull together
This weaving
This larger weaving
The spell of healing
Which must now cover our
Sad planet
And its sad, broken beings

For life

For life

For Life.

We will always choose life. We are living.

We are whole

No one has ever done anything terrible

We are lost,

And we are on our way

Toward remembering

Who we are

Friday, June 12, 2009

Resuming the Journey...

Yes, the last post was in December!
What can I say?
It's been a tumultuous season.
I cut off all my hair, for one. Have been on several twists and turns, and I find that much in m life is now mirroring my new haircut.

I buzzed my head on Spring Equinox, the same day that I made this video. I recorded the music afterwards, as an improvisation with music and piano.

I went out to the prairies and woods of Carver Park Reserve, in Victoria, Minnesota, continuing the process I began for "The Survival Pages"-- (see for more about this project).

There's so much to catch up on, I hardly know where to start!

Major updates to the project
1. I spent all day today creating a flyer, calling for people to interview... gathering information from people. Offering $20 per interview, as incentive. Similar to what I did in "The Survival Pages": as research for that project, I walked around Powderhorn Park asking people two simple questions: "Do you come to the park often?" and, "What do you like about the park?" If there was time, I also asked them, "Do you think nature is important? Why?" These few simple questions led to a really fascinating journey, in which I ended up gutting a fish on camera, and talking to preschoolers in Spanish. My goal for "The Culture Pages" is to tell a story about culture and place-- and for the material presented to include more than my own perspective. So, I am gathering.

2. I've just recently abandoned the idea of having 4 main collaborators to work with, as equals on the project, to brainstorm material together. I put my feelers out in many directions, and have been postponing the project this whole time, out of uncertainty-- I did not want to come up with too many concrete ideas, so that the bulk of the material could come from a collaborative process with my artistic peers. For various reasons, this has just not worked out... and the persistence of its "not-working-out" finally led me to to the conclusion: I think it is important for me to stretch myself as a director, to really own that this is my project, and I am the one with the most fire and the most dedicated time to really create something which reflects all that is in me to express.

I am inspired by the MayDay Float I designed for this year's parade-- I created a shell-- a frame, that I then invited others in the community to fill in with their own vision. The end result was a crazy quilt pattern, that was so much richer for the array of mixed voices, literally woven together.

What I hope, is to create a performance that mirrors this process in its creation... to contain many different voices, but to exercise my leadership, vision, and director-ship in weaving it together into a cohesive whole.

So, I am gathering video-interviews as my main project over late June & early July, and will plan to see what emerges from that process. In late July I will put up postings for performer-auditions-- perhaps some of whom will be located through the interviewing process.

Update #3: In addition to performing the piece at some nice theater with lights and sound and the whole works, a new goal for the piece is to perform it in at least two unconventional venues, where it can be accessed by populations who may not see it otherwise. (I am inspired by the work that Zamya project does, in its work with homeless shelters)

I am finally growing in my certainty about what this project is, or what it could be. At the very least, a glimmer as to its aspirations-- and a reflection of the phase I am in, at this point in my artistic journey.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Flux and Process...

Shadow Piece by Mieko Shiomi
Make shadows -- still or moving -- of
your body or something on the road, wall,
floor or anything else.
Catch the shadows by some means.
I have some big news to share this week-- on Tuesday I figured it all out: What is my mission in life? What am I here to do?

I was sitting in meditation with a group of dancers for 20 minutes, and it struck me like a big lighthouse in my head, radiating out & illuminating pieces of my life that suddenly strung together to spell out a pretty clear message--

Can I possibly articulate it here? I'll try...
In 2007, I embarked on a nine-month exploration of my relationship to nature, culminating in my solo performance at Intermedia Arts, "The Survival Pages." The program I was in, the "Naked Stages" program, was intended to push our growth as artists, and to really pay attention to our creative process.

That's the key word in all this: PROCESS.

Early in February, I had an inspiration to go outside and practice Butoh-dance in 10-degree weather, wearing a thin dress on top and hefty mukaluks and warm pants below. I set my video camera out on the ice of a lake, and proceeded to walk v-e-r-y slowly across the video frame. At some point my camera froze, and I couldn't feel my fingers anymore. The main thing, though, was that I received a very clear message-- from... Earth? the elements? My inner guide? --
"You must do this again... you must come back. There is so much I want to tell you, and when you walk out in this way, so open and receptive, I can finally be heard."

So, I made a practice of it.

If I had to write down what my practice was, as a score, it would be this:

Butoh Day
1. Write in your calendar, in big letters, "BUTOH DAY", on the solstices, equinoxes, and in-between dates (Feb 2, May 1, Aug 6, Oct 31). Those days are now dedicated to your practice.
2. On a BUTOH DAY, wake up and do not speak to anyone. Drive to a place where you can be alone, in a part of nature you consider beautiful.
3. Walk in this place until you see something that suggests an action.
4. Set up your video camera, figure out where the sight-lines are, and start recording.
5. Do the action-- mindfully, meditatively. Use all of your senses for inspiration. Improvise with the sensation of rain on your skin, or mud drying on your face. The sound of icicles dripping, or the rustle of leaves at your feet. Be in love.
6. Afterwards, clean up, warm up, do what you need to do to be comfortable again, and journal intensively any ideas or inspirations or sensations or realizations you had during the practice. Write until you have nothing more to write. You may speak now, and enter into the rest of your day.

So this is the message:
I am here, as an artist, to deepen my understanding, and to help others deepen their understanding. I deepen my understanding through process; I set up and invent practices for myself that wake me up and lead to new games and new "scores"...

This is something I've always heard other artists say & talk about when they discuss their work, but I guess I am just realizing it in a different, more poignant way. Perhaps it has to do with accepting this -- play-- as a valid reason for existence. That really, there is nothing more sacred I could be doing with my time and my energy and my creativity, than this.

To invent new scores for understanding, and to practice them.

To be a "score-writer"-- a teacher, in a way, to lead others toward thinking differently of themselves, and their relationship to nature, to culture.

The performances, they are just the motivation for doing the practice. They are like a mid-term paper, forcing me to culminate what I've learned and to try to articulate myself-- using my very best skills of humor, beauty, and story.

The light-house in my head lit up, for a split second, the image of myself in the future, using these "scores" I'd honed over time, to host workshops and retreats for people, creating a safe environment for them to experience some of these practices, and to gain what they will from them. I saw myself leading groups of adults and kids, in my someday future nearer-to-nature place I'll live.

This vision is really not that unlike the "Butoh" training I did in Yamanashi, Japan, with Min Tanaka. A small village surrounded by mountains and rice-paddies. We played with Min's "scores" for building awareness. They were nearly all about being a body, where you are, in the moment, and fully disarmouring oneself from the concept of "try".


As a side note, I re-stumbled across the "Fluxus" artist-philosophy lately. Joseph Beuys and Yoko Ono have always been favorite artists of mine. It fits so neatly in to this lighthouse-realization about process, and I think will be making more of an appearance in my own creative practice.

Definition of Fluxus: Good luck. The one on Wikipedia, I think, is less clear than simply reading some of the "scores" to get the idea. I found the following workbook pretty inspiring:

I think my own scores may be too complex to really fall into the realm of true "Fluxus" -- but striving toward openness and simplicity is a good goal to work toward.

As far as "The Culture Pages" goes, I have it in mind to be more conscious of setting up "scores", for the purpose of creatively investigating the (very broad) topic of culture and nature.

For example, this is one score that came to me at Chaco Canyon last spring, as I contemplated what I had just learned about the Hopi Prophecy, and wanted a ritual to think about the 4 races reuniting:

God's Eye (solo exploration) You will need 4 skeins of yarn: black, red, white, yellow. Find a location where it is quiet, and you won't be interrupted. It can be outdoors or indoors.
Tie the end of the red string to a point in the east, and bring the rest of the skein to the center of the space. Think about the passage of the red people through time, as they left on their journey to discover what they know, to the present.
2. Tie the end of the yellow string to a point in the south, and bring the rest of the skein to the center of the space. Think about the passage of the yellow people through time, as they left on their journey to discover what they know, to the present.
Tie the end of the black string to a point in the west, and bring the rest of the skein to the center of the space. Think about the passage of the black people through time, as they left on their journey to discover what they know, to the present.
Tie the end of the white string to a point in the north, and bring the rest of the skein to the center of the space. Think about the passage of the white people through time, as they left on their journey to discover what they know, to the present.
5. Connect the 4 strings. Begin to weave a God's Eye. With every layer of the eye, say out loud a theme you think of in the moment: for example, as you weave the red string, think of a teacher you have learned something from, who is from the red tribe, and say the teaching out loud. Or state fears, rational or not. Name feelings of shame. Feelings of admiration. Acknowledge your feelings and connections to all of the races. Try not to think too much-- just say whatever comes to you, and don't break your rhythm to think about it.
6. When finished, face each direction in the opposite order
as you tied them on. Send thanks or close the "circle" in whatever way feels right in the moment.
7. If outdoors, consider leaving the God's Eye as an offering. The God's Eye can also be taken outside and installed someplace. If the God's Eye contains things you wish to release, it can be destroyed by unravelling or burning (with non-synthetic fibers!)
God's Eye (Circle for 4 Colors of People)
Follow score for God's Eye (Solo), but with one person holding their representative skein as it is brought in from the four directions. Before beginning, decide together upon a central question that will be the focus of discussion. As the strings are tied together, one person sits in each quadrant. The question is named. The God's Eye is woven, and each person speaks in turn as their layer is woven in.
Sample Question: What can we do to recognize each other as relatives, to recognize and value the wisdoms each of our tribes has gained, and to open our minds to learning from each other?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Branches on the Evolutionary Tree

Thoughts on Race, Culture, and Evolutionary Change....

1. "Race"-- the physical similarities we share with other humans based on our place of origin, is just that: adaptions our bodies have made to survive in a particular place.

2. "Culture" is a collection of norms and behaviors we've evolved over time, recognize as useful to our own survival (ie. rules on how to best cooperate as a tribe) & are transmitted through "traditions" and training to our young. Deeply instilled values grow over generations.

3. Feelings of competitiveness and mistrust between members of different cultures and races have deep roots. Conflicts between different tribes enable one cultural/racial group to win greater access to resources and territory.

4. Because of the travels made by our ancestors, "America" is a mishmash of cultures and races and overlapping/conflicting cultures and values. Over generations, transmissions of traditions and values between grandparents to grandchildren change drastically, as the "main culture" of America makes different demands, and the children see the teachings of their culture to be less and less relevant to what they feel is really needed for them to survive.

5. Children begin to mistrust or disregard their parents' teachings. (And some with very good reason-- as the parents have gotten pretty messed up by their own upbringing!) Culture begins to shift and sway more dramatically and less predictably than ever before. Alongside this phenomenon is the increasing saturation of mass media, and mass marketing. Television and "popular culture" replaces parental messages about traditions and values... the essential problem being that the shaping forces behind the mass media are likely to care less about the child's well-being than the parents do. The child is left on their own to sort out which messages to adopt, and which to reject-- with varying degrees of success.

6. America seems to be a nation of individual, self-created pockets of culture. The population of some areas still has strong cultural ties-- especially in rural areas. In other populations, especially urban, individuals seem to have a very fluid and changing concept of "culture"-- and form much smaller, much more specialized "tribes" within the larger population. They live side by side, but do not intermingle much. It is here that the teaching of "tolerance" between cultures and races has required the effort of these different groups to maintain "peace."

7. The "peace" that exists now in urban America is not really peace. "Tolerance" is different than "Equality", and true Peace is impossible without Justice. Justice = a reckoning, through honest conversation, resulting in greater understanding, acceptance, and compassion on the part of all-- leading to a natural and self-motivated desire for fairness and equality in all aspects of our relationships.

8. We have so far to go. Our inability to truly see other humans as our brothers and sisters is only the first step. It is equally vital for us to see and honor the links and relations between ourselves and our fellow creatures and plants. We are all part of the same tree: this is the tree of life-- literally!

9. We have the intelligence and the ability to think forward, and to re-form, consciously, our cultures to include certain values that are not only for our "tribe"'s benefit, but for the benefit of all. It is within our capacity to know what is "right," for the benefit of the whole. It is possible, through understanding and compassion, to cultivate a natural and self-motivated desire for balance in our relationships to all who live in the branches of this great tree.